Our Sages say that it is better to visit a house of mourning then one of celebration, for there is more to learn from sadness then from gaiety.
This week I went to a funeral for my friend's mother.
She was laid to rest on a cold, winter's morning with the sun a thin rag bleached of colour. It seemed just the right weather to be buried in, suitably mournful with the faint comfort of sunshine.
Her name was once Hazel but she had tired of it and changed it to Nina instead. Like the singer, I suspect. Her daughters have spent their whole lives unravelling the threads their mother used to tie herself to them. They were so vague and flimsy those threads, yet so difficult to loosen themselves from.
Nina left when they were very small. They still remember the journalists hiding in the bushes outside their house in the hope of photographing them. Their parents were socialites of a sort, and the divorce had made the papers, especially when their father became the first man in South Africa to win custody of his children. Nina left in a flurry of Italian underwear and French champagne.
She was a glamorous, free spirit unable to bear the shackles of suburban domesticity. She smoked cigarettes with a long protractable black holder and dressed like a movie star. Nina was not like other mothers at all. She did everything before it's time and surrounded herself with artists, intellectuals and the spiritually inclined. She considered herself a Bhuddist and would already be an urn full of ashes if not for her faithful daughters.
She went through several fortunes. No sooner did she run out of money then another relative would die and leave her a tidy sum! She went on lengthy cruises and once married a man seventeen years her junior. But only for a while.
My friends sat vigil over their mother through her last days. She was frail, emaciated and in pain but died peacefully surrounded by their compassion. Nina never gave them much as a mother in the conventional sense. Still, in the strangest way they are the beautiful ,strong women they have become because of her. Her leaving made their search for inner strength and meaning an extraordinary and urgent possibility.
How strange we all are and how carefully life offers us the right questions.
Answers are for the world to come...