I woke up around 5:30 this morning. I couldn't stay in bed any longer. Issues with my back, thinking about this and that, I had been horizontal long enough for one night. Time to get up, go downstairs and move a bit.

It was still dark. I made some toast and had a flashback. My stepfather, G‑d rest his soul, was always up at this early hour. Once in awhile, when I was a child or young adolescent, I would see him in the kitchen around the same hour. He would be sitting there, sipping on a coffee, reading the newspaper, looking somewhat pensive.

"Hey, what are you doing up so early?" I would always ask.

It took a lifetime to understand the look in his eyes"Oh, I don't know. I just felt like getting up." He didn't say much more than that but would lovingly make me a great breakfast. I was the apple of his eye, you know.

You know, it took a lifetime to understand the look in his eyes, the lines on his face, the tone of his voice when I would ask why he was up so early. He had things to think about. He had a lifetime behind him filled with joy, sadness, hardships and questions. Now that I've reached a similar age, I understand what he spent those early hours thinking about.

On this morning, I miss him terribly. I am up, thinking back, trying to think ahead. I am hungry. I want him here to make a big breakfast for me with those loving hands and that gentle smile. But he's not here. So I make some rye toast with jam and pretend he is with me.

I think there are certain times of the day, certain events you experience, that lead you back to a place in your memory where you realize just how deep, important and penetrating to the soul your experiences have been.

My memory likewise takes me to my beloved Zaida (grandfather). My Zaida, who raised me from infancy, knew everything. I mean, everything. And if people thought my mother, a professional stand-up comic, was funny, they had to know her father was even funnier.

In my late teens and early twenties, I was a professional singer. I had an album out and performed around the world and also in my own back yard, here in Montreal. I did a lot of television shows and my Zaida never missed any of them.

Some of the television shows were live, and when I would finish singing my two or three songs, I would jump into a cab and proceed directly to the shtetl, my old neighborhood, where I grew up, playing under the stairs or going with my Zaida to the fish market. I would bolt into my grandparents' house and run into my grandfather's room.

"Zaida, Zaida, did you see me on TV? Did you like it? Did you watch?" (Yeah, I acted like I was four-years-old, coming home with a new piece of artwork from kindergarten).

After a short pause that seemed to last forever, he said, "You know, you remind me of Jimmy Durante."

"What? Jimmy Durante? What could Jimmy Durante and I possibly have in common? I sing pretty love songs."

He calmly replied with a delicious Yiddish lilt in his voice, "He couldn't sing either. But, he knew how to get a song across!"

He replied with a delicious Yiddish lilt in his voiceOy, I didn't know if I should be insulted or just laugh. I laughed. I still laugh. It was singularly one of the funniest retorts I have ever heard. In years since, when my now-grown children, would ask me some kind of burning question with eyes wide open, I realize how I would try to emulate my Zaida's wit. I miss him terribly.

My grandfather and my stepfather are only two people in the cast of characters in my life who are no longer here with me on this physical plane. I remember and mourn them. I laugh and cry at their roles and impact in my life. But most importantly, I rediscover them over and over again. They come back to me, to teach me, to make me laugh, to remind me about love and the joy of life, as well as the trials we endure.

Most of all, so many of the people in my past have taught me to move forward. None of them ever gave up. All of them lived their lives with love and embraced their faith. All of them taught me to laugh and share my life with others.

Once, when I was five or so, a friend of mine asked me to share some candy. I said "No!" and hid the candy quickly. My grandfather took me aside and said, "Masha, come here. Close your hands in a tight fist."

"And what, Zaida?" I answered.

Max Rosen looked at me and my closed hands and said, "Masha, if you keep your hands closed, you get to keep everything you have. If you open them, and give to others, you are in a much better position to receive things. I promise you, you will be surprised at how much better that works."

I wonder if they see me now. "Zaida, Daddy, my hands are wide open. The sun is up and shining. It's a new day. You are with me, still. And you were right. G‑d has given me so much."