I drove to Boreham Wood and collected my mother. I used Dan the Man, my lovely nephew as Sat Nav.
It took hardly 25 minutes to get to the Jewish Cemetery in Bushey.
I parked the Jacmobil in a disabled bay, my mother assuring me that the Jews were really understanding and since she had left her badge at home and couldn’t walk very far anyway it was a legitimate park.
My mother is 88, her sister died at the age of 90. There were at least 50 people standing around in the freezing cold. Men in big hats and skull caps, women in fur hats and scarves.
There is something about a huddle of cold Jewish people in a graveyard that makes for difficult memories. Some kind of historical blueprint.
The Rabbi guided my three cousins and my mother into the room where the bier was set. Three bar heaters hung orange hot on the wall but it was still bitterly cold.
The rest of us mourners were allowed in. The men to the left the women to the right. The Rabbi told stories of my aunt, who was an inveterate knitter. He wove the eulogy around her threads and needles. She had been central to her family by not dropping any stitches, by making sure they were all part of the pattern of her life.
The two surviving sons had their sweaters cut by the Rabbi, to rend their grief, then I helped my mother onto the bus that took us to the grave side.
The bier was wheeled between the stones and memorials. The ground had been dug, the heavy clay piled either side of the grave. The sons holding onto the coffin until it was lowered into the grave. My mother cried.
‘I never thought it would come to this’ she said.
The reality of her too short life staring at her in the cloudy puddle at the bottom of the grave.
The heavy, cold clay was shoveled onto my aunt. My mother threw a handful of earth onto her sister. It felt timeless, thousands and thousands of years of people, of whatever faith, mourning their dead.
We walked back to the car with the rest of the mourners.
I drove behind my cousin to his house. Fifty people were going to talk about my aunt and let out their grief.
The tradition of sitting shiva goes back thousands of years. The close family sit on small chairs and eat a boiled egg, to symbolize life, a round bagle, for sustenance and a pickled herring – to symbolize the sweet and sour paradox of our time here on earth.
My mother looked like a child on her little chair.
The atmosphere is not maudlin, it always feels like a Woody Allen film to me. I half expect people to measure the carpets and compare prices….People talk, joke and reminisce, to honour the life of another human being. Relatives and friends who haven’t seen each other for years.
Half of them didn’t recognise me since I’m half the woman I used to be, and when I left they wished me long life.
I drove back to the flat via West London onto my old LBC route from Latimer Road.
The Bushey Cemetery felt miles away as I drove round Battersea Square.
My mother stayed, on her little chair, for the evening prayers. The house, she said, was packed. What a way to go with a house full of noisy people noshing on eggs, herrings and hot bagles.
When the traffic died down Jim and I went to a fund raiser for a school in Namibia. From death to life in half a dozen hours, the irony was not lost on me.
I wish you all a long life.