Yesterday very early my mom passed away in her sleep. The last few years she had been struggling with dementia, pneumonia and other difficulties. Dementia had removed much of her personality causing feelings of both sadness and relief regarding her passing on.
Maria Catherina Otger, called Rie, was born on December 12, 1926. She was strong willed, funny, witty and enjoyed life.
We grew up with great stories about her childhood. How she and Aunt Truus, her twin sister, were raised by a German Shepherd dog: Her father had a bakery. He would put his two little daughters in a play pin outside guarded by the dog. Sometimes their friends would play with them in the pin. Parents would have to go into the bakery to ask my grandfather to release their children when they came to pick them up as the dog would not let anyone else near the children in his care.
How she and Aunt Truus would put a postage stamp on their father’s forehead and place him on the door step for the postman to collect. How during the war when the Germans required my grandfather to get a guard dog for his bakery at night, he got the most friendly spaniel he could find that welcomed anyone breaking in. How her father and his brothers would put their mom with chair and all on the dinner table and clean her house.
When I was six or seven at the camp site we were vacationing there was a table tennis tournament. My mom entered. She drew against a teenage boy of 16 or so. When he and his friends saw his opponent they made a lot of fun. How he was going to beat this elderly lady (Rie was grey haired from an early age). He didn’t have fun for long when very quickly during the game he discovered he was playing against a competition player and he was quickly dispatched with by that old lady. I was very proud.
Much later during a birthday in Den Helder (it was either Marja’s or Klaas’s birthday, I don’t remember). Our mom launched into a story about her local baker which included at some point her talking about “the seeds of the baker” (the zaadjes van de bakker). A dubious expression causing great hilarity in the room. She was not deterred and with a smile carried on with her story. Each time new visitors arrived we got her to tell the story again and each time she launched into it with the same energy and humor as the first.
I also remember how we had an argument about contributing to an aid program for Africa (Eén voor Afrika). Rie felt very passionate about it, I was concerned whether donations would actually reach those in need. We argued and argued. I was 22 or 23 or so and very stubborn.
When my parents were visiting me in California 9 years ago I got a voice message at work: my dad had locked the keys inside the rental car in a parking lot in San Francisco. My office was in Cupertino, 50 miles away, and the voice message didn’t say which parking garage. I did eventually get them help and they safely returned in the evening. I found myself in – afterwards – a funny role reversal: wagging my finger at my parents for not calling me (after the help arrived) and letting me know they were ok and on the way back. They were very apologetic, it was very cute.
I was very happy that she attended our wedding in Rochester in 2002, and that I got to dance with my mom at my wedding. After the ceremony she whispered to me: “That’s it?” I think she had hoped for a little more fanfare seeing her little son married away but we had instructed the justice of the peace to keep it short.
Twenty nine years ago Aunt Truus passed away after a long a very difficult struggle with cancer. My mom dearly missed her twin sister ever since. The funeral home miscalculated the timing of the service which let to the casket already rolling away while the service was still in progress. Rie never forgave them. Her service will be in the hands of a different funeral home and we will make very sure this does not happen on Monday.
During the last year her mind increasingly faded. Regularly the nursing home would have animal days when dogs, hamsters visited for the residents to pet. “Oh,” my mom would proclaim to my dad, “Truus would love that. We should call her!” At first, my dad would tell her “But, Rietje, Truus died many years ago.” My mom would get such a sad expression on her face that on further occasions he didn’t correct her anymore. I am very happy Rachel and I got to see her in April. Some moments she was bright and would say “Dag jongen!” Other moments were very hard, looking in her eyes and seeing no recognition. I was very glad Rachel was with me.
For many years she and I have had a phone routine. When getting her on the phone I would say “Dag mam!” and she would answer “Dag jongen!” It always made me smile. There is so much more to tell you but now, if you don’t mind, it is time for that last phone call.