Monday, December 2, 2013

Tribute to Grandpa

As I mentioned on Thursday, my family did a ceremonial unveiling of my Grandfather's headstone on Friday.  This is a Jewish tradition that I've never experienced before but I was glad and proud to be a part of it.

My grandfather passed away on Thursday November 1, 2012 right in the middle of the Hurricane Sandy disaster.  I'll never forget escaping NJ to my parents house in PA for some electric- hot water and heat were much needed.  We woke up on Thursday morning and I could hear my aunt in the living room, she wasn't there when I went to sleep, immediately I knew Grandpa was gone.  He had been battling heart issues for years and I had been bracing myself for this moment since I was about 15, but nothing will ever prepare you for the first time you lose a grandparent.  I've never hugged my dad so hard, what must it be like to lose a parent?  I don't want to know!  It began a whirlwind of events including trying to find clothes to wear for the funeral, driving to CT, battling to get hotel rooms as everyone was fleeing their homes and also trying to find places with generators so they could be warm and take showers. 

It was sad to bury him.  He was small and quiet and I really don't remember much about him.  My parents kept me away from that side of the family because there was always a battle over me not being raised Jewish, but I do remember being more comfortable around him than I was around my grandmother and I truly wish he was still here.  He was buried in a traditional Jewish ceremony that Sunday morning, since he couldn't be buried during the Sabbath (Friday night into Saturday) and by the next Thursday we were all back to work or school and living our lives again. 

The tradition is that you do not visit the grave or place a headstone on the tomb for a year.  In a year you come back, have a ceremony, and unveil the grave, which is what we did on Friday the 29th. 

Here is an excerpt from the speech my Uncle Phillip made at the opening of the ceremony, I think it helps explain the process pretty nicely:

We gather together to formally dedicate this marker or monument or tomb stone to the
memory of Grandpa Milt.
“Unveiling” is the name for the ceremonial “unveiling of” or dedication of, the
headstone at the grave of a loved one. The dedication has its origins in the Biblical story
of the patriarch Jacob, who erected a memorial pillar for his wife Rachel following her
death, as related in Genesis 35:19-20: “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way
to Efrat (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of
Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.”
As the passage suggests, the chief purpose of dedicating a headstone is to mark the
final resting place of a loved one to honor his or her life and to serve as a focal point
for people’s memories for years and generations to come. This marker represents
our conviction that the life of a person does not evaporate when the body dies.
Some significant part of the person lives on among family, friends and community.
Accordingly, remembering and honoring Grandpa is the main purpose of this unveiling
ceremony.
While there is rigidity in some things done in the Jewish faith, it is not the case with
an unveiling. Other than not taking place on the Sabbath, there are no other rules for
scheduling. This enables it to be done when most people are available, it just makes
sense. The ceremony consists mainly of some psalms or poems, the memorial prayer
known by its first couple of words in Hebrew – El moleh rachamim or “Oh G-d, full of
mercy” and the Kaddish said by people who mourn.

After his speech, my cousin Melanie and I recited Psalm 121, she read it in Hebrew and I read it in English.  Then we listened to a song by Charlie Spivek, apparently Grandpa loved him, and my Uncle and dad shared some memories before closing the ceremony with the Kaddish and then placing rocks on the grave stone.

Things I learned about Grandpa:
    He was a hustler- he sold balloons and popcorn at street fairs and made my dad and uncle help
    He loved Jazz, especially Charlie Spivek
    He loved baseball and used to empire games because he was too small to play
    He was wounded in WWII, received a purple heart, served under and was a great admirer or Gl Patton
    He literally hid money all around the house
    He liked horse racing, playing poker, and smoking cigars in the part
    He refered to my aunt, uncle, and dad as the triplets, even though they were years apart in age
    He was a member of the Tribe of Levi, how they know that I have no idea, but it's pretty darn cool!

I wish I had a chance to ask him about the war, to know more about this man that always seemed so distant to me but clearly had quite a bond with my cousins.  It's sad but I c an't change it so I just have to be happy for what I do know about him and pray that I'll meet him again.

Here are some pictures to remember Grandpa with:

Grandkids with the grandparents at Michael's Bar Mitzvah, September 2009
First row:  Grandma, Alissa, Grandpa
Second row:  Me, Michael, Samuel, Melanie

Grandparents with their kids, also at Mike's Bar Mitzvah
Uncle Phillip, Aunt Reyna, and my dad

Grandpa's grave after the unveiling, it was wrapped in gauze, which I kept, not sure why

Grandpa was a good man, and a hard worker.  He worked so hard and never enjoy anything that he had earned.  My dad cried when he spoke about that, which made me cry, he said we should all learn a lesson from that.  Life is short.  It's important to work hard but not so hard that we forget to enjoy.  I hope you can all take that lesson to heart and balance work with life, otherwise it's gone in a flash and you can't get it back.  Rest in peace, grandpa, you are greatly missed.

4 comments:

  1. What a touching post and tribute to your grandpa. It sounds like your grandpa was an amazing man and that the world is a bit dimmer without him.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Debra! Sorry this is so delayed, I somehow missed your comment. He certainly was an amazing man and quite the character. I'm glad that I can do something to memorialize him.

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  2. It's hard losing a loved one. So very hard.
    I'm sure your Grandpa would love this beautiful tribute to him!

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