Happy Birthday Mum

Margaret Geller 29/12/13 to 24/7/05


I knew as I placed my hand to her door that my mother had passed and that when I stepped into her room I would find, not her, but only her body. It was not the silence that told me — it was the emptiness.

My house was suddenly empty of the woman who had shared every step of my adventures, from the moment I was born, throughout my childhood and adolescence, in my heart as my career exploded, and then in my home as my family grew.

Thank God, her passing was swift. Though she died alone, probably after waking in the middle of the night, she knew that Hanna and I were close by, just up the stairs. I had been sitting with her the previous evening, encouraging her to lie down and shut her eyes because she had become uneasy about going to sleep in recent weeks.

My mother was in her 92nd year, and she packed three or four lifetimes into that century. Her capacity for work was inspirational: whenever I’ve felt tired, whenever I’ve wanted to skip a show or dodge a signing or miss a deadline, I have thought of my mother and how she would come home from her day job as a waitress, pick up a needle and slave into the night as a seamstress.

I’ve been praying for my father’s memory too, these past days, and I believe that he has been reunited with my mother now, but I cannot gloss over the fact that it was her earnings, not his, that put food on my plate when I was growing up.

My mother fought for me when we lived in Israel, a country that was as young as I was. She fought for me even before I was born, for my father wanted her to have me aborted. And I vowed, as soon as I was old enough to see what she was doing for me, that one day I would look after her, just as devotedly.

By 1969, I was able to start keeping that vow — though the roll of cash in my pocket was my pay as a male model, not a paranormalist. My mother thought it was fantastic to see her son’s picture in magazines, and she didn’t seem to mind that most of the shots featured me in nothing more than underwear.

In 1972, as I headed out to the States, I was able to purchase an apartment for her, but the toughest thing about my rocket trip to fame was knowing that Muti, my name for my mother, was back in Israel. By 1975 I could stand it no longer: I picked up the phone and told her, “You have to live with us in New York.”

From then on, whether we were in Connecticut, in a simple house at the foot of Mt Fuji in Japan, in a luxurious London flat or in the Thamesside home that we bought 20 years ago, Muti has always been with us. She’s seen every day of her grandchildren’s lives, from the moment they were born, and that’s a blessing that any doting grandparent must treasure above all others.

She was born in Berlin before the outbreak of World War 1, the middle girl of three sisters named Freud. Sigmund the infamous psychiatrist was a relative. When Margaret was one year old, her parents took her, Violet and Rose to Budapest, Hungary, where the family had a furniture and kitchenware business.

My parents met in Hungary and spent their courtship walking beside Lake Balaton, outside the city, or rowing on it. My mother liked to tell how her boat capsized one afternoon and she was trapped beneath the hull — my father dived to save her, pulling her leg free and dragging her to the surface. Whatever else she said about him, and she said a lot, Muti always knew that the man she married had the courage of a lion.

Decades later, when my father remarried, Muti befriended his new wife, a woman named Eva. They were kindred souls, and right up to her death Muti sent regular packages to Eva in Budapest: if I ever forgot to send Eva’s jam and aspirins, I’d earn myself a real ticking-off.

It’s so strange to think that she’ll never send another pot of strawberry preserve or blackcurrant jelly to Eva, or open the parcel that came by return post, a bundle of paperback romances. It’s these details that remind us when someone is gone: the big fact of death is too huge to understand, so we focus on the minutiae.

My mother did not fear death. I told her I knew beyond doubt that our spirits go on, and she was always content to trust what I told her. I felt sometimes that we were a pair of trapeze artists in a circus act, our movements synchronised so that we swang in perfect harmony even when we were furthest apart, always ready to leap and catch and hold each other safely.

My mother is in God’s hands now. But I sense the lack of her hands on my wrists, and it’s a frightening feeling.

Margaret from a Latin and Greek name meaning ‘A pearl’. Some say it was originally a Persian name meaning ‘Child of Light’. Margaret has been a frequently used name since the 11th century.

My Father’s Sister Mancy passed over to the other side on the 20th of March 2004 at 6:00am she was 103 years old.



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