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Our Unexpected Passover Guest

Nobody expected my grandfather to show up at my apartment for Passover—two months after he died

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(Margarita Korol; homepage illustration Shutterstock)
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The first Passover after my grandfather died, my family knew that our grandmother would need us all to be together for the holiday, but we also knew she wouldn’t be able to host everyone. So Grandma, Mommy, and my 7-year-old brother squeezed into the two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles where I lived with my husband, whom I’d married just one year earlier. My sister, who lived nearby, came over for the Seder and other meals throughout the holiday, and several other friends joined us as well. It was crowded but festive, like the crush at a happening party.

And then, on the sixth night of Passover, we got an unexpected visitor.

After kissing my mother and grandmother goodnight, I headed to the bedroom I shared with my husband, carefully stepping over my brother’s open suitcase and circumnavigating the sharp corner of the sleeper-sofa. My husband already lay in bed, curled on his side, breathing deeply. I lay down beside him with a book, drifting off after reading just a page or two.

As I slept, my grandfather, dressed entirely in white, entered my bedroom. He glowed with peace and holiness. Eyes twinkling, he beamed his usual vivacious smile. The vigor he’d possessed during my childhood had returned.

Grandpa’s presence was palpable, as if I could reach out and touch him, and—strangely—the sensation lingered even after I awoke with a start. Electricity charged the atmosphere in my room. Enthralled, I felt Grandpa’s benevolent but alarming manifestation emanating from a specific corner of the room.

Certainly, I would not be going back to sleep.

I crept from the room to go get a drink of water. When I entered the living room, I discovered Mommy sitting at the foot of the sleeper-sofa where Grandma was lying, speaking animatedly. She kept her voice was low to avoid waking my brother, still sleeping nearby. Grandma, who appeared agitated, listened intently.

“What are you doing awake?” I whispered.

“I had a dream,” my mother told me. “Of Grandpa. He came to comfort us.”

“And I had one, too,” Grandma added.

I flopped down into a chair. “Whoa.”

My mother turned to me, her eyebrow arched. “What’s wrong, honey?”

Before I had a chance to explain, my husband emerged from our bedroom. “I dreamed that Grandpa came to visit,” I said. “And it feels like he’s still in there.”

“In where?” my mother asked. I gestured over my husband’s shoulder into our bedroom.

“In that corner?” he asked, pointing to a specific area of our bedroom.

“How—how did you know?” I stuttered.

“I just felt something, something there,” he said.

The blood draining from my face, I nodded silently. Mommy and Grandma rushed over. But as everyone approached, the presence dissipated.

***

Grandpa had been more than a grandfather to me. He had acted as a substitute father after my parents divorced when I was 5 years old.

In my eyes, he’d been tougher than Muhammad Ali. He regularly lifted my sister and me high into the air when we were little, one in each arm. Every summer, Grandpa schlepped my sister and me from our home in Columbia, Md., to the beach in Ocean City and bought us frosty Popsicles on hot days. When Lee’s Ice Cream in Baltimore introduced cookies-and-cream ice cream, Grandpa mixed his own version for us at home with kosher Hydrox cookies instead of treyf Oreos. Grandpa fried crispy latkes at school with me at Hannukah and celebrated all my triumphs, large and small, with his booming voice and contagious grin.

When my sister and I grew up and left for college, Grandpa wrote us long letters in an almost indecipherable scrawl. He battled cancer during my first year at college, but triumphed. When we returned home, he pulled us close and said, “Are you still growing? So tall! So beautiful!”

Life was unpredictable, but Grandpa’s love never was.

***

On a Shabbat evening the February before he died, I had worried about Grandpa. The doctors had concluded that they could no longer fend off his cancer, which returned from remission shortly after my wedding. A hospital visit in January had left us with little hope—Grandpa, who’d once been so strong, had withered to a specter of his former self. My husband had held one of Grandpa’s hands while I had held the other. It had become unimaginably soft, his calluses faded from months lying in bed. Like the hand of newborn.

Now Grandpa had returned home, awaiting the inevitable.

In a dream that Friday night, I entered a wedding hall draped in white tulle and festooned with flowers. A groom approached the chuppah, the Jewish wedding canopy. Grandpa sat across the aisle from me. We stood as the bride entered, radiating joy and light. Just as my eye caught Grandpa’s, I awoke and sat up.

