February 1, 2008
When somebody close to you dies, Jewish people go through a tradition known as sitting Shiva. It’s when all the immediate family members of the deceased take seven days off from their busy lives in order to sit on cardboard boxes against the wall. These grieving children, the father or mother or wife or husband, they sit on the boxes with no shower or food, and they mourn, not even getting up to lock the door.

Instead, they just let everyone in.

My grandpa died. Last month, almost to the day.

I’ve been trying desperately to deal with this, this giant hole, this ache of loss. It’s as if my heart has dried up, all the blood and life turned hard. Like cardboard.

I dream about him sometimes. More than anyone else in my family. That I know of, anyway.

In these dreams, he’s perfectly healthy and fit and living well. And then something happens. And he dies.


When my family found out that he had died, there was a lot of crying. And a lot of pain. That was a month ago. We still don’t know what killed him.

He was in Israel with my grandma. They were looking for apartments. To start their life over again.

Grandpa always wanted a boat. He’d tell me that when I was older and rich from writing, I’d have to come get him from Jersey and buy him one.

He was always afraid of that. Getting old.

When grandpa and grandma were in Israel, a few nights before it happened, they went to their in-laws’ house for dinner.

I have an aunt who lives in Israel. Her name is Abby, and she has two boys.

They were all eating dinner when someone said how after so many years of marriage, people fall out of love. They stay together, sure, but because of commitment and children and comfort. No one stays together for love anymore, she said.

Grandma told us this story after my family drove to New Jersey, after hordes of people got turned away at the door of the funeral, two rooms already overflowing with old men in tears and women with running makeup. After I read my eulogy and threw dirt on the coffin.

According to grandma, grandpa interrupted the woman speaking in Israel and said there are two reasons people stay together for so long -- the first one was the sex, and the second was love.

When I was a kid, grandpa had a boat. He took me on it, twice which I can remember. The first time was back when momma and daddy kissed a lot. I had Oreos. And he, golden skin, sea foam in his beard as his lips found their way to the top of a bottle, he had the ocean. And his family.

And for him, that was enough.

When I dreamt about him the first time, he was walking towards me with a cane. We were on our way to Jersey, to the funeral, and he was in the street.

He told us to stop. That everything was ok, and that we should go home. Then, he clutched his throat. And slid to the floor.

I’m just thankful I got to hear him call my name one last time.

For Shiva, countless people flew in from all over the country. Cousins from California, great aunts from Maine.

People us sent cards and fruit baskets, because that’s what we really needed right then.
Fruit baskets.
My family, two aunts and uncle, mom and grandma, they all sat on cardboard boxes. My aunt Jodie, she’s a teacher. She held it all in. Abby couldn’t sit still, but found time to boss people around. Mom was a wreck, and grandma made nice.
But my uncle, he cried.
I haven’t cried about it in weeks now, although when there’s a free moment when I’m lost in my thoughts the ache can become so unbearable I just want to let all the oceans’ waters pour out from my eyes.
And then, once the oceans are filled, I want to buy a boat, and name it The Phipper, after him, and take my parents and a box of Oreos and my memories and get lost at sea forever.
After Shiva ended, my uncle walked to temple for thirty days. In the heat. In a nice shirt, with sweat stains under his arms.
As he walked, he prayed to god, the same god that took my grandpa away from me on the Israeli beaches, the same god that took his father from him.
The Jewish people pray in death in order to find solace. To try to make sense of the senseless.
Grandpa loved being Jewish. I haven’t even gotten my bar mitzvah yet.
I start lessons in two weeks.
After high school, I’m starting my life in Israel. See those Israeli shores. Maybe buy a boat.
The problem with sitting Shiva, with letting people into your home to bring you food and talk to you and give you their condolences, is that you never get a chance to really take a moment for yourself.
To grieve.
It’s been thirty days since my grandpa died. And my uncle still calls me on the phone hysterical. And my dad yells at my mom, not to get over it but to “move on.” And my brother’s clueless, and my aunt holds it in, and all my family flew back to CaliforniaMaineWisconsin.
And here I am in my room holding onto a picture and starting to realize something.
When a grown man calls you every few days to cry on the phone, that’s when you know you’ve really lost something.
And that’s when you know it’s ok to cry, too.

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