What I Learned from a Year in Mourning

The month of Shvat is known for its sense of growth and possibility. It’s striking that, for me, this Shvat also includes my Bubbie’s first yahrzeit, the one-year anniversary of her death.

My Bubbie, my grandmother, passed quite suddenly last Shvat. At the funeral, and during the week of shiva, several times we were told that she was gone “too soon.” Too soon, at 92. A remarkable legacy.

There was also some advice implicit in a lot of these statements: that we should be grateful we had her to 92. When she died, she was still herself. Not yet ravaged by sickness. Her mind was still there. Her body was moving, if a bit more slowly.

Yet, at the time, I was not ready to think of gratitude in this way. I grew up near her and my Poppie, and she was a very motherly figure for me. I am, of course, very grateful that I had my Bubbie in my life until I was 35. We almost never went a week without talking. I was able to grow older and ask her questions that our child minds don’t think of or can’t comprehend. But in the immediate wake of her death, nothing but the grief of the loss consumed me.

Her death is now a marker in my life. The loss of our family matriarch. Of my confidant. That first week after her death and burial, what we call the week of shiva, my family was in our own little bubble. In a daze of shock and grief. The axis of our world turned.

Among the traditions of shiva, it is traditional for that week for the immediate family to stay at home and have the community come for visits. For us, shiva visits took place mostly on zoom which made for a very different experience. We did not work, my mother didn’t leave the house, and we had most of our meals prepared by our community.

Those first few days were a fog. Barely functioning beyond the reality that Bubbie was no longer physically with us. It was only in the last day or two of shiva that I noticed the fog slowly lifting. Other topics and ideas began to occur to me again. My thoughts were 98% on Bubbie, 2% on life. On the last day of shiva, the seventh day after the burial, the family “stood up” from shiva and we walked my mother around the block, symbolizing our re-entry into communal life. I was maybe at 90%-to-10%: in a haze, but aware of the gravity of the moment of stepping back into the world. The thought of my work email crossed my mind.

We then marked her shloshim, the 30 days from the funeral. My cousins and I raised money for the shul (synagogue) she helped my Poppie build. Her apartment was nearly cleaned out. Her possessions divided up. The sentimental items I had given her over the years were now sitting on my shelves or in a box at my home. I was maybe at 75%-to-25%.

Now here we are, coming up on her first yahrzeit and unveiling (a ritual for the family to gather when the tombstone is placed). We’ve nearly completed a cycle of the holidays, Jewish and secular. We’ve had our first Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, and Thanksgiving that did not include Bubbie or the many traditions and rituals that have surrounded her and these holidays the last few years. As she aged and was unable to travel, my immediate family often celebrated with her solo for at least one night. It was a role we cherished. I realize now, writing this nearly 11 months into the year, that I’ve finally told stories of her that were through smiles and with memories of happiness, not only tears.

While I’ll never be down to a 0%, and it often still doesn’t feel real, the wisdom of our mourning rituals has slowly but surely brought me back to life. While I’ve lost people before, my relationship to our spiritual tradition has changed. The year has brought me through waves of grief, and while there is still a sadness that she is not here, the weight of her being gone is not as heavy as it was a year ago.

This experience has also changed the way I think of our calendar. While I love Rosh Hashana, I now think of Shvat to Shvat as its own year. I find it really special that her yahrtzeit is a few days away from a different new year — the new near of the trees! This holiday, Tu B’Shvat, is one of my favorite traditions. I am a climate change scientist by training (though not trade), and the way Jewish tradition thinks of nature and how to relate to our homeland is one of the ways I love to connect to my Jewishness.

This new year is part of why Shvat is seen as a time of rebirth. Of new beginnings. New beginnings imply that there is an end of some sort. While last Shvat I was still in the depths of mourning the end of her life, her first yahrzeit I will try and take in stride. We begin our second year without her physical presence, and we step forward from this process to remember her each year in a different way.

In this vein, I give you an offering. I share this quite honestly for myself, and for all in mourning or a transition of some kind. May we stop in this moment, connect to our bodies with a few deep breaths, and then take life one step at a time.

יהי זכרונה לברכה
Ye’hi zich’rona li’vra’cha.
May her memory be for a blessing.

At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.


Timeline of Jewish Mourning, My Jewish Learning

Tu Bishvat 101, My Jewish Learning

Spiritual Energy of Shvat, At The Well

What I Learned from a Year in Mourning
Dvora Gautieri
Dvora Gautieri

Dvora is a Well Circle leader and all-around wellness enthusiast. She loves finding ways to bring together Judaism, spirituality, and wellness. She is currently a part-time digital nomad/part-time NYC resident, works in mental health tech as a Sr. Manager of Global Implementation at Headspace Health, and is a mikvah guide with Immerse NYC. All opinions are her own.

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