My lucky star: final tributes to my mother
My mother, Josta, peacefully transitioned to a better place at the blessed age of 88 just two days before Thanksgiving. It gave me and my immediate family members the opportunity to say goodbye to her and bring closure to her long struggle with a degenerative disease.
Only after I’d called my mother my lucky star in my eulogy and thanked her for being a major influence in aligning me with my North Star, did it register that she is wearing a headband of silver stars and a velvet top that represents the night sky in the picture I choose for her services. It was taken 9 years ago.
It’s easy to overlook these details when frantically doing all that’s needed for a funeral, but how delightful and priceless to get that final wink of love and affirmation after the whirlwind settled.
I know my mother would want her story and legacy to be shared. It will make perfect sense why when learning just a tat more about her. My father gave me permission to share his eulogy with you. He went first during the services so I’ll start with his because it gives backstory that provides a foundation for mine.
I met Josta in the Netherlands when she was an elementary school teacher advancing her studies in education. It was love at first sight. We understood each other well as one of the only Surinamese people in Holland, and supported one another until we both finished our college degrees.
After we got married a few years later, we decided to return to Suriname to help build the country up. Our careers quickly took off. She became a principal of a junior high school and I became a partner of an architectural firm.
In the beginning, we had conflicts about little things, but you need to have differences to make a happy marriage. Our shared passion was loving children. I had a vision for getting land and building our own house on it. Josta’s sister, Vera, and my sister, Louise, worked together at the Surinaamse Bank and were very close. My many other siblings liked her family too. Together with Vera, we bought a large piece of land and divided it in ten plots. We called it the Lieuw Kie Sing street because a whole bunch of her siblings joined us and we lived in harmony and happiness next to each other for more than a decade.
We loved having children around, not just our own children and the nieces and nephews in our street. Eventually, all the neighborhood kids would come and even my siblings who lived farther away would drop their kids off to swim in our pool. There were no arrangements made or anything like that. They knew they were always welcome and called us Mamie and Papie. I took care of the entertainment and Josta took care of the discipline. We worked well together and had a grand time.
When the military took over, young soldiers with machine guns would go to the schools and tell everyone what to do. The kids had to come in at 7 am, clean the yard, and raise the flag. Or they wanted them to leave school early to go to a protest. My wife did not take orders from anyone and always knew what to say. She told the soldiers, “Their parents have not given me permission to release them. If you have an order for me from your commander, tell your commander that he needs to go to the department of education. I’ll do what they tell me to do. Until then, get out!”
Things got worse after the coup. We didn’t get new work and had to downsize from 35 to 15 people. One day, stray bullets flew through the window of my office. Luckily, our green cards were in order thanks to my brother Roy. That’s when my wife decided, “I cannot stay here. We have to move.” I said, “How can we move? I have no job. We don’t have anything.” She said, “it will be okay. We’ll make it work.” We took Mark and Loraine who were young teenagers. André who was in his early twenties choose to stay behind.
After trying many months to find work in Miami, she said, “I’ll take care of the kids. Go to Roy and see what you can do in California.” I did find work there and sent money to her while she was taking English classes and managing everything alone in Miami for years. At that time, we didn’t have computers. She was my computer.
I told her one time that I needed my car from Suriname. At that time she had two. She insisted to drive 3,000 miles by herself with the two kids who couldn’t drive yet from Miami to Sacramento to drop off the car. I was concerned and said, “How are you going to go that? You’ve never driven that far before.” She said, “Don’t worry. I’ll do it.” She was very stubborn that way. If she made up her mind about something, you could not talk her out of it. She went to Triple AAA and mapped out her exact route and got to California without a single issue within a week.
About a year later, I was financially stable enough in California to buy a house. My wife decided that it was time for her and the kids to move to me so we could be together and start all over again as a family. Mark and Loraine both went to college within 2 years. We enjoyed the house, large garden, the fish pond, and the regular visits and trips with the kids, who got married and blessed us with 6 grandchildren total.
Around 30 years ago, her ataxia started to worsen. She studied everything she could about it, and did everything she could to slow it down: yoga, speech therapy, exercise. I admired her courage and toughness. We once again worked together to fight it and manage her care. About 11 years ago, it got too much, and we bought a bigger house together with Loraine to live with her and her family.
Josta and I entertained ourselves with Bingo, cardgames, movies, shows, and dancing at the Senior Center for 5 years until she needed around the clock care and moved to Eden Villa just 3 minutes from our house. I visited her there daily or every other day until she passed away peacefully in her sleep.
I am grateful and blessed to have had Josta as my wife and companion for almost 58 years. Rest In peace my dear soulmate and partner for Life.
Sosolobi, love forever,
I went last and addressed a room full of friends and family, and more than a hundred who were watching the live-streamed services.
