I am not Jewish. My therapist is. He’s storybook orthodox, complete with tzitzit, a yamaka, and half the books in his office are in Hebrew. Often our faiths overlap during sessions and I’ve always been intrigued when shares some insights on what Judaism has to say about death. Once he mentioned to me that Judaism believes in death premonitions (a post for another time), which lead me down an internet spiral learning about Jewish mourning traditions. That’s where I learned about Sheloshim (pronounced schlaw-sheem I think). As a western culture, we completely screwed up by not adopting this tradition.
Sheloshim is a period of mourning. Specifically it’s the first 30 days after the burial of a loved one. I won’t get in to specifics here (because I’m not Jewish), but want to look at the practice. In general, one would not cut their hair, shave, wear clean clothes (I read something about only wearing what someone else has previously worn, to make sure there is no pleasure). It’s meant to be a real 30 days of mourning, spent in the world. You would go to work in Sheloshim and those around you would recognize it and respect it.
I read an article about the tradition and found this:
Shiva, Judaism’s best-known mourning ritual, is a beautiful fiction: For the first seven days after the burial of close relative, a person does not leave the home or wash or have sex or get on with the business of living in general. Mourners are permitted to feel as if life has stopped, and that they can stop with it. People hear less about sheloshim, the 30 days after burial (including shiva).
The Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg highlighted this 30-day mourning period in her searing, viral post, published in 2015 — 30 days into mourning her husband. “I have lived thirty years in these thirty days,” wrote Sandberg, whose husband, Dave Goldberg, had died suddenly at age 47. “I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.”
When I first returned to work after the funeral, everyone acted like it was back to normal. From my commanding officer down to the kid out of high school that worked for me, everyone was doing their best to try to return to normal.
Soon after my mother died, I posted on facebook:
You know what’s crap? That “they” say you’re not supposed to make any big decisions for a year after a traumatic life event, but here I am, months away from possibly getting out of the Navy, months away from definitely moving, weeks away from trying for orders. It’s all crap. We give people maternity leave to help establish a new life and recover, so can I get some grief leave? I need to establish a new life and recover, but there just seems to be no time. Crap.
It’s been almost a year and a half since she died and I’m starting to see so many things that should be done differently. I spent that first year so absorbed in work that I didn’t grieve. I was in a downward spiral, with no one to help me or guide me, and the rest of the world spent their time acting like it never happened. If, as modern culture, we would have established and accepted traditions about death, maybe I would have avoided the panic attacks. Maybe I would have avoided burning bridges around me out of a “fuck it” attitude. Maybe I wouldn’t have turned to alcohol as a way to de-stress. Maybe I would have done what Sandberg did, and work towards finding wisdom in my loss.
It’s just another lesson I’ll carry with me; we should learn to Sheloshim.