Although the most vital tasks and decisions concerning funerals, burial and mourning in the home are made by family members, it's a good idea to recruit friends and non-first-degree relatives (such as in-laws, who are appropriate for this) to cover other tasks such as making phone calls, helping transport out-of-town relatives, arranging food for the meal following the funeral, and assisting with other needed errands.
The following is a check list of tasks that might be delegated to others. See Preparing for a Jewish Funeral for more information on planning the burial.
- If someone dies at home or at work, call 911 first. Any death that occurs without a doctor or medical personnel present must be reported to the police and an investigation will be held by the coroner’s office.
- If the person who dies was under medical care, be certain to notify the primary care physician as soon as possible. If you do not know the physician’s name, check the deceased’s records, prescription bottles or medical bills.
- When someone dies a hospital, nursing home or other care facility, the staff of the establishment will usually contact the mortuary. Some facilities require the patient to designate a mortuary as a condition of entry or care.
- If a person is dramatically failing and death appears imminent, please inform the primary care physician that the designated mortuary will call him/her for certification purposes when death occurs. The acting mortuary will need to obtain the attending physician’s signature quickly in order for the funeral service establishment to secure a burial/transit permit in a timely manner.
- If the person who died was an organ donor, this should be factored into the planning time frame.
- You will need the following information when planning a funeral: the individual’s social security number, date of birth, family member names, place of birth, a Health Care Directive (if you are not the legal next of kin), Veteran’s discharge papers (form DD214) to secure a complimentary American flag for the funeral, and the number of death certificants you will need.
- If the deceased person has a pre-arranged burial and funeral plan, find the necessary information.
- If the deceased owned a tallit (prayer shawl), decide if it should be buried with the individual. (We recommend that this be retained by the family and passed to the next generation as a family heirloom and keepsake.)
- In preparing the body for burial, consider the following: clothing, cosmetics, hair style.
Sharing the Sadness
- Inform (in person, if possible) the closest family members. For out-of-town members of the immediate family, do your best to make sure that the person being called is not alone or in an inappropriate location to receive the news of their loved one’s death. For example, one should not notify a sibling that his/her sister has died while he or she is on a cell phone and driving.
- Make a list of people who should be contacted regarding the death. Include family members, friends, employers (of both the deceased and of family members), colleagues, co-workers, community members, and neighbors. Some synagogues send a notice of all deaths to the entire membership of the synagogue by e-mail, if this is the desire of the family of the departed. We also note, per the family’s wishes, the time and location of the funeral and the Minyan services following the funeral and burial.
- Delegate family members and friends to make phone calls.
- Decide who will conduct the funeral service and contact the clergy immediately upon the death.
- Consult with the rabbi/cantor regarding the eulogy/hesped and the participation of family members and friends (noting the aforementioned guidelines).
- Estimate the number of funeral attendees and choose the funeral location accordingly.
- Consult with the funeral home and/or cemetery regarding service locations for both the eulogy and burial. Decide if a chapel and/or graveside service will suit family needs.
- Appoint pallbearers (those who will carry the coffin part or all of the way to the burial site). If there are individuals who may be unable to physically handle this task, you may designate them as “honorary” pallbearers. Women and men alike are eligible to be pallbearers and “honorary” pall- bearers. Usually the deceased’s spouse and children do not act as pallbearers. In-laws, siblings, grandchildren, dear friends are customary. This is an honor that can be given to Jewish individuals as well as those of other faith traditions.
- Arrange for transportation to and from the ceremony for mourners and other family members. This is often done through the funeral home.
- Some mourners may wish to practice reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer in advance of the funeral. It is the religious duty of mourners to say the Kaddish themselves and not rely upon surrogates to say it for them. For those who do not read Aramaic, the Mourner’s Kaddish is transliterated into English letters.
S’udat Hav’ra-ah (“Meal of Healing“)
- If the family will be observing this custom, members of the extended family or friends (but not the mourners) should make arrangements for a light meal.
- Give out printed directions to the family home at the funeral.
- Place a pitcher of water, a basin, and towel outside the front door to be used by funeral returnees before they enter the home. (All Jewish cemeteries have water spouts/basins at the gate so that those leaving the cemetery may stop and wash their hands, a traditional act of purification.)
- Prepare hard-boiled eggs for eating during the meal. These eggs symbolize the cyclical nature of life. Lentils are also traditional food at the house of mourning.
Preparing for Shiva
- Notify employers of needs for family leave.
- Contact the synagogue of the departed person and/or of the mourners regarding the shiva, in order to set a schedule of services, to assure ten adults (Jewish women and men over the age of 13) at services (if applicable), and to ask for assistance with other practical arrangements. Set a schedule for meal preparation by friends and extended family for the first week or more, as needed.
- Prepare a handout with the shiva information, to be passed out at the funeral, that includes the address of (and directions to) the home where shiva will be observed, hours during which visitors will be welcomed, and the times of the services.
- Create a door sign with visiting hours posted.
- Notify neighbors (and the police department, if necessary) of the presence of additional cars and people in the neighborhood and arrange for parking passes, as needed.
- It can be helpful to have groceries and other necessary items delivered over the course of the week.
- Designate charitable organization(s) to receive donations in the memory of the lost loved one.
This article was excerpted from the booklet When Jews Divorce and is part of the series Transitions & Celebrations: Jewish Life Cycle Guides, by Rabbi John L. Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood, CA. Download this booklet and the full series on the Temple Israel of Hollywood website (see Writings by Rabbi Rosove).