The last time I went to Makassar was in 2007, I went to visit my Oma (that’s how we call our Grandmas in the family) there with my Mom and brother. Lil’ A was a baby. We wanted to make sure my Oma got to see her first great grandson since at the time we were all still living in Dothan, Alabama.
This time when I walked into the nursing home, they were having their daily sermon (the place is run by a church) and although I told them we can wait outside, someone did go in to get her. From the distance, I could not believe my eyes…that can’t be my Oma! She looks so frail and someone had to help her walk, she was so skinny. Her changes break my heart! As hard as I want to deny it, she has aged so much since the last time we met.
Tears came out pouring when I saw her and held her fragile little body. She cried too. Sadly, Lil’A was afraid of her…of the whole place. He screamed his head off the moment we tried to walk inside the nursing home. One of my Aunts stayed outside with him where he happily played in a becak (rickshaw). Oma said not to push him and to let him be, she said she’s happy she could see him from afar.
We sat down at the porch and she started talking in Indonesian, usually she’ll speak more Dutch to me. The first thing she said to me was “I don’t know why Jesus hasn’t come and call me home…I’m so tired…” my mouth felt numb, thankfully my Aunt Jane was there and she’s a church activist that actively involved in nursing home visitations. It was my Aunt who rescued that awkward situation and said “That’s because Jesus still loves you, Oma. Jesus wants you to see your families and when it is His time, you will be going home.” Again, tears just flow out of me. My aunt Jane asked how old Oma is and she replied in all seriousness that she’s 297 years old. She’s 94 (for some reasons I always thought she’s 97!).
When I asked why she’s so skinny now, she whispered “The food here is not good!” I asked her what she like to eat, “Chicken satay!” she said. So I told her that she will get her satay tonight or any other night she wants to! That’s when I slipped her some money. My mom had told me not to give her a 100 thousand bills (the 10 thousands bills and 100 thousands have almost a similar pinkish color) since sometimes she got confused and people will take advantage of that. Shame on you to lied and steals from an old lady! Later, I told supervisor there to please let her eat whatever she wants to. Being 94 years old and in her conditions, I would try to make her happy!
“You know, my husband went to sea and never came back…” she said with a faraway look and I was hit with such a huge sadness because I know how my Opa (Grandfather) died so young in 1973 and I never get to meet him. I never really know the details as it was never discussed in my family so I never ask thinking that it was too painful to talk about. She went on to say that he had ‘visited’ and asked her to go with him but she said not yet. Superstitious or not, I’ve heard similar conversations about how the passed away loved ones ‘came back’ to the near death family members. My other Opa (from my mother’s side of the family) said the same thing a few days before he passed away. Her words gave me goose bumps! The lady who works there told me that the week before I came; one of the nursing home residents woke her up at 3 in the morning because my Oma was in the bathroom. When she was asked what she was doing she said “A man had told me to go and get a shower, it’s time to go.”
I asked her if I can go inside and see her bedroom. We went inside and she told me to grab this big black suitcase sitting collecting dust on top of her closet. It was heavy, and when she told me to open it I found a lot of her photo albums, some are really really old. She wanted me to keep them! I was honored and sad at the same time. Those are her legacy, her precious memories well kept in hundreds of pictures. When I hugged her tightly and cried thanking her for the pictures, she rubs my back and said “It’s ok Non, this is life. Sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down.” She always calls me Non it’s from the word Nona (means miss or girl). I find that moment very emotional and sad that it was her who comforted me as I was too sad to comfort her.
Her condition is fast deteriorating and I realized, we might not have long before we have to bid her farewell. She asked about my father, her only son left. She only has 2 sons and the eldest, my Uncle Jimmy died awhile ago. From Uncle Jimmy, Oma have 2 grandchildren, one of them too had died of a sudden death in 1991. So that left her with one granddaughter who’s now living in Makassar too.
She said every afternoon, she’d sit down by the porch waiting to see if someone would come by and see her…I can sense her loneliness. Although I had spent 2 precious days with her, and I know that made her really happy as she clutched my hand on our last day there before we had to go to the airport, I wish I could stay longer.
In my heart, I knew she’s waiting on my Dad to come and see her, maybe for the last time. She kept telling me how my Dad always works so far from her. I left her that day with a very heavy heart filled with guilt and regrets because for nearly all of my life, we always live far away from her and she’s too settled there to move anywhere else. My Dad promised he would come and see her when he’s home for his leave the end of March. He’s currently working in Zambia, Africa.
Going through her pictures I had a rude awakening that I really didn’t know all that much about her, especially about her past. These precious pictures went back as far as the 1920s, when she was a little girl. I cried for not having the chance to listen to her stories, some that she might have forgotten already and I’m sure she has a lot of memories to share. Her neat penmanship in some of these photo albums might permanently be a mystery to me since I can’t read Dutch.
She was born on May 6, 1916 in Palembang, South Sumatra. This country was still under Dutch colonialism, no wonder she speaks and write Dutch fluently. From her stories, I know she still have relatives in the Netherlands but I don’t know them and sadly will probably never will. She went there once a long time ago with my cousin.
From her pictures, I can tell that she was a smart young lady back then even for that era. She traveled a lot and had lived in beautiful parts of Indonesia. Some of her childhood pictures stated Malang, Surabaya and other parts of Java Island. I will have to wait on my father to read the rest of it.
Assuming she took some of the pictures herself, I can tell she’s a great photographer because some of them are so stunningly beautiful. In a way, I found where this love for photography came from!
She’s 6 years older than her husband, which was something a little uncommon back then when they got married. For as long as I could remember, she’s always sewing or stitching something. She was a great seamstress too and that’s how she managed to survived for so long after my Opa died. She was a single mom. I believe most of her dresses are handmade. The strong independent woman is still in there somewhere behind that frail little body that trapped her soul now.
I can only pray that God will given my Dad a chance to see his mother this April and he would be strong enough to let her go if her time comes.
My grandma passed away on 7 July 2011. Rest in peace, Oma. Ik hou van je voor altijd, je zal altijd in mijn hart, Oma!