Recently we had a young couple in my congregation who sadly suffered the still birth of their daughter. The infant lived only a very short time. They chose to do full mourning rites for the child. We're talking funeral, shiva, shaloshim, etc.
With no disrespect intended, I found their reaction rather morbid. Aside from the halachic problems, I found the whole thing quite disturbing to the point that I had a difficult time focusing on the services knowing that they would be saying Kaddish. Our rabbi obviously has no problem with it which raised another set of difficulties for me.
Has anyone else come across this situation? How did your congregation deal with the situation? How did you react?
Look. Mourning is for the survivors. If going through the entire levels of Jewish mourning comforts the parents, I have absolutely no problem with it. Especially in our fortunate days, where losing a child is NOT a routine occurrence, and most families do NOT have to expect to lose one child out of four.
Our OLD custom of NOT mourning a stillbirth is no longer useful.
That said - and I wanted to say it - I think some kind of modification would be perfectly appropriate. Shiva? Sure. Shloshim? Okay - but maybe the 11 months of daily kaddish is more than is useful. Maybe.
Just take them a casserole* and leave it at that. You don't have to say anything and you don't have to stick around for kaddish to be recited, if you don't want to.
I would certainly never presume to tell anyone how to mourn or not to mourn. Personally my wife and I experienced a still birth. Traumatic as it was the thought of having a funeral never crossed our minds. I actually think that shiva is too long for mourning. Fortunately my parents were gentiles so I didn't have to observe shiva. I don't know what I will do if, God forbid, a Jewish relative dies.
Should you lose a first degree Jewish relative - You 'man up' and sit shiva - it is for you, but also for your friends to have a 'ritual' for consoling you. For gentile parents - that is really up to you. Traditionally, converts don't go through Jewish ritual mourning for non-Jewish parents - I didn't - BUT, I do observe yahrzeit for them, and recite kaddish (then). Basically - not required, but equally, not really forbidden.
As for funerals for a stillborn infant - it is hard to see how anybody could stand up and give a eulogy, right? But some sort of 'service' (some words) at graveside sounds appropriate to me at least. Really a matter for the rabbi and parents to work out, so far as they are able, I think. I suppose it depends on how you define 'funeral'. A graveside service isn't a 'funeral', but some people might call it that.
There are 'Death and Mourning' resources, both secular and religious, including 'The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning' if you haven't seen that yet. By Maurice Lamm:
When, God forbid, a close Jewish relative dies I will sit shiva because it is a mitzvah that is required of me as a Jew. But seven days is a VERY long time to mourn. To spend seven days with nothing to focus on except the loss of a loved one seems counter-intuitive. One wants to recover from grief, not sit in it. And the very last thing I wanted when my parents died was people telling me how "sorry" the were for my "loss". I found it insensitive and in some cases even disrespectful.
BTW "The Jewish Way of Death and Mourning" is an excellent book.
I think that "one size fits all" (7 days of shiva) is necessarily going to be too long for some, but perhaps not enough for others. It depends on the circumstances of the death and mourner's personality and relationship with the deceased. What I find particularly difficult are the cases where a holiday cuts very short or effectively eliminates shiva. This has happened quite a few times to members of my congregation in the past several years.