Perfect Family Tales And Other Trivia

The art of the short-story writer is that of the cartoonist. It is the magical craft of creating entire worlds with a few simple strokes of a pen. Tales told by an idiot? Maybe! But my tales are also a mix of reality and fantasy; truth and lies; some based on my own family; others, not. Readers must guess which characters are real; who are inventions - and who are an amalgam of both. Please draw the boundaries for yourself.

Friday, 23 November 2012

‘A Living Will’

“He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy.”

‘After I’m gone, say the God I barely recognised  was indivisible; just One.

‘After I’ve gone, don’t recite Kaddish. The dying is for me, not Him.Jewish.Funeral.Customs

‘Make the funeral short. Let my body burn. Should these requests be judged thoughtless and unwise, let it be known that I deserve neither prayers,  praise, lies nor crocodile tears. What I did was wrong. You’ll know this, after I’ve gone.

‘Buy less milk and butter. Turn the heating low. Feed the cat. Cut the kids’ hair  monthly, check their homework’s done.

‘Remind them they are Jewish, when I’m gone. When you arrange our son’s barmitzvah, please invite my mum. It’ll please her if you say he’ll be wearing the tephillin once worn by  Uncle Jack.

‘After I’m gone, carry on as normal. Have Janie round for tea. I find your loving comfortable. Let’s not pretend. It’s clear. She’ll be a better mother than I’d ever be.

‘After I’m gone, pin a notice on our door. “This woman,” it should read, “seemed honourable, fair and kind. She was more faithful than her husband, kept a clean house,  gave to charity and taught her children well. But as the final drips of life  seeped from her,  measured by the agonised ticking of the clock, the truth came out. In her dreams, she had killed her father, estranged  her daughter, then waited patiently for oblivion to take her too.”’


Alan Gershon’s eyes widened as he scanned the letter he’d opened.

“Bea Newman’s gone,” he announced.

“What do you mean? Gone where?”, asked his wife, Noga.

“Sorry! The note I’m reading is from a  Sally Morris, the administrator at The Willows, the hospice in Rainhill Lane. She says Bea died there from leukaemia about three weeks ago and had requested a secular ceremony and cremation. Mrs Morris has also enclosed a so-called ‘living will’ which Bea had managed to scribble about a month before and which she had asked to be sent to me. Here - look for yourself.”

“Hmm,”  said Noga, snatching at the papers. “This isn’t a conventional ‘living will’. Typically, Bea concentrates on practical domestic duties but  makes no mention of medical care or even of a legacy to those who’ll come after. It relates more to her musings on death.

“I didn’t know she’d been  ill but  we’d all lost touch in the past ten years. Anyway, you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t speak too warmly. Bea was a carbon copy of her  dad, ‘Potty Pete’ Blumenthal – a lunatic trouble maker if ever there  was one. This is also just like her – leaving you with the burden of clearing her effects. I bet my bottom dollar she chose you as she still fancied you rotten.”

Alan chuckled despite himself, as Noga continued  her tirade.

“I realise I’m breaking every taboo in the book and that I should respect her passing by reflecting on her positively. But all I can remember is how she abused our hospitality; was forcibly removed from two local synagogues for heckling publicly during services and deliberately caused dissent between  friends with her vicious gossip.”

“I remember,” he sighed as Noga paused for breath. “Yeah, if only she’d stuck to what she did well. At her best – which was at work - Bea was a creative genius and some of her campaign ideas were superb. But too often that same spark became a demonic sprite. That’s why we asked her to leave Raine Rose Communications.”

“But we also know,” said Noga, beginning to read the enclosure carefully, “that Bea was  a deeply troubled and sensitive individual. While most of the details here are invented, she’s sending us a strong, genuine message.”

“Let me have another look,” said Alan. “The wording appears to be based on the traditional Jewish deathbed confession, where the individual  recites the central prayer, The Shema, confirming his or her faith in one God.

“It’s all desperately sad, Noga. It is apparent that she felt she’d been morally rotten and that her horrible illness was its physical manifestation.

“She didn’t want to be offered the regular rituals at death as she considered herself unworthy of them, or even to have a prayer quorum  gather on her behalf to recite Kaddish, the mourners’ prayer.”

“It’s also a cry for help. But it was made too late. I’ll set aside my personal misgivings and suggest we investigate the possibility of a memorial service at the columbarium. One of us could read her ‘will’ and offer an explanation.”

“I suppose it’s possible,” said Alan. “I don’t know how many of our circle would give up their time for such an odd and ‘un-Jewish’ occasion. But you know what they say,” he added, managing another weak smile


“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” 

Natalie Wood

(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 23 November 2012)

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