There are three times when we interact with the mourners: 1) the funeral, 2) the "Minyan" in the house of mourning and 3) visiting and comforting the mourners. Each has a distinct protocol.

The funeral is the time when we honor the person who passed away. It is not the time to comfort the mourners (that comes later). We try to hasten the actual burial as much as possible, because the soul can only find rest once the body has been laid to its rest. Thus it is inappropriate to approach the mourners until after the burial, in order not to cause delay. After the eulogies we follow the casket rather than approach the mourners.

The "Minyan" is the name commonly used in Australia for the memorial services held during the seven days after the burial (the word itself can refer to any communal prayer service). The prayers are preferably said in the home of either the departed or the mourners. The reason for this is as follows: as a sign of mourning, the mourners are supposed to try not to leave the house of mourning during the seven days after the death. But they are expected to say Kaddish (prayer for the departed) which can only be said as part of a communal service. So we import the community to them. The services are only held in a synagogue if it is too difficult for the community to come to the home.

Visiting and comforting the mourners is the responsibility of the friends and extended family of those who experienced the loss. This can be done any time during the week of mourning, not only at the Minyan. The idea is not necessarily to cheer them up. Cues should be taken from the mourners themselves as to what will comfort them. If they want to cry and share stories then the visitors should listen sympathetically. If they want to just talk then the visitors should oblige.

Many feel intimidated by the thought of facing a mourner. "What can I say?" we often ask. But there is nothing worse than avoiding a friend at the time s/he needs us the most. Even if you just sit there and say nothing, you have comforted them, because they know that they are not alone.