Walk beside me
Saying goodbye to a special person
Hi blog, are you there?
It’s me, Margaret.
So 2023 thus far has been, interesting. A week of gorgeous crisp blue sky opened with more sobering news: One of my mother’s closest friends (and certainly, my favourite) passed away abruptly after a relatively short battle with Leukemia, here in Berlin.
She was the mother of a classmate from when we lived in Bonn in the late nineties. We spent most Sundays at their house playing Mortal Kombat as the adults smoked, joked and talked adult things in the kitchen downstairs. Bonn was a happy time for my mother, and I think this friendship was a real contributing factor to that sense of belonging the small expat circle there gave her, at which this friend played the role of glue that held everything together. I’m writing this because she was an inspiring woman, and I feel inspired to write about her.
She was a warm, strong and highly intelligent Israeli woman of intense principles. Passionate about politics and a staunch critic of her government, she uprooted her family to start a new life in Germany, where they knew no one. She held onto that rage and indignation such that those political values and strong sense of right and wrong reverberated through her family, so much so that each funereal speech given explicitly referenced the sacrifices she made that kept her moral compass intact, and articulated her anger at the Israeli state within Berlin’s largest (and extremely beautiful) Jewish cemetery. And she did all of the above while living struggling with MS that gave her severe limp, having to provide for her family, while maintaining her wicked wit throughout. A real force to be reckoned with.
My mother really loved her. Their large, loud and generous family welcomed our small and awkward one with open arms, and when my mother and I visited her it was so nice to see that bond they shared was just as strong as it always had been, despite years of life they had living apart. “We’re soulmates,” they said.
By coincidence, my mother spent the final years of her career researching treatments for blood cancers. They spoke about the drugs she was on, and my mum was pleased and hopeful about the fact that she was on a new and really promising drug. Her friend mused that the MS and the Leukemia could be connected to pesticides used by the Israeli government. “Well, there’s no data to back that theory up,” my mother said flatly, the way she always does when she’s got that scientist’s cap on a little bit too tightly for the room. To be honest, I’ve come to love her for it.
She was telling me mostly recently that another old friend of hers has found a new boyfriend who it turns out is an anti-vaccer nutjob who believes pandemics can be healed through singing at a specific vibrational pitch. That was a dinner party that didn’t go well, apparently. “I just tried to explain the science to him,” she said. He got so annoyed at her his border collie leapt to her defense. Imagine that. Being so off your rocker that an animal specifically bred to stand your ground picks the enemy side.
But back to our departed friend. More nice things to say about her: On seeing her again last year I was struck by how clearly she saw me. My mum joked about my odd hobby of picking up big rocks and carrying them around when I’m at the family hytta in Norway.
“I can see why you like that. Sounds really stabilising,” she said. I told her that whenever my mum sends me pictures of my niece, I respond with pictures of my rats. She leaned her head back and howled with laughter. Seriously. Total badass bitch vibes, even through chemo. On leaving her flat, she loaded me down books, including an analysis of the life of my favourite German playwright (Kleist), and shared my number with a woman who lives near me and likes to go running, the daughter of a Syrian friend who had been trying to teach her Arabic.
And another thing, a diamond quote from her shared by one of her family members at the wake.
“Do not walk in front of me. I won’t follow you. Do not walk behind me. I won’t lead. Walk beside me, be my friend.“
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A Berlin-based writer engages in the study of belonging and in-between places after years spent faraway from 'home'.