Life

All posts tagged Life

YYY

Published 01/10/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

Why YYY? The above heading may baffle you, so I’ll try to enlighten you.

As a Jew we have just celebrated(?) the most solemn and serious festival in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, during which we spend 25 hours (from sunset the previous night until sunset the next day) fasting and repenting our sins. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and festivals always commence at sunset on the day before the actual date. Worship begins with the Kol Nidrei service, which coincided this year with the start of the Sabbath on Friday night, and then resumes the following morning (in our case at 10.30) to continue throughout the day until sunset, when the end of the festival is announced by the blowing of the Shofar, a ram’s horn.

Shofar

Twenty-five hours without food is not as arduous as it may seem as you are focused on the prayer book, the liturgy and the songs. The hardest part is going without fluids, but the drop in blood sugar can make you feel a little as if your brain has turned to a mush as the day wears on.

My second ‘Y’ is for Yizkor, the Hebrew word for remembrance. One of the constituent parts of the afternoon service on Yom Kippur is the Yizkor service, when we remember those we have loved, both friends and family members, who are no longer with us. As a child my mother used to insist I left the sanctuary for that portion of the prayers as I still had my parents. It can be an upsetting time as we are encouraged to meditate on, and say prayers for, those who are no longer with us in bodily form.

My final ‘Y’ is Yahrzeit, which is literally the Yiddish word for season. We commemorate the anniversaries of the deaths of our loved ones by lighting a special candle, a Yahrzeit candle or a memorial light, on the anniversary of their deaths according to the Hebrew calendar. My mother died on the day before Yom Kippur, so her Yahrzeit will always fall on the Hebrew date of 9 Tishri, although the English date was 3 October. We light the candle at sunset of the evening before, but as we also light another candle in memory of everybody we are remembering, I light another one the following evening at the start of the Yom Kippur festival.

Yahrzeit candle

All three are now over for me for another twelve months, or thereabouts, but I always approach this time of year with trepidation and unease as there are too many burdens and sad memories to be overcome.

As the inscription on my mother’s tombstone reads: ‘To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die’. To sum up, we may feel grief when we remember our loved ones who have now departed, but they still remain with us.A

 

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To blog or not to blog

Published 08/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

For months I’ve been acutely aware that I’ve neglected my blog. Why pay for a domain name and not post? Life seems to be so busy with family, volunteering and continuing to work part-time. Not to mention the prevarication brought on by just sitting at your laptop, reading emails and posts, responding to them and then uploading items that you think will interest others. What on earth happened to all the leisure time we were promised for the 21st century? Or perhaps it’s more a case of employing better time management skills.

Six months ago – I can’t believe we’re almost halfway through 2016 – I realised that I’d allowed myself to fall into some kind of semi-hibernation. Mum had been gone for well over eighteen months, and it seemed to be taking a long time to adapt to a life that didn’t involve worrying about, and caring for, her; a period spent constantly on tenterhooks, wondering when the next phone call would alert me of another fall, or an urgent summoning of the paramedics.

So, since the beginning of this year I have made attempts to get out more into the world, or more precisely to go to London, on my doorstep. Of course I’ve kept up with friends (well, to a certain extent) and continued with my volunteering, almost as if I need to care for others as I no longer have mum. But I’ve also made a point of visiting more galleries and exhibitions, especially when I realised that I was paying annually for my Arts Pass card, but never using it and therefore not saving myself the money that I could. I’ve got partially involved with a theatre going group, so am able to see plays about once a month, and now actually have others to chat to during the intervals. But I’ve also managed to get myself back into reading: my first and forever love. If I’d never acquired a passion for reading I would never have improved my own writing skills.

Currently I’m working my way through Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. With only about 100 pages to go before I finish the final book, The Story of the Lost Child, I’m in an ambivalent state. I can’t wait to get to the conclusion, but will also feel bereft to have reached the end of a saga, spanning some five decades, that examines the friendship of two young girls as they grow and mature into older women, as well as painting a broad sweep of Neapolitan life with its background of politics and social change.

So the evolving Sandra is now going out to meet one of her daughter’s for a bite to eat, and will then be attending a thank you party for one of her volunteering groups. I promise to come back very, very soon.

Grief and Mourning

Published 23/10/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

The Oxford English Dictionary defines grief as ‘intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death’. Yet even these words cannot sum up the strength and breadth of feelings invoked at the loss of a parent. After more than thirty years I am still grieving for my dad, and this is compounded by the passing of my mum barely three weeks ago.

