December 12, 2005

To sum up, albeit briefly

My grandfather is dead and, five days, buried. I am still devastated by his death and by my loss. I am sure that the passage of time will make my grief less sharp, will smooth over the jagged edges of my emotions, will help me hurt a little bit less. At least, I hope it will. You see, his passing has left me feeling a bit empty and somehow like someone has sucked all the color out of the world. Since I like to think I don't tend to the melodramatic, I leave it to you to figure out just how sad I really am based on that last sentence.

I want to give some passing impressions from the last few days, so as to record them for myself in the future:


*The funeral day was terribly cold. It was held at his old synagogue in New Rochelle. I sat in his old seat, the seat he had occupied all the years I had attended high holiday services with him. I thought, somehow, that it would make me feel closer to him. It didn't. It just felt weird and may have driven home his absence more fully.

*The casket was so very small for such a powerful and vibrant man. I had problems looking at it. I declined, as if stung by a live wire, the invitation to view the body. The family, you see, has to identify the body. I let my uncles and father and mother do that. My wife went in, too. I told my uncles that I absolutely had no interest, that the last memory of him I wanted to preserve was my cupping his beautiful face in my hands, my telling him that I loved him, and my kissing him goodbye. Not the image of him dead and in his coffin. No thanks. My wife should not have gone in. She is taking his loss very hard and she came out and buried her face in my collar bone and sobbed. She loved him very much and he loved her.

*I have little memory of the eulogies. My uncles and mother each spoke and they all spoke quite well. It was hard not to cry but I held it together. At least, up to the point where the grandsons gathered to wheel the casket from the sanctuary. When we got outside, I sobbed inconsolably. I felt myself gathered up in someone's arms and comforted and didn't even know who. I have no idea how long I cried for. I eventually realized it was my cousin J who held me. He and I are the closest in age.

*The ride to the cemetery took a very long time. We passed the time in the limo, the kids' limo (no adults allowed!), by exchanging stories and memories and teasing each other. That was nice.

*The cemetery was terribly frigid. He was lowered into the earth next to my grandmother. I put a stone on the headstone to mark that I was there for her, as well. I gather I was the only one who did that.

*You may not know this, but Jews bury their own. You put a shovelful of dirt on the coffin yourself. I did this. I took off my gloves so that the cold of the wood and the metal would burn my hands and fingers. I took a big shovelful and I draped it over his coffin as if I were laying a blanket on him. It hurts to remember this, by the way. And then. . . Well, then I fell sobbing into the arms of my Uncle E. He held me as I cried and I have to say made noises like I have never heard before, like I was some wounded animal. After I recovered, and we said the Mourners' Kaddish, I returned the favor, the comfort, to my cousin J as I held him while he cried. Everyone left and I lingered, gazing into the hole, unwilling to leave because I just could not bring myself to say goodbye. My wife had to pull me away with a gentle tug.

*I remember basically nothing of the ride home to my parents. We washed our hands outside on the porch before going into the house. My children were there and the Boy Child was in fine form, not bothered in the slightest by all of the strangers, quite content to sit by himself in the dining room along the wall, filching cookies for himself. He was a source of joy and comfort.

*We stayed that first night until about 8 or 8:30. The Rabbi came over and we had the evening service at 7:30 and all said the Kaddish. He left a set of prayer books for us to use during the shiva period and I promised to return them.


*Shiva started at 1:00 in the afternoon. Before it began, I returned the books to the temple. We were supposed to get a huge snow storm and I was concerned that if we did, I would be unable to return the books and, well, what if some other family needed them?

*I drove back to New Rochelle, after dropping our old nanny off at her friend's house. Did I mention that our first nanny flew in from Utah just to attend the funeral? That gives some indication of my grandfather's magnetic personality.

*I dropped the books off and I spent a little time with the secretary looking at the various places on the walls of the synagogue where my grandfather's name appeared. Then I went back upstairs and sat by myself in his old seat in the sanctuary, all alone. I am not sure why. It did not bring me peace. If anything, it made me more sad as I wondered if this would be the last time I ever visited this place where I had spent so many years. It is a beautiful room. I miss it already, but then, I suppose I am predisposed to mourn the passing of things at this very moment.

*Shiva was long. Lots of visitors, lots of food. I didn't get home until after 8 that night. I spent some very important time with my uncles. My uncle S told me that he knew how important my grandfather was to me, how much of a father figure he really was, how much of a void he filled, a role he played. I had no idea he knew and am not even sure I totally knew. There were more tears that day. I still felt so alone. My uncles and mother (and my father) are so hurt by his death.


*The storm hit over night and it was a big one. I drove down to Westchester anyway. I had to get the car serviced that morning but I was the only one there so I was in and out in a half an hour.

*I then drove over to my grandfather's old house. I met my uncle S there. Later my cousin E arrived. I spent over three hours with them selecting photographs from my grandfather's collection of family pictures. Some of them will go into a book we will make, including, for example, the water color caricatures of him and my late grandmother made in 1948 on a trip to Havana, Cuba. This was a lovely, although very dirty time. We laughed, we compared pictures, we reminisced. It was grand. I filled quite a box with pictures, a lot of them of my mother from the 1940's. My grandfather, by the way, appears to have never taken a bad picture. He was quite photogenic.

