Death Comes For Us All- When Do you Start Saying Goodbye

Last night we had the pleasure of celebrating my grandfather's 94th birthday, but if you ask him how old he is he'll tell you that he is actually in his 95th year. In a couple of weeks my grandmother will join him in beginning her 95th year. Come this June they'll celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary.

Oh, did I mention that they have been friends since they were eleven years old.

As we sang happy birthday I watched the glint in his eye grow brighter. A gaggle of great-grandchildren were there to help him blow out the candles. They see an old man who doesn't walk real well. They see a crankier man than the grandfather I knew.

They don't see the man who would sing and dance to Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. They haven't the heard the stories of his time playing Lazar Wolf or other tales of the Yiddish theater.

That grandfather is still there but, he is clearly begun to slow down. In some ways the changes are so dramatic that you can't help but notice. I remind myself that he is 94. It is natural. It is ok, but it is still hard.

I am not mourning his death. He is very much alive, but now it is clear that he is closer to the end than the beginning. I suppose that I could blame some of this concern upon him. He does talk to me about death more than he used to.

Most of the time it is his fear of what will happen to my grandmother. He has a fierce and burning love for her. He confessed that he sometimes feels frustrated because he is not the man that he was. To paraphrase, "If your grandma fell I couldn't just pick her up, not anymore." And then with a bit of a smirk he said, "you know, I used to do those sorts of things. Don't think that it is just you younger people."

And so he made me promise that if he should die before my grandmother I would see that she is taken care of. I did, but I won't lie and say that for a moment I didn't choke up. He was teary eyed, "You see an old woman, but I see a girl that I still love."

Inside their bedroom are a ton of pictures of the family. There are all sorts of shots of my siblings and I. My kids love to look at them. My daughter looks at some and says "there is baby daddy." My son smiles and asks if the little boy with the curly hair is really me. I nod and smile. He knows that it is me, but it is hard for him to reconcile the pictures of the boy with the father he knows.

My grandfather points to pictures of his grandparents. He shakes his head and says that he can't believe that I never met them. I shrug my shoulders and say that they must have passed something onto him, so I must have a small taste of who they were.

There are pictures on the wall of my Bar-Mitzvah. My grandparents are dancing. They danced at every party. Every time there was a band the two of them were out there gliding around the floor.

I was about 11 when he told me that if I learned how to dance the girls would learn how to hold onto me. I asked him if remembered that and he said yes. Then he laughed and said "and once they learn how to hold on they never let go."

After he blew out the candles my grandmother asked him if he had any money on him. He asked her why and she made some excuse. For a moment they sniped at each other and then he realized that she had been teasing him. She smiled and told him that she'd buy him a gift some other time.

They kissed each other and shared a moment.

I'd like to write more. I'd like to give you a better description of who they are and what they mean to me. As the eldest of their grandchildren I feel a bit of obligation, but I think that for now this is enough.

The sun is setting, but the darkness hasn't quite come, not yet. One day I'll come back to this blog and ease my pain by writing about them. But not yet. For now this is still a celebration of their lives and the joy they take in each other and their family.

We should all be so lucky.


Leora said...

How wonderful, to have living grandparents. Treasure them. (At this point, I have aging aunts and uncles...I never knew one grandfather, and my mother passed away soon after both my grandmothers.)

Anonymous said...

you are so blessed to have grandparents still living, able to enjoy great grand children. Your granparents are more than blessed to have you as a grandson. This was a very moving tribute. thank you for sharing.

The Babka Nosher said...

Such wonderful lives and families your grandparents have to celebrate. You are all very lucky to have them still. Enjoy each moment.

Anonymous said...

רְאֵה חַיִּים עִם־אִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ כָּל־יְמֵי חַיֵּי הֶבְלֶךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לְךָ תַּחַת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ כֹּל יְמֵי הֶבְלֶךָ כִּי הוּא חֶלְקְךָ בַּחַיִּים וּבַעֲמָלְךָ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּה עָמֵל תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ׃

"Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun."

Your grandfather and grandmother were truly blessed, Jack. The above quote is from Kohellet, known as well as Ecclesiastes, 9th chapter, 9th verse. It speaks of people like your grandmother and your grandfather.

It is said by our tradition to have been written by our wisest king, Shlomo. It may have taken him 1000 wives and concubines to figure it out. Though Kohellet is filled with wisdom, I believe these words were his wisest.

I wish for myself and for everyone else what your grandparents are experiencing - it is truly a gift. There is simply nothing that comes close in terms of creating a life that's worth living.

I bet after reading what you've written, that your grandparents think Shlomo was right, too.

orieyenta said...

He was teary eyed, "You see an old woman, but I see a girl that I still love."

It simply doesn't get any better than this.

What a sweet story. I love it whe you write about him :)

We're in a similar situation here with PHD's mom being 92. Each time we see her she is moving a little slower and perhaps she is not as clear as she has been in previous weeks. It breaks my heart, but at the same time I count every moment we have shared with her as a blessing. It sounds like you most certainly know that feeling.

Jack Steiner said...


I do.


Thank you for reading.


We try to.


There is a season, turn, turn, turn. Kohelleth was a wise man.



cruisin-mom said...

I agree with Orieyenta, that is such a moving statement your Grandpa made...really the best description I've heard to express what a loving man feels for his wife.
Beautiful post.

The Misanthrope said...

All the best to your grandparents!!!

Another meshugannah mommy said...

Beautiful post. Your grandparents deserve all the love and nachas they have.

Anonymous said...

This post left me teary-eyed but joyful. What remarkable people your grandparents are. We are so lucky that you shared the love you obviously have for them and they for you.


Doreen Orion said...

This was lovely. I hope your grandparents read it (or have someone read it to them).

therapydoc said...

I love that they kiss in front of you.

torontopearl said...

You recognize the treasure you have in your grandparents; thanks for sharing some of that wealth with us.
May they share many more birthdays anniversaries and family simchas with your family, in good health.
Have a happy Purim, Jack.

torontopearl said...

My bad...sorry about that opener "Neil". I'd just finished reading a Neil's blog, so I guess I have Neil on the brain. And it's nearly 1 a.m. in Toronto, and I'm tired.
How embarrassing...!

Gila said...

Now I am sitting here teary eyed. What a beautiful post. Thank you!

Jack Steiner said...




Thank you.


They do.


We feel very lucky.


Hmm, I should but that would compromise my anonymity. Have to think about that one.


It is cute.


No worries.


Glad to make you happy.

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