|Posted by Egonne Roth on June 4, 2016 at 4:20 AM|
I am lying flat on my stomach, naked under a black and white fleecy blanket. My face is half buried in the pillow. Maya, our masseuse, who comes regularly to our house, is pummelling my feet. Her hands are strong and sure, yet tender, as though my feet are her baby granddaughter’s. I begin to cry. So much tenderness is undoing me. She does not notice. Mozart’s Oboe concerto in C major is calming the air: outside the sea is roaring and crashing onto the beach. A little poem from Olga Kirsch’s only published English poetry collection drifts through my mind like a ticker tape at the bottom of a TV screen.
“Do you believe in life after?”
asks the mother of the child who has died.
“No,” I reply. “Do you?” She shakes her head
“Then it’s all over,” she says.
“I can’t have her anymore.”
And if we believed,
would we have more?
Suddenly, it strikes me: my mom who was my best friend, mentor and hero is dead, gone. I can’t have her anymore. Nothing I do will change that. It is now twenty-seven years since she died but lying on the table with Maya moving her firm strong healing hands over my body, it penetrates my being with a shock as though it all happened yesterday. Kirsch’s poem takes on a new relevance that shatters my equilibrium so that I battle to turn over on the table when Maya says, “Turn.”
Of course this is not the first time since my mother died in 1989 that I have had this revelation – the cycle of death and mourning coils around and around our lives as our losses increase and we come nearer our own end. I remember that the year after my mother died, my husband and I went to Israel with money my mother had set aside before her death for this purpose. She had died relatively slowly from cancer and had the time to think of many things and plan her own demise with care. On the first morning in Jerusalem I woke very early. My husband was still asleep and I walked out onto the balcony to breath in the cool crisp air that is such a definite part of the ancient city. I thought ahead of the day, what we planned to do and that was when it struck me for the first time: she was dead. She was not waiting for me here in this city we had dreamt of visiting together; she was dead. I was overwhelmed by grief. From that moment on Jerusalem has had a haze of longing, a sense of not quite finding what I am looking for, even when it could offer me many other joys and fulfilments I had not come there to explore.
And so it was when I attended the International Writers’ Conference in the city last week. I went there, not wanting to be there. Many other things needed to be done more urgently at home. But I had agreed with a friend and we had tickets to hear Anita Desai and her daughter, Keren Desai, speak and so I went. The day was crisp and clear as it had been that first visit to Jerusalem in 1990. The two Desai women spoke on loss and mourning, on being displaced from the land of one’s birth and on what forms a writer’s literary inheritance. All inspiring stuff but for me, the shock came when after the talk I sat with the view of the Judean Hills before me and casually picked up David Grossman’s newest book, Falling Out of Time – part poetry, part prose, written after the death of his son. I read until I came to these lines:
If we can be with him for one more moment,
perhaps he, too,
for one more moment,
a look –
a breath –
And then what?
What will become
A tangible recognition passes through me. The same sense of hopeless loss overwhelms me. Death is the end. Even if one believes in a life after death and I think I do, it is a different life to the one we know. It is a life we cannot comprehend; just as right now, I cannot comprehend that I will never see my beloved mother again – or Grossman his beloved son.
What will become of us?