I received a package today. It contained 6 books donated by Kar-Ben publishing in Minneapolis, for Jake’s Library. Beautiful illustrated books for children ages 2-8. Books about Jewish holidays, life, and history. Books Jake would have loved when he was that age. I sent letters asking for such donations, and Kar-Ben was the first to respond. This gesture touched us deeply. One of the books, titled Stones For Grandpa, is a book for young children that have lost a grandparent. It talks about the sadness, the happy memories, the way to keep someone alive in your heart and thoughts. The stones of the title are the pebbles we place on the grave of a loved one. I mentioned the custom in my post of a few weeks ago, “Shloshim“. We bring them to the gravesite to signify that someone was there, that someone remembers. I don’t think it was a coincidence this was included with the Sesame Street Rosh Hashana, the story of the Patchwork Torah, and Sammy the Spider’s First Yom Kippur. I read it with tears flowing. Where is the picture book for parents who have lost their children?
The book talks about all the good memories this little boy had of his grandpa. The wonderful times they had during the holidays. All the great things they did together. His Mom gave him a ‘memory box’ with things to help him remember: pictures of them together, Grandpa’s secret card tricks, his star chart, his special recipe for chili. But this little boy says the best memories aren’t in the box, they are inside him. Like the time they both made a wish on a shooting star, and it was the same wish. All the things Grandpa taught him; how to tie knots, how to catch frogs and most importantly, how not to be afraid. And while I read it, I felt as if I was the little boy who was remembering his Grandpa, and that Grandpa was Jake. All the things this book describes are things Jake and I did together, or an aspect of Jake’s life. Magic, cooking, adventure, teaching, wishing on stars in Hawaii, catching fish, all the holidays we spent together as a family.
These are the universal things we all miss about our departed loved ones whether parents, grandparents, siblings, friends or our own children. These are the threads that knit our lives together, that make up the cloth of memory. The specifics are different for each of us, but at the core, they are mostly the same. Shared adventures, a cherished artifact, a special place, food, piece of music, a meaningful lesson delivered at the exact right instant in the most loving way, When a parent or grandparent dies at the end of a long, full and productive life, our memory box is full. Stuffed to overflowing with the million and one moments we experienced with them. The sorrow is no less, the grief just as powerful and long-lived. We will always miss them, there will always be a sad kernel to those memories, but as we have observed, it follows the natural order. When your child dies, it is as if a bandit comes and robs us, emptying the box. Worse even, the thief takes all the days that should have made more memories. He steals memories that will never be. We have to relive the limited time we had, over and over, and no matter how wonderful, like watching a fabulous movie for the hundredth time, we long for something else. And of course, Jake will never get a chance to be the Grandpa for his grandchildren, just as I will never get to be the Poppa Ed for his kids.
So I turn over the artifacts in my memory box: a few photos, an old camera, a recipe book, a half-built model rocket, a vision of a beach in Hawaii, a road trip through Italy, a little boy bringing coffee and pan dulce to his mom and dad in Mexico, a family whole and happy. I cherish these images even though they bring me sadness and smiles at the same time. I guard the box jealously, lest someone steal even one precious moment more.