Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Unveiling: One Year of Grief

Mayim shares coping mechanisms & poetry, reflects & looks to the future
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 05/02/2016 at 7:36 AM EST

I’ve been writing about grief for a year. My dad died a year ago. His English date of death was a few weeks ago but because it’s a leap year in the Jewish calendar, the Hebrew date just passed.

He passed on Passover. The seventh day, to be precise. The seventh and eight days are religious holidays with their own rules and timing and fastidiousness. When he died, we couldn’t tell any of our religious friends and family because of the restrictions about using phones on the holiday. We sat and we waited for 3 stars in the sky 2 days after he died. His body had been taken away already. We had been numb already two days, walking around like zombies, haunted by his ghost and unable to lay his soul to rest as Jewish tradition declares ought be done as soon as possible.

And so this year we lived it again. It’s not your business what the months were like before he died, but I can tell you he suffered and we suffered with him. I sat for the first and only seder of my life without my father as he lay dying, and this year my mother and I relived every day of Passover with feet made of lead; trudging through memories we wish our brains would abandon.

I did a seder for him bedside. He made his final Kiddush (blessing over wine), he wore a kippah (yarmulke) for the last time, I cried and we held each other and yes, we sang of freedom.

And then we waited for God to take him. And God took him and then it was silent. The sounds of his breathing, jagged and broken for months, ceased. The sounds of us adjusting his bed, the pillows, limb by limb; adjust him, he’s uncomfortable, does he need medicine, don’t let him see you cry, let him see you cry, he’s dying, he’s dying, he’s gone.

This year, I navigated cooking and preparing and menus and shopping (and videos of me shopping, even!) and making it right for my mom and for my kids. Zaidy (grandpa) wasn’t there last year and Zaidy’s not here this year.

And we did it. We achieved what had to seem impossible to anyone who knows us: we had 2 beautiful seders. We engaged, we wrestled, we laughed, we sang, we wondered how Mayim could yet again mess up the rhythms of the drinking songs so that they never ended right; we did it all. No one yelled, no one screamed, no one rallied against the God who took him. We did it.

And this past week, we lived through a Thursday leading into the Thursday night that was the same as the Thursday last year when we watched how God took him. I could not make my mind stop: God took him limb by limb, breath by breath, one at a time, and I remember how when I chanted for him his final vidui (confession), I knew this was it. God didn’t take him quickly. God took him slowly.

And now we live our lives slowly. We had his actual yahrzeit (anniversary of death). We were encircled by friends who didn’t know him but knew us enough to let us learn in his honor and laugh in his honor and forget for a few hours.

We unveiled his matzeyvah (gravestone) a few days later. A piece of rock; of granite, with words and images and things to make us remember. How could we forget?

In Israel, they call the gravestone a pillow. My mom liked that.

Family joined us and those closest to us; it was a small affair. The hospice organization that cared for my father gives us 13 months of grief counseling with the Rabbi who tended to my father as he died – she officiated.

Just as Moses led the Jews out of slavery into a desert and then a threatening sea and led us through it to dry land, so this Rabbi has led us out of grief and into grief and through grief to today.

Today I am still grieving. Grief, the hospice literature tells me, “takes a lot longer than most people think it should.” That made me feel so good. I’m ok.

God certainly takes away and God also gives. I have been given the opportunity to shine through darkness because my father died. And I have been given the chance to prove once and for all that I can handle whatever is given to me with as much grace and dignity as possible.

Here are the things that I have done to help me through this time, which I recommend.

  1. Talk to someone you trust. I chose to mainly speak to our Rabbi, my therapist, and about three very close friends who know me most intimately and with whom I can openly cry and rage with.
  2. Don’t feel like you have to talk to people if you don’t feel like it. I would really ask myself this year, “Do I really want to talk to this person or do I think I have to talk to this person?” And this is not to say that I didn’t appreciate people reaching out or that I didn’t like the people who reached out if I didn’t speak to them; there is a process to grief that I had to honor and this was part of it.
  3. Take care of yourself. I am terrible at self-care so I am not at all an expert on this, but I started using an app on my phone that has guided meditations. You can select by how long they are and it’s been a lifesaver this year. I also try to get exercise; even walking a little bit does the trick. It’s good for your brain chemistry and helps lift your mood.
  4. Be gentle with yourself. I ate really crappy this year. Like, really crappy. But I didn’t beat myself up over it as much as I normally do. I tried to give myself the right to just be this year. Every time I was certain I needed to change something about myself right now, my therapist reminded me to just keep walking one step at a time through this year and we can figure out the big stuff on the other side of it. (I’m sure she can’t wait for our next session to start that process!)
  5. Don’t double up on negative feelings. If you feel sad, don’t then feel bad that you feel sad, or guilty that you feel sad. Just feel things. Distractions like work, alcohol, drugs, and shopping take you away from feelings but someone once told me that feelings are like urine: you can try to hold it in, but it’s coming out eventually.
  6. Do double up on complex feelings. It’s okay to feel more than one thing at a time, even though we don’t want to double up on negative feelings as a way to punish ourselves for having them. So this means that sometimes in grief, you might feel super sad but also happy at the same time. You may feel grief and relief, or scared and hopeful. Its normal to have more than one emotion of conflicting nature. It’s ok and doesn’t mean you’re bad.

My year one of grief has ended. I know someone whose dad died the day of my dad’s unveiling. It goes on and on.

Passover will certainly never be the same, but I pray for God to take away what is no longer useful to me and to draw my attention to what is. I’m told year two is worse than year one, but year one was certainly the most shocking and I am so relieved that it’s over and that my mom and I didn’t come to blows at any time this year.

I will keep grieving and I will look forward to finding new ways to be challenged by grief and by the legacy my father left. I will work to make myself healthy and whole again and I look forward to watching what God gives in place of what God took away.


Here are the three poems I read at the unveiling, with explanations of why I chose them.
My dad was a drama teacher and he loved Shakespeare. I am a professional actress who doesn’t understand the appeal of Shakespeare. However, sonnets like this make sense to me. My dad would have rolled his eyes at my lack of passion for Shakespeare, but this seemed a really brutal but also complicated choice that really suited the vibe of my dad.

Sonnet LXXI (William Shakespeare)

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

My father loved Dylan Thomas and I read this poem to him in the weeks before he died. My dad and I shared a kind of morbid sense of humor and approach to life, and he requested poems about death as he neared the end. This was one of them and it exemplifies not only how his death felt to me, but how my process in dealing with his death felt. He and I both did not go gentle into the dark night of his death.

Do not go gentle into that good night (Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This poem has a lot of variations, and my hospice newsletter I get monthly had a longer version, but this poem is a beautiful reminder that we are standing at gravesides and grieving people but their existence and their influence is all around us in our lives and in the natural world as well.

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep (Mary Frye, 1932)

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

(This is part of a series by Mayim Bialik chronicling her journey through the year of mourning following her father’s death in April 2015. For previous pieces in this series, click here.)

Explore These Topics:
Grok Nation Comment Policy

We welcome thoughtful, grokky comments—keep your negativity and spam to yourself. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.