I pulled the following off the internet, however it contains usefull information for visiting those sitting Shiva. I myself am Jewish and it pretty much describes what to expect when you arrive at the house. Obviously there will be differences from one family to the next, however if they are traditional this is what to expect. Bringing in some prepared food or snacks is always appreciated as the mourners traditionally do not cook or clean. Depending on the family they may have close friends and members of the extended family attending to their needs the first week.
When one pays a shiva call, the focus is on comforting the mourners in their time of greatest grief. Traditionally, one enters the shiva house quietly with a small knock so as not to startle those inside. No one should greet visitors; they simply enter on their own.
Food or drinks are not laid out for the visitors, because the mourners are not hosts. They do not greet the visitors, rise for them, or see them out.
One who has come to comfort a mourner should not greet the mourners. In fact, it is best to come in silently and sit down close to them. Take your cue from the mourners. If they feel like speaking, let them indicate it to you by speaking first. Then you can talk to them, but what about? Let them lead and talk about what they want to talk about. It is best to speak about the one who has passed away, and if you have any stories or memories to share with the mourner, this is the time to do so.
If you have any stories or memories to share with the mourner, this is the time to do so.
This is not a time to distract them from mourning. Out of nervousness, we often babble on about nonsense because we do not know what to say.
Often, the best thing to say is nothing. A shiva call can sometimes be completely silent. If the mourners do not feel like talking at that time, so be it. Your goal is not to get them to talk; it is to comfort them. Your presence alone is doing that. By sitting there silently, you are saying more than words can. You are saying: "I am here for you. I feel your pain. There are no words."
And sometimes there aren't. Here are examples of things not to say:
"How are you?" (They're not so good.)
"I know how you feel." (No you don't. Each person feels a unique loss.)
"At least she lived a long life." (Longer would have been better.)
"It's good that you have other children," or, "Don't worry, you'll have more." (The loss of a child, no matter what age, is completely devastating.)
"Cheer up -- in a few months you'll meet someone new." (He/she has just lost the other half of their soul!)
"Let's talk about happy things." (Maybe later.)
Comforting a mourner does not mean distracting a mourner. Don't fill in the time talking about happy subjects or inconsequential topics like politics or business. Remember that speaking about the loved one they lost is comforting. It's alright if they cry; they are in mourning. It is all part of the important process of coming to grips with such a loss.
When Michael Dan lost his mother, he composed this notice and posted it outside their front door:
"In a Jewish House of Mourning" -- Each culture approaches death and the mourning period in its own unique fashion. As a family, we only request that an effort be made to create an atmosphere that is congruous with our Jewish values. Conversations should focus on the life and legacy of Judy Dan. No effort should be made to portray her in an artificial light, since this would offend her memory. Painful as it may seem, attempts at distracting family members from thinking or speaking about their loss are not considered appropriate at this time.
Thank you, The Dan Family
Perhaps those in a similar situation could use these words as a guide for composing their own notice. Visitors, upon reading such a message, will walk into the shiva home knowing what is proper to say and do. Such a message will help them and, by creating the proper atmosphere in the shiva home, will also help the mourners themselves.