We all deal with our sorrow and cope with mourning in different ways. No two people will experience the same range of emotions, distress and pain in the same way, and these feelings frequently change from hour to hour, day to day and week to week. Different societies and religions have their own rituals and practices for coping with bereavement, and the support of friends and family members can often be a huge comfort. We can ‘mark the time with fairest show’ as Lady Macbeth advised her husband when they were plotting their murderous deeds, but later on in the same play Macduff, after learning of the slaughter of his wife and children, is advised to ‘Give sorrow words; the grief, that does not speak, Whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break’. Shakespeare was equally aware of the importance of displaying the pain of loss in order to begin the healing process, and I have been repeatedly told that tears are good and necessary.

Mum’s health had been deteriorating to the point where she became bedridden in the middle of August (about six weeks before she died) and this gave me an opportunity to think about the end of her life, her death and her funeral. But envisaging an event can never prepare you for experiencing it when it happens. I was upset when I visited her during her final days and was unable to hide my tears from her, much as I tried to turn my head away and dab at my eyes. She spotted my distress and asked why I was crying and her quick-thinking carer responded that it was hay fever.

I parted from her about 10 hours before the end. It was obvious that it was imminent and she was suffering a huge amount of discomfort. Her eyes were like those of a sick dog who is pleading to be put out of his misery and when she dozed briefly she muttered ‘take me there, take me there’ and a little later she opened her eyes and pleaded to be knocked out or put to sleep. Her cat also remained close to her during that final afternoon, so I didn’t need a crystal ball to know that she didn’t have long left. Yet life without mum is something I had never experienced and wasn’t something that I could imagine.

When the phone call came at 6 o’clock the following morning I was flung into auto-pilot. There was an urgency to be with her and to say more farewells and goodbyes, except that these would be final and not mere adieus. I would no longer be able to bid her to take care and do as she was told. Of course the tears flowed of their own volition, both whilst driving to reach her flat, and once I was there. They continue to find their own journey down my cheeks when I least expect them, but there are also glimmers of fond memories when I can talk about Mum without getting upset.

She had the Jewish funeral she had requested, with her eldest grandson saying Kaddish five times over the course of the day. Then she was laid to rest in the same cemetery as her brother, the person she had fallen out with before his own death, and with whom she had not made peace in their own lifetimes. The rituals were a comfort to me, as were the condolences and wishes of Long Life from friends and family.

But life goes on for the living and the days seem to follow in rapid succession. I can still mark the weeks since her death and the funeral in single digits, but the year is fading and then there will be the usual milestones where she will be remembered and missed. Although we are Jewish, Christmas was always an excuse for family get-togethers, and in later years was just lunch at our house with Mum always present, and exhortations from us to her to eat a little bit more. Next year will see Mother’s Day come and go without her (and the memory that she broke her hip two days before that day last year, scuppering our plans to take her out for lunch) and then her birthday in May, when she would have celebrated her eighty-ninth anniversary.

So how do we cope with the grief? The tears help, although there is often a perception that they won’t stop. There is a strong need to talk about her, her life and her final days, and in my case there is also a cathartic outlet provided by writing these blogs. I want to dismiss the memories of her last uncomfortable, distressing and distressed days, and of her lying at rest in bed at home, another feat we were able to help her to accomplish. She refused to enter a care home and I’m so glad she remained in her own flat, with a carer by her side during her final moments. I can take comfort from all of that, and from the reminders of others that we did everything that could be done for her, although there are still the nagging doubts that I could have done more, visited more frequently and reminded her of how much she was loved. But our family was not one to express our feelings although they were tacitly observed and understood.

The recent trips to clear out her flat have not been too harrowing either. I think it could be because we were with her there after she passed, we said further goodbyes, kissed her numerous times and I stayed with her whilst the Rabbis removed her for burial. Although she was finally at peace I don’t want to remember her face in death and would rather return to the photos I have of her that celebrate her life and vitality.

I also find that my religion, lapsed as it is, is somewhat of a comfort. My belief in God, or a greater, supreme presence, has been strengthened. I believe that death is not the end and that Mum’s soul is now in a more beautiful, peaceful place, where she is reunited with her family and loved ones and that I will also be with them one day. In the meantime I have been to Shul once to celebrate Simchat Torah, joining in with the songs and prayers that I remember from my childhood. That afternoon the words of the song ‘Shalom Aleichem’ (Peace be upon you) that we had all chorused so joyfully kept running through my head and I found myself singing it out loud: the first time I have felt able to sing anything over the last few weeks. The next morning I was looking out into the garden and I saw a flock of doves flying backwards and forwards beyond our fence.

Life is for the living, but the dead remain in our hearts; nobody can erase our precious memories whether they invoke tears of sorrow or joy.