Gordon Davidescu wrote this article.

Sunday morning, December 30th, 2007 seemed like just about any other morning. It was to be the next to last day of the year. How could I have known that it would have been one of the saddest days for me? I suppose the first thing that should have alerted me that something was wrong was that I noticed that my father had called – rather early, actually. I didn’t want to admit it to myself but the first though I had was that my grandmother had passed away. Then again, I had previously had this thought when either my father or mother had called in unusual circumstances and I was wrong then.


When my father called again I knew something was definitely was wrong. When my father called to tell me that my grandmother had a stroke of chance
I was totally unprepared for it. I answered the phone in my normal
jovial mode and was quickly sobered by the sad news.
Now I had a feeling it was coming. In a way I had been preparing for
the moment for the last five years and ten months – or at least since
it was made clear to us by doctors that she was unlikely to recover
from the stroke.

I tried to think of how I would deal with losing my grandmother. I
failed every time and cried like never before. Even though I had spent
so much time preparing for the bad news I had an entirely different
reaction than I was expecting – I started thinking in practical terms.
I had some practical preparations in mind from a few years ago during
the Monsey exile – I knew that my father wasn’t going to do certain
things that I, as a more religiously observant Jew, might have done in
similar circumstances.

I had already asked about what happens when
someone doesn’t say kaddish
for their parent and there is nobody else to say kaddish for them – and
I already asked about sitting shiva. Rather, what happens when someone
doesn’t sit shiva for their parent.
Even though I already asked all these questions I felt the need to ask
them again because the circumstances seemed a lot more real and a lot
less theoretical.

My father told me that I could say kaddish for my
grandmother.
I started asking around and most people said that since both of my
parents are still alive, it wouldn’t quite be appropriate for me to say
kaddish for my grandmother. I tried asking some friends of mine and
came back empty handed –  it’s a huge obligation to ask someone to do
something for you three times a day for eleven months sans
interruption.
I ended up hiring someone, as it were, to do it. It is a tradition that
if someone can’t say kaddish that they actually pay someone to do it.
We’re not talking about a chauffeur’s salary – yet not insubstantial,
either.

The person told me that they would take whatever I could manage. The
question came up of what my grandmother’s father’s name was – an
important detail in the world of saying kaddish. I wasn’t sure and the
name that was going to be used was going to be Avraham – which works in
cases where one doesn’t know a father’s name since we believe that all
Jews descend from Abraham – yes, even those that are “Jews by Choice”
as some people would say.
A little later I asked my mother if she knew and, by happy chance, it
seems that my great grandfather’s name was in fact Avraham – which is
where I got my middle Hebrew name – Gedaliyah Avraham ben Shimshon is
my full Hebrew name, in case you were wondering.

I have many wonderful memories of my grandmother that I think I would
like to share with you all over the next year or so, if you are
interested. My grandmother lived a long and wonderful life and I will
miss her quite a lot.

Irina Davidescu  – March 25, 1911 – December 27, 2007

12 Comments

  1. This is a touching and effective article, Gordon. I feel for your loss and I’m sorry. I enjoyed your GO INSIDE Magazine article about your grandmother.
    You might need to explain Kaddish a bit more, though. What is it? What does it consist of and why must it be done in public every day? Why can’t you just think it?
    I don’t understand why, if your parents didn’t want to do it and you wanted to do it — you were not allowed to do it but you could hire a stranger to do it for you.
    Did anyone sit shiva for her?

  2. The only people that can say kaddish for you are – your spouse, your children and your parents. People can be paid to say kaddish but usually people who are themselves lacking in one or both parents. The central idea of kaddish is to sanctify G-d’s name and as such must be said out loud in a minyan – ie ten Jewish men over the age of 13. It’s sort of like buying oats. You can think really hard but the only thing that will put oats in your bowl is going to the store and giving money in exchange for oats.
    The reason it wasn’t ideal for me to do it was because I don’t have access to a regular minyan the way I did when I lived in NY or even Monsey. The other thing is that both of my parents are alive and it’s better for me not to say kaddish as long as they are both alive. A few people have told me that it would be better to learn a chapter of Mishna every day for the next eleven months – the duration of which kaddish will be said for my grandmother. Mishna has the same letters as Neshama – soul – and it’s good for her soul for me to study the Mishna.
    As for Shiva, only ones children can sit shiva for them.
    Shiva is something that is meant to help comfort the bereaved. Kaddish is something that is meant to comfort the soul of the departed. It’s a tricky situation. Makes me wish I didn’t live here right now.

  3. Sometimes the timings on this blog are far to accurate and *timely* for my liking.
    My mother passed away peacefully early yesterday morning after an incredible life and reaching the age of 91.
    I made it through yesterday with the love of my partner and the support of good friends staying here for the New Year and from my friends around the world who phoned, emailed and messaged throughout the day.
    Our New Year Celebrations were a little subdued compared to normal – a fine woman was remembered and toasted at midnight.
    I really appreciated reading this post this morning – both the rights of passage and the mechanisms in place for both the departed and those left behind.
    I also have to say that the practical side went into full gear here as well – the emotional hit me last night after everyone else had gone to bed.
    This morning I am back in practical mode – although somewhat stalled by the fact that most of the UK is shut until tomorrow.
    We too are discussing what the most appropriate service , music and readings would be.
    I love the fact your belief system has these specific rituals in place.
    My thoughts are with you and your family.

  4. Thanks for the thoughts, Nicola. It’s interesting how our brains switch from emotional to rational once we are cognizant of certain things that have to be done. I imagine at some point soon I will be more of a blubbering mess. I think I’m holding back for some reason.

  5. I am sorry for your loss. Recently, I was recently faced with a similar situation regarding the passing of my Grandfather. I asked 2 Orthodox Rabbis the same question about if I could say Kaddish for my grandfather whilst both my parents were alive.
    The answer was YES. The only condition was that I ask both my parents for permission to say Kaddish.
    There was no problem as they already asked me to say it but I asked again in front of the Rabbi out of formality.