Headstones provide connection to family

Headstones allow later generations to find ancestors

Headstones without any details. Sophie wondered how an organisation that owned so much beautiful parkland could have neglected to put at least the names, birth and death dates on its residents’ headstones. Her heart dragged behind as they searched through the many rows of nameless graves. Doggedly, they walked back up and down every row, peering down on the occasional grave with some markings, most of which were indecipherable. Most had never had details inscribed.

However, towards the back of the block Sophie found newish plastic name plates, ‘Look, somebody has started putting names and dates… Oh my goodness, look! They are 1981 – the exact year that we were looking for.’ Tears of joy welled in her eyes, and her heart thumped, scattering the butterflies in her stomach. A nervous sick feeling filled her mouth.

Her cousin and sister hurried over, and they all searched methodically up and down the one row with new nameplates showing dates from 1979 to1981, but there was no Alida to be found; not with either maiden or married name. They distracted themselves from their feelings by taking videos and photos as they again prowled along the rows, including the last lines of blank, nameless headstones. It seemed as though Alida was once more just a story handed down by their aunts. There was no trace of her existence.

Anna quietly led the way through the large tombstones and statues, some of which were headless, clearly identifying them as the Catholic brothers’ graves.  Sophie thought it strange that brothers were also buried here as they’d not seen any monuments to them, however the statue of the nuns was prominently placed next to the reception building.

‘Look, these ones have escaped!’ laughed Anna, pointing at large holes under the grave tops.

Headstones in disrepair

‘Yes, so near yet so far’ Sophie smiled weakly, peering round what seemed to be the complete cemetery surrounded by the huge hedge. ‘Well, we’ve had a pleasant afternoon exploring together in peaceful surroundings. Thank you, Anna.’ Sophie said as they exited the graveyard. She led the way to the car park and the car, where Flavia had still not messaged her mother.

‘Mmm…’ Marianne mused. ‘If she had to be locked up in an institution, at least it was in a beautiful place.’

‘Yes, last year Tante Bea said that the park around the building was beautiful,’ Sophie added. ‘But I never expected such a large place, which is half a forest.’ When they got back to the car park, she headed for a small, modern building marked ‘reception’. Although it was a Sunday afternoon, she was delighted when the door was opened remotely by a woman behind a desk inside.

‘We were looking for our Oma’s grave…’ Sophie stopped as she saw the woman look at her blankly and replying in dialect Dutch which she didn’t understand.

After Sophie’s many attempts to speak in her best Dutch, the woman said in English, ‘Moment, I give you email.’ They clarified the addresses and names, then Sophie asked in Dutch for a toilet. The receptionist reached under her desktop and a door clicked. Sophie turned saw the little sign on it.

On Sophie’s return to the car, Anna assured her Flavia had been happily engrossed in social media and sleeping. Sophie was almost bouncing on her car seat as she announced, ‘I can hardly believe it. The receptionist couldn’t speak any English, so she gave me an email address to contact the institution.’

Marianne’s face lit up, ‘Wow! Perhaps you could ask them if they could help with more information about Alida as well as where the grave is.’

‘Haha, don’t count on it!’ Anna started the car. ‘The retired nurse I spoke with earlier was very tight-lipped about her work inside this organisation, so don’t get your hopes up too much.’

Marianne and her sister exchanged knowing looks. ‘You know me, the eternal optimist; I think all this serendipity could lead us anywhere.’ Sophie’s words bubbled out without any prior thought. Her sister nodded.

When they arrived at Flavia’s place, she proudly made them all cups of tea and showed Marianne and Sophie around the group home she shared with other hearing-impaired young people. Anna chatted with the other residents using sign language while speaking Dutch aloud for those who could hear. About an hour later, Flavia’s support worker arrived. Her English was fluent, and she was keen to share her work experiences. Sophie was relieved to hear about the very high regard that she held Flavia in, and how she was committed to ensuring that she continued to be Flavia’s support worker.

That night Sophie emailed the institution’s two addresses that the receptionist had written down, but they bounced back.

Determined to succeed now she was so close to finding Alida’s grave, she Googled the domain name, found the right organisation, and sent an email successfully to “General Inquiries”. She attached a colour photo of Alida, taken one year prior to her death. ‘Fortunately, I had photographed the print with my phone and put it on all my computers just before I left for this trip,’ she said to Anna, who was catching up on her emails. To be sure that she got through, she also sent a message via the contact link, with the photo of Alida.

To her surprise, the staff at the contact link emailed the very next day:

I tried to reach Jan, our administrator, who has the register of the graves. He will be back Monday, May 15th. Hopefully he can help you next week. Because you will be leaving for Australia next week, I have also sent this mail to the office of the Geneesheer Directeur. Someone might be able to see where your grandmother’s grave is.

‘Thank goodness my trip to London to meet the editor will provide a distraction for the week until the administrator returns.’ Sophie sighed to Anna.

Have you joined Alida’s Facebook page?