Dear Max and Rebecca
On Mother’s Day, my mom died. She was tested positive for the coronavirus just over two weeks earlier, having picked it up from one of her carers. For those two weeks, granny Lorna was in ICU, without us, as she wasn’t allowed any visitors.
For her first week, she wasn’t on a ventilator, and the last picture we have of her (kindly taken by one of the nurses) is her waving hello to the nurse. As much as she had regressed cognitively over the last few years, her friendliness and kindness still shone, and I will always wonder if she felt lonely, scared or confused lying there, before eventually being sedated and ventilated. Did she wonder where we were? Did she keep looking for a familiar face? Was she sad?
It was difficult to get regular and comprehensive updates while she was in ICU. The nurses were overwhelmed with looking after patients and communicating with their families, so a communications person was appointed to help ease this burden. Once or twice a day, my brother Kevin would receive updates and I never knew if no news meant good news, or bad news. We braced ourselves, we prayed, people prayed for us and my mom, and we waited with both fear and hope for news of her condition.
A week after she was hospitalised, she went onto a ventilator, and from then on, I knew her situation had taken a serious turn. There was hope as her oxygen was reduced for a few days, but then it needed to go up again, and other complications arose. However, as much as one is “prepared” for the loss, one actually isn’t, and nothing readied me for “that call” from Kevin.
Before I could begin to process and mourn, we had to do some admin – get proof of her death in order to get travel permits for the funeral. Around eight hours after “the call”, we were in the police station for the permit, and thank Gd we got permission to travel early the next day to Cape Town for the funeral.
Jewish law states that a funeral must take place shortly after death, but there’s also an allowance for close family travelling from far. The reason for a swift funeral is this (via Chabad.org):
Between death and burial, the soul of the departed is in limbo between two worlds, neither fully on earth nor ready to be admitted into heaven. The soul no longer inhabits the body after death, but until the body is laid to rest, the soul cannot fully leave the body either. So it hovers around the body, in a state of disorientation at its sudden expulsion from the body that was its home for a lifetime.
Once the body returns to the dust from whence it came, the soul can return to the heaven from whence it came. And so, only after the burial does the soul begin its climb to higher realms. The soul’s onward journey can’t begin until the body is interred. We do not want to delay this process, so we hasten the funeral to the earliest opportunity.
However, it’s also for the good of the mourners that it’s so quick.
Just as the soul is in a state of confusion after death, the bereaved family goes through a stage of uncertainty immediately after the death, as they grapple to absorb what has happened. For many who experience loss, it seems unreal. They feel that they are dreaming, and the person will soon walk through the door as if nothing happened.
But reality hits at the funeral. That painful sound of dirt hitting the coffin evokes the raw pain of bereavement like nothing else can. It hurts, but it is necessary. Just as the soul cannot start moving upwards before burial, so too the mourners cannot start their long journey from grief to consolation until the grave is filled in.
This pain cannot be avoided. Only after we have allowed ourselves to grieve can we allow ourselves to heal. Only when the finality of the body’s death is accepted can the eternality of the soul be experienced. The body returns to dust, the soul returns to G‑d.
Jewish funerals and mourning certainly force one to confront death and one’s emotions, and I’m grateful for this process, and for how it’s allowed me to face it brutally, and to feel it so honestly. For the first few days after my mom’s death, it felt at once like I’d been punched in the gut, and had my heart severed. The grief was indescribable, and while it’s wearing off now, a sadness still envelops me. I wonder if it ever goes away, or just diminishes somewhat?
Max and Rebecca, I wish you knew your granny back way back. When she was even sharper, more loving and funnier, and before she started deteriorating. You would have experienced her kindness and love, but you wouldn’t have known her like when I was a child, and I’m sorry for that. You missed out on a legend. All I can try to do is emulate her goodness, and continue telling you about who she was.
Here’s what I wrote for the Zoom prayer session – it might help you to “know” her a bit more. I promise to keep talking about her, so that you’ll always know your Granny Lorna, in one way or another.
In every tribute that has poured in for my mom, the same words always come up – vivacious, kind, warm, loving, great humour… and that is how she will always be remembered by us, and everyone who has ever come across her.
There was never a room that she didn’t light up, and never a person who she didn’t take to time to engage with. I remember as a child, having to drag her away from people who she was standing and chatting with whether it was a receptionist, mom of a friend, or a stranger in a shop – she had a gift of communication, and with ease entered into people’s hearts, and them into hers.
As the tributes and memories poured in for my mom, my friends said they remember my mom as fun and kind, and someone they loved spending time with, someone who was compassionate and always welcoming. She loved children and they loved her, and on her walks in Cape Town that she adored so much over the last year, she would wave at children, and get great joy from them – just as they would from her.
She was sensitive to other people’s sufferings, something that made her hurt at times, but also made her reach out to so many people.
For many years, with her health challenges and cognitive deterioration, she never complained, and faced them like she faced people – with a smile, a wave and always a chat to those who were caring for her. She handled any hospitalization like a champ and always with courage, and she never complained. One time, after a fall, she dislocated her arm, and while waiting for Xrays to be taken, and in pain (though she didn’t say anything) I wheeled her bed up and down the corridor floors, both of us in fits of hysterical laughter. She was the fun mom. The light in our lives. And if I can give my kids just a half of this light, I will be a wonderful mom, and my kids will be all the better for it.
Over the last few years, I have found myself missing my mom more and more. I went to Italy two years ago, a country she adored, and I thought of her every day, and just wanted to share it with her. So many times, I wanted to pick up the phone, and tell her about an old friend I saw, or something that I’d seen that would make or laugh. How she would have loved Andrea Bocelli’s recent concert.. she loved all things Italian, and even insisted on driving an a two-door Alfa Romeo in the 80s, which got stuck on the road at least once every two weeks, which was great fun, especially with three of us crammed on the backseat during a school lift.
I will love and miss my mom forever, and I’d like to end off on some lyrics from Andrea Bocelli’s Time to Say Goodbye, originally written in Italian. I think she would have loved this.
When I am alone I sit and dream
And when I dream the words are missing
Yes I know that in a room so full of light
That all the light is missing
But I don’t see you with me, with me
Close up the windows, bring the sun to my room
Through the door you’ve opened
Close inside of me the light you see
That you met in the darkness
Time to say goodbye
Horizons are never far
Would I have to find them alone
Without true light of my own with you
I will go on ships over seas
That I now know
No, they don’t exist anymore
It’s time to say goodbye
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