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I still hope to catch a glimpse of Mother

I am in mourning for my mother. I, a secular Jew, am in mourning.

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November 24, 2016 23:28

I find myself walking up and down St John's Wood High Street expecting to see her exit one of the shops - cricking along on her hobbled foot, in truth more bunion than foot, long gone those days of high tottering heels.

I am in mourning for my mother. I, a secular Jew, am in mourning. Though I am not sure how one does mourning or grief, and I wonder on the current mode and whether I am doing it right. Death is so distant for most of us so when it comes, when it strikes, it quickly dilutes and can seem like nothing much has happened as life goes on. Of course there is the initial shock, an absence and sense of missing, though it is not yet coherent.

It is still a fledgling feeling. In this interactive world one easily forgets that which is real and actual. I press a button and my mother smiles out at me. She peeps out from behind my father and brother in a photo from a trip made last year to New York. Her voice still resonates and our daily chat is easily continued, albeit these days a bit one-sided.

I feel short-changed by the language used to describe death and the dead. We stumble on how best to convey sympathies for our dearly departed. Choice words soften the reality and for no good reason; phrases such as "sorry for your loss" irritate intensely. We know exactly where she is. She is buried in some no-man's land off the M25. She lies beside strangers in a strange place and I sometimes worry she would have preferred to be back in her beloved Dublin, among friends.

She was raised in Little Jerusalem off the South Circular, back in the day when Ireland's Jews numbered 5,000. Alas, the Irish Jew is now an endangered species. She left school at 15 to join her mother on the shop floor in the family business. What began as a clothes shop catering to Dublin's market-stall women, developed into a high-end fashion boutique for the larger lady. She had the market cornered for years. Married with four children, she smoked like a trooper, loved to gamble and was as simple or as complicated as any of us care to describe ourselves. She came to London following a stroke, to be near her children. It made sense practically but emotionally she never left the Emerald Isle and dreamt nightly of her shop.

The rabbi arrived late for the funeral. His lateness shifted the attention from her bare coffin, from her to his impending arrival. It verged on the farcical.

A few months have passed since her demise. In the interim, I have let this city swallow me up and distract me. There is always so much to be done, busy, busy, and it seems even grief can be put off for a rainy day.

It was raining lightly and I was walking along hoping to glimpse her rounded shoulders emerge from one of the High Street hotspots. The street was her daily destination, a strident stroll from the apartment, which she would yo-yo up and down. A lot of the shop girls knew her well. Any shop floor was my mother's home from home. One of her favourite's may actually go into liquidation such was the level of her custom. She loved the banter and befriended the girls. Olga arrived one Friday night for dinner. A virgin Friday- nighter, she was a Latvian blonde, an engineering student who worked part-time to support her studies. Unbeknown to her and a single first cousin, my mother was planning a shidduch - this despite Olga not being Jewish. Not being Jewish was a mere technicality. Over time my mother had been forced to relent the conservative orthodox values of her youth and embrace more liberal attitudes. I, for example, being an unmarried mother of two by different fathers, pushed the envelope. In olden days I would have been cast out for failing in my daughterly duties and damned to eternal shame. In fact one of my first thoughts on her death was ''Who am I going to disappoint now?'' On her 69th birthday I announced I was pregnant with my second son following a brief summer romance (a comic-tragic tale captured in my blog The Diary of an Accidental Mother). At the time, she wasn't aware I'd been dating. ''Whose is it?'' she demanded to know. ''Mine,'' I replied. ''Aghhh…'' she dithered, uncertain what to say, and then went for her usual maternal refrain: ''Sure yous have me worn out.'' But, incrementally and slowly, times have changed. It was Tevye who saved me. My mother was a sucker for musicals (Fiddler was a favourite), if Tevye could find it in his heart to forgive….

So on I walked, the rain petered out and the sun emerged for a few minutes. I stalled by the window of her favourite shop, momentarily taken aback, blinking into focus a most familiar image. Wasn't it only herself. On our last outing she'd asked if I believed in heaven. I told her I believed the dead live on in our memories, our DNA. And now there she was in the window, clear as anything, until of course it dawned - the reflection was my own.

November 24, 2016 23:28

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