• Mina Semyon

My Yiddishe Mama

‘You live, you learn and you die a fool’ - My Mother

My Mother calls from Cape Town

I’m living in London on my own, after one divorce and four love affairs. I measure my progress by the degree of freedom I’ve achieved from the doctrine passed down generations that I can’t survive without a man. I’m beginning to think I can, but my mother obviously doesn’t.

She calls from South Africa: “Listen, I want that you should listen. I want to tell you something, don’t get upset.”

“What?” my heart starts beating faster. I prepare myself for the worst.

“Your Uncle Zalman died.”

“When did he die?”

“Ay, seven years already … ay, ay!”

“Seven years? Why didn't you tell me before?” I’m befuddled.

“I didn't want to upset you … Sonya, his wife, died soon after him. It’s already five years. Time flies! Do you remember Nekhamke?”

“Yes.” My mind and body are on full alert.

“Smart she isn’t, no brains, but even she found a husband, nu, every bottle has a top, every pot has a lid, may she be happy. And do you remember the young Gitke?”


“Gitke married a chemist, a good boy. They have a nice house, a new car and a swimming pool. And … I also didn't want to upset you, Meishke, the youngest, poor boy,”

“What happened to him?”

“He shot himself.”

“Shot himself?”

“ Oy, oif puste felder ( may misfortune land on all the desolate fields, not on us), already five years … yes … he saw his girlfriend in the street with another boy, so he took out a revolver and shot himself in front of them … but … what can be done? … may the dead bury the dead … do you remember Mendel?”

“Of course I remember Mendel.” I don’t know where this is going, but somewhere even weirder, for sure.

“Mendel had hip replacement surgery, he inherited the house and he wants to marry you.”

I’m stunned. I’m bewildered. My mind is boggled, my sense of reality challenged. I’m shtum.

“Why aren't you talking? This phone call costs money!”

“I don't know what to say.”

“Say yes or no.”

“No! Of course No!” I burst out in total exasperation.

“Nu,” sigh, “all right, it's your life.”

Kira Refuses to be a Buffer Between Me and my Mother

Kira says: “I’ll come with you to visit your mother on one condition, that you don't use me as a buffer.” I look up the word in Webster’s Dictionary: ‘a buffer is a small state between two possible belligerents, helping to diminish chances of hostility’.

I am fifty-nine, a Yoga teacher for twenty-five years, and I am still afraid of totally losing control when faced with my mother. Every time I land in Cape Town I am on full alert like a prickly hedgehog. The best I can do is to pray for mercy. So I say to Kira: “I promise I’ll try,” but in my heart I know I can’t vouch for it.

Mel, Kira’s aunt, and her friend, Ario, meet us at Cape Town airport and we drive to the bungalow we’ve rented from my friends, Katinka and Ivan. On the way I make a plan: first a swim in the cold Atlantic Ocean, the quickest and most blissful way to recover from a long flight, so that we can arrive at my mother’s refreshed and ready to face the music. I can hear my mother’s voice in my head, ‘I haven’t seen you a whole year and what is the first thing you do? Go to the beach!’

When we arrive at her place she says: “Where have you been? I rang the airport and they told me, ‘Mina and Kira arrived early in the morning.’ It’s four o’clock already. Come, sit down and eat, I made chicken and potatoes and apple cake.”

“We had lunch, we are not hungry. Let’s have tea and cake.”

“You need food, not cake; Ikh zol azoy lebn.” Which means ‘if you want me alive’, in other words, not eating equals wishing her dead.

Mel suggests: “Let’s say a prayer”:

May this food nourish us on the path of love and understanding and greater expression of our divine nature.’

This gratitude mantra is thousands of light years away from my mother’s experience of famine and the unimaginable pain of having no food to give to her child, which in her mind, feels as if it happened only yesterday.

She ignores it: “Oy, why only cake? Eat, eat, you haven’t eaten anything. What do you want to eat when you come tomorrow?”

I understand that she’s stuck in her memories of starvation, but it still drives me mad. I notice the familiar symptoms: tightness in my abdomen, irritability and total loss of the ‘seventh sense’ – my sense of humour. And of course Kira picks up on it instantly. Later, in the car, on the way to the restaurant in Sea Point, Kira becomes quiet and withdrawn. When we get out of the car at the sea front she says: “I’m not coming again to see Grandma with you; the way you behave with her makes me feel suffocated and brings out in me the same feelings your mother brings out in you.”

