It’s Sunday night in Jerusalem, and I plan to sleep early this evening. Tomorrow, a second day of going through my other’s things and emptying her apartment. Tuesday at 6:15 am I will start my long flights home.
It’s hard to describe what happens when someone close dies.
You can say: She was almost 94 years old, what’s the tragedy? And my answer would be: No tragedy at all. My mother’s life beggars expectations, even credibility. She fought hard—the doctors said so. To quote a friend, she decided to declare victory and move on. Mo tragedy here.
I can give a linear description, but that won’t do, either. I can say that I flew to Israel the day after her stroke, went straight to the hospital, stayed with her in long overnight shifts, sleeping very little over five days. We then brought her home, she hung around for 3 more days, died quickly. This was followed by a funeral, followed by a religious Jewish shiva. We collapsed on Saturday. Sunday and today are dedicated to clearing out her rented apartment, which we must give up quickly, and I fly home Tuesday bright and early morning.
The linear story won’t do, either.
The story changes in my mind from day to day; last week, it felt, from hour to hour. Family members came in, friends of my mother whom I hadn’t seen in decades, and brought so many conflicting stories of her, so many views about the Shoah:
Do you talk or don’t you talk?
What are the symptoms of second-generation survivors?
Is there really such a thing as multi-generational trauma?
What was the role of the excruciating poverty they grew up in before the war, when they often didn’t have enough to eat?
What about those who managed to get to England for safety before the war (one in the Kindertransport), only to find themselves living lonely lives, no language, no way to support themselves, no family nearby?
And what happened to all their descendants? I am the out-of-the-box Zen Buddhist. Another cousin lives in an eco-village in Netherlands. We traverse the spectrum of spiritual/religious traditions and causes till you get to the ultra-orthodox cousins who would only drink water at my mother’s home (and she was a religious woman), no food.
A family that was birthed on the narrowest of planks, a shtetl survivor mentality inside and grinding poverty outside, has exploded a generation later into a rainbow pinwheel of colors and textures.
This was celebrated during the mourning period called shiva. Some women came in dresses, some in jeans. Some men came in black jackets, hats, and forelocks, some in t-shirts concealing well-tuned biceps. My mother was not one for diversity, too much anarchy, not enough control. This was one battle she lost.
And we recognized each other. Whether it was a Hassidic rebbe with thousands of followers or an architect wearing tight jeans and a necklace she designs herself in her spare time, we recognized the oneness of that gathering, the oneness of the family.
I, who years ago fled that family because I didn’t know how to create a life inside, now witnessed how much had changed, the transformation that time brings. And again, I remembered Bernie’s words to me so long ago: “The only thing we have in common is our differences.”
Who’d have thought that 50 years after I escaped that family, running to create a life of meaning and value for myself, that in my mother’s mourning period we’d be celebrating so many differences?
How lucky I am to live to experience this.
Allergies affect my health, especially today in laboring through layers of dust surrounding old photo albums and books. I sneeze and sneeze as I pack up her clothes. She had so many! She loved to shop, she loved to find deals.
“How many white- and cream-colored blouses did she have?” I growl to Swapna Santosh, her caregiver, while wiping my nose.
“One more clothes, we need new closet,” Swapna tells me.
Saint Swapna is a little anxious because tomorrow she goes to a new family to resume her caregiving duties. My sister found her new employers, vetted them, recommended her, and promised to stay in touch in case there are any problems. In some three years, Swapna will return to her own family in India, including her husband and little girl. That’s another post, for another time.
Life goes on.
I got so many messages of condolence after my mother died and am grateful for every single one. One ended with the words: Be free now, Eve. I know now, deep in my blood, that freedom has nothing to do with escape. It has to do with embracing everything.
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