”Do you remember the time when we danced on the tables in that place in the Reeperbahn in Germany?” my aunt H’s best friend E asked my aunt H at the 90-year-birthday-bash we threw for her.
“Yes…” my aunt H smiled, and, as they were about to delve further into that memory, E’s 60-year-old son, his chin a few inches closer to his chest, mutters appalled: “You did… did not flutter your skirts …did you?”
“Well, we did not use trousers in those days, my dear,” his mother smiles, her eyes wandering, seemingly lost in the memories of days gone by: memories of the weeks and days that led up to the outbreak of the Second World War, before Europe lost its innocence.
At some point my aunt H gets up and gives an eloquent speech, thanking us all for shining a light on her life: a speech that is nothing less than a momentous achievement for someone who, after numerous examinations and re-examinations was diagnosed with Alzheimer years ago – yet only once does she repeat herself.
They said it took so long to arrive at her diagnosis because she was so eloquent, so verbose, so strong-willed, so independent, so intelligent. Or maybe I made that up, but she was and is, and they did find a woman of such eloquence hard to ‘catch’.
After her speech we thanked her of course, for raising my father, her nephew, and for being a mentor and beacon of inspiration to us all. For always urging us to realise our dreams and talents. For being her generous, warm, knowledgeable, adventerous and inspiring self.
The legacy she will leave behind is beyond words to describe, but here’s a poem that catches her spirit:
Champagne, she said, pink champagne
for my funeral!
Candles in the candlesticks, cream gâteau
and two violins.
Hectic roses in her cheeks just by the thought
of all the guests.
But first she ordered red shoes
for her 90-year-birthday
(Unofficial translation of “Fremtid” by Norwegian poet Aase-Marie Nesse)
These days, when I see my aunt H, she will try to explore what has befallen her. She tells me of going for a walk in the forest and then coming up to this gate, after which she can remember nothing before she ‘wakes up’ in this place where she is now, a place she has come to understand is an old people’s home. “Kristine,” she asks me: “what do you think the world will think of me now – that Mrs H has gone mad?” I will try to assure her that they won’t, that what people who know her will remember is the H who inspired and enthused them. That at her age it is allowed to be forgetful, even natural, and that no one would ever think her mad for it. But I never know if I succeed, if the memory will stick beyond the next five minutes. At the end of our meetings, however, she will always say how grateful she is that I came to see her and I will reply in full honesty that it is always wonderful to see her. Because whatever predicament has befallen her, it has not managed to quench that beautiful spirit of hers.
Hjördis celebrating 90 with her best friend Elsa