*We then sat shiva at my parents. No one came. No one. The storm was too much for them. Instead, my wife left work early and joined us and we all gathered, some 12 or 14 strong in the family, around the dining table and ate my father's homemade spaghetti and meatballs and drank wine and laughed and shared memories and stories and gave each other a hard time. Comfort food, my dad called it. And it was, for the soul and the body. It was beautiful and the one person who would have enjoyed it the most couldn't be there. My grandfather enjoyed his family more than anyone I've ever met. It was a constant source of delight and strength to him. He would have loved dinner that night. Just loved it.

*After we left, my uncle E read out loud some of the letters they found that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother in the 1930's. They were, I'm told, delightful. My uncle is going to copy them and send them around in a very limited distribution to all the grandchildren.


*Spent this day back at my parents. At least, most of the day. We went back down to help my dad clean up and we ended up sitting and going through all the family pictures I had selected the day before. Lots of laughs.

Today is my first full day back at work.

It is very hard, still. I expect it will be for a long time.

Posted by Random Penseur at December 12, 2005 04:23 PM | TrackBack

Oh, bless you, my friend.

My heart breaks for you.

You and yours are in my prayers.

I wish for you comfort and peace.

The love in your heart keeps his love for you alive.

Posted by: Christina at December 12, 2005 05:57 PM

It's happened, and I'm so sad for you. Even though I never had the opportunity to know your grandfather, I've felt as if I've met him through your descriptions and obvious love. How is it that I find myself crying for the loss of a man I never knew, and the pain of one I only know online?

I'm glad you have community and family to comfort you, and I hope that work is busy enough to distract you for a bit.

Posted by: Allison at December 12, 2005 06:36 PM

I have never met either of you, but what struck me as I read through this post is how alike you are. It is no wonder you feel that a part of you is were part of each other. I am so sorry that he is gone.

Posted by: Linda at December 12, 2005 09:52 PM

Oh, bless you, RP.

Posted by: Kathy at December 13, 2005 01:05 AM

Go with G-d's blessing, RP.

Posted by: Mark at December 13, 2005 08:55 AM

Peace be with you and yours RP.

The only words of comfort I can think of are that he will always with you.

You and yours are in our prayers.

Posted by: phin at December 13, 2005 09:03 AM

Still thinking of you and yours. Keep his wonderful life and memories to pass to your children. He will always be with you, watching over you and your family.

Posted by: oddybobo at December 13, 2005 10:11 AM

I wrote a long comment last night and then deleted it and wrote another one and then deleted it. Instead, I'll just wish you some extra strength and stamina as you get through this period of mourning.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at December 13, 2005 06:42 PM

Thank you for sharing the life of such a wonderful man with us. Thank you too for your honest and openess.

I pray that you are able to find strength in the depth of your love for each other and in the faith you shared. May you be able to find peace at the end of each day.

Sending a long spiritual hug...

Posted by: michele at December 13, 2005 08:47 PM

The thought that struck me with most clarity while reading and weeping a little is that you were so much a part of your grandfather and he a part of you that he will always, always be with you.

Not just in your memories, either.

It's what I believe -- that those that pass on look after us. Guardian Angels, if you will.

I have the strongest feeling that your grandfather DID enjoy the spaghetti dinner most of all.

Peace be with you, my friend.

Posted by: Margi at December 14, 2005 01:20 AM

Blessed be RP.... I am so very sorry for your loss. AND although you feel a part of you is missing and nothing can change that, try to remember that your grandfather left a part of himself within you with all his love, care, and shared experiences. I'm sorry I know that isn't much help right now, but I would think that your grandfather is watching over you in your time of grief, and hoping that you take comfort from the part of himself he left with you.

Posted by: dee at December 14, 2005 11:21 AM

This touched me deeply, RP. My heart goes out to you and your family. {{{{many gentle hugs}}}}

Posted by: Amber at December 14, 2005 11:24 AM

I hope peace comes to you and your family. Your grandfather was a special man.

Posted by: Jordana at December 14, 2005 03:17 PM

Hearts to hearts, generations to generations. He not only lives on in you, but in your lovely little ones, too. Treasure that, and keep the faith.

You're in my thoughts.

Posted by: Jennifer at December 14, 2005 07:56 PM

You're in my thoughts and prayers as well.

Posted by: Lawren at December 15, 2005 10:41 AM

My grandfather, by the way, appears to have never taken a bad picture. He was quite photogenic.

Or perhaps smart enough and strong enough willed to get rid of the bad pictures? Why DO we save all of the bad pictures?

I'm just glad that you've got such a close and supportive family around you, RP.

Posted by: Jim at December 15, 2005 01:51 PM

May the spirits and the love of your family guide you through your time of sorrow.

My heart mourns for your loss.

Posted by: Primal at December 15, 2005 04:13 PM


Not much else to say. Good luck working through this.

Posted by: Hannah at December 16, 2005 03:49 AM
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