There is no “proper” time for one to order or erect a monument. It should be done when one is comfortable doing so. Some families may find it is convenient to arrange for the monument at the time they make funeral arrangements, while other families may wait until the conclusion of the mourning period.
Traditionally, the deceased’s Hebrew name should be engraved on the monument so that their name will always be remembered. The Hebrew date should also appear on the monument so future generations will always know when the Yahrzeit is. The Hebrew phrase “.ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.” should also appear on the monument. This phrase translates to “May his/her/their soul(s) be bound up in the bond of life". It is also customary to include the deceased’s English name as well as the English dates of birth and death.
It is a tradition of the Jewish people to visit the grave, as visiting the grave of a loved one benefits both the living and the deceased. There are appropriate occasions for visitation before a monument is in place according to Jewish tradition. One may visit the grave on the seventh day after ending the restrictions of shiva. They may also visit on the thirtieth day of mourning, Sheloshim, which marks the end of the mourning period for all except those who have lost a parent. The child may choose to visit the grave after the completion of twelve months of mourning their parent. One may also choose to visit the grave before or between the high holidays, on the date of Yahrzeit, or other meaningful dates.
This tradition began many years ago, when the first grave markers were mounds of stones, such as the graves of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It became customary to replace stones that may have fallen off when passing by a mound of stones marking a grave. This was interpreted as a mark of thoughtfulness and regard for the memory of the deceased. Today, the act of placing a pebble on the monument when visiting a grave is a symbol of respect and honor to the deceased and a sign that our loved ones are not abandoned in death.
The unveiling is a religious ceremony held at the graveside that marks the formal setting of a loved one’s monument and fulfills the religious obligation to place a marker at the grave of a loved one.
There is no set time for unveilings to take place. Some hold the unveiling on Sheloshim, or close to the thirtieth day after the death and the completion of the mourning period for all except a parent, which is customary in Israel. The general custom for most Americans has been to have the unveiling around the eleventh Hebrew month or the twelfth Hebrew month. Since there is no specific time for a family to have an unveiling according to Jewish traditions, it can be held at a time that is most convenient for all family members.
While it is not required by religious law, it is highly recommended that a Rabbi officiate, as they are professionals who are acquainted with the appropriate prayers and rituals. They may also provide guidance and advice during a stressful time and ensure that the ceremony is meaningful and honors the deceased.