Dark and Light

Rustic village in the south of the Netherlands. The place where my mother lives. At home with my mother in the house that never feels like our parental home. That is close to Rotterdam. This house in Brabant is the home of my mother and, now deceased, father. Here they wanted to grow old together. To some extent they succeeded, only my father became ill a little too early and especially for a long period. Life changed its colour for my parents. Roles changed, the care and the care bureaucracy made their appearance, and from the moment my father suffered his cerebral infarction, my sister and I were no longer child. A new reality also emerged for us with a new role. Sad that this has dominated the lives of my parents for over ten years. Then the mourning came to my mother, and it was not until the last two years that I saw her, now in her eighties, recover some of that vitality.
I am watching her at home, my little mother who, like my grandmothers before here, is getting smaller before my eyes. She is very busy with her life history. She is, as she says herself, “really arrived at the other edge of her life. There is more to look back to than forward.” She is playing with the thought of putting it down on paper. Stories, memories from her life.
More and more often I listen when she digs into her memories and brings stories to the surface, of which I heard something in the course of time but never with the richness of details and interpretation she now exposes here at the dining table in her living room .
She collects photo books to verify details or to get her memory sharper. The photo books have been in the same cupboard for decades. A beautiful classic, indestructible wooden cupboard. And after the move, the photo books have been put back in the same place at the same spot. In my own memory I dig into the image of the cupboard in our living room in Capelle. There are things in a family life that are stubbornly unchangeable.
Browsing through the photo book, she dwells on class photographs in which nuns are over-present. Sometimes as co-students, often also as teachers. Images from times long ago. She touches on beautiful moments, laughter with each other, the pleasure and her struggle for independence. The latter is what I have discovered in recent years as a much redder thread in her life than I had suspected.
I sit next to her and listen, as I have not always been able to listen to her. I hear old and, above all, many new things that connect pieces of her life history for me. She offers me an insight that makes you hungry for more. And it happens without me asking. She is organizing her life, as she has a large jigsaw puzzle upstairs in my father’s old study, where she works with an iron will every day. Just until the puzzle is ready. In this way she puzzles with her life history in her head.
“I do not have much more to look forward to, Thijs. There is more to look back on and my world is getting smaller and smaller. “And however true that may be, she still visits a painting club, is a member of two food clubs, a book club, her sisters and brothers are in the neighborhood and they see each other still quite often, just like with her best friend. And she is still cycling. Her loneliness makes me smile, I do not deny it, but also see something more.
And … her daughter is back. For more than 12 years her daughter lived on an almost unbridgeable distance on the other side of the world. Oceans separated them. Since a year and a half she is back and she also lives nearby. When we recently were eating out with the three of us, I saw it: that unshakable, almost iron, mother-daughter band. The world is different with her daughter being close at hand. No son can compete with this. And that is not necessary either. On the contrary. It was as if that night my eyes opened. That some secrets can be unraveled in such a simple way. You see and you feel in the stories, in what they share, in the half words that are necessary how unaffordable this is. A kind of peace has descended over my mother, who slowly settles into her. And then there is room for the memories and stories, events get their place.
I have not said goodbye to my mother in time. I felt that she was secured in the vicinity of my sister, her daughter.
Then you drive happily into the dark.

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