Grief can be an all-encompassing emotion, and Jewish funerals often take place within a relatively short time after a death occurs, meaning the first few days after a loss can go by in a blur. Add to that the possible additional stresses of travel, family interactions, and sometimes a significant amount of time recently spent supporting someone with a lingering illness, and it is no wonder that mourners sometimes suffer serious illness themselves.
Jewish law requires us to take care of ourselves, even at difficult times, and we have put together some reminders that we hope will keep you and your loved ones healthy and safe. If you are helping a friend or extended family during the time of a funeral, please make sure they do the following:
Drink water. Dehydration from crying, or simply not drinking on a normal schedule, can lead to a host of physical ailments even for people who are otherwise healthy. For people with blood pressure, heart or other health problems it can be dangerous.
Remember to eat. If you feel you have little appetite, have small meals or healthy snacks. And don’t over-do it with the caffeine. Grieving, planning and attending a funeral, and sitting shiva can be surprisingly physically taxing. From avoiding headaches to ensuring blood sugar stays level, keeping your body fueled is imperative to staying well.
Try to rest. Emotions can make it hard to sleep and sometimes, after a death, adrenaline kicks in. But the chemicals your body releases when sleep-deprived take a toll. Find ways to pause for a few moments of quiet or down-time. Delegate shiva set-up to someone else. Feel free to define times when you are receiving people, and times which are set aside for quiet family time to eat meals, or take naps. If you have people in your home for shiva and it starts to get overwhelming, you are completely within your rights to excuse yourself for a little while. Nobody will judge you. You are not hosting, you are sitting shiva.
Remember mourning is a process which takes a different amount of time for each person. As you grieve, please keep in mind we have several resources at Levinson’s to help you along the way. From books to lectures to bereavement groups, our Aftercare resources are always available to you.
Maybe you have a relative who is ill or going to need some long-term care and you have to spend down their assets, or your parents are older and you don’t want to have to worry about the impact of funeral costs while you are grieving, or you don’t want your family to have to worry about making decisions and handling the financial burden of your own funeral service.
There are several important reasons to take an hour of your time to make funeral arrangements in advance:
Ensure your peace of mind that your wishes will be followed.
Relieve the burden on your family, so they don’t have to worry about making significant emotional and financial decisions while they are grieving.
Control financial costs – when you pre-fund a funeral service, we guarantee our charges at today’s costs. (We always recommend speaking with a financial consultant or other professional regarding your personal financial situation.)
Reduce assets prior to applying for Medicaid.
Check out the Plan Ahead section of our website for an informative video, FAQs, and an online form to begin planning. Contact us to speak with a funeral director about any additional questions or to set up an appointment.
Have you ever talked to your friends or family about death? Do you know what your loved ones’ wishes are for long-term care? Have you told them what your wishes are? What does it mean to decide to send a family member to a nursing home, hospice facility or receive hospice care at home? Is your family prepared in case someone dies suddenly? What are your wishes regarding a funeral, and does your family know what they are?
The separation many of us have from death or those who are dying – due to extended life expectancy and the rise of long-term care facilities – means that this subject is rarely discussed and has almost become taboo. This does a disservice to those who are dying and those who are struggling to cope with the loss or imminent loss of a loved one. Several interesting communities and resources have recently stepped in to fill that gap.
Now you can gather a group of friends or family to discuss “Death Over Dinner“, sending out a resource for people to read in advance and then gathering to talk about your reactions or thoughts. They point out on their homepage that “How we want to die – represents the most important and costly conversation America isn’t having.” Bloomberg recently highlighted these dinners in an article which looks into some participants’ experiences. Or you can attend a “Death Cafe” which gathers people together over cake and coffee (or tea) to share their thoughts and fears about death. Back in March, NPR interviewed the man who started them, and you can read that interview here.
If you have any questions about Jewish funerals or the mourning process, funeral options available, or would like information about resources in the community, please do not hesitate to let us know.
There are many questions people have about Jewish mourning customs and the process of arranging funerals. On our website we have attempted to address the most common questions with our “Ask the Funeral Director FAQ”.
What do I do when my loved one passes away?
What should I bring when making funeral arrangements?
My family member lives out of state, but wants to be buried in Baltimore. What should I do when he/she passes away?
What if the burial is to take place out of state?
Is there a difference when a death occurs at home rather than in a hospital or nursing home? Will someone come right away?
My parent is going into a nursing home. I was advised that I could reduce their assets by pre-funding funeral expenses. How do I go about that?
Does the funeral service need to be held within 24 hours after someone passes away?
I can’t decide if I should have a chapel or graveside service. What should I consider?
I am not Jewish. What should I expect at the funeral? Is there a viewing?
Do you accept flowers? What is appropriate to send to the funeral home or shiva house?
I’m arriving from out of town for a funeral service. What transportation is available from the train station? From BWI Airport? How long a trip is it?
My family member has passed away. Should I wear a kriah ribbon? Where do I wear it?
I am planning an unveiling. Does Sol Levinson & Bros. assist with that? How do I go about planning?
I want to find the cemetery where my family member is buried. They passed away many years ago. Do you have that information?
I want to order a Yahrzeit calendar. How do I get one?
I need additional death certificates. Can you order those for me?
