Stones for Grandpa: An Unexpected Children's Book on Tisha b'Av
On this day, I am reminded that the promise of life continues after destruction.
This book caught my eye yesterday during an unexpected moment. We were at the library and my toddler had taken a fall and busted her lip. With a mouthful of blood and a moment of Mom panic, I rushed toward the bathroom.
I was almost there when I glanced down at the 2-ft tall book shelf and had a “wait a minute, what was that?” short-circuit moment. In a split second, I saw the front cover of a book with a family putting rocks on a tombstone.
We got to the bathroom and cleaned up. The librarian gave us some ice and the thought of being allowed to suck on a large ice cube seemed to satisfy my toddler. I picked her up and made our way back to that book.
I visit the Jewish section almost every time we’re there and about 97% of the books are about Chanukah. What I’ve found is the best Jewish children’s books are the ones the librarians don’t even know are Jewish and are placed around the library in different categories. So when I saw an illustration of putting rocks on a tombstone, I knew it was culturally-Jewish right away.
I never saw the title, but my heart melted when I read it.
“Stones for Grandpa.”
We buried my father-in-law six months ago. We miss him everyday and are blessed by his memory. After three years of watching him fade, we had a very long goodbye which gave us time to process. But what I wasn’t expecting after his passing was the stages of grief my four-year-old would go through. Denial, anger, sadness, acceptance. Such big emotions for a tiny soul.
Acknowledging children’s books as an incredible tool, I searched far and wide for one dealing with death and never really found anything helpful. So when this book appeared in an unexpected moment, I hoped that it was a gift from God that I’d been silently searching for.
I started reading the book and realized that I don’t actually know why we put rocks on graves. There’s so many layers to Judaism, and so many traditions and customs, there are things I know and things I follow because that’s what our people have always done. I assumed it had something to do with the destruction of the Temples or with Ezra and Nehemiah rebuilding them. With erev Tisha b’Av soon arriving, I wondered what the connective tissue was.
But those two things aren’t related at all. Not even in the slightest bit.
There’s many reasons for putting stones on graves in Judaism. They could be for superstitious reasons, for permanence instead of flowers because rocks won’t fade away, or to show a sign that someone was here and was blessed by their memories.
But today, on the 9th of Av 5783, they take on a new meaning for me.
On the front cover of this book is a family who came to unveil the tombstone on the one-year anniversary of Grandpa’s burial, something our family will do in six months. Together, they each have a stone and place it on his grave. That looks a lot like rebuilding life together after mourning the loss of someone, and it reminds me of rebuilding life after each Temple destruction.
I think there will always be a connection for me between Tisha b’Av and putting stones on my loved one’s grave. God used the moment of a toddler’s stumble to give me a chance to look down and see what He had waiting for me.
So today, I both mourn and rejoice.
I mourn for our people.
I mourn the destruction of our sacred Temples.
And I mourn for the loss of “Grandpa”.
I rejoice because through the death and resurrection of Messiah Yeshua, the Spirit of God now dwells inside of us and His Word is written on our hearts.
I rejoice because Yeshua is coming again and will establish His everlasting Kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven.
I rejoice because although there is weeping in the night, joy comes in the morning.
I rejoice because God is helping our family, and helping my children, rebuild a new life moving forward, trusting that Grandpa is with Yeshua right now.
I rejoice because God has a plan, a hope, and a future for us all.
I rejoice because there is a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather them.
On this Tisha b’Av, I praise God that His promises are forever and His presence is with us always.
May God breathe His breath of life into our earthly temples today, as we wait for Messiah Yeshua’s glorious return together.
Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.