Suppose I'm in charge of seeing to it that some mourners about to begin shiva have their physical needs and comforts to the extent possible. (Here, physical needs includes physical things needed for spiritual purposes. I'm excluding things like advice, comfort, and spiritual guidance. I'm also excluding things unrelated to shiva, like income to replace the deceased's.) What should I bear in mind and arrange for?
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They will need:
- A designated coordinator of the shiva. This may be a family member, close friend, volunteer, rabbi, etc.
- Low chairs, for mourners.
- Regular chairs, for visitors.
- According to common custom, a seven-day lamp (or seven one-day yahrzeit lamps).
- Meals for the week and beyond, especially an initial meal after the funeral of, typically, bread and boiled egg.
- According to common custom, mirrors around the house covered.
- A sign posted on the door to the home indicating times that visitors are welcome, the last day of shiva, and, if applicable, times of prayer services. If applicable, notification to local organizations of the same information, to put in newsletters or the like.
- A sign or card inside with the traditional wish of consolation to mourners המקום ינחם... in relevant languages.
- Someone to tidy the public areas of the house at the end of each day, and, to the extent the householders care, to do a thorough cleaning at the end of shiva and/or before any Sabbath that occurs during shiva.
- Volunteer(s) to care for the needs of the mourners that they cannot attend to; this can vary greatly depending on the situation, as well as the age(s) and health of the mourner(s).
- Volunteer(s) to coordinate/aid logistics of meals and visitors.
- Volunteer(s) to shuttle young kids to / from school an / or other programs, as well as someone to assist with homework and other routines that the kids do. This is especially important for single parents.
If there will be communal prayer services in the home, they will need:
- Sidurim (prayer books) for people to use.
- A Torah scroll to read from, and arrangement for someone to read from it. Make sure there's also a table suitable for the scroll.
- A few talisos (prayer 'shawls').
- Depending on the layout of the home and the genders of the mourners and visitors, a small movable mechitza (partition) may be useful.
- Preferably, some pastries and/or coffee each morning. (People pray in the shiva home and go straight to work, so it's nice to have something for them to eat as a thanks for coming. Moreover, the blessings they say when eating serve as a merit for the deceased.)
- According to some people's custom, candles and matches or a lighter, to light during the services.
- Other additional items used during prayers during certain times of the year (such as a shofar during the month of Elul)
Some added boons:
- A copy of Rabbi Maurice Lamm's or another book on the rules and/or philosophy of mourning.
- Where few visitors are expected — or where few visitors are expected who can relate to a particular mourner — arrangement of visitors to stop by.
- A sign-up sheet for any of the aforementioned volunteer roles that may yet need to be filled.
- A charity box. It is customary to donate to charity in the deceased's merit. At the end of the shiva, collect the donations and give them to the charity whose name is on the box (if none, then to a charity of the mourners' choosing).