In typical European fashion, strongly brewed coffee is poured into demitasse cups that are edged with gold trim. My aunt slowly adds scalding hot milk into each cup. The coffee is accompanied with delectable pastries, laden with whipped cream. The aroma of the freshly brewed coffee evokes memories of my childhood when, as a young Dutch girl I helped my mother serve a variety of tempting pastries to our visiting relatives or friends.
My aunt lowers herself gingerly into her armchair. Her knees are arthritic now and getting in and out of her chair is quite a painful process. She settles in and immediately questions tumble from her lips, trying to catch up on so many lost years. I tell her about my sons, their activities, awards, and ambitions. She listens intently, head cocked, dark eyes shining. Finally when she speaks, it is only of illness and dying. She tells me of my uncle’s final days and how she had a hospital bed placed in the living room so that she could care for him herself. Her voice quavers and I can see that she misses him deeply. I reach over and gently stroke her arm. She talks at great length about my parents who are in spirit now and she expresses her sorrow at not being there with my mother during her illness.
She informs me that she has placed her name on a waiting list at a local nursing home in the event that her health takes a turn for the worst. She smiles sadly and in my mind’s eye I see her as she was when I was a child; a vibrant woman in her mid forties. Now I am almost that age and I still have my dreams, goals and expectations. She has only the apprehension of living too long and facing her final days in a nursing home with only strangers to care for her.
She brings out a small box that is crammed with old photographs that my parents sent to my grandparents over the years. We spend hours reminiscing and she tells me stories about my three older brothers and how full of mischief they could be. The stories she relates about my antics as a tot are amusing but it’s as if she is talking about someone else, as I have no recollection of them. Surely, I wasn’t the bratty child that her stories allude to?
The hours pass too quickly and I must go. There are more relatives I must visit but I reassure my aunt that she will see me again before I return to Canada. As the taxi driver negotiates the narrow road I say very little. I need this quiet time to reflect upon this visit with my beloved aunt. It has been a very moving day.