Tuesday, July 01, 2014

On bereavement

My dad, Norman Green, died on 23rd June 2014. We were on holiday in France when my mum phoned to tell me the news, and we were home within about eight hours. I didn't say much, or feel much, during the journey home. Ruth did most of the practical stuff – dealing with Ryanair, for example, who were surprisingly decent. The nuts and bolts of getting home seemed to consume most of my mental energy, of which there wasn't much.

I hadn't had much preparation for bereavement. No-one close to me had died since my grandmother in the early 1980s. Then, I'd not felt anything until the funeral and the final sight of her coffin, at which I had cried and cried and been unable to stop. I didn't cry at my dad's funeral, though I came close the night before, sleeping on the floor of what I must now learn to call my mum's flat. From time to time I have felt ashamed that I haven't felt more sad. Some people say that this is normal and that it will hit me later; we have talked about whether it was because in some sense the progress of dad's dementia meant that we had already adjusted to the fact that he was no longer with us. I don't know.

Leon and I had a discussion about whether it was acceptable to post a message about dad's death on Facebook. In the end I decided that it was OK, and I am extremely glad that I did. The messages of condolence and support that I received were very welcome. I was really grateful for them, and will try to do the same for others in the future. I never realised how important they could be, and how little it matters what the actual words are.

We all felt very well looked after by my mum and dad's synagogue. I've been to funerals where a rabbi has delivered a lame and impersonal eulogy to someone that they self-confessedly didn't know, but nothing like that happened here. The officials at the ceremony were really kind and supportive – it helped that the main functionary was Scottish and  looked and sounded like a Jewish version of Sean Connery.

The rabbi was happy for Leon and I to say a few words ourselves. There had been something of a comedy moment the night before the funeral, when he counselled us that there were some things to which our eulogies could not refer; any enjoyment that dad had taken from eating non-kosher food, or any pleasure he had derived from mixed dancing. Although these  had indeed been among dad's favourite things we managed not to mention then, though the rabbi had looked distinctly nervous when Leon began the lead-in to a joke about a rabbi and a Catholic priest on a train.

Although I do a lot of talking for a living I wasn't at all prepared to give a eulogy for my dad, even though I had imagined myself doing exactly that from time to time. But I managed to say how much of what I considered important in myself had been formed in early conversations with my dad. He brought me up to be against racism from a very early age.

He was a visceral, tribal socialist, and would have cut his hand off before he allowed it to vote anything except Labour. The basics, he explained, were that the Tories wanted high unemployment and low wages, and Labour wanted the opposite. When I was still really little he enjoyed telling me how Nye Bevan had called the Tories vermin. And when I rather mindlessly repeated what the TV news had said about trade unions, dad had told me that working people needed unions to defend themselves against bad and unreasonable employers. Although he had put himself through night school to qualify as an optician, and was therefore both a professional and a businessman, he continued to think of himself as a working class person who done well, not as someone who had risen out of his class.

Like everyone, he was a man of his time. He had liberal views on homosexuality – I can remember him telling me that it was wrong to discriminate against or punish people for how they were born. He never really got feminism or women's rights, though Ruth and her mother schlapped him to Greenham for a CND demonstration. I can remember his bewildered expression as a group of protesters chanted 'no men' at us, who had come there to support them. He couldn't understand  why they would do that, and as I tried to explain it to him realised that I couldn't either.

Dad was not a bloke-ish man. He was mainly uninterested in sport, though he liked to watch boxing and took me to watch “professional wrestling” at the Metropole in Brighton when I was small. He didn't care much about cars, though he'd been proud to own a Jaguar for a few years, as a sign that he had done well for himself. He resolutely refused to do DIY, insisting on his inability to do anything with his hands, even change a light bulb or a plug. Of course, as a man of his time he never did any housework at all – it would be wrong to say he refused to do it, because my mum has been a woman of her time and would never have asked him. In his later years he often asked if there was anything he could do to help her, but he wouldn't have been capable of finding the dishwasher, much less loading or unloading it.

His non-blokeishness extended to his love of children. He was really, really happy to play with little children, to make funny faces and noises for them, play peek-a-boo, and so on. He loved all of his five grandchildren – Louis, Lexei, Juliana, Raquel and Selin. He was proud to have been present for the birth of his own children at a time when the expectation was that 'expectant fathers' paced up and down outside the delivery room.

First and foremost dad was an anti-fascist, of the physical force kind. Of everything that he done in his life he was most proud of his time in the 43 Group. I don't think he was a physical brave man, despite his long participation in various kinds of martial arts training, which makes his involvement in street-fighting all the more special. He loved that he had been part of the group, constantly read and re-read Morris Beckman's book about it, and was always happy when he had the opportunity to talk about it with a new audience.

As he got older our views diverged, and we disagreed about Israel and Zionism in particular. But I loved him all the same, now as much as ever, even though I will never hear his voice again.

1 comment:

Charlie Pottins said...

Thanks for sharing this with us Jeremy. I first met your Dad in the JSG, and he played a key part in fact in the Group's development as a campaigning group, after a shul was daubed in Ilford, and the Board of Deputies advised people to keep quiet about it. Norman, your Dad, took a different view and led a JSG leafletting team on a Sunday morning, to alert people to the fascist danger, call on the Board of Deputies to reveal what it knew, and encourage young Jewish people to join others confronting racism.
It was this kind of thing, challenging the Board's authority and softly-softly policy (they were relying on the Tory Home Office) that brought our first clash with the Establishment, and encouraged our independence in approaching other things.
I don't recall your Dad ever boasting about his part in the 43 group, though somehow I guessed he might have been.
What I do remember is his sense of humour, including his ribald suggestion to a Board of Deputies official who had asked how they might satisfy themselves that we were Jewish! (OK, it did not consider our female comrades, but your Dad was still a man of his time, as you said)
And though Norman might not have gone along with our changing approach to Israel and the Middle Easy (in which you yourself played a decisive part Jeremy),he remained friendly and hospitable - I still remember enjoying the seder night at your parents' place.
So farewell to your Dad, and Long Life.