A friend was checking in with me today—how things were going in Mom’s absence. I told her I was behaving as if I were grieving or depressed, but wasn’t generally experiencing the associated emotions of grief. Doing laundry only when I have nothing left to wear. A kitchen in greater disarray than it has ever been. Plants dying. Mom’s beloved plants, and I can’t seem to make myself water them.
She said, “It sounds like you’re sitting shiva for her. You are telling yourself—telling the world—that No, life does not just ‘go on.’ Sometimes it stops. You’ve stopped. You’re even creating symbols of death all around you. You are sitting shiva.”
In Judaism, shiva is the week-long period of grief and mourning for the seven first-degree relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, and spouse. Appropriately, the word shiva means “seven.”
When you sit shiva, everything stops. You don’t leave the house, you don’t wear shoes in the house, you don’t study the scriptures except for those dolorous books of Lamentations and Job, you don’t bathe for pleasure, or do laundry, or cook for yourself. You don’t have sex, you don’t conduct business, you don’t listen to music, or watch television, or go to the movies.
You cover the mirrors, too. This was originally in response to the belief that spirits could become trapped in mirrors. Today, the ancient practice is continued under the premise that mirrors encourage vanity, and shiva should be a time of inner reflection. I think it’s more so that you don’t have to see what you look like after you’ve been crying.
But just the realization that this goy boy has been sitting shiva for his mother—not seven days, but halfway through the seventh month now—seems to have empowered me considerably. I’m about to go put a load of dishes into the dishwasher and make dinner. And I’m going to water some plants out on the porch. It’s entirely possible they’re too far gone. I know I don’t have to keep them up for her sake or anything like that. I just think I’d like to help something live again, if I can.