Live from the Lilith Blog

October 2, 2008 by

What Will My Tombstone Say?

I have been thinking about my tombstone. Every year, during these days surrounding Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I get a little nervous. The words in the machzor make it clear that between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur one’s fate for the following year is determined. It’s only the method that is yet to be decided. Today, I am healthy, but who knows about tomorrow? Be Prepared: it’s the Girl Guide in me. I’d also like to save Mr. Blasé the effort and anyway, his punctuation is terrible.

I could opt for the standard phrases: devoted mother, dedicated wife, cherished daughter, beloved mother, selfless sister (but I feel a tombstone is not a place for alliteration) blah blah. But this is not a time for accolades, and I just don’t like the fact that these benign phrases are all about me in relationship to others. These descriptions, albeit worthy – are not about me as a person, but rather acknowledge events in my life that offered me a mortgage, school fees and the same person to grow old with.

I have been working on a few options:

She had an edge. Too short and too obscure. What’s the point of being remembered for the edge when any recollections of my sarcasm would be out of context?

Her cynicism belied her sentimentality.
True, but would anyone really believe it?

Multi-tasker extraordinaire. Isn’t every woman? Hardly anything unique.

She wanted to make a difference but was never sure she did. I’d like to be remembered for my altruistic streak even though it was never fully realised. I just don’t want to sound too self-righteous.

Kind to misfits and loyal to her friends. Pots of soup across Hendon and Golders Green attest to this.

Her instinct never let her down. This instinct led me to marry the wonderful Mr. Blasé, so that is surely worth a mention.

She tried her best. What happens when our best is just not enough?

Lots of people annoyed her. And why did I waste so much time trying to placate them?

The Holocaust walked in front of her. Challenged to name my primary identity: British, Jewish, woman – I always chose child of Holocaust survivors.

She was grateful when everyone she loved woke up in the morning. It’s true.

Modest, inside and out. Can there be a greater tribute for a Jewish woman?

It’s not really about the tombstone, it’s about the legacy. What will be worth remembering? How do we construct a memory that reflects a person’s life when that life is fractured, complex and filled with it’s own memories. I have thought about this a lot in recent years. Holocaust survivors are dying around me and there are no adequate words for their tombstones. Young mothers in our community are dying of breast cancer and their children are barely old enough to read the words engraved above their mother’s grave.

Naturally, during Yizkor on Yom Kippur, I will be thinking of the deceased who are close to me, but I know I will also be wondering if I will be here next year to mourn them.

–Modesty Blasé

Cross-posted to the Jerusalem Post blog.


  • http://shortysadventure.blogspot.com shorty

    I often think of how I would like to be remembered too. I guess I want to know that I somehow made a difference, that my life had meaning and purpose, rather than become a statistic. I’m not sure if that is selfish, or just, that i don’t want to waste my life away!