Thursday, March 16, 2006
The good news first: Benjamin and Alexia are expecting their second child in mid-August. Since Ursula is also an August baby, we may have two Lions in the family. I have also put up some fotos of the grandchildren on my website (www.js,emory.edu/BLUMENTHAL) and you are welcome to visit. We also had a lovely visit from Peter and Saskia Weishut of Holland, our first live-in guests in Prague.
The death of Ursula’s mother came as a shock. It is one of those things you think about, even talk about, but never expect to happen. She fell in January and suffered a hairline fracture in her pelvis. There was nothing that could be done for this. It was just painful, and the pain took its toll on her energy. Philippe had come to visit her for ten days and to share the news of his new-born daughter, Keren Amalia. Fortunately, I sent some photos and Philippe could show her others on the computer. Mrs. N. looked very carefully at the child and pronounced her “perfect.” She spoke to, and blessed, the baby by telephone.
On Sat. eve. Mrs. N. had heart pain. She took something and it got better. Then it got worse and Joan, her faithful nurse, called an ambulance. They gave her something and she felt better again but, of her own volition, decided that she should go to the hospital. On the way out of the house, Mrs. N. had severe heart pain, had a heart attack, and died in her home before reaching the ambulance. The hospital was not able to revive her.
Joan was with Mrs. N. when she died, and stayed with the body until the necessary arrangements were made. Carol returned from Boston; her son, Ben who lives in New York, joined her. We were notified by phone and flew straight to Switzerland to await the body. Ben took charge of the arrangements that were very complicated, and Mrs. N. and Carol’s family arrived Tuesday morning, February 28th. Philippe, Ursula, and Jonathan went to the airport with the hearse to receive Omi. Benjamin and I met them at the funeral home where we unpacked the crating and lead wrapping and then we talked to Omi and to each other – a much needed moment.
At the cemetery, I should have been the officiating rabbi, not only as a family member (as I did with my late father-in-law) but also because the local rabbi was away and the cantor had left for Israel leaving only a lay representative of the rabbi. However, the accumulated hostility in the family prevented me from being the officiating rabbi, though I did recite a psalm and the memorial prayer. Because my mother-in-law did not want any eulogies, because it was Rosh Hodesh (the New Moon), and because of the sharp family hostility, Ursula, Philippe, and I spoke before Carol and her family arrived. At least the introduction to Mrs. N’s funeral had the dignity of some loving words. People came from all over -- England, Holland, France, and, of course, Switzerland. Two young musicians from New York, Philip Quint and Borislav Strulev also came. Later, at graveside, we completely filled in the grave. Mrs. N’s. gardener was with us to the end, helping in this physical task. We barely had a minyan (prayer quorum) for prayers at the house for the afternoon service. In addition, the prayer books were conveniently “forgotten” by the family person who was charged with delivering them. After that, we went to the local synagogue for services though there are times when the liturgy is shorter than the drive to synagogue. During the first afternoon and very much in Mrs. N’s. spirit, the musicians played beautifully the variations on the prayer in “Hansel and Gretel” that she had commissioned as well as other pieces.
The week of shiv’a (mourning) was a nightmare. I had promised my late father-in-law on his grave and my late mother-in-law last spring that I simply would not allow a situation to develop in which Carol could again attack Ursula. So, with Benjamin’s help, we employed a round-the-clock bodyguard for Ursula. This proved to be a blessing: Ursula felt completely safe in the hands of these men trained in counter-terrorism. We felt safe too. And I think it helped Carol keep control of herself, though I do not know that. In any case, it worked and there was no violence. The few times when tempers rose, the bodyguard just drew closer to the scene and matters quieted down quickly.
Meanwhile, Philippe and Carol’s son Ben, who are the executors, got right to work. They began the long process of setting up the resolution of the estate. There were some tense moments but Carol’s children, especially Ben, handled themselves impeccably, wisely refusing to allow discussion of 50 years of unresolved issues. Only two moments were very unpleasant: As part of her tour of the house, Carol and her entourage went into the rooms we have occupied for 36 years; that was very invasive for us.
The worst part is over. Mrs. N. is properly buried. A gravestone (not the same as the tombstone) has been set. The proper prayers are being said by us wherever we are and, in Jerusalem, by Jonathan. The estate settlement is under way. No violence broke out. Ursula regrets not having seen her mother since Thanksgiving but she has realized that, in the larger picture, she was more than accommodating to her mother. She has also realized that, as long as her mother lived, there was the tension of whether to bring up all the unresolved issues of their life together, and that this tension just cannot be there any more. She also recognizes that her mother led a long and productive life and that she did want to live in pain and as handicapped as she was. Her time had come. As always, Ursula’s resilience astounds me. Philippe is having a harder time of it. As he puts it, “Every day since I was five, I have called my grandmother, and now I can’t do that.” It is only a shame that, because of the hostility in the family, we were not able to really mourn – to talk intimately with one another and to draw comfort from one another and from our friends. Some of that began in the days following Carol’s departure and we will do more. One of the “nice” parts of all this was having Benjamin, Alexia, and Raphael here for a week, having Philippe, Nili, and Keren with us for almost two weeks, and having Jonathan with us for the funeral itself.
The immediate future seems clear but not the long range. We are briefly in Prague and I have cleared our calendar for March because Ursula and I need to join Philippe in Larchmont as he and Ben Hochberg continue their work. We have some of our own things there and will need to clear them out. The trip will be very sad. We leave Sunday, 3/19, for New York and will be in Larchmont until 3/30, at which time we return to Prague. Our number there is: 914-632-9365.
Passover will probably be in Brussels with Benjamin and family. We have postponed trips to Berlin, Vienna, and Salzburg and will slow down our concert attendance upon our return.
Thank you for your support and our best to all of you. U&D