In addition to all of the logistical arrangements that have to be made, there are things that you can do not only to care for your own heart and spirit, but also to sanctify the memory of the one that you are remembering and that you have lost. First, in the immediate moments after a loss, it is certainly customary to say the words of the Shema so that you remember that not only is God one with your loved one, but also God is one with you. Additionally, if you can, call the temple, and a rabbi can often times come and be there with you to say some final prayers and to give you a chance to begin that long road to healing.
In the hours before a funeral service, I encourage everyone often times to pull out those photo albums and take that long, winding journey down memory lane. Tell those stories not just of recent times, but also of times from way back. For a parent, remember stories from when you were a child. If it’s a spouse, from those first incredible moments of meeting when you knew that you fell in love. If it’s a sibling, from when you were teenagers. God forbid, even in a case of a child, those special memories along the journey that you nurtured along the way.
Then when we often take the opportunity to remember more deeply, we feel a need to express ourselves. So take out a piece of paper, write a letter to your loved one. Express to them all of the memories that you cherish, the wisdom they imparted, the lessons they taught, all the laughter that was shared and those poignant moments that you keep deep inside. Sometimes people will often keep a journal or a notebook at a Shiva house and encourage other people to write down a story. Pull out a cell phone or an iPad and record people as they’re sharing their reminiscences.
One of the things that you may find is that as you gather with family and friends, you learn things that you never even knew about your loved one because they’re stored in the memory banks of someone else that you love. The way that we crystallize our memories, the way that we begin that process of healing is realizing how deeply woven into the fabric of our own spirits are the lives of the loved ones that we have lost.