How is it to be me at the moment? How do I answer that without asking questions and yet more questions?
Many years ago, my father died on his way to synagogue. The first my mother knew was a knock at the door and two police officers there to deliver the sad news. Suddenly, all the family was round at the family home. My brother and sisters and our children all there with my mother, chatting and hugging and reminiscing over endless cups of tea.
Talking, talking about my father. Exchanging stories from our childhood, many downright hilarious and others wistful knowing that our children would not grow up knowing their grandfather. The funeral attended by so many family and lovely friends, then a week of sitting shiva. One of us always sleeping over at my mother’s so she wasn’t alone, always on the phone to each other and seeing each other every day at her house and staying for prayers every evening. Then asking Neil: “What do we do at the end of the week?” And he said: “Well, you can mark the end of the week by going out together, go out and rejoin society. We can walk together.”
And so that is what we did, walking down our street and out across Tooting Bec Common with my mother and the grandchildren to the playground to rejoin life.
How did the Jewish rituals of mourning and shiva help? Well, the actual physical support of family cannot be underestimated, close friends who tune in immediately and who just turn up and are there. It all helped tremendously as well as a return to work and being with colleagues.
Fast forward to 2020. When my husband Neil (Rabbi Neil Kraft) died of Covid-19 in March, it was the end of the first week of lockdown here in the UK. My younger son and I immediately went into self-isolation. The paramedic’s parting words to me were that I should scrub every inch and surface of the house. Our older son could not return home to see us, although we spoke continually by phone. We could not go to the hospital to see Neil before he died. I was able to organise the funeral only because my lovely nephew speedily ensured that I had the paperwork from the hospital and kindly people ensured that it could take place within a few days.
The funeral was conducted by Zoom and only the officiating rabbi was present. I took part and, while many watched the service, others, including my older son, could not because the live streaming crashed.
There was no shiva at our house. Instead, thankfully, the shul organised prayers conducted from people’s homes via Zoom.
At the end of our 14 days of self-isolation, my younger son and I went out and rejoined the world, a world in which every shop was closed on our high street, people were wearing masks and the streets and road were deserted. Surreal, it was all most definitely surreal.
Through it all, my neighbours were absolutely wonderful, shopping and cooking for us. Friends and colleagues from Norwood, the charity where I work, thoughtfully dropped off food, gifts and cards with beautiful words.
Family and friends, both here and in the USA, called, emailed and sent cards and letters to us all. The community was – and still is – in shock and is working its way through its own grief.
And how utterly appropriate and fitting that the evening that marked the end of our self-isolation was the first seder. There was little prepared as I tried to get my head round it all. Unexpectedly, my older son was able to join us and we were all reunited for the first time. I determined that we would do a seder, although I had little idea of what that would mean.
In the event, what it did mean was that we created our own. I’m pretty sure that Neil would have loved what we did and would have approved.
- Susannah Kraft is a theatre producer and widow of Rabbi Neil kraft