It’s almost three months since the end of the Tour. I thought I might gain some perspective but things haven’t turned out the way I thought they might. In March I took a brief break from the expedition to return home and celebrate my mother’s 100th birthday. She was in fine fettle. When the local tv news reporter asked how she felt, she responded with what had become her classic tag line: “I feel…[dramatic pause]…young and restless.” Even as I was cycling through the southern half of our Tour I knew my mother was busy as ever baking and cooking for all and sundry and playing cards with her cronies four times a week.
Shortly, after my return, trying to adjust to a life not reduced to the essentials as on the road, missing dreadfully the starkness and simplicity of that life, my mother took a turn. The next couple of months were difficult for her. Her legs were badly ulcerated from severe circulatory problems and she fell prey to a series of infections. She was in considerable pain and her body began to fail. I was with her every day. She passed away a week and a half ago.
My mother was not always an easy person but that was because she was an elemental force, powerful, relentless, striving. In a different era and under different conditions she would have achieved great things in the world at large; those doors were denied to her (a great loss to the world) so her remarkable, ceaseless drive turned inwards to her family.
Hard to believe that she is gone. It seemed for the longest while as if nothing, not even severe illness or death, could overcome her fierce formidable supernal strength. She had an accumulation of serious health issues–ah, the number of hours and days I spent with her in ER over the past twenty years!–that would have long since put paid to a lesser person. Not her. She would emerge and carry on with her ceaseless, driving energy.
As I sat with her on the morning of her passing I was convinced that at any minute she would startle awake and issue her usual cascades of peremptory commands. Her last conscious day was on a Tuesday, the day she was taken back into hospital. She hadn’t finished fighting. Her body could not rise to the occasion but her mind was as sharp and hard and demanding as ever.
She never truly achieved any peace in herself; the losses of her life–the Holocaust, Auschwitz, the death of her first husband barely three years after marriage leaving her a widow with a baby and toddler (me and my brother)–were too great in her. Her life was a battle with the world and more so an inner battle which never let up. She drove me crazy with her exorbitant demands, her need to dominate and control and yet now I feel as if the air has been sucked out of the world.
Here’s the beauty of it though: the circle of life takes a turn. A few hours before her death, on that very day, my son and his wife brought a beautiful baby girl into the world. I can’t help but feel that my mother has passed on to her something of her energy, her drive, her will to persevere, her great love. A few days after the birth the parents named the little girl, Olga, after my mother.
I can’t help but continue to dream of getting back in the saddle and riding…riding…riding.