I start on my old story again: “I’m sorry but I can't breathe. I’m trying to let go of the past and she pulls me back in. I’m sorry but I just can’t control it.”

“If you can't drop it now, I’m not coming with you.”

Mel and Ario stand aside, obviously in total cahoots with Kira, which makes me feel outnumbered and defensive. But deep inside I know that I have to drop this old pattern of reacting to my mother and I’m grateful that my daughter doesn’t let me get away with it.

I must admit it’s easier to drop your negativity standing by the ocean with a full moon in the sky, anticipating a fresh seafood meal at a seafront restaurant. And if it weren’t for my mother, I wouldn’t be standing there at all, breathing this glorious Atlantic Ocean air.

The next day when we visit, I manage to see a woman who is my mother, who's been through the horrors of the Second World War, lost her husband and left alone with a little child in Kyrgyzstan – a land foreign to her. My heart opens and I feel love and compassion for her; what this woman only had to go through in her life in order to survive and protect me. It amazes me how much a heart can hold and bear; amongst other horrors, to have to see her child hungry and have no food to give her. My irritation at her telling me to eat all the time softens a little.

As if reading my thoughts, she says, out of the blue: “Aye, I don’t know why; I suddenly remember how I used to stand at the market and sell galoshen.

“You sold galoshen? Where did you get them?”

“From Bertha,” she says, as if it’s obvious to the whole world except me.

“Where did she get them?”

“Don’t you remember Liova? Her husband used to work at the shoe factory. He used to steal them.”

“So it must have been dangerous selling them?”

“Dangerous, of course it was dangerous. I could get ten years in jail for it. Bertha used to give me fifty roubles for each pair I sold, so I sold them for a hundred roubles each and then I would buy chicken, bread, butter and even have some money left for sweets for you. One day a handsome, well-dressed man came up and asked ‘how much for a pair?’ so I told him. He said, ‘Why so cheap?’ I said, ‘That’s the price.’ He bought a pair. The next day he was at the market again. I could see he was looking at me funny, my heart was beating fast, you can imagine, that guy could have been a plain clothes NKVD man. He came up to me and asked, ‘How much are they today?’ I said, ‘The same price.’ He said, ‘Come with me, I want to talk to you.’ I was nervous but I went. He showed me his passport. He was a metro engineer, the main one, no more no less. He said, ’Do you have any more at home?’ I said, ‘Yes’, he said, ‘Let’s go … I’ll buy the lot.’”

“And you trusted him?”

“You have to trust sometimes, otherwise you don’t eat. I took him to our room; you were alone at home with a sore throat. I told you to stay inside, but you didn’t listen to me; you went sliding down in the snow on your belly and your coat looked as if you were attacked by dogs. He had a good look at you … anyway what’s there to talk much, he bought all the galoshen. He said, ‘And you don’t want to know what I’m going to do with them?’ I said, ‘It’s not my place to ask.’ He said, ‘I’m going to sell them at Pushkino market for a hundred roubles more and I advise you to do the same.’”

“And did you?”

“No, I was afraid. Years later when I was already dressed in a smart coat with a silver fox around my shoulders and new boots, I saw him at the Komsomolskaya metro. He was with another man. He came up and said how pleased he was that I was looking so well. Akh … those were some days.”

The next day I notice my mother’s neglected hair and ask her: “Would you like us to dye your hair?”

“What do you need to bother?”

“It’s not a bother.”

“Akh, what difference will a bit of dye make?”

“We’ll see after we’ve done it.”

“Nu … all right.”

We buy dark brown hair dye and Kira and I dye her hair. She actually enjoys the whole procedure.

“I need a haircut,” she says after we finish.

“How do you want it?” asks the young hairdresser we take her to.

“I want a nice haircut, a little shorter, but not too short.”

As I watch the hairdresser trim her hair, I can see it’s beginning to look really nice; as usual, it doesn't take much to transform her from looking old and shrivelled to much brighter and younger. She’s always had this ability to magically transform herself.

I ask her in Russian: “Are you pleased?”

“She still has quite a lot to learn . . . but not on me,” answers my mother nonchalantly.

When we take her home we bump into her friendly neighbour who greets us and says: “Mrs Sher, I’ve never seen you on the other side of the gate. We often ask your mother to come with us to the park but she always says no.”

My mother mumbles under her breath in Yiddish: “Akh, what do I need to go with them?”

“Why don’t you want to?” I ask in Russian.

