Family & Education

Saying goodbye to Auntie Rose

Coronavirus did not take the life of Victoria Prever's beloved great aunt - but it took its toll nonetheless


My dear great auntie, Rose Saunders passed away recently She was 93 years old, and had been unwell for some time. At her age, things had started to go wrong. It was not Covid-19, the question on everyone’s mind these days when we hear of a loss.

Despite the number of funerals taking place at the old cemetery in Bushey, hers took place only a couple of days after she passed away. I’m heartbroken — and furious. Coronavirus did not take her life, but it stole from us, the chance to see her during the last precious year of her life. She was too vulnerable. And that plague also deprived us of the ability to say a proper goodbye and the chance to comfort my cousins — her daughter, Valerie and sons, Mark and Oliver. Too add to their pain, Valerie’s husband, Oded, was in Barnet Hospital fighting Covid-19 with the help of a ventilator.

So on the day of her funeral we sat before laptops and tablets, watching the mourners shivering outside the massive prayer halls. The entire service took place outside on the stark concrete concourse. I thought that was purely to prevent spreading the virus. I found out later that those huge rooms now house the greater numbers of coffins currently needed.

Through our screens, we listened to her grandson, Oliver, bravely sharing his memories of his adoring grandmother. She was the archetypal Jewish grandma, and had been a hands-on part of her grandsons’ lives while their parents worked; always ready with the chicken soup and apple strudel at a moment’s notice. I remember her cheeks being super soft, her hugs huge and her kisses so enthusiastic that we’d be left with lipstick smackers on our cheeks.

My son’s memory was of her smiling kindly at him from the chair from which she could not move in her later years. She adored her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all of us. And we all loved her.

But we were forced to say goodbye from a distance. I sat alone in my home office, just a few miles from the cemetery. More than 50 other friends and family members were similarly unable to pay their respects.

For Auntie Rose, and to represent my late father, whose auntie she was, I would have masked up and gone to the funeral; but I couldn’t leave my home school pupils (my son and daughter) aged 10 and 12. They would have been home alone. So I sat, with my tissues, at 10.30am as Rabbi Daniel Epstein welcomed us.

The rabbi did a skilful job of “hosting” the Zoom funeral, with warmth and expertise that I expect he and his colleagues would rather not be developing. A positive was that it allowed distant relatives to be there, who would never have made it previously: my brother in sweltering Sydney and our cousins in the US and Israel were all able to witness the service. It was the first family funeral my brother has been able to attend since we buried our father in 2003.

But it took from us the spirit of a Jewish funeral. The opportunity to comfort your family at a time when they need support. However ritualistic the service, post-levoya bridge roll-fest and subsequent shiva is, it serves a purpose. It distracts the mourners from the raw pain of losing a mother or grandmother, and numbs the grief while it’s stabbing at your heart.

Instead of a sea of hugs and patting hands, we witnessed the mourners taking a lonely walk across the snow-covered ground to the graveside and back, before heading home to an empty house. It didn’t feel right.

Covid-19 didn’t take her from us, but it did take something else. It stole the rituals that help us deal with the darkness.

Farewell, Auntie Rose.


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