EULOGY FOR MY MOTHER
August 7, 1935 – March 3, 2023
My mother, Trijntje (“Tina”), was a good mother and a good person.
She led with her bigger-than-life personality and lion heart.
I loved her always and love her now.
What I want to say about her is at times not easy.
The house I grew up in wasn’t an easy place to be a child.
It equally wasn’t an easy place for my mother.
My siblings and I left our childhood home, going on to build new lives in new houses for ourselves and our families. Those lives were filled with different details, other than the ones that filled my childhood home. We made new beginnings.
Although we “got out,” a part of you never gets out — it would be wrong of me to say it wasn’t a walk in the park at 87 Sunset Blvd. You take some things with you. There were painful details that plagued at least me, in my adult years.
Yet our mother, at all times, filled her life with new details. She packed coolers for hot summer days at Picton Beach, the memories of which shine brightly. Crispy cool cucumbers and sandwiches, which today are still my favorite. Running on the beach, laughing in the clear waters with her.
Beautiful cottage vacations on Lake Kashwakamak highlight my memories too. Each summer hiatus was made more fun by games played by candlelight on the screened in porch. The smell of pancakes she cooked over the woodstove. Long walks through lacy forests.
Our mother filled her life and ours with details. These details — a speculaas cookie met koffie tijd, bahmi, her beloved roses –- will remain forever in my heart like beautiful golden lights in the shadow she leaves with her passing. They were important to her, and to me.
Trijntje will be remembered by many as a force of nature from her inception to her dying day. Her mother, our Oma, constantly warned my mother to close those striking blue eyes, the blue and white as striking as the porcelain for which her home city was known.
Despite that, Mom remained true to herself throughout her life. She was not confused about what she wanted or who she was. Once a goal was set in her mind, she committed to achieving it.
Her anger, if you messed up at school, was far more terrifying than whatever the principle could dole out. When her finger came out, that finger pointed straight at you meant you’d best sit up and take note. A lesson was coming your way. Luister is!
My mother was all in, no matter what she did.
If she was seeking independence as a somewhat defiant teenager, she traveled 14,167 kilometers on the SS Sibajak, from Wilhelminakade, Rotterdam to Perth, Australia as part of the millions strong Dutch migration that took place in 1954.
If she wanted to make a life in another foreign country with her new husband, 2 of the 185,000 Dutch citizens who chose to do so In Canada postwar, she did it despite having to live through often unbearable conditions.
Her first bed in wintry Canada was spent in nothing more than an uninsulated shack above a drive shed. If she needed the bathroom during the night, good luck because she first had to scrape the ice off the covers and then find the chamber pot. There were a few nights when the honeymoon couple were even forced to sleep in their car.
It was a testament to my mother’s fierce resilience that this Delft born daughter survived emigrating to what was then still a very rural and undeveloped Canada. My mother fought to live and give a better life.
From a mothering perspective Mom didn’t make it easy to love her. She was a child during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands, experiencing firsthand the horrors of that time, among these, executions, starvation, bombings and a 9-months-missing father. To be emotional at that time was deemed frivolous.
Her own mother had 13 children in rapid succession. As the third oldest, my mother was made to mother her own siblings when she herself was only a child. I can’t speak for what examples of love she may have received in those days but I believe survival was the only focus, leaving her without much upon which to base her own loving.
It wasn’t until I met my mother where she was, in that place of understanding, that I could fully comprehend the emotional price she often paid within herself. I found my understanding of my mother grew profoundly when I left my own very human expectations of her out of the picture. I needed to see her as her own person.
In that place I could practice loving her with compassion. Compassion that sharpened my understanding of my mother. I believe Tina needed more love despite her often tough outer façade and I committed to giving that to her.
If you were to ask me what gifts I received from my mother, alongside my tenacity, I could tell you the things you might expect a daughter to say about her mother.
She was a good mom.
She and my father provided well for my siblings and I.
She raised me well.
She set a powerful example of how to show up in life.
She gave me my life.
We were connected as mother and daughter but also as widows. My mother understood just how alone a person can feel without their partner having lost her husband, my father, over 30 years ago. Our nearly daily calls were as much me pumping her tires as she pumping up mine. Our chats heralded an often deeply introspective conversation that always left me a better person. Talking with her in those never-to-happen-again moments, felt like I was sitting beside her having coffee although a phone line and a two hour drive separated us.
What she gave me beyond these gifts is a vision for myself I couldn’t see when I needed it most. She gave me the audacity to envision a dream and pursue it. I didn’t become a writer by accident. It was her desire to do better for her children that put the power of the pen and the written word into my hands, a love of which I treasure with all my heart. She, who was learning to speak English as an immigrant, taught me to delight in the written word.
She was a constant in my chaotic life. She pushed me to look far into the future at the bigger outcomes she was convinced lived in me.
She’s reinforced in me a will to be my greatest self. She whispered to me, in the weeks leading to her passing, that she had given me the best part of herself. At that point she touched her chest and pulled me close and said, “My lion heart. Go out and be the best You yet. If you only knew what you are capable of my girl”
Yes mom, I will. I will do that and take your light with me. Your spirit will live on in me. You nurtured me in life and do the same in death. It strikes me that all life comes to an end — everyone 100% will pass that test. We can be afraid of that but I like to think of the Bhuddist belief that death promises birth.
As a forest of leaves composts to create new soil, my mother’s stately presence also yields new beginnings. I know when she leaves my side, and I leave hers, I do not do so as a subtracted, less than person. I may shatter for a while. But once the sharp pain of mom’s death has softened some, I will feel her spirit stir in me.
“Tossee is it coffee time?” was her signature way to ask me to come and sit with her. When I make soup I know the lessons I gained from her as a young child are alive in me yet. She’ll be the warm sun on my face when I sit by the waters edge.
Mostly I know that the path I take now may be arduous and unknown but I do not walk it alone. She is with me. All around me. She is in me as I hold her spirit in my soul.
I’m at peace with my mom’s passing. We have agreed on how she will message me from the other side. What would be her particular sign? Many see dimes as a sign from a loved one — my family has a strong history of that from my own husband’s passing.
When I asked her how she would “appear” to me she said, “It will be the sunny side of the street and the color yellow.”
I asked her why she chose that sign.
She told me it was because that is how she got through life — to always see the sunny side of the street.
Cue Willie Nelson. She loved the song, Sunny Side of the Street.
May the bitterness of regret and painful memories be softly swept away, replaced with a gentle knowing that our mother is in peace, all hurts gone, her body made whole and she welcomed home in eternal peace.