Grandpa had told me as a child, “My mother believed that if you dream of a birth or a wedding, it foretells death.” Shaken, I noticed the time—a few minutes past midnight. I knew with great certainty that my grandfather had passed to the next world.

In the morning, I quietly confided my dream to my husband. Not wanting to dampen the joy of the Sabbath, I said no more about my secret knowledge, but I walked around all day with a lead weight on my heart.

Our phone rang immediately after havdalah, the service that marks the end of Shabbat. Grandpa had died at home, surrounded by his wife and children, a few minutes past midnight.

As Passover approached just a couple months later, I wondered what the holiday would be like. Grandpa’s Seders had always opened a door to a magical reality, completely distinct from the quotidian world I inhabited the rest of the year.

We had always read the service all the way through from my grandparents’ art deco Union Haggadahs. With a booming voice, Grandpa had told the story of the slaves in Egypt as though it were his own personal drama. My young mind never once questioned the miracles of the Exodus—their reality had been handed down to me by my grandfather, who’d received it from his, and so on for more than 3,000 years.

Year after year, Grandpa had hidden the afikomen, undetected. His sleight of hand was worthy of Doug Henning. By the time the gefilte fish arrived on its china plate, Grandpa would have me on the edge of my seat, wondering where he’d hidden the matzoh.

In our youth, my sister and I balked when we were sent to the front door late in the Seder to invite in Elijah the Prophet. To us, Elijah the Prophet could be no one but the Boogey Man. After all, hadn’t Grandpa told us that the Boogey Man lingered by the front door at night?

As a child, I was greatly relieved when Elijah would fail to appear. Now, as an adult, I grieve.

***

Twelve years have passed since Grandpa died. My husband and I still live in the same tiny apartment, now (thank G-d) crammed with kids. When I begin to prepare for Passover, I inevitably think of my grandfather, who never met my children and would have taken such pleasure in them. Nevertheless, my husband and I try to make our Seders as magical as possible for them. I don’t think we have quite the same flair as Grandpa, but the kids look forward to Passover with as much anticipation as I did.

I don’t expect Grandpa to visit us again this year. When he appeared to us that first Passover, he knew we needed him. Today, we still miss him. We still wish he were here. But we no longer need reassurances of his unconditional love. His one final visit gave that to us.

***

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Cymantha Governs says:

This is beautiful…Thank you for passing along your grandfather’s gift to us.

jacqueline cole says:

goodness how beautiful, thank you for sharing this

This is the best way to start the week. Thank you!

Thank you for sharing this. It was beautiful.

speechbx says:

beautiful!

VinoJon says:

Thank you for this beautifully penned piece. My grandfather died just a few weeks ago and your description of yours and the way he conducted his Seder really resonated with my own experiences growing up. RIP Zayda!

Rebecca Klempner says:

I hope you find comfort in the upcoming holiday. Thanks to you and all the other kind compliments.

so beautiful :)

guamjeff says:

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither
have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

Eccl. 9:5

The dead are asleep. Lucifer and his minions were tossed from heaven due to rebellion. It is they, passing themselves off as a loved one, that will make such contact.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of
it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Gen. 2:27

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: Gen. 3:4 (the first recorded Satanic lie to our first parents)

I know that it is a much loved doctrine to believe that our loved ones are still alive and well in heaven but it just doesn’t fit with God’s word. God even made it a sin to attempt to talk with the dead or with those who try to because he knew of the deception. To know that our loved ones sleep and rest, in peace, to me is also a very comforting knowledge. They will be raised at the return of the Messiah.

Even Christians have scripture that points this way: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. 6:23

These scriptures all fly in the face of “eternal life” for the wicked except that the eternal life will be horrendous torture. God says over and over that the wicked will die, be burned up root and branch, be ashes under the feet of the righteous (Malachi) and that sin will not rise a second time. Imagine a universe with a group of wicked cursing and howling for eternity? Just not gonna happen.

Another scripture says: It is appointed for man once to die and then the judgement. Even Jesus, a Jew, told his disciples that a man that had died was “asleep”. Several days later the story is told that Jesus went and woke him up.
Imagine being in heaven, in the arms of God and all of a sudden being ripped away to live in this world again for a short time and having to die again.

My beloved grandfather, who was given the gift of an ecstatic death (from his face, it was apparent that he was beholding the Face of the Almighty as he died), appeared in a similar dream to my mother (his eldest child) and his wife as well. It is wonderful to hear that others have been given this same privilege to have their loved ones touch them reassuringly one more time.

