It was the 4th anniversary of my mum’s passing yesterday.

I’ve been thinking about the whole thing a lot recently. And the main conclusion is that time is relative, it is relative to the point of losing some of its meaning. What do these four years mean? I don’t know. There are some memories from her last days that are so deeply engraved in my memory that I remember these moments better and clearer than anything I did last week. Time doesn’t mean much. Yet, it means something – I have dutifully tried to do the hard work of grieving, and four years is quite a time in that sense. What is hard about grief is that it doesn’t come with a manual. So many times over these past years I’ve been lost, not knowing what to do exactly. Visiting her grave would be a good idea, a friend tells me. Write about it, the other one says. Try not to think about it. Cry. It’s good advice, offered out of love and care, but it hasn’t made the working through the grief considerably easier. Most of the time it still feels like I’m inventing a wheel as I go. I would like to think I’ve come a long way since it all happened but occasionally I am not sure. Life goes on, but death also goes on. Four years, or even ten, could not possibly take away my motherlessness, my longing for our family to be whole and happy again, my longing for intimate conversations with her. All these things stay, and time cannot take them away.

I was finishing Vasily Grossman’s A Writer at War a week ago. The closer I got to the end, the tougher the book got. The closer the Red Army got to Berlin, the more raping and looting took place. Not to mention the concentration camps - I had never read such detailed descriptions of gas chambers and furnaces. It was terrible. And then suddenly in the middle of all this destruction, there are two letters which Grossman wrote to his mother. He found out only in the end of the war that his mother was one of those numerous Ukrainian Jews who had been shot as soon as the Nazis arrived in their village. And now this tough guy who has seen war and despair, concentration camps and Hitler’s bunkers, writes a letter to his deceased mother. And he writes: „I can feel you today, as alive to me as you were on the day when I saw you last, and as alive as when you read to me when I was a little boy. And my pain is still the same as it was on that day when your neighbour in Uchilishchnaya Street told me you were dead. There was no hope of finding you among the living. And I think my love for you and this terrible sorrow will not change until the day I die. /.../ My darling, twenty years have passed since the day of your death. I love you, I remember you every day of my life, and my sorrow has never left me in these twenty years. /.../ I’ve been rereading today, as I have for many years, the few letters to me which have survived out of the hundreds that you had written. /.../ I cried over your letters because you are in them: with your kindness, your purity, your bitter, bitter life, your fairness, your generosity, your love for me, your care for people, your wonderful mind. I fear nothing because your love is with me and because my love is with you always.” And this letter was so unexpected that it shocked me. And it made me cry. And it also comforted me – there are many people who have lived with grief that never left them. There are many people who have loved someone more than their own life. There are people who every day have to balance between the life and the death that are always present for them. It is such a comfort to know I am not the only one but belong to a tribe of tough and gentle people who live with their losses and their love, and not only live, but live meaningful and rich lives.

Just in case, I made sure I would be busy the whole day yesterday. I was not going to sit alone and drown in my grief.

I preached my Christmas sermon in the morning and was very happy with how it turned out. Then I had a long lunch at my auntie’s which I was so looking forward to because my cousin had come home for Christmas after two years. He’s doing his doctorate in Harvard Medical School. I understood very little of what he told me about his research but I listened nevertheless, with my eyes (and probably occasionally also my mouth) wide open. And I came to the conclusion again which I have come to many times before – hard work and serious self-discipline does something to people, there’s a certain moral character to people who give their very best in whatever it is that they do. I am a great admirer of talent and intelligence – they’re one of these few things that really knock me off my feet - and I can honestly say I admire my cousin. And on top of all his brains and incredible career, he’s so modest and down to earth and polite. Let me take your coat, can I get you something, may I pour some more tea... I just kept staring at this young man – who, honestly, used to be one of the most annoying kids in the world some 15 years ago – and marveling. My cousin! Such a wonderful man! Oh my.

And then the evening I had saved for a real treat – the last concert of this year. Bach’s magnificient Mass. It is such a monumental piece, it is difficult to take it all in at once. My favourite bit, no doubt, was a choral piece with the lyrics Et expecto resurrectionem morturorum. Et vivam venturi saeculi – "And I await the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the world to come." There will be a resurrection.

I’m not sure whether I should mention it or not but the general elation of the concert and its atmosphere was almost shattered to pieces by one of the soloists, who, for the better part of the Mass, just sat on the stage. The bass singer, a very handsome Latvian guy, sat on the stage and, I kid you not, winked at me and kept looking at me throughout the concert. I sat right in front of the stage. First I was greatly surprised and mightily disturbed – I thought there was a law forbidding any kind of contact between the musicians and the audience. How unprofessional! You're supposed to look only heavenward, sir, and sing Bach with your angelic voice! But then I found it absolutely hilarious. I have to cover my head with ashes and admit that Mr Bass made me divide what I thought would be my undivided attention to Bach’s heavenly music. Very unexpected and yet, so human. Once I had landed at home around midnight (because I ran into some friends at the concert and we decided to have some tea afterwards) I had one last laugh about it.

So the day turned out to be a good and a funny one. Which, I believe, is the grace of the Almighty.

Merry Christmas, dear friends! Appreciate the loved ones who are still with us, take time to be grateful and don’t eat too much. And maybe winking at random strangers isn't such a great idea either lol.

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