SITTING SHIVAH FOR AN IN-LAW?
I have been thinking about this for quite a while. My husband passed away almost 12 years ago. Since then I am remarried. My husband was a young man when he died. I still keep in touch with my father-in-law, who is quite ill at this time. My brother-in-law died unexpectedly six months before my husband. My mother-in-law died about five years later. When his time comes to leave this earth, he has no children or siblings or spouse who would otherwise sit shivah for him.
My question is this: I have two kids who are married, his grandchildren, and then there is my niece who is also married. How do you have remembrance for someone who has meant so much but for whom you cannot sit shivah? This is the last part of my children's link to their Dad. I am hoping you can give me some advice so that when the time comes, I don't have to go scrambling to decide how to handle this.
Anticipating the End
Dear Anticipating the End,
What an interesting question in spite of the sadness that has given rise to it. Okay, let's think this one through--
You are caught between two mitzvot. One mitzvah is to honor our parents. I suppose we could make some technical arguments to the effect that your father-in-law is no longer your father-in-law, especially in light of the fact that you have remarried, but it is also a fact that this ailing man remains the sole link to a part of your life that was most important and giving it up (read: giving him up) would be painful if not downright cruel or insensitive. So let's go with the broader understanding that this man is your ailing father-in-law whom you choose to never forget and never leave. I commend you for that--we all should.
On the other hand, Jewish tradition specifically limits those for whom we become official avelim or mourners. This is a very wise move on the part of Jewish tradition for were it not for this stipulation, there would be no clear boundaries as to who must mourn, and for how long, and in what way, etc. Grandchildren do not become mourners, nieces and nephews do not become mourners, cousins do not become mourners, really close friends do not become mourners, and in-laws of any type do not become mourners. This is not to say that they do not become sad or distraught with a loss, but it is to say that they do not sit shivah, refrain from entertainment, or say kaddish for 11 months. The truth of the matter is that some of us die leaving no one behind who would sit shivah.
When the time comes, you will arrange a farewell for your father-in-law that is beautiful and dignified. I would imagine a gathering of family and friends following the cemetery in which he is remembered fondly, and anything beyond that, is purely voluntary. No shivah is necessary.
As for reciting kaddish, the answer to this is, and I hate to do this to you, yes and no. If someone from the family were to come forward and say I wish to say kaddish for Grandpa, or I wish to say kaddish for my father-in-law, it is no sin. But in our tradition, there is a bias in favor of not taking on any more responsibilities than is absolutely necessary. In other words, it is equally legitimate and even praiseworthy to make sure that, when the time comes, this man is buried in dignity, remembered lovingly, and no more. Sometimes in taking on more obligations that are not absolutely required, we create an expectation that others do the same. The line between what we must do and what we would like to do becomes blurred. People begin to feel guilty over saying “no” to something they should never have felt obligated to do in the first place.
A lot of how your father-in-law will be mourned is in your hands. Whatever decision you make will be the right one.
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