A Roadmap To Grief

Finding My Way To The Shiva House

On 13 September, 2015, James O’Donoghue heard the news that nobody can ever prepare for. It was the start of Rosh Hashanah, and around the world Jews of all levels of observance were gathering together with family to celebrate. At the north London home James grew up in, there seemed little prospect of the next year being full of sweetness and blessings – as is traditional to wish upon others at that time. A dollop of honey would be of little comfort – not when they’ve just heard of the suicide of James’ younger brother, Frank.

Frank O’Donoghue was only sixteen when he died. He was a minor who took his own life, so there were rules and procedures that had to be followed. The Jewish rituals of mourning were put on hold, as the traditional custom of holding a funeral as soon as possible gave way to the law of the land.

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Those procedures took a week, says James, now 24. “It felt like this endless stretch of time before a funeral could happen, and we could start the traditional mourning process. We essentially had a non-official start to the shiva: there was no burial, no prayers, no low chairs to sit on.”

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