"What am I supposed to say?"
Consoling a mourner is one of those challenging situations that we would all rather avoid. But it's an act of kindness and a great mitzvah, especially during the shiva week, the prescribed week of mourning that follows the funeral of a next of kin. And it's not really so difficult: What's really needed most is the fact that you are there.
Visit as often as your company will be appreciated and beneficialVisit as often as your company will be appreciated and beneficial. A traditional shiva house has prayer services every morning and evening when kaddish is recited by the mourners—and a minyan [quorum of ten] is required. Your attendance at these services will certainly be appreciated.
Have a seat next to the mourners. Allow them to speak first. Allow them to steer the conversation in whatever direction they wish. If they feel like crying, cry along; if you perceive that they want a break from crying, talk about the weather. All the while, look out for cues that you've sat long enough.
When that happens, stand up and say: "May G‑d console you, together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Then quietly take your leave.
- Consider the somber atmosphere. Avoid greetings, welcomes and farewells.
- There's no need to bring anything along; it's your presence that comforts and consoles. If you do wish to bring something, think useful: something like a kosher meal for the mourners.
- We don't say to a mourner, "What can you do? You can't change the way the world works." Once a life has perished, it is time to accept the Divine decree with love.
- Traditionally, we don't make shiva visits on Shabbat.
- Sometimes consoling words aren't enough. Was the deceased the family's breadwinner? Start a fund for the family.
- Can't make it for a personal visit? Make a telephone call or send your condolences in a card or email.
For more, see our Shivah & Mourning section.