Jewish tradition dictates that burials should take place within 24 hours of death, though this deadline has become somewhat flexible in the modern era. During the burial process, however, the headstone isn’t placed immediately. Instead, there is a special headstone unveiling ceremony.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Sorrowful Headstone Unveiling Ceremony Poems
- Uplifting Unveiling Ceremony Poems
- Short Unveiling Ceremony Poems
An unveiling ceremony can take place at various times during one of the beautiful mourning traditions unique to the Jewish faith, which includes a five-stage mourning process. These stages are as follows:
- Aninut: The period of time from a person’s death to their burial.
- Shiva: The first seven days of mourning starting after the burial. Sitting shiva is probably the most well-known part of the Jewish mourning process.
- Sheloshim: The first thirty days of mourning.
- Yud-Bet Chodesh: The twelve Hebrew months after the date of a person’s death.
- Yahzreit: The anniversary date of the death according to the Jewish calendar.
While a headstone unveiling does have a widely accepted order of events, families are free to customize this ceremony. One way they might personalize an unveiling is by reading a poem. Here, we share some poems that would be appropriate for this important occasion.
Tip: No matter what your religion or culture happens to be, losing a loved one is never easy. In addition to working through grief, you might have unfamiliar tasks to take care of—like planning a funeral or unveiling ceremony. Our post-loss checklist can help you understand what you might need to do next.
Sorrowful Headstone Unveiling Ceremony Poems
A somber unveiling service often features Jewish funeral prayers like the Mourning Kaddish. These melancholy poems also fit the mood:
1. "Krieh - Tearing the Cloth" by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis
In Hebrew, the word “kriah” refers to the practice of rending your garments as a physical manifestation of your grief. While this was a longstanding mourning tradition, in the modern-day era people will instead wear a black ribbon to signify their loss. This poem explores a destructive act in a faith that prioritizes reconciliation.
2. "Kaddish for an Absent Father" by Stacey Zisook Robinson
Sometimes it’s not just the death of a person that we are grieving. We also mourn the lost chance to reconcile a broken relationship. This poem delves into the complexities of abandonment in life and death alike:
“And I know you God,
in this ache
that breathes through me,
this grief that
began with absence
with a single
a whisper of Your
3. "To One in Sorrow" by Grace Noll Crowell
Just because a poem is sorrowful, it doesn’t mean that it’s inherently negative. In this poem, the author speaks about the importance of sharing grief with someone who has also gone through that kind of loss. Lines like these show it’s okay to sit in your sorrow and fully experience it.
“Let me come in where you are weeping, friend,
And let me take your hand.
I, who have known a sorrow such as yours,
4. "The Journey Through Grief" by Deborah Greene
From its opening lines, this poem immediately captures the way that death can send us reeling. Whether you were expecting it or not, death has a way of placing us in uncharted waters:
“The journey through grief
So vast, dark, and uncertain
Where is my compass.”
5. "What the Living Do" by Marie Howe
Many poems use metaphors to convey their message. This one showcases how the mundanity of real life complicates the grieving process.
6. "Majority" by Dana Gioia
While death is always hard for those left in its wake, the death of a child brings its own unique kind of pain. In this poem, the author mourns milestones missed over the years.
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Uplifting Unveiling Ceremony Poems
A Jewish funeral or headstone unveiling doesn’t have to be steeped in sadness. It can also be an uplifting ceremony. These hopeful poems are a perfect choice for such an occasion.
7. "A Litany of Remembrance: We Remember Them" by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer
In this popular poetic reading, mourners are reminded that their deceased loved ones will be there in all their happiest moments. Whenever the sun rises or the autumn leaves change, we carry our loved ones with us. The verse’s final lines sum this up beautifully:
“For as long as we live, they too will
live, for they are now a part of us as
We remember them.”
8. "When Will I Be Myself Again" by Rabbi Lewis John Eron
When a loved one dies, it can completely shatter your entire worldview. You often end up feeling like a stranger to yourself. This gentle poem reminds you that little by little, you will come back to yourself again. There won’t necessarily be some huge moment of catharsis. It’s often in those quieter moments when you recognize yourself once more:
“Some Tuesday, late in the afternoon,
Sitting quietly with a cup of tea,
And a cookie;
And you will be yourself again.”
