In The Aftermath of Shiva


For anyone second guessing the need to pay a shiva call to pay their respects, don’t.

On April 23 my father, Cantor Royal Rockman of New Jersey, passed away after having spent the first few glorious first days of Passover with us in Baltimore and 20 other family members. Watching as I write these very words, I see a sister; a daughter; a little girl that just keeps shaking her head. Did you just write that? I think my three older brothers – all in their seventh decade – would each agree that death does not suit my dad. Yes, we are all going to go. Yes, all of us. My three truths to my clients:

1. Time does not stop;
2. All families have at least something – some problems with which to contend;
3. All that is alive eventually dies.

Still, it doesn’t suit him. A suit suits him. A classy night out on the town. A good song suits him. The color lavender. The New York Times. A brilliant nonfiction tome. Spirituality. Belting out Benny Goodman. Admiring you, your smile, your essence and me, my opinions and my essence; and rows of green trees standing tall along the tiny bend. Mesmerizing a congregation as a Cantor. Holding a moment in this life suits him.

His name is, excuse me, was, Royal. He was royalty.

So there I was. Walking up the steps in the synagogue. My turn to eulogize. I breathed and thought, “Its happening. Isn’t it? You pictured this day. And here it is. Here you are.”

I sang his praises. I pictured my sweet children watching their mother. My husband by my side.
And then it was time to retreat. I sat on a cushioned low chair for about seven days in the recesses of my loving room. (We don’t have a living room).

Next to me are images of daddy and mommy and my kids and grandchildren.

I promised myself that this week would be only and all about him. His life. No, he was not sick. No, he was not in the hospital. Yes, he was almost 96. Yet he still had his flair for living and his zest for life. Good ol’ juxtaposition between life and death. Nope, doesn’t add up.

I look up from my self-absorbed sadness. I see faces. They come in quietly. They take their place. I want to make sure everyone knows everyone. I decide to introduce them to each other while I am simultaneously setting the tone. No this is no party but that doesn’t mean anyone has to feel awkward or uncomfortable. Everyone has a name. Where better than in a house of mourning than to give recognition of another’s existence? Yes, begin with their names. Just like when we are born.

Someone asked me if I was surprised by some visitors. I was indeed. One 30-something who I barely know, a renowned physician with three children. I can’t wait to thank her.

Suddenly I was visited by a woman I had never seen. She came to the wrong house. To her I said, “I have to believe that if you did come you were meant to be here.” She listened along with the others and before she left she said she hoped that I receive comfort in the knowledge that my father was clearly an ambassador of good.”

She got my dad spot-on.

But the “in my gut omigoodness” visits came from clients. In my field, boundaries is THE name of the game. I pride myself on being human and relatable but not mixing work and pleasure with clients. Damn if I care that at least four showed up. It was incredible. One teen girl who I had finished seeing after six years of treatment showed her beautiful face and as our eyes met, all we could do was cry.

Never second guess visiting the bereaved. The comfort is undeniable. The impact indelible.

Pamela Weissman serves the Baltimore City Public Schools as a social worker and is in private practice as a psychotherapist.

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