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ASK LOIS: Flowers? Card? Donation? Catholic mom asks proper way to acknowledge death of son’s Jewish friend

David Schutz / South Florida ֱ
Lois K. Solomon, reporter for the South Florida ֱ
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Q: My son’s friend died recently of cancer. We are Catholic and my son’s friend was Jewish, and we have no idea what the proper way is to acknowledge the death. Do we send flowers? A card? Should we pay a visit? Someone suggested we make a donation in his honor. Let me know if this is appropriate. We want to be respectful and don’t want to offend by doing something that may be the right thing in our religion but not theirs. — Mary Lavalle, Boca Raton

A: Mary, it is so hard to know how to respond sensitively in these situations, whether you and the deceased are of the same faith or not. How thoughtful of you to be thinking about the cultural and religious practices of your son’s friend’s family during such a sorrowful moment in their lives.

I asked two Boca Raton rabbis about how you can show respectful sympathy. Rabbi David Baum of Congregation Shaarei Kodesh said it depends on how much time has passed since the death.

“In the Jewish tradition, the burial of the deceased is usually done as quickly as possible, and then the family returns home for a period of mourning called shiva. During this seven-day period (although some families will choose to observe fewer than seven days), the family will stay in their home, and their extended family, friends, and community members will visit them to offer condolences, pray with them, and send food to their home. All guests are accepted and encouraged to attend regardless of their faith upbringing.”

There are several traditions to know about shiva, Baum said. He said if food is being served at the house, “it is generally for the immediate bereaved family only.”

Also, he said to avoid small talk in the home of the bereaved; silence is preferable. “This speaks to the gift of presence we can give each other,” Baum said. “In many cases, just sitting in silence with a family in mourning can be healing.”

If the seven-day period of mourning is over, Baum recommends sending a meal to the home. Make sure to find out whether the family is kosher; if so, you would need to order from a special caterer. He said you can also send a condolence note in the mail, or make a donation to a charitable cause in the name of the child who was lost.

“In this case, donating to a cancer-related cause might be most appropriate,” Baum said.

Rabbi Rony Keller of Congregation B’nai Israel said the goal is to show you care.

“Showing up can look like any number of things: sending food, making a donation to a significant organization (as you suggested), or sending a card,” he said. “We do not send flowers, as flowers die and, therefore, represent impermanence. If you have the ability to visit in person, that is the highest form of comfort available; sitting with the mourners, being with them and hearing about the life of their loved one often can bring the most comfort. One thing is for sure, the mourners are blessed to have you as a friend.”

The loss of a child is one of the worst tragedies a parent could face. Hopefully the family has many friends like you, Mary, to help them in the process of grief and healing.

Got a question about life in South Florida? Send to AskLois@sunsentinel.com.

 

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