Dance of the Shiva Queen

David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via, Creative Commons license.)
David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via, Creative Commons license.)

The 7:06am call was not unexpected and I knew what it was about before I even picked up the phone. I had been up since 5:30am and already did two loads of wash, ran the dishwasher, paid bills, and written out a “Thinking of You” card to yet another friend with recently diagnosed cancer.  I suppose on some level I was subconsciously “nesting” knowing my week was about to explode.

Sharon Siegel
Sharon Siegel

“Karen’s* mom finally passed in the middle of the night,” reported my dear friend Ellen.

“Oh no, finally is right. Oy, four horrible months on hospice. How’s Karen?” I inquired knowing the answer in advance.

“Ya’ know, exhausted… a little relieved it’s over….sad…she’s first going to feel it when everyone leaves and the kids fly back to school.”

I put down my coffee cup and searched for a pen and piece of paper in my kitchen junk drawer. Why didn’t I ever find the time to clean out this damn drawer? Finally finding a pen that worked but was mysteriously sticky, I was ready for “shivagistics”.

“When are the kids coming in? Does she need someone to pick them up at the airport?” I inquired.

“No, Ben wants to pick up the kids and spend time with them before the masses descend.”

I sighed, sat down at my kitchen table and took a big breath to get ready for our well-choreographed dance, “Soooo….let’s do this,” I stated with resignation.

Ellen is my girlfriend who can out-organize me and I knew these shivagistics were in good hands.

“I can be Shiva Queen, can you be Head Shiva Fairy?” she asked already knowing I was going to say “yes.”

“Yeah, it’s a little crazy at work, but friends come first. How many nights is she sitting?”

Ellen gave a little snicker and said with wit, “Three which is the new seven.” Ellen continued “But she’s taking the rest of the week off and maybe some of next week.”

“That’s good. She’s going to need it just to get all that medical equipment out of her house. She has no idea how exhausted she really is.” Karen’s mom had moved in with her and Ben to live out the last days of her life.

Ellen continued methodically, “I’ll call the deli when they open and order the bagel and fish tray for after the cemetery, the friends will send in the first night dinner. Karen said to go with the brisket and not the chicken. And Ben said his office wants to send in the Shabbat dinner. Do you want to do the Shop Rite list or the BJs list?”

“Well, how much is on the BJs list?” I asked thinking that it wouldn’t be that much to juggle with my full time job.

“Practically everything,” Ellen stated.

I was incredulous. “Seriously?”

“Shar, not everyone is like us,” Ellen reminded me.

“Ellen, if anything happens, there are plastic bins….”

My girlfriend cut me off and finished my sentence “by your downstairs refrigerator filled with all the paper goods and plastic ware for shiva. I know, I know.”

The middle part of the dance began.

“Ok, so what about the other fairies?” I asked.

“Already texted Lori this morning. She’s picking up cases of water and bottles of soda and dropping them at Karen’s after work. I gave her the garage code in case Karen’s at the funeral home making arrangements or talking with the rabbi. Gail’s in the middle of tax season, so I’ll call her after she gets to her office and ask her to pick up the fruit trays and stay late to wrap the food. No one can pack a refrigerator like Gail. And Michelle can’t go to the cemetery but she can hang in the house to cover the mirrors, put out the water pitcher, bowl and paper towels, receive the food delivery and start the coffee and hot water. The guys can bring over the folding chairs and snack trays tonight. I’ll ask Debbie to bring her coolers and pick up ice.”

“Real friends bring ice,” we said in unison. Our mantra for shivas.

I tried to recall the journey of our shared shiva supplies. “I lost track of who has the big percolators.”

Ellen searched her memory and responded, “Hmmmm….I think Nancy had them last. I’ll call her in a little while.” Those big percolators traveled from house to house like the angel of death.  I could see Ellen’s list growing and felt a little guilty.

I shook my head. “This sucks. This is my third shiva this month. What a screwed up social life”

“Yeah, I know. But at least we get to see all our friends who’ve left the synagogue.”

“True,” I said and then sneezed. My late mother, well versed in Jewish witchcraft, was known for saying that “you sneeze on the truth.”

Ellen pushed on. “OK, let’s go over The List…..”

I’m known amongst my friends for cultivating detailed lists for packing the kids for their Jewish sleep away camp, Bar and Bat Mitzvah countdowns, sending the kids to Israel with NFTY and college packing. Several years ago as my social life was taken over by friends’ parents’ funerals and shivas, I had curated this Shiva List with Ellen. Not everything will apply, but I hope some Jewish Sacred Aging readers might find it helpful:

The Shiva Supply List

  1. 2 large coffee urns/percolators for decaf coffee and hot water for tea
  2. Decaf coffee
  3. Tea bags-regular and decaf
  4. Half and half or non-dairy creamer
  5. Sugar, Sweet and Low, Stevia, Equal
  6. Coffee stirrers
  7. Paper plates-full size and dessert size
  8. Paper bowls
  9. Plastic utensils
  10. Napkins
  11. Plastic cups
  12. Hot cups
  13. Lots of Ziploc bags in various sizes including Jumbo
  14. Tupperware containers
  15. Tinfoil
  16. Plastic wrap
  17. Paper towels
  18. Sponges
  19. Toilet paper
  20. Paper hand towels for bathroom
  21. Garbage bags
  22. Tissues
  23. Hand sanitizer
  24. Soda-regular, diet, caffeine free
  25. Ice-lots of ice
  26. Large coolers
  27. Ice bucket and tongs
  28. Plastic pitcher and bowl to put in front of the house with paper towels and garbage can
  29. Folding chairs
  30. Coat rack and hangars
  31. Plastic tablecloths
  32. Serving pieces-plates, pie lifters, big spoons, big forks
  33. Covers for mirrors (sheets, towels)
  34. Sign-in book or use the one from the funeral home (optional)
  35. Kippot (Yamulkas)

May you not need this list often!

*Names of the Shiva Queen, Fairies and mourner’s have been changed.



About Sharon Siegel 4 Articles
Sharon Konkin Siegel is the Director of Life Long Learning and Adult Programming at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, NJ. She is the proud mother of two incredibly creative adult children who are professional storytellers through their craft of writing, acting, designing and editing.


  1. After 3 intense years of playing and receiving Shiva Fairies, the Intentional Family Group is worn out, but laughing a lot more, especially as we remember the one item that caught us totally by surprise…we think often and with much gratitude of the neighbors who, without even asking, switched dumpsters with our overfull ones each night of Shiva. The list is wonderful. Ours was in our heads, which just added to the overwhelmed feelings.

  2. Superb writing and so on target. It’s obvious that you fit the role of both Shiva Queen and Head Shiva Fairy so well, in addition to being a dear, loyal friend.

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