Funeral is opportunity to honour a person

Funeral gives family opportunity to farewell loved ones

Funeral? Goodness, I haven’t ever asked about it. I wonder if Alida had a proper funeral, Sophie mused as she brushed her teeth. She then joined Bea in the kitchen.

‘Last night, when the rain kept waking me up, it occurred to me that I’d not written about Alida’s funeral.’

‘When you should have been sleeping!’ Bea laughed.

Sophie nodded, then paused. ‘Do you remember if Tante Ans came to her mother’s funeral?

‘No. She didn’t come. She was in Australia. There was somebody else at the funeral though, so she must have visited Alida.’ Bea frowned. ‘But I don’t have any idea of who she was.’

Sophie filled the silence left by Bea, who seemed to be straining to remember details of Alida’s funeral. ‘When I visited Ans at her home in Queensland for the second time, I remember she told me that she took her mother out. We hardly ever saw Tante Ans because she didn’t live in Perth. She told me that she liked to stay away from Opa, and my mum.’

‘It sounds like you and Ans could talk openly together, even though you only saw her twice.’ Bea inclined her head.

‘My conversations with her were much like they are with you, although I didn’t venture to ask her too much about her mother because I was a little scared of her, and also because on each occasion I didn’t spend much time with her.’ Sophie grimaced. ‘She seemed frustrated with the situation that her mother had been in. She was a strong, tall lady and my mum always seemed a bit scared of her too. My mother said that Ans was a lot like Opa: opinionated, domineering, strong-willed, and I remember loud conversations in Dutch with Opa at family gatherings whenever Ans visited.’

The rain drizzled constantly, the geese screeched, and a few cars swished past the front window.

The beautiful garden & Alida’s great grand-daughter by the grave during a bad drought. Photo taken 2 years after the conversation in this chapter.

Bea began to talk. ‘It was a very nice funeral and Alida’s body is buried in a beautiful garden. Of course, the organisation that dealt with her burial is accustomed to conducting funerals; so they know how to do it.’

‘Mmm… You don’t happen to have the address of the place, do you?’

‘Oh, yes of course. I can show you how to get there on a map. There was a big road next to it going from Nijmegen to Den Bosch, and next to that big road was a smaller road that I walked along to arrive at the park, and the big villas were there in the park. It was quite a beautiful place.’

Sophie gazed out the window, ‘Maybe if this rain continues, I might go visit the organisation and see if I can ask… Oh no, with all the privacy laws these days, they would never give me any information, even if they kept records between the 1930s to 1980s.’

Bea nodded, ‘You are right. When my daughter takes me to see my sisters in their retirement home, I always intend to visit Alida’s grave, but don’t think of it when we are travelling past.’

‘We could have a look on my computer for a map, now that we have internet access.’ Sophie tilted her head down to the little tablet sitting on top of an ancient Toshiba laptop belonging to her eldest cousin, on which this story had begun during her previous annual holiday. ‘Please could you write down the name of the last place where Oma lived and died.’ She jumped up and grabbed a pen for Bea, who wrote slowly with a shaking hand.

‘This is the first time I can use the internet map to find things. Last year, my new phone wouldn’t work at all. After cycling nearly thirty kilometres to get this special little card I can now access the WIFI network on this side of the border.’

‘It’s always like this, living on the frontier.’ Bea never missed an opportunity to highlight the challenges of being denied access to nearby Dutch city services and having to cycle at least fifteen kilometres to reach a town large enough for basic services on the Belgian side where she lived.

Who was at Alida’s funeral?

‘So then, no family other than you and Nico and your five children, and Emmanuelle and her husband with their four children were at the funeral?’

‘That’s right, although there was that other lady I mentioned. There were about five other people in total, who were probably staff at the home where your Oma lived. Of course, you have to remember that she had been moved from Den Bosch for the last year of her life, and so most of her friends had been left behind there. They were not brought over for the funeral. I guess it was because they had lost contact with Alida.’

‘At least all the children were young adults, so the group of thirteen family members made a reasonable size gathering. I worked out that your youngest must have been eighteen years old, because he is a year younger than me, and your next youngest is only half a year older than me, so she would have been twenty years old.’

‘And Catherine would have been twenty-six years old because she is only eight years older than the youngest.’

‘I thought you said there was ten years difference when we were speaking the other day?’ Sophie inquired.

‘I don’t remember dates, but let me see if I can work it out. I married in 1953, and Catherine was born in 1955, and he in 1963.’

‘So were Emmanuelle’s children older than yours?’

‘I don’t remember.’

‘Did Emmanuelle have a baby before you?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘OK, so at least one or more of Emmanuelle’s children were older than yours.’ Sophie pursed her lips tightly. ‘They would remember more.’

‘I don’t know if they remember more.’

‘Oh.’ Sophie appeared lost for words. ‘Did Marie come to her mother’s funeral?’

‘No. It was just our two families.’

‘Did she ever visit her mother?’

‘That I don’t know. I don’t remember speaking with Marie about her mother, because, as you know, she has chosen to live in a monastery for decades now, so she is cut off from the family.’

Chapel near graves. Photo taken 2 years after conversation in this chapter.

There was silence in the room as both women gazed at the rain over Bea’s garden. Sophie reflected on how, even at twenty-four years of age, she had not been able to assimilate the shocking news that it was Alida who was her real Oma, who had died only four years previously. ‘It makes sense that not one of my cousins talks about Oma’s funeral because we were all at an age when it was too difficult to make sense of what happened to her. I’ve only just now joined the dots because we have talked about it so much over the last decade.’

‘Yes, you were all still discovering and building your own identities, beginning careers and trying to find the right life partner – you couldn’t be expected to make sense of a situation that even in my nineties and with all my studies, I have difficulty in accepting.’

‘It was just so unbelievable. At least in my fifties, I have a solid self-awareness and have formed some understanding and tolerance of life’s inexplicable tragedies. As for accepting what happened; well, this is why I am writing the story.’

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