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When Grandfather Died

When Grandfather Died

Helping my young children navigate their loss.

by

My father, Rabbi Dovid Ross, of blessed memory, passed away six months ago after a grueling battle with cancer. My children could not help but be affected by the illness and death of their beloved grandfather.

We tried to shield them as much as we could, but it was impossible to disguise the crushing sadness that descended in our home, the carefree family days seemingly gone forever. The zaidy who was a constant presence, who babysat them together with my mother from their infancy, who rocked them on his knee and led our Shabbos singing almost every week, was gone.

And the questions keep coming

  • Why did Zaidy die if Great-Bubby (his mother) is alive and she's older than him?
  • Is Zaidy in outer space?
  • Can we visit him on an airplane?
  • Can Zaidy see us from heaven?
  • Why did Zaidy leave us?
  • If I am really good, will God send Zaidy back to me?

Then there are just the random remarks that continually mark his absence: “I can't wait until Daddy grows up and becomes a Zaidy, because then I will have a Zaidy to play with again.”

I wanted to explain, that Daddy will become your children's Zaidy - not your own. But then I thought better of it. Let the thought comfort her.

And I can't describe the pain of hearing my five year old suddenly announce one day, “I don't remember what Zaidy looks like anymore.”

This is new territory for me.

In the face of my own grief, the guidelines for talking to children about death seems wholly inadequate.

As a mental health professional who has worked with trauma and grief, I know all about the guidelines for talking to children about death. “Be concrete. Avoid euphemisms. Check in on how they are doing. Acknowledge your own feelings of sadness.” Yet in the face of my own grief, it seems wholly inadequate.

This really hit home the other day, when my imaginative and creative 7-year-old daughter emerged from her afternoon of cutting, pasting and coloring to produce a semi-life size paper cut- out doll of a tall man with a beard and a black hat.

“I made Zaidy,” she proclaimed proudly, “so we won’t have to miss him so much.” She put her “paper Zaidy” on my father’s dining room chair, now left vacant. Then she switched him over to his spot in the recliner in the living room. She offered him to my mother at the end of her visit, saying, "Take him home with you, Bobby, so you won't be lonely."

I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

My children are so young; they don’t realize that the Zaidy they remember aged over a decade in the last year alone. They don't remember their Zaidy who was full of life, who lit up a room just by walking into it, who loved and was loved and respected by all.

They don’t know their Zaidy who was accomplished in both Talmudic pursuits and worldly ones. He worked full time, yet devoted himself to Torah study, learning an astounding eight pages of Talmud a day. He enjoyed literature, classical music and discourse on current events. He spent many years providing for his family, while dreaming of a retirement spent in Israel, filled with Torah study and time with his grandchildren, dreams which eluded him. Yet in the face of his overwhelming suffering, he never complained, never questioned God and continued to hope and pray for his recovery until the day he died.

They are not aware of their Zaidy who was so humble he left strict instructions that there be no eulogies at his funeral, lest anyone exaggerate his qualities in their grief. Instructions that God Himself heeded by taking him from this world on the first day of Nissan, a month when it is customary not to have eulogies.

They are too young to really know and understand who their Zaidy was, and what a future without him will mean for them. Yet their loss is still very real.

They miss their zaidy who twirled them in the air, played with them and took them to the bakery for a sprinkle cookie.  They miss their zaidy who walked with them to school in the mornings and cuddled with them on his lap while he learned Torah.

And while their memories of their Zaidy may be frozen in time, there is much I can do to make sure he stays real for them. So that as they grow in years and understanding, their knowledge of him grows with them. Together with my husband, my mother and siblings, I can tell over his stories. I can talk about his good deeds. I can show them his pictures. I can remind them, again and again, how proud he would be when they emulate his ways.

At the same time, I can try to give my children the space, the creativity and the imagination to commemorate their Zaidy in the way that they need to. To honor him on their own child-like terms, and in doing so, preserving him in their minds and hearts forever.

Published: November 9, 2013


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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) Shmuel Karper, November 15, 2013 3:15 PM

Fond and tearful memories

Our paths crossed so many times over the last 50 years. I went to his Shabbos Bar mitzvah at the Bais Yaakov; we travelled to Yonkers together to take the CPA exam; we read the Megillah at the Young Israel of Manhattan; he learned Mishnayos in my mother's memory.

Bernie & Florence Ross raised a very special person. Be proud that he was your father. Your memorial caught the essence of his life.

(9) Yosef, November 15, 2013 3:46 AM

Thank You For Sharing, I am very touched

My father in law passed away in 2009. He was kind and loved every human being and did so much chesed,and everyone loved him. He loved learning and davening. He never questioned Hashem or was angry with Hashem about his illness, although he had a chronic progressive illness for many many years. He spent the last year of his life in the hospital but he was always in good spirits, listening to Torah tapes, smiling at and thanking every nurse, and being sure to get help to put on Tefillin every day, and davening. On Pesach he had a small morsel of matza and wine orally even though he was not allowed to eat (he had a feeding tube). He so much desired to do mitzvos. My eldest daughter was only three when he passed away. He was sick from before she was born but he always smiled and sang to her and she really misses him. She did come to his funeral but did not stay for shiva week. My second daughter was born after he passed away but she heard so much about him that she misses him too.
We had a baby this past summer who only lived for five days. He was very sick and he passed away. Coping is quite a challenge and ordeal for our whole family. We are learning to take our child with us in our hearts but to go on with our lives. My younger daughter at first was angry at us for taking away her baby. Then she would ask why we can't see him anymore, when her baby is coming back from shamayim, what does Hashem do with the her brother in shamayim, how come her brother doesn't fall from shamayim, can she see him in shamayim, can he see her from shamayim. Last week she asked if her brother died. We gave our kids clear and concrete explanations about death, as well as told them how the baby's neshama is with Hashem.
Reading your story brings me to Tears.
Regarding your father: Yehi zichro boruch!

(8) David, November 15, 2013 12:39 AM

A must read for all parents

Your father's (zt"l) legacy is eternal because of the way he lived and because of the lessons he taught his children. His memories are a source of bracha and nechama.

(7) T. Mendlowitz, November 12, 2013 2:42 PM

B"H
As a former East SIder, I wish to comment on what you wrote.

Rav Dovid Ross Z"L was an outstanding human being.

I worked for his Mother on my first job.

Your children have much to emulate and I certainly hope that they will resemble in some way their Grandfather Z"L.

Be comforted that he made a positive impression on so many people with whom he came into contact.

Be proud that you are part of this wonderful family.

Thank you for writing about your Grandfather.

T. Mendlowitz

(6) Art Wien, November 12, 2013 2:17 AM

Zecher Tzaddik Livracha

A beautiful and heartfelt tribute to your Dad. May the Nefesh of Rav Dovid be cherished in the warm caresses of HAKADOSH. May you, your Mom, siblings, their spouses, grandchildren, machatanim, and all who loved Rav Dovid, z"l, be comforted with time and sweet memories they were blessed to share. Thank you Tzivi for expressing so eloquently, the feelings we all shared and continue to share. May Rav Dovid continue to bring blessings into all our lives everyday.

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