Grandpa Jerry: A Remembrance

Amidst a week of midterms, class projects, Steinbeckian novels, and part-time (but really more hours than any college-student could ever function with) employment training, my grandfather, Jerry Hilstein, passed away.

It wasn’t a complete shock. We received message that hospice had taken over and that any day Grandpa Jerry would move on to another world. The next morning he was gone.

A crazy week ends and I’m finally able to process my grandfather’s death.

So I’ll try my best for an obituary or eulogy. Me and him were never very close, to be honest. I have a handful of memories, all good, but just a handful. This year I lived in California (where I’m originally from) for a six-month internship while awaiting to start University of Rochester.

I worked for my uncle, Jerry’s son, and Jerry lived in the area. My grandfather suffered a heart attack, and we knew things were spiraling down. The good news, for me at least, was that I was around and got to know him a little better, if even just a little.

Grandpa Jerry & UsRemembrance

My grandpa was a dancer; he won many competitions (I believe the tango, though I could be wrong), and he was dancing until he could barely stand. He later took up painting. His walls were covered with creations, paintings that eventually became a calling card, a way to reach out to family he previously shunned because of some preferred individualism; later, he regretted his selfishness and yearned for family.

Born in NYC, he carried an accent with him wherever he went: half jewish, half ornery. His accent always came with a joke. Jerry was a joker. Earlier this year, after his heart attack, I visited him in the hospital and we talked, one-on-one, as adults, maybe for the first time ever. I asked him about New York and the music he liked and the jokes he’d tell. I wrote down what he said because it struck a chord:

“I love to tell jokes. It makes me happy, it makes them happy. There’s too much sadness in the world.”

He then recalled meeting Tarzan (the original actor) and suggested I buy a Billy May Orchestra record.

The next time I saw him, I was certain he didn’t remember our conversation, our only conversation. But I still cherished it. It figures, all I ever do is talk about music, film, and jokes, and I’ve always wanted to learn how to dance, too. I guess I wasted a valuable resource. Maybe if things were different we could’ve been closer; we could’ve been friends.

Looking back, you always wish you could’ve spent more time and asked more questions and heard more answers. But you didn’t. There’s a point where life takes over and there’s only so many hours in the day. There’s no point in killing yourself over someone’s death. However, it is wise to pay respects and cherish the memories, even if they’re too few and too short.

Here’s to Grandpa Jerry. I love you and miss you. I’m sure he’s butting in with a good joke right about now.


PS: My grandpa had this weird thing with the song “Figaro.” He lip-synched it. I never really understood why. No one ever explained it to me. I guess some questions are better left unasked.



  1. Sorry to hear of your grandpa’s passing, but glad you had some chance to visit with him. I had a complicated relationship with my grandpa, too. When he passed some time ago, I wrote a post (in a now-defunct blog) called, “King George is (finally) dead.”

    God bless you and your family, Kevin.

  2. Kevin,
    My condolonces on the loss of your grandfather. I didn’t really know either of my grandfather’s so I can relate. I’ll be keeping you and him in my prayers.

  3. Sorry to hear of your loss. My grandfathers both died about 30yrs ago- one never knew I’d been born, so that was a fairly minimal relationship, i guess. Good eulogy stuff- though no one is assessing this kind of post for clever wordplay.
    Blessings and peace,

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