The Renaissance Man

By Katy Solomon

            It happened in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of getting ready for senior prom. I was at my boyfriend’s house watching TV and joking around between the loud claps of thunder and intense lightning of a severe storm. I was getting ready to go home when my mother called. I giggled and answered the phone when uncharacteristically she got right to the point.

            “I don’t know how to tell you this but Zaydee got very sick very quickly and he’s gone. We’re on our way to the hospital now.”

            Zaydee is a loving Hebrew word for grandfather, and that’s what he was, my loving grandfather. After I heard what my mother told me my face contorted into a mess and I cried like I have never cried before. I couldn’t speak and passed the phone to my boyfriend. He held me and tried to listen and relay what my mother was saying. Through tears and sadness we decided I was not going to go to the hospital. I was going to school the next day and was for the first time going through something everyone experiences at one point in their lives, loss.

            My father’s side of the family is very religious and my grandfather was a prestigious rabbi. He would always lead our family holiday services, Shabbat dinners and when I was little would always surprise me with a little present when I would stay the weekend. He was more of a shadow in their home, quietly pacing the house by himself, reciting prayers or reading a book. Everyday he woke up late in the morning, sat down to eat his oatmeal at noon and eventually for dinner at 10PM. He was helpless; unable to boil water or use a microwave, but nevertheless a brilliant and experienced man. He held many Masters and Doctorate degrees, was a Colonel in the Air Force for more than 20 years, a rabbi, raised four children and eventually became a psychotherapist for the remainder of his life.

            I never knew how much of an impact he had on so many people until the day of his funeral. I stayed the previous night at my grandmother’s, and although nothing in the house seemed different nothing felt the same. People in my life who I had never even known to cry would burst into tears at any given moment, yet there was still a loving feeling in the air with my uncles trying to lighten the mood with jokes.

            I had only been to a funeral once before for someone I had never met and had arrived late. This was a completely new experience for me and I was very shocked to see how many grieving people were present to mourn my grandfather. People offered their condolences to me. I shook the hands of people I had never met and we sat down for the service. I looked to the front and saw the American flag draped over his coffin, looked back and saw that every seat had been filled. There were at least four rows of people standing in the back of the room, and I later learned that there were even people standing and waiting outside who were not allowed in. I had never imagined that a man who drove 20 miles under the speed limit could change so many lives, how a man could sit and tell a story for an hour never getting to the point could make people he had encountered once cry at his passing.

            We proceeded to the burial site in a typical procession. Due to his rank in the Air Force there was an honor guard present to play taps in his honor and hand my grandmother the American flag that had been draped over his coffin.  Traditional Hebrew prayers were said as his body was lowered into the ground, and through a hole in the plain oak coffin I caught a glimpse of the traditional white clothing my grandfather was wearing. I will never see him again, I thought.

            With the bugles playing in the background and the sounds of people crying, I watched my grandfather become part of the Earth. As soon as he was gone forever a warm and strong breeze broke the heat of an otherwise completely still, sunny afternoon. “That is Zaydee saying goodbye, going to a better place and approving of everything that happened today,” whispered the woman next to me into my ear while squeezing my hand. A tear dripped down my cheek, one of the few that came from me that day, and one of the last cried in his memory.

            The months following his death went as normal although going to my grandmother’s house was never the same. My grandmother received hundreds of cards and thousands of visitors and all of my grandfather’s patients would call my grandmother asking for help because they would never find anyone like “Dr. Solomon.” His American flag rests on a dresser in the living room and in my head I still hear the words my uncle said at the funeral. He spoke of my grandfather’s accomplishments, his hopes, his dreams and his influence on people’s lives and he gave him the appropriate title “The Renaissance Man.” There is no better way to describe my grandfather than that. To this day I am afraid of severe storms because of the loss one brought me once. With the flashes of lightning I will only think of my Renaissance Man.