It was the first morning of Biennial, my senior year of high school. I was so excited to be there. I had arrived late the night before (after a long day at school) and had barely had time to settle in before going to bed. My roomies for the weekend seemed nice enough. I was just starting to get my bearings…beginning to feel comfortable enough to start getting to know new people. I was beyond thrilled to be there. I was loving the energy of being around so many like minded people. I looked up during breakfast and saw my parents. I was pissed.
How dare they check up on me…how dare they invade my space like this. Soon after I saw them across the room, trying to avoid their gaze, Someone came to get me and bring me over to them. I probably muttered something about my parents. The adult bringing me over probably gave me a comforting smile–I didn’t know what was going to hit me.
I went out into the hall with my parents, and it was only as I heard the words come out of my father’s mouth that I saw the ashen look of his face. My grandfather, his father, Papa, had died. (sidebar: This, in part, is why I will always have a particularly soft spot for any NFTY-ite who loses a loved one during a NFTY event. It’s more than empathy. I’ve been there.)
I honestly don’t remember my initial reaction. The next couple of days are a blur in my memory. I remember a few people reaching out to me. I remember going to a program or 2, but barely processing. I remember sleeping on the bed of my mom’s hotel room (my dad got an earlier flight out, so he could do funeral arrangements). I remember a bunch of people checking on me. My dad worked for the UAHC (now URJ) at the time–and Biennial was much smaller. Most of the staff, I think, was unofficially keeping an eye on me. For good reason. I mean, hey, my grandfather had just died. I remember nodding that I was ok a bunch of times. And I remember the funeral a bit.
I remember there being a piece of glass debris among the dirt as I shoveled, and picking it out before I walked away. I remember it being really cold, and not being dressed warmly enough (because I hadn’t packed the right clothes for biennial). I remember the shiva a little bit. I remember trying to wrap my brain around being someone with a dead grandparent.
That seems so long ago now.
More than any of that, though. I remember Papa. He was amazing. I remember him standing up for the National Anthem when he would watch the Red Sox on TV. I remember his laugh and his smile. I remember hanging my stocking for Christmas (yes, we were all Jewish) and him dressed as Santa (he had been in the retail business, and Christmas was always a “family holiday”). I remember him giving himself insulin shots. I remember him sneaking sweets that he shouldn’t have had because he enjoyed them. I remember how much he loved Chinese food. I remember many summers on Cape Cod, playing on the beach as he got sunburned, and how much he loved lobster. I remember how he was wonderful. How much we all loved him.
I learned a ton from my grandfather. Patriotism, Red Sox Fan-ness, kindness, meaning. I’ve been told that he always voted for the winning candidate–and even from that I learned to think beyond parties. I’ve learned how to laugh and how to be friendly and a friend. And how to have fun.
I was old enough when he died to have known him and really remember him. I was also young enough to have somewhat idealized him in my mind. But, that said, I also have no doubt that he was an amazing person. With such a wonderful, friendly nature. With such a sense of family. With a wonderful sense of humor. With an infectious laugh.
Papa, even now…22 years later…I miss you. I wish you had been there for more of my life, and for more of the lives of our whole family. You’d love your great grandchildren–I know grandma does. I know they’d love you. We all loved you.
And I still love you. And I know I’m not alone.
Thanks, Papa, for everything you gave us. For everything you were.
Zichrono livrachah. May your memory be for blessing.