“I only like to go out with you.”

As soon we come inside she says: “So, eat something?”

“We are not hungry.”

“Why not?” she sighs the way she always sighs when food is being declined.

Before we leave she says: “At least an apple? Here, take it with you.”

“We have apples.”

“Where from?”

I want to kill her.

“Take at least one apple.” She shoves an apple into my hand.

When we step outside, I put all my frustration into this apple and send it rolling down Derry Hill. Mel, Kira and I watch it roll all the way to the bottom of the hill and break into uncontrollable laughter.

OK, here I have to take a few deep breaths and do some urgent reasoning with myself. Yes, I feel sad that we live so far away from each other. I would love us to do nice things together more often. I’m not in a position to bring her to live with me and anyway, she’d be miserable in London. She likes the warm weather in Cape Town. I feel guilty, but I’ve been guilt-ridden all my life. Give me a break. It’s not my fault!

On the plane I cry almost all the way back to London. If the human body is ninety percent water, mine seems to be ninety percent tears. When Kira sees that I’ve stopped crying for a moment, she asks in a sweet voice: “Having a little break?”

I don’t even know any more why I’m crying. Just an ocean of tears keeps welling up and up inside me.

How is the Greek?

Before we left Cape Town to go to the airport my mother took Kira aside and asked in a hushed tone: “Do you have a boyfriend?”


“Where is he from?”

“He’s Greek.”

“A Greek?” she repeats with non-comprehension and then remembers, “Agh, like your father.”

A week after we come back to London mama calls.

“How is Kira?”

“She’s fine.”

“And how is the Greek?”

“He’s fine.”

“Fine is fine, but is there anything official?”

“Not official, but it seems serious.”

“How serious is it if it's not official? Have you met him? What is he like?”

“He’s very nice, good sense of humour.”

“Sense of humour you can't live on. What does he do?”

“He does Thai yoga massage. I don't know him very well, I only met him once.”

“How many times do you have to meet him to know if he is a mensch? Nu, and what about you? Anybody on the horizon?”

“No,” I snap.

“What happened to all those who were around?” and without waiting for an answer, she starts singing a plaintive Russian song: ‘everything that’s been dear to my heart has flown under the bridge long ago…’

After I put down the phone, I pour myself a shot of vodka in one of my new vodka shot glasses.

The Jewish Old Age Home

When next Kira and I come to visit my mother she is at Highlands House old age home. We are escorted to the dining room where she is having lunch. There’s a man in a wheel chair opposite her with his head on his chest and his glasses falling off the tip of his nose, asleep. She greets us and says, with her habitual sarcasm:

“Meet my conversationalist.”

Sarcasm has become her survival technique; having endured a lifetime of pogroms, wars, starvation and loss, and having cried her eyes out, now she finds it easier to laugh than to cry.

“Why is my mother sitting at this table with a sleeping man, when there are all these people who are awake at other tables?” I ask a nurse.

“We put your mother and Moishe together because he speaks Russian.”

My mother says in Russian: “Nu, they beat you and they don’t let you cry.”

After lunch we walk slowly to her room with her.

“Come to the window, have a look outside,” I say.

“What do I need to look, I can smell the air.”

The nurses tell me that she won’t join in any activities.

“Why don’t you ever go out of your room except for meals?”

“What do I need to go out for?”

The nurses are kind and caring. I feel slightly reassured that at least she’s being taken care of and feels more secure that the nurse will give her the right insulin dose, as she no longer sees well enough to do it herself. We sit and hold hands and kiss. She seems more relaxed and enjoys our presence. For a moment there’s a little space for Kira to feel she has a grandmother, not just her mother's mother with a terrible atmosphere between them.

“Do you have a doctor?”

“A doctor!” she exclaims as if I couldn’t have asked a more ridiculous question.

“There are many doctors here, but they only wave at me, ‘Hello Mrs. Sher.’ Thanks God, I don't need a doctor.”

The next day when we come, she says: “Akh, I don't know why, where did I get it from, but I thought you had left already?”

Kira: “So it's a nice surprise?”

“Yes,” she laughs, not at all bothered by her forgetfulness.

Every time we come, she says: “Akh, I don't know where I got it from, but I thought you left already.”

