A tale of two cemeteries

glenduffhill

As part of my January trip to the UK, I popped up to Glasgow to see my brother, and do a cemetery visit. I went to Glenduffhill Cemetery on the morning after a short snowfall had turned the usually dreary place into something of a black and white postcard. It’s never a cheery place to visit, despite the efforts to make the gardens bloom and flourish, but the snow changed the atmosphere into something more stark, and more beautiful. Continue reading

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Loss

My mum died twenty five years ago, though sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. But, despite the passage of time, I still feel the loss. The pain may not be as sharp, as deep, or as overwhelming as it once was, but it’s still there, not far below the surface. The loss endures.

My mum did not have an easy life. After she and my dad separated then divorced, she was a single parent bringing up two young boys. This was at a time when that status was far more unusual. It was hard, but she never complained. Instead, she went about her mission, which was to bring up her boys to the best of her ability. She sacrificed everything towards that end. Although I am biased, as far as I am concerned she did a great job.

When my brother Michael and I were on our feet financially, we tried to repay some of the debt. Mum wasn’t comfortable with taking from people, even from us, so we had to be forceful. That was a quirk of her character that both her sons have inherited, so we both understand what it must have been like for her. At least in those later times she enjoyed some happiness, with both her sons making their way in the world, and especially when her granddaughters appeared on the scene. How she loved the girls! And how they loved her.

Near the end, with mum’s body ravaged by the cancer that was to kill her – a cancer that her doctor misdiagnosed as nothing to worry about – she was confined to bed and a wheelchair. She was living in our house, with Susan doing her Florence Nightingale bit to her usual high standards, ensuring she had the best of care, and suffered as little as was possible. I remember the pharmacist being a big help, too.

Although mum was very weak, she had set her heart on being at her niece’s wedding.  For several days before the wedding, it seemed as if she did not want to go to sleep, sensing that she might never wake up. She was hanging on, just.

She made it.

When we took her to the simchah, it was as if she had been plugged in to an energy pack. She was still stuck in the chair, but she smiled, and laughed, and surrounded by close family and friends, she joined in the celebrations, and had a thoroughly good time. We took her home, and she died the next night. She was 59.

Twenty-five years on, I still miss you mum. And I always will.

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The moment has passed

Rita Reinhold - 1926-2015

Rita Reinhold – 1926-2015

One moment is all it takes, and the change is made; from living and breathing, to the big, final, full stop we call death. Oh, we have lots of euphemisms, but they do not truly mask the stark certainty of the end. Probably that’s a good thing, though for most of society it remains a taboo subject. After all, if we focused too much on that certainty, we might question the purpose of our existence, and come up short when seeking an answer. Blessed are those with faith that shields them from the doubt, and empowers them to not only keep going, but to make the most of their life. I want to be one of these people. I want to live in the now, recognizing each day is a gift. None of us are guaranteed to wake up tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that. And so on. Therefore, I am truly grateful for the gift, and pray that I won’t take it for granted.

One memory is all it takes, and the mood is changed; from mourning to the celebration of a smile, a laugh, a joke. Some little episode through which the loved one continues to live, even if only in our recollection. We want to remember, because we also hope to be remembered. We look back at the generation that has passed, and those before it, and wonder what the generations after us will think about our generation. Good or bad? Happy or sad? Blessed or cursed? Just let us be remembered.

Rita will be remembered. May her memory be a blessing, and may the family be spared sorrow for many years to come.

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Elliot’s funeral

You got quite a crowd, Elliot. And a fair few shedding tears for your passing. There were a lot of hespedim (eulogies) – more than I had experienced before – but they were a blessing. The hespedim shone a light on the range of your good characteristics, good deeds, and fine examples, and brought back happy memories of your life, of your vibrant, infectious, happy spirit. I am grateful that I came to know you, and shared some moments of Torah and baseball. You were one of a kind, and you’ll be missed.

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Dead end

This week was another first for us, but one we would happily have missed out on for a long, long time: our first Israeli funeral.

Differences? First, reflecting the relative size of the communities, there are a lot more  Jewish burials in Israel than in Glasgow. (Sharp, am I not?) So, maybe it should not have been a surprise – but it was – to see an electronic noticeboard announcing in a list, the name of each deceased due for burial that day, and their allotted time. Irreverently, it reminded me of a public transport announcement: “The next bus to Heaven will be the 9.45, carry the earthly remains of the late...”

Second, they do not use coffins; just a plain shroud. Thankfully, I had been warned about this, but it was still a little shock to the system to see a wrapped up body instead of a simple, unadorned, box.

Third, after the prayers and the eulogies, we went from the prayer hall at the front of the cemetery to the burial plot – by car. It was such a large cemetery, that walking was not a viable option.

As we made our way among the thousands – tens of thousands? – of plots, I thought about the advice a wise man once gave me: “It’s good to go to the cemetery; it’s more important to leave it.” I was glad to be able to leave.

May the Almighty comfort the mourners, and may they be spared sorrow for many years to come.

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