Tribute to an incredible woman.
On a day as grim as any Dickens tale, I found myself silently following a family mourning the passing of their dear Mother. The size of the group, dictated by the current covid regulations, but more importantly by the nature of the deceased: discreet, dignified and private.
We made our way through the vast graveyard, beneath dripping umbrellas, slowly trudging through the history that lay all around us. A Grimm’s sort of day, had it been for the burial of a young person whose life had been taken too soon, instead, we trod the road to celebrate a very long life, lived fully, contentedly and independently, until the very last days.
Through circumstances of some distress, for the client, and delight and privilege for me, the personal carer, I was fortunate to be introduced to a remarkable woman, one who has left a mark on my soul. This may sound somewhat dramatic, but it shall be clear at the end.
From the first interview with a devoted son and a rather formidable mother, I, in my shaky Nederlands, seemed to pass the test and was asked to return to be of personal assistance to this centennial. All fears of frailty were soon quashed as she directed me around her well established routines. Suffice to say that until she was finally confined to her bed, she did not waver one iota in these practices, believing that they had served her well enough for a century, what was the point in changing anything now – indeed!
The best part of each of my visits was, when the indignity, for her, of my presence was behind us, and we’d made our way downstairs, settled her into her favourite armchair by the window, coffee was the next much anticipated order of events. She was always so gracious in her offer for me to “neem ook iets voor jezelf”. Tea is my vice, always in my favourite porcelain mug adorned with faded roses, which she wanted to know nothing about, saying that tea was as tasteless as water! Water was only ever sipped minutely if she had a tickle in her throat or to swallow her daily vitamin pill.
It was in these moments of “gezelligheid” that we got to know one another a little better. I came to appreciate that in spite of the fact that I am a little more than half her age, we had quite a lot in common. From her chair facing the pretty side garden we chatted about the various blooms, about which neither of us knew too much since we were not much good at gardening; the beauty of creation through the seasons and the delightful little birds at the feeder; we also discovered that we had both grown up riding horses and also that neither of us was very patient, preferring to do things quickly, even driving our cars! Incidentally, this remarkable lady chose to hand in her drivers licence at the ripe age of 95 stating that there was now just too much “druk” for her on the roads.
I am still in awe of her life story, something that only my enthusiastic curiosity as a “buitenlander” was able to coax out of her as privacy and dignity were her watchwords. She shared something of her heritage, being born in Russia, fleeing the Bolsheviks into Germany and then on into The Netherlands, and her incredible command of many languages, to which I responded that her “exotic heritage” was her secret to her longevity. Her scoffed response was that she was dealt the hand of good genes and that alone ensured her such a long life, nothing more.
Her command of language was what helped me with my “inburgering examen”, and was something that she took great interest in, wishing me well before each tedious episode, correcting me kindly as I stumbled and fumbled through my butchering of her Nederlands taal. My best moments were when she gave me a rare wide smile on reporting my exam results, always accompanied by a heartfelt: “Heel goed!”
We discovered a common love for knitting and for reading thrillers. I then frantically searched for some reading variety in Dutch, only for her to look at me rather indignantly asking why these books were not in their original translations? She then informed me that she read each of her four languages in their original text, along with watching television programs without subtitles – nothing short of remarkable!
Towards the end of our time together, we had the opportunity to discuss matters of faith, which came about through the lyrics of an old hymn entitled “It is well with my soul”. This became our greeting as she grew more tired of her very long and fulfilled life. I am thankful for the knowledge that it is now indeed well with my dear Mevrouw’s soul as she rests peacefully at last.
Thank you to her five children for entrusting your dear Mother to my care, for the privilege of caring for her in her own bed, in her own room, surrounded by her own precious memories and supported by her children and grandchildren; for allowing her to enrich me as I too confidently declare: “It is well with my soul”.