Saudade is a Portuguese word that describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone who one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.
My friends, who came as I did to live in Israel, shared the fear of receiving “the phone call” telling us a parent had passed away across an ocean and perhaps half a world.
We were haunted children. Each Passover we gathered. Elijah’s cup stood on the table. It was my mother’s cup and though she lived, she was also a ghost because she was so far away. I looked at my son. When I am old, I wondered, will he go far away to live in a different country?
I was 31 when left the U.S. and moved to Israel. I left in a ferocious need to be. Nothing would have stopped me. My mother never tried to stop me. She told me she admired me – admired me – for having the courage to leave.
I lay in bed the morning my mother died. Images tumbled through my head. In my mind’s eye, I saw the funeral I could not attend, my brother, older, sadder. And my sister. My mother was her protector. What would Ann do now? Two birds twitter as they build a nest on my Jerusalem window ledge…
I lived most of my adult life within half an hour’s drive from my mother and never gave it a second thought. We talked by phone, saw each other now and then for a bit of shopping and a chat. Such was life in suburban New York.
Living in Israel – being so far away – taught me about family We saw each other through a time-lapse sequence. Each visit, she was visibly older, changed. A call – “Your mother is in the hospital” – brought panic. Nothing could reassure me.
Another visit to Israel. It is the year after my mother’s surgery and she looks so tired. I can see the weariness, yes, but she is still Mother. I saw her as I had always seen her: strong, an elemental force in my world. A friend commented: “What a fragile little woman your mother is!” That stopped me short. I had never seen my mother as fragile. Or little. She was as she had always been … but maybe my eyes were faulty.
My mother was with me, then had to leave and another year passed.
It was 1983. She had come for Passover. I was overjoyed to have my family together. We would have three uninterrupted weeks. My mother looked wonderful. Her color was back. Just before the Seder, she tells me that she is dying.
“Dying?” I was inane in my shock. “But you look so well.”
She was not well. She had cancer. It had spread to her lungs and stomach. She said she could feel herself sliding away. “I don’t want to lose you,” I cried. If I cry, Mother will fix it, it will be okay.
“I don’t want to lose me either,” she said, and laughed.
“How can you laugh?” I said.
“What else is there to do?” she replied.
Fears and prayers and hopes. Relentlessly, she told me what I need to know about the will,my brother and sister. I am the first to be told.
We took a two-day trip to the Galilee. The wildflowers were blooming. They were scarlet and blue, white and pink, yellow and purple. The Galil was ablaze and we saw it together. I remember. The Hermon, still crowned with snow. The Kinneret, mist-covered.
My mother always talked to me. I was little, very little. I sat next to her while she ironed and she talked about life, her thoughts, her dreams. Was she lonely? Did she miss her own mother who had passed away?
The final summer of her life, I went to the United States to be with her. She still looked well. How could she be so ill? Yet the signs were there. Her will sustained her. She wanted me to remember the Mother I knew, and not as she would be in weeks to follow.
She let me take care of her, and that spoke volumes. We talked, talked, talked. I tried to tell her all the things I’d never gotten around to saying, never found the right words.
I just let the words fall out. I wanted her to know that all the little hurts … they were nothing. Forgive me Mother … I forgive you, too.
I am my mother. I am the cycle, the pattern. I sit by a pool and watch my granddaughter play in the water, and I am my mother, and I am in the pool. I am the one, mother who is and will be.
My mother gave me a diamond that was her mother’s and perhaps, though no one can remember so far back, her grandmother’s. It was the one thing that had been passed down the generations. All else was lost, long ago, left behind in another old … older … country.
I have become the woman my mother raised me to be. As she molded me, I am – for good and ill. I am my mother’s daughter.
- Rarasaur: Prompts for the Promptless – Episode 10 – Saudade (rarasaur.wordpress.com)