I have to admit with a pang in my heart, that she’s losing her wits. She has two pictures on opposite walls, one of me, twenty-seven years old, wearing the wig I bought in Mallorca, and another of Kira, five years old, sitting in full lotus, from Arthur’s Yoga book, ‘Body Life’. She looks at the pictures and starts talking as if she is telling a fairy tale to a child:

“One day a man came in, I never saw him before, he took your picture and put it on this wall and then he took Kira's picture and put it on the other wall and walked out. I never saw him again.”

“I tell you, some people even get married here. In the room across from me a ‘young’ couple got married. He is eighty-nine, she is eighty-eight. He asked the nurse to push the twin beds together, ‘because,’ he said, ‘by the time I get to her bed I’ll forget why I came.’ Akh, if only the youth would know, if only the old would be able to.”

Ben, who’s had a stroke, is in the room across from her. He is seventy-five, my mother is ninety.

Mother says: “Come, let’s go and say hello to Ben.”

As we stand by his bed, she says to me in Russian: “I tell you, he wouldn't mind if I lay down next to him. His wife is also in the home but on another floor. They offered to move them together, but he didn't want to.”

Ben smiles as if he understands what she’s said. I feel a bit embarrassed and tell this man, who is paralyzed on one side, that he looks like Fred Astaire.

“Ah, now I am not the full box of chocolates,” he replies and looks flirtatiously at my mother: “Your mother is a beautiful woman.”

Mother stands there makhtsekh nisht visendikh – pretending it doesn’t concern her.

I ask her in Russian: “Did you hear what he said?”

“Yes, and he is not the only one.”

Back in London I get a phone call from Highland House telling me that my mother has had a stroke, she can’t walk anymore and her speech is slurred. She has to be taken to the bathroom in a wheel chair, the one thing she most dreaded. I phone and speak to her but she can’t answer me. Then one day her speech is back.

“You sound better.”

“I am better.”

“Can you walk?”

“Of course I can walk. Where is there to go?”

That was the last time she made me laugh. Before we hung up, she said, for the last time: ‘Vsio budiet khorosho’’ - everything will be all right, which is what she always said to me to comfort me, all through our terrible times.

On a number of occasions, I tried to thank her for everything she’d done for me, but her response always was: “Akh, what do you need to thank me.”

“So, thank you, Mama.”

My Mother’s Death

My mother, Dina Sher, died on April 23rd 2003, 12 pm South African time – 11 am London time – in Somerset Hospital, Green Point, Cape Town, South Africa one month before her ninety-third birthday.

‘Without me you are nothing!’ I actually felt a few moments of panic, ‘what if she is right?’ In a way I felt immunised against her death by her endless threats that she was going to drop dead any day now. I lived in constant anticipation of that day all my life; when it arrived she was ninety-three. If I’d known she’d live so long I could have enjoyed myself more.

But what’s there to say? Of course I felt very, very sad. Now the unimaginable has happened; our mother-daughter relationship is forever imprinted as a tiny part of the vast pattern of the Universe. It was what it was and can’t be anything else any more. This is it. This is the form our love took, take it or leave it.

We arrived in Cape Town in 1960. My mother was fifty years old, fifteen years younger than I am right now.

“You are difficult to love,” my mother always told me.

She was right; I wouldn’t allow myself to love and be loved. Being loved meant being totally engulfed by the other, and so I put a wall around myself; distanced myself. It took a long time to undo this knot of confusion.

The last time we spoke on the phone was the day before she died. “How are you?” I asked.

“I’m fine, my life, my world, my little dove. You must eat and be healthy. Look after your health. Are you going to come over?”

“Yes,” I said, not knowing when.

Now at last she was free. But was I?

Before flying to Cape Town for mother’s funeral, I went to the hairdresser; she always told me I needed a haircut. Standing in the crowded tube on the way to the salon my heart was with her and I wished her to be free of her suffering. I recalled and recited a Tibetan Bardo teaching referring to the time after death, ‘Do not be afraid of the dissolution of the life you have been attached to, and find Peace in God. Go, go, go towards the light, and don’t look back.’ And I added, ‘don’t be afraid, don’t worry about me, I am alright.’ But ironically I felt I was going to miss her all-encompassing concern about me, however oppressive it had been; now I was nobody’s child. There also still lurked in me a fear that no matter how much Yoga and breathing I did, I’d still end up exactly like my mother.

We were bound by chronic emotional pain, worry and anxiety; victims of a life that, in my mother’s words, dealt us an unfair hand; ‘I was young, beautiful, intelligent, the best cook in my village, and look at me now. Is this my neck, are these my eyes?’ my mother would say scrutinising herself in the mirror.