Elizabeth Podolsky says:

How comforting it must be to know that you grandfather is still very present in your life. I’m sure he’s proud of you keeping the Passover traditions and passing them down to your children.

Jay Bird says:

Thank you for this, I needed it.

Wonderful Memories of your Grandpa and made me think back to MY Grandpa too who was a major part of my childhood. I held Papa Joe’s hand as he transitioned and the peace on his face told me that he was with Hashem and in good hands with The Angels. He comes to me every year when I least expect it; always at a time when I would have loved to reach out for him.

Our loved ones are ALWAYS with us and as long as we whisper their name and share (like this wonderful story) they are kept alive.

Zeissen Pesach to you all!

Bruce Bevitz says:

It brought tears to my eyes, and hope to my heart.

Sonia says:

Thank you and thank you again.

FRANCINE GOLDMAN says:

WHAT A LOVELY STORY! MY GRANDPA CAME TO MY GRANDMA AFTER HIS DEATH AND KISSED HER CHEEK AND SMILED AS HE VANISHED AWAY. HE JUST WANTED TO COMFORT HER AND SHE SAID SHE ACTUALLY FELT HIS TOUCH AND THE KISS ON HER CHEEK. A DREAM? NO, SHE HAD JUST CRAWLED INTO HER BED WHEN SHE SAW HIM BY THE BED. HE SIMPLY BENT DOWN AND GAVE HER HIS GOOD BYE KISS AS SHE NEVER GOT TO SAY GOOD BYE TO HIM BECAUSE OF HIS PASSING OF A SUDDEN HEART ATTACK. WHEN MY SISTER PASSED AWAY, SHE CAME TO MY BEDSIDE AND CALLED MY NAME AND I GOT UP IMMEDIATELY AND CALLED HER. I DID NOT GET AN ANSWER, BUT I LET IT RING. MY NEPHEW ANSWERED THE PHONE BECAUSE IT WOKE HIM UP. I ASKED HIM WHERE HIS MOTHER WAS AND HE SAID SOMEWHERE IN THE HOUSE HE GUESSED. THEN WHEN HE GLANCED TOWARD THE BATHROOM, HE SAW HER LAYING IN THE FLOOR AND ASSUMED SHE WAS HAVING A INSULIN REACTION WITH HER DIABETES. HE REALIZED HE WAS NOT GETTING A RESPONSE SO HE CALLED 911 FOR AN AMBULANCE WHILE HE GAVE HER CPR AND TRIED TO GET A RESPONSE. SHE HAD ALREADY PASSED WHEN MY NEPHEW FOUND HER. MY BROTHER IN LAW AND NEPHEW WONDERED WHY I HAD CALLED AND I EXPLAINED THAT I WAS DIALING THE PHONE BEFORE I EVEN REALIZED THAT I WAS EVEN OUT OF BED AT THE PHONE. THEY FOUND THAT SHE HAD A BLOOD CLOT GO THROUGH HER LUNG AND LODGE IN HER HEART VENTRICLE. SHE DIED INSTANTLY. THE TIME OF DEATH ON THE CERTIFICATE WAS THE EXACT TIME SHE CAME TO MY BEDSIDE AND AWAKEN ME. SHE DID NOT WANT TO BE LAYING IN THE BATHROOM FLOOR SO UNDIGNIFIED, BUT, I THINK SHE WANTED TO SAY BYE TO ME. SHE WAS OVER THIRTEEN YEARS OLDER THAN ME AND WHEN OUR DADDY DIED AT AGE 34 OF A SUDDEN HEART ATTACK LEAVING OUR MOTHER TO RAISE THREE LITTLE GIRLS ALONE AND MY SISTER THAT IS ABOUT, HAD JUVENILE DIABETES. SINCE SHE WAS OLDEST SHE HELPED MY MOM TAKE CARE OF ME AND MY SISTER WHO WAS SEVEN AND I WAS JUST SEVEN MONTHS OLD. SHE WAS LIKE A SECOND MOM TO ME. I FELT HER THERE BY MY BED AND ACTUALLY HEARD HER VOICE. I DON’T UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS BUT THEY HAPPENED.

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Our Unexpected Passover Guest

Nobody expected my grandfather to show up at my apartment for Passover—two months after he died

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