Gathering the family to wish Christine well on her departure

Published 10:43 pm Thursday, October 1, 2015

By Pam Stone

The irony was not lost on Paul this past week as, on the day normally spent marking the occasion his mother, Christine, brought him into the world, he was signing the papers from hospice to assist her in leaving it.
And you would be forgiven for mistaking this as a time when family, and all who love her, gather round her bed in tears and prayer. For Christine, yesterday, was sitting up, dressed, in her favorite blue chair, sherry in one hand and The Christian Science Monitor on her lap, wondering aloud if Joe Biden might run for president.

“He might,” Paul said, “but he has said he doesn’t know if he’s in the right frame of mind.”

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“Yes,” Christine remarked, “But I hope he does. His son wanted him to.”

There is a small silence before Christine asks, “Can anyone think of a reason I shouldn’t have a second sherry?”

“Well,” I take a risk of gallows humor, “it’s not very good for your health, you know,” and am relieved she finds the humor and laughs heartily along with the rest of us.

This is not a woman dying of cancer or dementia. This is a 94-year-old woman strong in will yet frail in body, a body, she says, with the candidness and formidable nature that saw her surviving four years of camp in what was then Japanese-occupied Indonesia, that is no longer hers – unrecognizable in its infirmity. And so there will be no heroics. There will be no wringing of hands and pleas for a feeding tube or further medications. No cajoling, “Please, mother, just try to eat a little bit.”


There is instead an honoring of her desire for a dignified departure and I marvel at the unselfish support from all her beloved children, in this era ‘dysfunctional families,’ as they arrive to sit and spend hours and days of shared memories from a devout and active life well lived. No drama, no theatrics. Tears? Of course, but often in private.

“It’s so disconcerting,” I said to Paul, on our way home after a visit, “Spending time with her this week, saying goodbye…it’s as if she’s moving, not dying.”

“In a way, that’s exactly what she’s doing,” said Paul. But he agrees, as do his sisters, Elizabeth and Guusje, that the word best describing this time is ‘surreal.’

I’m not sure how taking a tipple is often referred to as ‘Dutch courage,’ but I certainly recognize the courage in this small Dutch woman, as well as her kind and generous heart. A woman of lesser strength – both in faith and nature – would not have survived the camps or moving to America knowing nary a soul.


Her proficiency in speaking five languages secured her position at the Dutch Embassy in Washington and, with a desire for a conventional life with husband and children, she left that job after a few years to begin again, met the man of her dreams – John, a fellow Dutchman to whom, she told me, she married after three months ‘because he had beautiful manners.’ The marriage flourished for 52 years before Christine was left a widow, and she bolstered on, including a return visit to Indonesia with her beloved twin sister, Bertha, on their 80th birthday.

Having never been the sort of person who could self indulgently sit around and do nothing, Christine swam 20 laps, every morning, for well over 50 years and only stopped at 89 when her diminishing balance interfered with her safety in the water.


When she wasn’t swimming, she was marching: around her retirement village, down our endless driveway, or, as I reminded her this week, zigzagging up the side walk of a daunting hill in San Francisco, after waltzing round the ballroom floor at the top of the Sir Francis Drake hotel with John, and too many Tia Marias, during a wonderful holiday spent with Paul and me.

Christine, I know you don’t need to hear me tell you once again that I love you. But I want to write it, anyway. And as you have told me you consider me a daughter, I gratefully take my place within this marvelous family unit – these lives you have nurtured and cultivated to become the wonderfully good and compassionate people they are – to tell you how honored I am to be in your presence during this precious and sacred time.

With all our hearts, we love you. We thank you. May God’s blessings and abiding peace be upon you.