It Is A Hand Up- Not A Hand Out

" The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain't heavy, he's my brother" 

He Ain't Heavy,He's My Brother – The Hollies

The day of my grandmother's funeral was filled with bittersweet moments and memories that will stay with me. It wasn't the first time that I have seen my mother cry but it was one of the few in which she wasn't mom, but the daughter who had lost her mother. 

She and my aunt sat on either side of my grandfather, the three of them holding hands- staring at the grave in which grandma would be buried. And for a moment they stepped back in time and reassumed their roles as daughters and father. The foursome had turned into a trio.

My father and I stood silently on opposite sides of the three and listened to the rabbi share some thoughts and stories. He did his best to make them words of comfort, but for me they fell a bit short. He had only known her for a few years, he didn't really know grandma, not like we did.

As I listened I thought about it all and replayed the conversation I had with my son on the way to the cemetery. I told him that I was a pallbearer and explained that I would help take grandma from the hearse to the grave. He listened intently, soaking everything up. The silence afterward making it clear that he was thinking about it.

And then I told him about how we would all take turns shoveling dirt on the casket and why. I told him that these things are important because they are among the last few things that we do for the person that has died.

When the time came to move grandma I found him standing next to me. He wanted to help so I made some room for him next to me. I found the moment to be a bit surreal. My dad was on the opposite side, three generations of the men in our family all there to help grandma one last time. Just before we started to walk I turned to him and gave his shoulder a quick squeeze.

Later the two of us would be told by the funeral director that we had to stop shoveling. It made my son very angry and me a little bit sadder. But I understood. It was a reasonable request. So I pushed the shovel into the mound of dirt and walked over to the side of the grave, motioning for my son to come stand with me.

For a moment we were silent and then I said goodbye to grandma and walked away. I almost turned around, half expecting to see her standing there, but I forced myself to keep walking.

A few minutes later found us flying down the 118, just one more car on its way to who knows where. I broke the silence and asked him if he had any questions about what had happened. He said no and I told him that if he changed his mind he could always ask me later.

For a few minutes I was lost in my thoughts about what had happened and then it occurred to me that this was a good opportunity to try and teach him a few things. So I told him a few stories about how his great grandparents gave back to the community. I told him about why this was important and about how not everyone gets it.

We spent a few more minutes talking and then I told him that I wanted him to learn the difference between a hand up and a hand out. Because there is a significant difference between the two. But I think that I'll save that discussion for later.
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Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities said...

Thank you for sharing this slice of reality and mortality with us. I am particularly moved by the part at the end where you feel compelled to teach your son and to open up the divide to questions. I am a rookie parent, but I already feel many of these times when I am a bit overcome myself, but feel obliged to turn the moments into pearls of wisdom. I can tell from this post that you are a contemplative and conscious parent.

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Aidan,

Parenting feels an awful lot like learning how to read Braille. You just kind of touch and feel your way through things.

Life happens and you just do what you need to do or so I think.

Minnesota Mamaleh said...

lovely, bittersweet post. i love how you included your son in absolutely everything-- including lessons and open dialogue. i'm sure being right by your side is exactly where he needed to be.

i really found your observation of old roles coming into play. they often do during times of sadness and change, don't they?

thank you for (another) thoughtful post.

Jack Steiner said...

lovely, bittersweet post. i love how you included your son in absolutely everything-- including lessons and open dialogue. i'm sure being right by your side is exactly where he needed to be

Thank you. I have been to more funerals than I care to remember and have had plenty of time to try and come to grips with death. But the kids are young and haven't the benefit of my life experience. I'm no different than any other parent, just trying to make life easier for them.

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