Wednesday, 31 October 2012

All Souls

Happy Halloween to all my friends who are out partying or trick or treating tonight.

I never did get into it.  It was not part of my childhood, and I lack the creative spark that makes it fun to do costumes. 

This year, inspired by an ad by an RC agency in the bus shelter, I created a small candle ritual on the last night I will spend in my sister's home.  Leaving here will be hard. Like the real goodbye.

I found some pictures while tidying up. Arranged them with Margreet in the middle and one of each parent to the sides, more including one very precious Christmas picture from 1952 in front. The candles are still burning.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Margreet's send-off

 Margreet has passed through the door into the Great Mystery.

I have been too busy/tired to blog the final doings. It doesn't take much. Shoppng first for groceries and then for some camera stuff, all on foot, left me exhausted for the rest of the day and much of the next. Ridiculous! Time to finish before I forget.
Margreet had planned her own memorial, entirely as she had lived: simple, and as cheaply as possible. Her home is a five minute walk from the hall, so she couldn't see the point of a bunch of cars following the hearse. We just walked behind it. Below, the brothers.
Margreet loved a bargain and would probably have been thrilled to find a coffin on Marketplace, the local equivalent of Craig's list. (Joke. We didn't.)
Some 'six feet under' details got in the way of some plans: If you die at home in the evening you may not be in good enough shape to lie in state later on.....
The picture below was taken after we brought her home on Thursday night. Happily asleep with the lovely nurse Marina in attendence.
We had had plans to invite people to the home for a final farewell, they have cooling units they place under the body. But because Marg had just been at room temp for 12 hours and had been ill and full of drugs,  this was no longer feasible. The funeral people came and laid her out, cooled and all, at home on Sunday morning but her face really did not look like her anymore. And I couldn't do a thing with her hair.  Good hair was always so important to her. We are sure she would have preferred people to remember her at her best. Jaap who has been the master organizer, called the undertakers to come and get the body on Tuesday morning.
After two nights alone at home with a dead sister I got to assist with the closing of the coffin. I feel privileged to have had the chance to be such an intimate part of the final stage of life.
Margreet was sent off with a miniature uniform of Ajax, her soccer club, and a baby picture of her beloved red tomcat Binky, who she got when he was only 5 weeks old.

Architect Dudok designed this cemetery, Zuiderhof, Hilversum, which is a place of serenity and beauty. Jaap and I walked the grounds a few days earlier.
The memorial was held in the aula here, the body was taken elsewhere for cremation. Eventually the siblings will scatter her ashes in many places that had meaning for her, including some in Nakusp.
There were quite a few people. Extended family, some neighbours, and many long time co-workers. One of them gave a moving speech about how Margreet had inspired her in her final year. Margreet loved talking about people. Not so much gossip, just what was happening. Of course the family got to hear about the colleagues and vice versa. Both parties enjoyed finally meeting each other, with some glee. "I know all about you....." "Likewise!"
Jaap used the last sibling line-up as basis for a beautiful portrait to place on top of the coffin. We had asked for red flowers. Margreet had decorated her little house entirely in grey and burgundy.
Gerrit and I both shared our memories of Margreet and Jaap closed by inviting those who felt like it to follow us to Margreet's home for soup, broodjes and drinks. We had never thought that almost everyone would come along! Sorry folks. The planning had been for about 25. We should have had more nibblies. The little house got quite crowded, thank goodness the weather was half decent and people could spread out into the backyard. And then it was over.
We all took some of the flowers but the most beautiful arrangements stayed here. I have been enjoying them.  Thanks sis, and thanks for all the memories.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

And then there were three.

Back in the days when pictures were black and white and a rare occasion, our parents used to pose us children in a row. Here is one taken on vacation in Noordwijk in the fifties.

Later we repeated the ritual whenever we all got together, which was not very often once I moved to Canada. This one was sometime in the nineties.
The one below was taken in 2004. I am the one with the plate on my lap, sister Margreet is on the right, leaning against her twin. I love this picture of her. She was always so happy when we were all together.

The next one was taken during the day we all spent together in 2009, just before our mother's funeral.

There will be no more sibling line-ups. Our baby sister died on October 13 at 11 in the evening.

Margreet never married. She loved her work, steady night shift in an institution for the mentally handicapped. Apart fom her circle of co-workers the family of origin was IT for her. She lived close to our parents and was the loving rock of support in their old age.

 She made a truly brilliant exit.

Margreet had been diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2011. The prognosis was originally for 2-4 months, but was then changed to between one and 2 years. She was ecstatic about the extra time. She faced her fate with great courage and equanimity. She got all her affairs in order in the beginning of the process and made the most of her last year of life. When people expressed their admiration and amazement she shrugged and said: " Of course I could spend my last months crying in a corner, but what good would that do?" For a devoted sports fan like Margreet this was a good year. The Olympics happened in her time zone, and her soccer club won the national championship. Go Ajax!

She had no symptoms beyond getting a bit out of breath when she walked uphil. We all expected her to keep going for a while yet. On September 30 2012 she enjoyed a windy walk on the beach with  brother Jaap. Margreet had a wonderful time. When she told me about it on the phone she mentioned that this was one more thing to cross off the bucket list. 

Three days later she woke up to find her right arm paralyzed. The tumor had metastasized into her brain. The rest went insanely fast. Sunday she was still well enough to enjoy a walk on the hospital grounds with her twin bother Gerrit.
When I arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday morning Jaap and Marielle, my SIL, were there to take me straight to the hospital. Gerrit was with Margreet. The brothers had prepared me but seeing her was still a shock. She had stopped eating and drinking and was not responsive. She cried a lot. The only thing she said was "yes" to everything. Once the neurologist came in she responded a bit more. We arranged for palliative care at home. Margreet had had all the relevant conversations with her family doctor  months earlier. What a wonderful, civilized way to do things!

Once she knew she was going home Marg perked right up. She said a few words. We sat around her bed and told each other stories of her life. She laughed with us. By 6 PM everything was in place: a hospital bed in her living room, 24/7 nursing care and a prescription for morphine to keep her comfortable. Margreet settled in with a huge smile on her face. We shared one more memory/joking moment. She fell asleep, happily. And that was pretty much it. Apart from a bit of response while she was cared for by the nurse the next morning she did not regain consciousness. She died peacefully at home on Saturday evening with her hand in mine, listening to relaxation music with ocean sounds. She loved the sea.

We are now preparing for the memorial on Thursday. Don't worry sis, you'll have a great send-off.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A sad trip

It was only a small gathering, 6 including us, but on Sunday I pulled off a Thanksgiving dinner made largely from home-grown food. It seems ages ago.

To make a long story short, my sister's cancer has spread to her brain, she is in hospital and it is all going insanely fast. Back in May before the stuff hit my personal fan she had bought me a ticket to come visit starting October 17. I just got the OK to go a week ago. Monday oldest kid brother called to ask if I could come earlier. KLM said they could get me on a flight that day or the next, but it doesn't work that way from Nakusp!

Half the trip is getting to the airport. Fortunately we have our dear nephew and family here near Calgary, with a guest bed always ready. Our stalwart Beverley drove me to the Greyhound, niece Marjel picked me up there, old friend Esther is coming to Bearspaw to take me to the airport. It is so true that one person's tragedy is another person's inconvenience. I sure appreciate all the good folks who are willing to inconvenience themselves for my sake.

I am flying later today. The latest news is not good at all. Margreet is our baby sister, she should not be the one to go first, but who said life is fair. 

Meanwhile, I am grateful for my own recovery, all the help, and good brothers.