Real Life Religious Education – by Cara Potapshyn Meyers

A friend of mine unexpectedly found herself facing the demise of her Mother-in-Law a week ago. This close friend also has a son whom my own son is friendly with. My friend is Jewish. In the Jewish faith, the funeral for the deceased is as soon after a death as possible. Afterwards begins a week long process called Shiva, or more commonly referred to as “sitting Shiva.” It is my supposition that people say they are “sitting Shiva” because the immediate family members of the departed are required to sit on boxes as a means to express their grief.

I attended the funeral. I also went to my friend’s house to pay my respects by myself. I then thought of my son and my friend’s son. Shouldn’t my son, at age 9 1/2 pay his respects to his friend and his friend’s family? I asked my friend if I could bring my son during the evening to see his friend. My friend gladly obliged. 

Here was a “real life” religious learning experience that my son could learn about outside of religious school. I felt that the experience would make more of a statement to my son since his friend was directly affected. He would be able to observe and participate in customs that he had never participated in before. This experience would be far better than simple route learning in religious school.

I first sat my son down to go over some guidelines. This visit was NOT a playdate. I explained that his friend’s Grandmother had died and that we were going to his friend’s house to tell his friend and his parents that we were unhappy for his friend but we were there to keep his friend and his parents company. My bright son immediately asked which parent’s Mother had died. I told my son it was the Father’s Mother. He then chimed in and said, “That means the Grandmother would be the Mother’s Mother-in-Law.” I was surprised at how quickly he understood the lineage. I expressed that he was absolutely correct. Then my son said, “So, when I walk in the house, I say to my friend, ‘I’m sorry about your Grandma. When I see his Father I say, I’m sorry about your Mother and when I see his Mother, I say, I’m sorry about your Mother-in-Law’.” I replied, “Bingo! You said it perfectly!” I then told my son what he would see that might look a little unusual (covered mirrors), or his friend’s Father appearing “unkempt.” I also said that there would be some adults there, but no other children that I was aware of. My son acknowledged that he understood and he didn’t seem to have any apprehension.

When we went to the home, my son’s friend opened the door. My son told his friend he was sorry about his friend’s Grandmother. Beautiful. His friend’s Father was standing directly behind his friend. My son then told the Father he was sorry about his Mother. I stood proudly and greeted both Father and Son similarly. My son then spotted my friend in the Living Room. He went right over to her and said, “I’m sorry about your Mother-in-Law.” My friend looked a bit stunned that my son would remember that it was her Mother-in-Law and thanked my son. The kids then asked if they could go into the basement. For a child who is not too terrific with greetings or goodbyes, I swelled with pride that my son directed himself so well and with actual compassion and a clarity of what he said and how he said it. He executed complete sincerity given the seriousness of the visit.

We stayed a little more than a couple hours. Once we left, I reviewed with my son how incredibly well he had done. I also stressed that by visiting his friend, he had done a Mitzvah (a good deed in Hebrew). He asked if doing this type of Mitzvah would “make God happy” with my son. I explained that God loves everyone and that every single good deed that a person does makes God even more proud of that person. Being a decent, caring person and doing honorable things can only make one more admired in the eyes of anyone. Especially in the eyes of the Devine. And particularly when it pertains to children.

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  1. 3 Responses to “Real Life Religious Education – by Cara Potapshyn Meyers”

  2. Cara, I’m so very sorry for your friend’s loss. What an admirable way to honor her mother-in-law and the legacy she left with her family as its matriarch…to help her grandson grieve her passing by deciding to allow your own son to be involved in the process. So many of us fear death and all the stress and sadness it brings. I’ve known some to totally ignore it’s happening all because they’re too afraid of saying the “wrong thing”. After losing my father this past September, my siblings and I had to make some very tough decisions about how much to involve our children (who were younger than your son, ranging in age from almost 3 to 5). We try to be responsible parents and not expose our children to more than we believe they can handle. But after reading your insightful post, I wonder how much of that process included us trying to avoid having to deal with too many questions creating reminders of our own pain and loss. How strong of both of you to involve the two boys the way you did. I’m sure this experience will help your son develop a healthy perspective about death. Your friend’s family is in my prayers.

    By Jean Marie on Feb 6, 2013

  3. How sweet. I think it’s hard for kids to really comprehend death at such a young age, even if the deceased is an immediate family member or close friend. Thank you for sharing. I also didn’t know the literal meaning of “sitting Shiva,” despite having attended a few in the past. I am glad to now know!

    By Margaret A Hart on Feb 6, 2013

  4. What a wonderful, yet sad story, Cara. I’m proud of your son with you! I can only hope that my child deals with death as respectfully when the time comes.

    By Heather on Feb 9, 2013