My grandpa died on Sunday. This is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral today.
Eulogy for My Grandpa David Fishman
A few years ago, grandpa summoned me for a meeting. Sitting in his study, surrounded by his books that bore witness to a lifetime of study and learning, he proceeded to lecture me on the importance of slowing down. He exhorted me to take my cue from nature, noting that bears and other animals don’t hunt all year. They take time to rest, cuddle and snuggle.
That may have been the only time I ever heard grandpa use the words cuddle and snuggle.
He was not the type of grandpa who cuddled or wrapped me up in big bear hugs. And still, I never doubted his deep love for me.
In many ways, this scene was exactly who he was.
My grandpa was a man of words, and words were the medium he used to express his love. A life-long student, voracious reader, and prolific writer, he was always prepared with a d’var Torah, and arrived to every occasion — every birthday, graduation, and milestone event — with a letter that expressed his thoughts, imparted his wisdom, and reminded us of our family heritage.
Grandpa instilled in me his love of learning and his penchant for words. And somehow, on this occasion, words elude me. Words, like time, can simultaneously feel both abundant and scarce. I have too many, and not enough.
Where do I begin to sum up 42 years of memories?
My best guide is to take a page from his playbook and share with you a letter that I wrote to him 2 weeks ago. I wrote this on the train heading back to the city after two days at the beach. He had just returned home from the hospital, and I was going to visit with him for what I knew would be the last real conversation.
A Letter to My Grandpa Before Our Last Conversation
As I write this, I am on my way to see you for what I expect may be the last time. My emotions are jumbled. I am acutely aware of of the fleeting nature of time. I’ve been blessed to have you as an active participant in my life for over 42 years, and yet it doesn’t feel like enough.
As I reflect on a lifetime of memories, I wonder, where do I even start?
Yom Kippur is not typically considered a holiday that one looks forward to. There are no presents or fun traditions, no festive meals. It’s a long day or fasting and affliction.
And yet, for over 15 years, Yom Kippur has become one of my favorite holidays, because of my tradition of spending it with you and grandma.
Receiving my blessing from you each year was, in itself, a blessing.
It has given me great joy to stand in the balcony at Fifth Avenue Synagogue with grandma and watch how you were received by the men as you walked to your seat. It filled me with pride to see the respect paid to you, not only because of your status as an elder in the community, but because of your character: a man of dignity, integrity and grace.
Our special tradition feels especially fitting in light of how I’ve come to understand the role of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is also known as Yom Teshuva. Many translate Teshuva as repentance, but it’s root is from the word that means to return.
In life, we stumble in the moments when we forget who we are. We can get caught up in the habit of fear, and act on autopilot. Woken out of our trance by the wail of the shofar on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur is the day on which we return to ourselves — who we are in our truth.
On Yom Kippur, we stand before God not merely to acknowledge our sins and ask forgiveness, but to proclaim:
The sins that I committed, that’s not really who I am.
Grandpa, throughout my life, you have helped me return to my truth, not just on Yom Kippur but throughout the year.
23 years ago I was blessed with the rare opportunity to travel to Poland with you and grandma, a literal return to our family’s roots.
You have always seen in me not just my capabilities, but my potential — even when I couldn’t see it for myself.
Whenever I stumbled, whenever I was in doubt or feeling lost, you provided me with the words to remind me of who I am, where I come from, and what I’m capable of.
Grandpa, I am so grateful for all you have gifted to me, not just materially, but spiritually: values, wisdom, love and support. You instilled in me a passion for learning, an insatiable curiosity, a love of family, and respect for the traditions and heritage of our family and our faith. You have been a model of success in every realm, and taught me how to live.
“Thank you” doesn’t feel like enough, but it is all I have.
I love you, grandpa, and I will carry your words in my heart, always.