Standing there in the subway train on the Jubilee line, her threats that plagued me throughout my life, come to mind: ‘Wait till I die, then you’ll know, then you’ll taste it. You don’t want manna, eat shit,’

On the subject of shit, I don’t think my mother would mind me telling an amusing story:

‘A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold that the bird froze and fell to the ground in a large field. While it was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some shit on it. As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow shit, it began to realize how warm it was; the shit was actually thawing him out! He lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate. Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, gently licked the cow shit off him and then promptly ate him. The three morals:

Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.

Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend.

And, when you are in deep shit, it’s best to keep your mouth shut!

On second thoughts, I don’t think it’s my mother’s kind of story.

The Funeral

27th of April 2003

The words came to me in Russian: Mamu pokhoronili - My mother was buried. Khoronits – to commit into the safe keeping of God. Pokoinitsa –she, who is at peace.

I couldn’t quite take in that the deceased person the burial people were talking about was my mother. They uncovered her and there she was. I leaned over her. She was so obviously an empty shell, her face almost unrecognisable, no lines at all, just slightly sunken in the mouth. I bent down closer and thanked her for everything, for bringing me into the world with all its suffering and pain, but also joy; for bringing me out of Russia to beautiful Cape Town. Then one of the attendants came in and asked me if I had finished saying my goodbyes. I said I had. He started banging nails into the coffin.

The young Rabbi surprised me with his openness and gentle support. When he tied a scarf around my neck, making an incision in the fabric, which I then had to tear further to express our heart-rending separation, a deep sob burst out of me. The Rabbi asked me to tell him our story about the war and how we left Russia, and retold it with real feeling and sensitivity later at the service.

It was a beautiful sunny day at the Jewish cemetery in Pinelands. The attendants wheeled the coffin slowly. Rosie, my mother’s step-daughter-in-law and her two children and I, walked behind the coffin with the Rabbi walking behind us, singing prayers. I looked inside the grave before the two young black men, with their kind, open faces, lowered the coffin. Then they threw some earth onto the coffin and so did we. Everyone started to walk away. I didn’t want to leave. I walked slowly, looking back for the last time as the two men filled the grave with earth.

I said quietly: “Mama, your soul flew away, like the mother who turned into a bird in the story you told me that evening in the Tatar republic during the war, when we were alone in the snowed-in little house.”

Once upon a time and far away there lived a mother with two little children, a boy and a girl. One day when she was ill in bed she asked them for a glass of water but they were so busy playing with their toys, they didn’t hear her. So she turned into a bird and flew out through the window. Before she flew away she knocked on the window with her beak. The children looked up, startled by the sound, but she was gone.’

The stark finality of the mother’s disappearance sent me into uncontrollable sobs; outside a snowstorm raged, the wind rattled the little window and wolves howled in the distance.

I begged her through my tears: “Please don’t turn into a bird and fly away.”

She held me and consoled me: “Don't be silly, of course I won't fly away . . . if you promise to be a good girl.”

Finally I fell asleep holding onto her, resolved in my four-year-old heart to always be a good girl – a promise, which fortunately for me, I didn’t keep.

Driving away from the cemetery, I looked up into the sky and saw a big bird, unlike any I’ve ever seen before, furiously flapping its wings, as if trying to follow us. I kept looking back till it disappeared into the distance.

The service at the synagogue in the old age home followed the burial. It is a requirement of Jewish Law to have ten men at the service for the dead. The organisers had done their best, but only managed to get five.

“We need five more men,” says one of the women in the congregation.

“What about Shlomo in room 102?”

“He is not feeling well.”

“Go and try.”

A few minutes later she comes back with Shlomo, who is shuffling along, holding onto a Zimmer frame. He just about manages to drop into his seat.

“Now we need four more, have you tried Moshe from room 115?”

After half an hour, we have ten men. One arrives in shorts. The woman next to me says: “What a disgrace to come in shorts. And do I need to look at his legs all knock-kneed and the varicose veins?”

Somebody lets off a malodorous fart of such super-high intensity that the odour spreads to every corner of the synagogue within seconds. The same woman, who objected to the man in shorts and his varicose veins, jumps up and runs towards the exit, yelling: “I’m not staying with this putrid smell, not if you pay me.”

So the mourners areRosie, my mother’s third husband’s daughter-in-law; a friend of Rosie’s, whom I’ve never met before, and the ten men who are barely able to sit up, keep falling asleep and every time the Rabbi says ‘Amen’, wake up with a jolt and say in unison ‘Amen’. I could just imagine my mother laughing and making her usual mocking wisecracks at the tragicomedy of it all.

