The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - MOURNING SARAH EB­NER nachas?

MY MOTHER died a year ago on Sun­day. Although I was there, stroking her arm as she ut­tered her fi­nal breaths, I still hoped, when the doc­tor came in, that she would say we were mis­taken, that my mother — the cen­tre of our fam­ily and the wis­est per­son I shall ever know — was still with us. She wasn’t.

2016 was a ter­ri­ble year. It was the year of Brexit, Trump and ris­ing an­ti­semitism. So for that year to be the worst year in my life too, was the big­gest kind of irony.

If you’re lucky, like me, then your mother will be the per­son who loves you no mat­ter what. You can say and do all sorts of stupid things, whether it’s los­ing your tem­per or get­ting lost in Brent Cross, but it won’t change her feel­ings about you. Even when I did some­thing I knew my mum dis­ap­proved of — re­turn­ing early from study­ing in Amer­ica or leav­ing a good job at the BBC — I never doubted that she would sup­port me.

Grow­ing up, my mother was the mum all my friends wanted. She was wise, kind and end­lessly pa­tient, but also fun, do­ing all those things mums were sup­posed to do — from bak­ing to days out.

She was al­ways wel­com­ing to our friends, never put pres­sure on us at school and had a gift for friend­ship which meant she and my fa­ther were al­ways busy — and yet still had time for us. She was very em­pa­thetic and also fiercely in­tel­li­gent (the first in her fam­ily to go to univer­sity), a true in­tel­lec­tual who loved to read. I have trea­sured memories of Shab­bat af­ter­noons, with the two of us ly­ing on the so­fas in the liv­ing room, just read­ing qui­etly, to­gether.

I knew, of course, how won­der­ful she was be­fore she died, but I — and my fam­ily — were still over­whelmed by the num­ber of peo­ple who told us af­ter­wards, in per­son, or by count­less let­ters or emails, how she had changed their lives. The Eb­ner fam­ily in 1972. Sarah is the youngest. Be­low, with her mother, Ann They said she was the rea­son they could read (my mother, ini­tially a teacher, later be­came an ex­pert in adult lit­er­acy), why they suc­cess­fully changed ca­reer, be­came a mag­is­trate (she was one her­self, with an ex­per­tise in fam­ily mat­ters) or went to univer­sity. Ann Eb­ner was a quiet but hugely ef­fec­tive leader, to­tally with­out ar­ro­gance, but with a pres­ence you couldn’t miss. She also had the most glo­ri­ous voice (I still can’t be­lieve I won’t ever hear it again) and even the most per­fectly beau­ti­ful, clear writ­ing.

My mother was also hugely or­gan­ised. She knew she was ill, and so she pre­pared to die. It sounds mor­bid, but it wasn’t. It meant there was lit­tle left un­said, and much, much less to worry about when the worst day hap­pened.

I had dis­cussed with her which rabbi she wanted for her fu­neral and what would hap­pen if he was busy or away. She wanted all the fam­ily’s rab­bis to take the ser­vice on dif­fer­ent days of the shiva, and they did — from her own United Syn­a­gogue and that of her sis­ter, my Ma­sorti rabbi and my brother’s from Re­form. We were a fam­ily and she re­spected all of our views through­out her life and even af­ter­wards

We also dis­cussed the kind of things that might come up in her eu­logy. We chat­ted about her life and what was im­por­tant to her. And although she was so in­tel­li­gent and tal­ented — a schol­ar­ship to North Lon­don Col­le­giate School was fol­lowed by early en­try to Cam­bridge — she wanted at least an equal em­pha­sis on the fact that she grew up hap­pily as a child of the Edg­ware com­mu­nity (where her fa­ther, Si­mon Domb, was a found­ing mem­ber) and that be­ing part of a lov­ing Jewish fam­ily, both as a child and later a mother, was ex­tremely im­por­tant to her.

She wrote let­ters to us over a year be­fore she died, and I read and re- read mine af­ter she was gone. But then I had to put it away be­cause it made me crease up with pain and tears. I could hear her voice and I wanted to, but just couldn’t on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

She wrote to her seven grand­chil­dren too. Or she meant to. Even my supremely or­gan­ised mother didn’t man­age to fin­ish all those let­ters, but my son (who is the youngest and missed out) knows she loved him. It was clear through­out the time they spent to­gether.

So much has hap­pened since my mother died. One nephew had his bar­mitz­vah, my son started sec­ondary school and one of my nieces just got an of­fer from Cam­bridge. How could Mum not be here to en­joy all that My won­der­ful fa­ther has en­joyed it all in­stead.

Last year I un­der­stood a truth — that your life changes when you lose a par­ent. I joined a club which I knew I would have to be­long to in time, but hoped not to. A year is a long time not to speak to your mum. What of two or 10 or 20?

The Jewish cus­toms helped. Of course they did. From the shiva — which I found ex­tremely com­fort­ing — to say­ing kad­dish, and the tomb­stone set­ting, all of it seemed emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent. But of course it can’t fill the void. And I felt ner­vous about the end­ing of the reg­u­lar rep­e­ti­tion of kad­dish, as if stop­ping it means she isn’t be­ing prop­erly re­mem­bered any more.

As time goes by, although it gets eas­ier on one level, it gets harder on an­other. As the year ends I feel as if Mum could be for­got­ten, as if say­ing “my mother died last year” some­how makes it sound less im­por­tant than her dy­ing this year. I feel peo­ple will ex­pect me to move on. That they might not ex­pect me to get up­set (which I do, but not pub­licly).

I know my fa­ther misses her the most — af­ter all, he lived with her. But I miss my mum all the time, es­pe­cially on Fri­days. If the phone rings then, at around 5pm, my heart still skips a beat and a huge part of me hopes it will be her, call­ing for a quick chat while cook­ing Shab­bat dinner. In real­ity I know that she is gone, but I am for­ever grate­ful for the ab­so­lute, ut­ter love that she gave me. I couldn’t have wished for more.


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