How do I choose pallbearers? How many should we have? How old must they be? What is the difference between active and honorary pallbearers?
What Social Security benefits may I be entitled to?
I served in the military. Are there Veteran’s benefits that I may be entitled to? How do I plan for military honors at the funeral and graveside?
Where is the shiva house? Do you have directions?
What are the days and times for shiva services?
Where can I call to get my loved one’s Hebrew name?
The headstone is knocked over at the cemetery. Who do I call for assistance?
If you have any questions that you do not see here or there are any important topics you feel we have not covered, please contact us.
As promised, we now have a mobile version of our site and if you are checking us out from your phone, that is where you will be directed. Our hope was to create a platform that is much easier to use from a mobile device. With an emphasis on upcoming service information, we hope you will find it much easier to find the information you need at a glance.
On an individual’s page it is now easier to view and scroll through the obituary and memorial book information, and you can click to enlarge a person’s photograph. We have also made it easier to share the service details with others directly from your phone.
The mobile site also has information about how to contact us, cemeteries, planning ahead, and this blog. The archive of the past 6 months’ funerals is easy to find and simplified for the purposes of mobile devices. Several of our videos are on the new mobile site and the “Contact Us” page even allows you to use the virtual tour from your phone!
You can still access our full site and its many valuable resources via the menu at the top right.
No matter where you go in Levinson’s Funeral Home, you will find artwork. If you have been here, you probably noticed the stained glass, prints, paintings, the beautiful stone of the chapel walls and more. Most – though not all – of the artwork has a Jewish theme. Many images of Jerusalem can be found throughout the funeral home, as well as the tree of life, the twelve tribes, and many other events in Jewish history.
Why do we have so much artwork? First of all, the simple reason is that it beautifies the space, and makes it seem less formal and more like a home. Also, much of the work is by Jewish and Israeli artists, which we feel is an important community to support. But the most important reason is the first: the artwork serves to create a comforting environment in many places – in the offices where we make arrangements with grieving families, in the family rooms where you come to offer condolences prior to the service, and elsewhere in the building as decoration and inspiration.
The next time you are here, we encourage you to take a closer look at the works on the walls and appreciate their symbolism and beauty.
We’re going to start this answer out by saying we strongly recommend you talk to a rabbi about this issue.
Shiva technically means “seven” and by definition lasts for seven Jewish calendar days starting immediately after the interment (burial). There are many important reasons for this first period of official mourning, but due to various considerations such as family needing to return to their homes in other cities or changes in religious observance, many families sit shiva for fewer than seven days. The length of this observance is now often determined by each family based on their needs.
A frequent question is whether it is appropriate for young children to attend the funeral. Our answer is generally that this is something best determined by the parent, and really depends upon an individual child’s personality. This approach has changed significantly from a few decades ago – the tradition of excluding children from funerals or mourning rituals is no longer understood as best for children. The common approach these days is if a child is old enough to have some understanding of the concept of death, it is important and far less traumatic for them to attend (unless they really do not want to).
At Sol Levinson & Bros. we try to make sure there are options for families who want to include children in the funeral service. First, you can take your children on a virtual tour of our building, showing them the chapel and family room ahead of time so their surroundings are less intimidating when they arrive for the service.
For families with very young children, our Family Rooms have overhead speakers so if a parent or caregiver needs to step out with a child in the middle of a service they are able to continue to listen. In our bereavement library we have workbooks for children to express their emotions through drawing or other activities, as they often do not have the words to express the complex emotions they are feeling and they have not yet developed the coping mechanisms necessary to focus on the appropriate memories of a loved one. Some families choose to place photographs, drawings, letters or cards into the casket and this is an opportunity to allow children to participate.
We also have resources in the library for how to talk about death with children. The words we as adults sometimes want to use to soften the blow are not always the best ones. There is a story used as a lesson to be careful of what to say when speaking to children. As the story goes, a child was told that his grandfather’s body was at the funeral home. As grownups, we understand what this means, however the child became distraught and nobody could figure out why. They finally realized that he thought this meant his grandfather no longer had a head and it was just the rest of his body that was going to be buried. Children have no choice but to be very literal if our words are the only input they have to inform them about a new experience. Here is an article that shares some useful information on how to speak to children about death.
For a little more reading, here is a New York Times article on the changing approach to letting children share in grief.
The changing face of the Jewish community in the United States means that there are families who are not affiliated with a particular synagogue. There is obviously a benefit to being a member of a synagogue and having a rabbi who is familiar with your family. However, if you are not affiliated with a synagogue, Levinson’s does engage clergy – for a fee set by the Baltimore Board of Rabbis – to officiate at funeral services. The members of the clergy (rabbis and cantors) are skilled at pulling together multiple people’s memories and crafting an accurate reflection of a person’s life. Because there is not a long-standing relationship with the family, it is especially important that the rabbi or cantor speak with as many members of the family as possible, to put together the eulogy.
If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
People often struggle to know what to say to someone who is seriously ill, to their families, or to the family of someone who has died. This article from the LA Times suggests a sort of “Ring Theory” for determining where people fall on the spectrum of intimacy with the family, and what they should say to others, depending on the relationship of everyone in the conversation.
We react emotionally to difficult situations, for good reason. But this is a helpful reminder to think carefully about how our reactions affect others.