9. "Jewish Blessing of the Mourners" by Unknown
The word kaddish can refer to any number of ancient Jewish prayers or hymns that are regularly included in synagogue services. Many kaddish, including this one, are meant to focus on hope and the future even while in mourning. This specific verse reminds us that death is something we all must face:
“Those who are worn out and crushed by this mourning, let your hearts consider this:
This is the path that has existed from the time of creation and will exist forever.”
10. "Eternal Rest, Eternal Peace" by Suzanne Sabransky
While death is difficult for the ones who are left behind, it is sometimes a relief for the deceased. Lines like the ones below show us that there is a power that comes when you are released from suffering.
“No longer do we dance the dance of frailty.
No longer are we confined by the limits of body.
At last, we are free to allow our souls to take wing.”
11. "When All That’s Left is Love" by Rabbi Allen S. Maller
This poem encourages people to honor deceased loved ones by sharing love with people who are still living. The message is derived from established teachings, which gives it further grounding:
“Remember what our
Love doesn’t die
So when all that’s left of me is love
Give me away.”
12. "Fault Lines: For the Ones Who Need Healing" by Suzanne Sabransky
Sabransky has a deft way of showing how closely grief and hope are intertwined:
“Cracks form as we survive grief
They start with sharp broken edges
Eventually dulled when worn by time
The crevasses remain but they narrow
And rather than fall into them
Hope and light begin to emerge.”
Short Unveiling Ceremony Poems
Headstone unveilings often include several elements, including a eulogy and a reading from the book of psalms. These short poems are perfect because they are full of meaning but won’t pad out an already-long ceremony.
13. "Separation" by W.S. Merwin
This poem packs a lot of punch in just three lines:
“Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.”
14. "Mourner’s Kaddish for Everyday" by Debra Cash
Jewish funeral traditions are often as culturally important as they are religiously significant. Cash’s nontheistic take on a traditional Jewish funeral prayer is also accessible for people who aren’t as religious.
15. "Yesh Kokhavim: There Are Stars" by Hannah Szenes
Senesh lost her life at just 23 years of age when she joined in the anti-Nazi resistance effort. This poem, like her life, shows that even when something is short it can be packed with meaning:
“There are stars
whose light reaches the earth only after they themselves have disintegrated
and are no more.
And there are people
whose scintillating memory lights the world after they have passed from it.
These lights –
which shine in the darkest night – are those which illumine for us the path.”
16. "The Excursion" by William Wordsworth
Wordsworth is known for writing poems that are short but full of impact, like this one:
“And when the stream that overflows has passed,
A consciousness remains upon the silent shore of memory;
Images and precious thoughts that shall not be
And cannot be destroyed.”
17. "Untitled" by Yehuda Amichai
This brief poem perfectly captures the way that a person’s absence can be felt as heavily as their presence:
“Forgetting someone is like forgetting to turn off the lights in the back yard
so it stays lit all the next day
But then it’s the light that makes you remember.”
18. "There Is No Night Without a Dawning" by Helen Steiner Rice
This short poem perfectly captures the depths of grief, while ending on a hopeful note:
“No winter without a spring
And beyond the dark horizon
Our hearts will once more sing…
For those who leave us for a while
Have only gone away
Out of a restless, careworn world
Into a brighter day.”
Special Poems to Commemorate an Unveiling Service
Every culture and religion has its own customs around death. Judaism is no different, as demonstrated by the five stages of mourning that are traditionally observed. But even within the confines of tradition, there is still room to customize a service.
For example, if a headstone unveiling is organized by the deceased’s parents, it will usually take place after eleven months. Otherwise, it can happen as early as the end of sheloshim. There is also some freedom when it comes to readings. The right poem can be the perfect personal touch for a headstone unveiling.
- “Additional Poems and Readings for Mourners.” Sinaichapel.org, Sinai Memorial Chapel, 2019, www.sinaichapel.org/tools-resources/additional-poems-mourners.aspx.
- “Poems of Comfort.” Shiva.com, Shiva.com, 2021, www.shiva.com/learning-center/resources/poems-of-comfort/.