|I'm not that big of a person. Tante Gonda was pretty small.|
My maternal grandfather - my Opa - was one of seventeen children. Two who died in infancy. That's right, my Great-Oma had 17 babies. 17 pregnancies. No twins.
We always joke that we are related to half of Holland.
My Oma and Opa immigrated from Holland to Canada at the end of World War II. They wanted to farm and there was no farm land in Holland. They said goodbye to their families, never knowing if they would see them again. (They did).
One of those 17 babies was my Tante Gonda.
One of the most amazing women I've ever known.
A nun who spent most of her life living with the poor in Malawi.
When my brother, sister, and I were kids she'd write us each an individual note on a card that was hand-stitched by the Malawian girls. It was always pretty exciting to get mail from Africa.
When she turned 80, the diocese forced her to move back to Holland, where she hadn't lived since she was a young girl. She didn't quite fit in there anymore and she missed Malawi, but I am pretty sure she didn't complain.
My mom and I flew to Holland a couple years ago. My first time there, though I had met my tante (aunt) on many different occasions when she came to Canada. This trip, in which I visited Germany, Austria, and England as well, was my big hoorah before trying to have babies with my husband. But that's right, I took that trip with my mother. I wanted to see the place my grandparents grew up. I wanted to meet a few of those hundred second cousins that live there in Holland. And luckily, I got to spend some time with my dear Tante Gonda.
She died today. My Tante Gonda died today. At 87 years old.
Certainly not a tragedy. She lived a good, long, purposeful life. She was a Mother Teresa, taking care of the poor, and giving everything to other people.
But the news hit me hard. She was a good woman. One of the best women. My great-aunt.
I'm glad she got 87 good years. I wish Lydie got 87 years.
I wonder if she's meeting her great-great-niece Lydia in heaven. I wonder if she's looking down on us, looking down on her Malawian children, looking down on all our family in Holland. I want to believe that - that she's with Lydie now.
But we all know I struggle with that.
I know Tante Gonda had no doubt about heaven, that she didn't doubt the way that I do. She believed in God and gave her life purpose by serving others.
Tonight, we lit two candles, one for Lydie and one for Tante Gonda.