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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Distance and Separation Deepen Death's Wound

Vita and Benedict's wonderful English grandfather has died. And with his death their English roots have been cruelly decimated: This was a man who would have loved to introduce his grandson to the mysteries of English cricket, or to take Vita to hear her first debate at the House of Commons.

Always fair and unprejudiced, he welcomed his Russian son-in-law into the family while upper-class friends were raising their eyebrows. He was visibly appalled, when he started visiting me here at the beginning of the decade, at the denigration of a people whom he remembered as wartime allies. And he was later delighted, albeit mostly by fax, in his long-awaited but far-flung grandchildren.

Once upon a time families lived together in villages, and a peripatetic son or daughter ventured no further than the nearby town. Now we are many of us scattered across continents, and the appalling past four weeks brought home how physical a wrench this can be, as well as the extraordinary sensation that binds children to parents.

When soon after rushing to England I understood that my father was dying, I could no more bring myself to bid a final goodbye to him than I could bear being apart from my babies as he fought on long after the doctors had pronounced the final hours. After each long day's vigil, with the shocking smell of death still clinging to me, I would race to telephone Russia and check that the babies were OK. The desire to touch them, stroke their hair and feel their bodies was overwhelmingly greedy and physical -- quite different from the emotional longing for an absent partner.

Vita consistently refused to follow her nanny's background instructions to tell me what she had been doing and just kept repeating: "Mama coming soon?" I felt physically torn in half.

Since I have returned, she will not allow me even to go to the loo alone, eats her meals with one hand whilst holding one of mine with the other, and when she goes to sleep she extracts the promise that "Mama won't be in England" when she wakes up.

It is also impossible to protect them from a tragedy which I had assumed they were too young to understand. Although I am what I believe to be valiantly strong until after their bedtimes, Vita seems to realize the deception and keeps whispering to me "Mama, no cry" even though I am doing it only quietly inside.

Benedict, whom I had left on the point of walking, declined to take a single step the month I was away. When I got back, he stood up and walked towards me. "He was waiting for you to return," cried Sasha and Nanny Larissa in amazement. Fanciful, maybe. Or perhaps it's true?