Guidance and Guidelines for Supporting a Grieving Friend

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Our community is broken and profoundly pained by the loss of our beloved Esti Moskowitz a”h, a pure and irreplaceable neshama. We are all also desperate to comfort her special family during this time of extraordinary loss and pain. Sensitivity and thoughtfulness are critical. Please consider these suggestions:


  • Show Up: Each person that makes an effort to come to a Shiva home, whether from near or far, close friends or casual acquaintances, provides comfort, love and connection. While we cannot remove or diminish the pain of this unimaginable loss, we can make it just a tiny bit lighter by carrying it together with them, being nosei b’ol im chaveiro.


  • Don’t Overstay: Shiva is a comforting time but also an extremely exhausting one. Countless people love and want to comfort a grieving family. Please be mindful to spend an appropriate amount of time but not to overstay in a way that makes it difficult for others to have time to be menachem. Please respect the shiva hours, no matter how close you may be with the family.


  • Silence is Not Awkward: It is incredibly difficult to know what to say in circumstances where there is an inexplicable loss. Don’t feel obligated to speak or to find the perfect thing to say. Your mere presence at the shiva and the effort you put into being there offers more nechama than any words could communicate.


  • Refrain from Using Platitudes: In the absence of clear, helpful things to say, it is often tempting to share a platitude such as, “Hashem has His reasons even though it’s hard to see them,” “He only gives challenges to people who can handle them,” “Time will heal,” and many others. While those who say such things may have the best intentions, these statements can be hurtful and harmful, the opposite impact of what we are all trying to achieve.   


  • Avoid Intrusive Questions or Personal Experiences: There is never a time, including and especially during shiva, that it is appropriate to ask intrusive questions such as about a medical diagnosis, treatment, or care. It is also not a time to share stories about anyone you know, including God forbid even someone in your family, who went through a similar circumstance. Allow the aveilim to direct the conversation and express what they are comfortable sharing and focusing on.


  • Share Stories: While Esti was only nine years old, she left an indelible impression and impact on those around her. If you or your children had personal interactions with Esti, share those stories and memories with the family; they are often the greatest source of comfort.


  • Coordinated Help: The number of people who want to provide meals and other forms of help is incredible and so generous. Rather than simply dropping off food or gifts, please coordinate through the shul. Here is how you can help: We will be arranging catered lunches and dinners for the family. If you’d like to contribute towards these meals, please go to The Moskowitz Family will be notified of all who sign up to contribute towards the meals and are so grateful.


  • Comfort In, Dump Out:  Susan Silk, a clinical psychologist, wrote an op-ed for the LA Times in which she shared her fantastic "Ring Theory" for helping people in crisis:


"Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of [my] patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.


Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring.


Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings. When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down."


If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that's fine. It's a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.


Comfort IN, dump OUT."


Esti’s loss is unbearably painful for so many including the community as a whole who spent over a year davening, learning, and doing chesed in her merit. Her passing can raise deep theological questions and evoke a wave of pain and emotion in us. It is critical to be mindful of directing our pain and questions not in, towards the family and their closest circle, but out towards others who can comfort us.


Professionals have made themselves available to our community for support and comfort, collectively and individually.  I hosted a conversation with Rabbi Dr. David Fox, Director of Chai Lifeline Trauma and Crisis Services on the topic of trauma and loss. You can find it at


At the moment of crisis, family, friends and community often rise to the occasion. It is critical to remember the positive and helpful role that we can and must play when the acute phase passes. Shiva and shloshim may conclude but the pain of the family lasts well beyond the technical period of mourning. As the Moskowitz family, both parents and children, return to their routines, please make the effort to find the balance between treating them normally, sensitively, and giving them space with remembering their pain and being a comforting presence in their lives. 


Dr. Fox advised that we neither ignore, nor show excessive pity.  We shouldn’t avoid nor smother.  Don’t express greater grief or agony than the grieving family.  Don’t share how difficult this loss has been for you, how much pain you have been in or how many tears you have shed. Welcome them back, express how much they were missed, and reflect back the mood they are showing. 


May all those who are grieving find strength and comfort and may we share only simchas together.