At the end of the prayers everybody comes to shake hands with us and to say the customary, ‘I wish you long life.’ The ten old men, with their heads bowed, take their time to shuffle through.

The next day I cleared my mother’s wardrobe and put all her clothes in bags for charity. Her dresses with printed rims at the hems evoked vivid memories of how she always dreamed of this kind of design and how difficult it was to find in Russia. Amongst her things was a playing card of the ace of hearts, which she kept as a good fortune amulet for me to find a husband; a little leather bag with coins, as her own peculiar prayer for wealth for me; a pair of new leather gloves and the mink collar of which she was so proud. I put them all in my bag, except for the mink collar, which I left lying orphaned on the table.

The memories caught at my throat and tears started streaming down my face; tears for what was, and was no more, and mostly, for what had never been.

The night after my mother’s funeral I had a dream:

The sun is setting in the desert. I see a ladder that extends right up to the clouds. I start climbing it. The ladder is leaning against a tall, narrow structure standing in the middle of nowhere. On the other side of the structure is another ladder. When I get to the top there is a man on the other ladder, encouraging me to climb over to his side. It looks impossible and I’m petrified, but he seems so sure it’s safe that I start climbing over. Sure enough, as soon as I do, both the ladders begin to move and topple over to one side. It is certain death – we are falling from above the clouds. But then, during the fall, I feel my wings open. I land on my feet and so does he.

Honouring Her Memory

So what about the tradition of honouring my mother’s memory by setting a stone on her grave? She always told me that she felt a heavy stone on her heart, so why would I put a stone on her grave? But I feel pressured by this tradition. I need to think it through for myself. I’d rather plant a tree for her and gather a few friends together to remember her. But I’ m pulled by the ‘what will people say’ syndrome

I remember those desolate evenings with just the two of us, when my mother would start singing the song: ‘I’ll die and be buried and nobody will even know where my grave is.’ I felt her tugging at my heart strings, prophesying that I would forget her after she died. She knew she’d have me in floods of tears, but she’d go on delivering the song with a lot of emotion, until my sobbing got out of control and then she’d make pancakes to console me.

I suppose there’s still a part of me that believes my mother’s words: that I am an unruly vilde khaya (a wild beast), just because I question tradition and want to discover for myself how to live an authentic life. But the vilde khaya is transforming into a centred wild woman; true to herself, filled with wonder and ageless knowing, not holding her breath for anybody or waiting for anybody to make her happy, free to dance and sing, laugh with joy and howl with sorrow.

In the Jewish tradition people don’t bring flowers to the grave, you are not supposed to cut down living things to honour the dead. Isaak Babel, the Russian Jewish writer, said that when he first ventured into his writing career the only tree he could recognise was the lilac and even then, only when it was in blossom. He felt there was something odd about the way Jewish people, unlike gentiles, didn’t know the names of trees or birds. A tree is a tree, a bird is a bird, a dog is a dog, and that’s it. It certainly seems like it when I think of my mother, who never pointed out a tree and said its name, except a birch tree perhaps and that mainly because it would get her singing the song about the lonely birch tree standing in the field, swaying in the wind, longing for the oak tree on the other side of the river.

So it seems more appropriate to plant a tree – a birch tree – in my mother’s memory and let her spirit fly beyond tradition. Hilmar Schonauer, whose workshops ‘Getting to Know Ourselves’ I have attended for a number of years, said to me: “Stone setting, or whatever other religions do, is all about keeping the old family traditions alive and not really setting the spirit of the person free. The tradition of burning the body and letting the ashes blow in the wind, or at sea, is much more in accord with setting the spirit free, letting it go beyond its cultural and family limitations.”

And, yes, I am sad that I didn’t get on the plane to Cape Town in time to hold her hand before she died. I have to live with that. But do I have to go on feeling the traditional guilt, instead of enjoying the loving connection with my mother I now feel in my heart?

As for me, I hope whoever is around when I am dead will find a place to cremate me and scatter my ashes over the ocean, with one chrysanthemum floating on the waves. No graves, no stones, no waste of space. And that’s it. There goes Mina with all her mishugaes.

And since my lifelong dream of finding an older wiser man is still not totally relinquished, it better be soon, because I’m well on my way to becoming older than any wise old man alive.


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