Shivahs & Novenas

March 9, 2024

Dear Mitch,

I like having words for things.

Maybe that is one reason grief can be so frustrating to me, because there isn’t one word that can describe how I am feeling at a given moment. It just doesn’t exist in the dictionary.

I was reading a book, and it was talking about the Jewish tradition of shivah when someone dies. I realized that this was happening before and a couple of days after your funereal, even though we are Catholic. Many faiths, in fact, do something similar to shivah but just don’t use that terminology.

I decided to look up if Catholics have a name for this period of time as well. I was surprised it was called a novena. It lasts for nine days rather than the shivah’s seven. What surprised me by this is that I always thought of novena in relation to Mary (particularly), the saints, the Pope, Jesus, and God.

Shivah is a time of sheltered grief.

During shivah, everyone who participates is present for the pain and one another. Cues are taken from the griever in how to proceed: do we talk about you, do we cry, do we laugh… There is no need to dress up or wear make-up. That was weirdly comforting to me because I dressed comfortably for your funeral, but not dressed up per se. Since your diagnosis, I have not worn makeup until just recently, with only one exception: Lexi’s wedding. Part of that was because, why, what’s the point? I wasn’t feeling like doing it. I mean, really, some days I didn’t get out of my pajamas! And all I did was cry. The makeup would just have come off from my tears and added racoon eyes from the mascara.

My family performed novena, or shivah,

by taking care of household tasks; friends brought food; and I continuously felt surrounded by love and support. Many of these people are still a wonderful support system a year and a half after your death. I depended on others to take care of the “extra things” for the funeral, like what to serve at the reception, the photos, the video, writing the thank-yous, and taking care of the mundane day-to-day duties.

Kate Bowler stated it best, I think, when she wrote:

“I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.”

If, to be honest, floating is the auto-pilot feeling, the numbness, but I like the eloquence of floating. I remember feeling like I was floating above everyone at your funeral rather than feeling the wood of the pew underneath me. So, yeah, floating works.

I am lucky

to have people in my life who don’t roll their eyes and think, Here she goes again talking about you. They just reminisce with me, and we laugh, cry, or both.

With all my love,


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  1. I love this Nicole as I love all of your writings. You have a gift of painting a picture in words. Like you said laugh and cry as I just did with the raccoon and the pew comment. So, so much love for Mitch and from Mitch. Hugs, dear friend! ❤️

    1. Marianne,
      Thank you. Your comment about my painting a picture in words means more than you will ever know. I have envied authors who could do that and now you said I did – wow, Best. Compliment. Ever!

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