25 years ago Hillary Foxman wrote Cradle and All: A Mother’s Guide to Enlightened Parenting. But in the present day, she and her four children have gone from the cradle to the grave, offering us – by way of example – a modern guide for how to sit shiva. Or how definitely not to sit shiva, anyway. In celebration of today’s theatrical release of This Is Where I Leave You* based on the book by Jonathan Tropper, we offer the family how-to guide that the Foxmans didn’t publish:
The Foxman Guide To Sitting Shiva
* Minor spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie – but plan to – and don’t want to know anything that happens, stop right here! Read the book, catch the movie, then come back.
Do: Turn down offers to date rando people your mom’s friends want to set you up with
If you’re one of the mourners who’s had a death in the family, you have the upperhand in every conversation. If you don’t feel like talking to people – not because you’re sad, but because you are tired of talking – you can just blame it on the fact that you’re too “depressed” to engage in conversation. So if your mom’s friends know you recently separated from your wife because she cheated on you with your boss, feel free to turn those sly dating offers down.
Millie Rosen brings her daughter, Rochelle, who is 27, unmarried, and pretty in a forgettable way. She positions her right in front of me and makes painfully obvious attempts at engaging us in conversation. What pretty much every person in Elmsbrook except Millie knows is that I am not Rochelle’s type, being that I don’t have breasts and a vagina.
Do not: Bring your cougar girlfriend home for the first time for your father’s shiva unannounced
Phillip, the youngest of the Foxman kids, surprises his family by telling them his much old girlfriend, Tracy, is coming for the week. Actually, no. He didn’t even tell them, it was more of a guerrilla attack.
He flips the phone closed and looks at all of meaningfully. “She’s here,” he says, like we’ve all been waiting. Like we have any idea what he’s talking about.
Tracy is not only much older and wiser, but she’s actually her therapist (that’s how they met, naturally). Meeting a significant other’s family can be intimidating enough, but even more so when it’s a full on family gathering, and it’s because of a death in said family, and also if everyone in that family is insane.
Do: Help your mom if an older widower is hitting on her
Mr. Applebaum knows what it’s like. He lost Adele a few years ago, and if he can be of any comfort to Hillary, he will be. But when he’s ogling at her breasts for just a litttle too long, maybe it’s time to step in. She did just lose her husband, after all.
Do not: Smoke pot in a temple
Or smoke pot in a temple-adjacent Hebrew school. Probably the best idea is to not smoke weed anywhere near places of worship or where kids go to learn the next day. Even if you found a joint in your dead dad’s suit.
Do: Borrow clothing
If you’re a little stressed about remembering everything you need to survive an entire week stuck in a house, remember that someone probably has whatever it is you need, like a suit for the first time you’ll step foot in a temple since your youngest sibling or cousin’s mitzvah. Besides, sometimes there’s fun stuff in the pocket (see above).
Do not: “Borrow” anything without asking
Because that’s stealing. Whether it’s your sibling’s money, DNA for a child you’re trying to have (don’t ask), or your estranged spouse’s half of the bank account, you don’t need to add theft to the list of your family’s woes.
Do: Use shiva visiting time to get the dirt on people you grew up with
If there’s anything good about sitting shiva, it’s that you get to see friends and family (that you like) that you haven’t seen in forever. Plus you can get information on them you previously weren’t able to glean on Facebook. Like the good old days.
Do not: Call a childhood friend by their embarrassing nickname as an adult. Especially if they’re a rabbi.
Kids have embarrassing nicknames that aren’t particularly ones they choose. And if you’re seeing someone for the first time in a long time, it’s an honest mistake if you accidentally call them by their nickname. But just think twice before calling your childhood friend Boner, while he’s officiating his burial.
Do: Prepare for your place in the sleeping arrangements hierarchy
Are you married with kids? You get your own room! Coupled, no children? Well, you probably get a bed, at least. Single, even if it’s because your wife was having an affair with your boss? Buck up, you’re sleeping in a basement, probably on the floor or something.
Do not: Ferberize your child the week they’ll be living with a house full of people
When you let your child “cry it out” at night, the entire household ends up crying it out as well. Save the sleep-training for your own house.
Do: Expect a lot of food
Shiva means seven in Hebrew, which is why the family sits together in their house for seven days following the death of a loved one. Friends and family come by, and apparently in Jewish culture, they come bearing food. Lots of it. Like, you won’t have to make any meals for the next two weeks. Bless.
Do not: Fake a suicide to get your significant other to stay
Standing on a roof threatening to jump if your boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with you and leaves town is not safe (why should I even have to say that). But this scene happens in the book, and this is all I could think about:
Do: Expect the unexpected
If you’re trapped in a house for a whole week, there’s no telling what you’ll uncover. You don’t need to full on Harriet The Spy it, but if you keep your eyes and ears open you may figure out stuff about, say, your mom’s neighbor lady friend that you never would have guessed.
Do not: Expect any of your secrets to remain hidden over the course of seven days
The flip side of that: whether you’re expecting a child, trying to expect a child, married to a skuzzy workaholic, or in a weird relationship with an out of your league older lady, as soon as the first person figures it out everyone else will follow.
Do: Reconnect with old friends
There’s a good chance shiva (aka adult grounding) will bring you back to your old high-school stomping grounds, so use that time wisely and track down all those Penny Moore, one-that-got-away types.
Do not: Reconnect with old friends that way if you’re still married
Even if you’re married to the worst person ever … just don’t.
Do not: Have sex with a house full of mourners
I think people have a tendency to think that walls = silence. Not all walls are soundproof, and if there are other people in the house, they can usually hear whatever you’re doing. That being said, it’s probably not the best idea to have sex (especially if you’re going to be loud) while shiva is still going on. Even if you’re trying to have a baby and timing while ovulating is key.
Do: Have a prepared speech on your life
I assume after just one day, shiva can get tedious and repetitive, so it’s best to not embarrass yourself and just have a prepared monologue when someone comes up to you and asks what you’re doing with your life. It’s like a high school reunion, but for sad family and friends.
We perform our sad little shiva smiles on cue and repeat the same inane conversations over and over again. He just slipped away, Mom says. Three kids now, Wendy says. I’m a photojournalist. I just got back from a year in Iraq, embedded with a marine unit, Phillip says. We’re separated, I say.