Two years later, Miriam recalls her grief at her Nana’s passing.
We don’t do goodbyes. But the last time I saw Nana we held each other’s gaze for just a few moments longer, her brown eyes clear and alert. As I stood in her doorway, she sitting up in her bed, oxygen tubes decorating her frail but intent face, I knew and she knew. But of course we didn’t say anything. And she didn’t utter her usual parting line, ‘I don’t do goodbyes’.
Grief can find you when you’re not looking. Safely cushioned in a temple of its own making, grief sits at the bottom of your heart quietly but resolutely, the slightest trigger a trembling of mass proportions. Innocent conversations can be suddenly overthrown with a word, a gesture, a whisper of the familiar, the forgotten, and memory unravels herself chaotically but perfectly, telling a tale with no beginning and no end.
When we heard Nana had fallen and the prognosis wasn’t good, I felt the pain of her life rise up in me like a newly lit flame and all I craved was to stay as close to the ground as possible. In Judaism, mourners must sit on low chairs, remove their shoes and cover the mirrors. Though I am not religious, the needing to be close to the ground felt ancient. And though my Nana was physically still with us, my grieving had begun and the wails from deep inside my body echoed her parting, the earth my sounding board.
Her life quickly played before me like an old silent movie, jolted and scratchy, some parts paused, some in fast motion. Images old and older, some invented from the stories she told me at the kitchen table, cigarette in one hand, a mug of milky coffee waiting loyally by the other. Some my own memories, each one surfacing out of the other, fighting to make the cut. The convent where she was hidden as a child, the man who taught her to paint and forge documents to save Jewish lives. Saying goodbye to her mother again and again. Oceans that separate. Languages that mislead. The compromises women make, the burden of love. It was all there in that moment on the floor revealing itself to me wholly and holy. Genetic ties that bind us for generations, she is of me, I am of her.
So how do you do goodbyes? Because that is what death is demanding. And it doesn’t matter what you believe in, who you believe in, where you pray, if heaven awaits us. When someone dies, you miss them. They are no longer here. You can’t pick up the phone to call them. I have always found it so incredibly a big ask that we are born knowing we are going to die. Death really is the only thing we know for sure.
That’s how it feels right now. Twelve weeks later and I find myself deceived by the numbness in my everyday being, surprised by the tangible physical pain in my heart when I remember she is not here.
But there have been moments when I have felt my Nana’s spirit sojourn beside me. A calmness embraces me and I hear her laugh inside me. Then I see her, mouth wide open, head thrown back, silver fillings glistening in the delight of a good laugh. These moments tiptoe to me, sometimes starting as a smell or a sign in a shop window or the wind-up musical figurine starts playing ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ in my daughter’s room and I know she is with us. I sense her, like the warmth of the sun, unseen, intangible but there. She is of me, and I of her. We don’t do goodbyes.
Miriam is the Editor and Founder of WonderWomen. From documentary filmmaking, producing and research, to finally landing on the page and writing, Miriam has traveled far and wide, on trains, planes and buses, all the while meeting extraordinary people on her adventure. She is also the mother of Noa, wife of Guy, and a reader, singer and baker when time permits. She has now fused her passion for community, celebrating women and publishing to bring you WonderWomen. She hopes you love it. You can look at some of Miriam’s work at movingtrainsproductions.wordpress.com and holocaustsurvivors.wordpress.com
Life Balance = Love. Nature. Laughter.