As you may have gathered by now, my mother was a remarkable woman and cared deeply about hundreds of people from all walks of life and cultures, young or old, near or far, blood related or not. She knew everyone’s birthday and many wedding anniversary dates by heart. The joke around our house was that even with her dementia, her memory about facts and trivia was far better than ours. Always the teacher, she liked exercising and training her brain for fun. She had a birthday calendar in the bathroom and studied it diligently several times a day for a good seventy years.
I’d given her this pretty notebook ten years ago. I just discovered that she’d written each letter of the alphabet on a page and as if quizzing herself, wrote as many names of people she had a relationship with underneath each letter, in the end with shaky handwriting. The letter A alone has almost 60 names of people so you can imagine how many people we’re talking about. Oprah, her idol, is the only person she didn’t personally know who made it in here.
My mother needed an outlet for all of her excess brain power and heart power because of her unusually big heart and mind. We, as her children, never felt shortchanged in attention or love. Not only did she love each of us and each person in her life fiercely and unwaveringly, she knew how to give each one of us exactly what we needed. I would like to share some of the incredible gifts she passed down to me and share her legacy as I experienced it as her only daughter these past 52 years.
As a young girl, my mother was simply just Ma. It wasn’t until I was almost 6 that I started to realize that she wasn’t like most mothers. She had decided to travel around the world with me for 8 months and homeschool me during my 1st grade. By now, she had already traveled to dozens and dozens of different countries and this was no big deal for her. The transition was quite abrupt and dramatic for me. From one day to the next, the whole world was now suddenly my home and playground as I met more and more playmates, cousins, and relatives during our travels to the Caribbean islands, Europe, Asia, the US, and Canada.
Some peak experiences that stretched me far beyond my comfort zone were being chased by a goat in Trinidad, driving slowly in a taxi that was almost halfway submerged in flooded streets in Manila, taking a gondola that went through and rose above the clouds in Switzerland, being dragged, with her tight grip around my wrist, through a slum in Hong Kong and a nightclub in Macao, and getting lost in a giant zoo in Toronto.
While my little body wanted to register many experiences as scary, my fear inclinations often subsided next to my mother’s great adventurous spirit and grounded confidence. And if anyone dared to bother us, she was like a fierce mama bear who had no qualms about using her umbrella, purse, or sharp tongue to keep us safe. As a sensitive and naive child, I thought she was being mean and didn’t like it but I now understand the protective and necessary forcefield that she created around us. I learned later that she did encounter complications and issues traveling alone as a woman with a child, but she handled each one so well and calmly, I never noticed them.
When we returned home, I went back to school, but my mother remained in charge of my education. I dreaded her lecturing and quizzing us all over again after school while all other the kids could just do their homework and play. I did enjoy accompanying her when she visited her academic and intellectual friends, like Dobru, Suriname’s most beloved poet, and his wife, tante Wonnie. I felt proud that she was respected for her clear arguments, politics, and bold outspokenness amongst Suriname’s most progressive and prominent thought leaders.
Moving to Miami after the revolution and being separated from my dad who left to find work in CA was the hardest period for her. She retreated and pretended that she didn’t speak English. It felt as if I’d lost everything in Suriname, but worst of all, that I had lost my mother. I followed her example and pretended not to speak English until she pushed me to talk to doctors, dentists, teachers, and solicitors. When I started to act out and get in serious trouble around age 17, she took charge and reunited the family. That’s also the year when she sat me down and said, “You are now old enough for me to tell you some important things that I haven’t told anyone.” She shared her biggest disappointments, losses, and biggest upsets around bekrompen denken (narrowminded thinking) and oppressive cultural attitudes and practices that harmed women and that had severely affected her life. That’s when I realized how ahead of her time my mother was, how intentional and deliberate her bold choices and coping strategies had been, and how much she trusted herself, her feelings, and her intuition, even when no one else approved of them. Many of her beliefs are still progressive and ahead of the times today 35 years later, let alone back then.
Because of her mentorship and guidance over the decades, I feel like I learned from the best how to handle so many of life’s challenges. Later in life when her strong calling to teach, guide, and serve had no expression, she enjoyed sharing her wisdom with me whenever I interviewed her for assignments during college, graduate school, and for my memoir. It was an honor to serve as her mouth piece, and to be able to process and integrate many of her unique insights with my own. Time and again, she proved to be the most accurate historian and very deserving of her matriarch status amongst her large extended family. Most of what she taught me never made it in my book, but her teachings have inspired and shaped almost all the soul aligned work that I do today.
While these gifts are more than plenty, my mother deserves full credit for gifting me my greatest happiness: the love of my life and my soul mate, Robert. Because of her decision to drive to California, our matchmaker uncle Henk got involved and jumped on the opportunity to recruit Robert, who lived in Holland, to help drive us across the states. Even though we fell head over heels in love, we didn’t stay in touch. Two years later, I wanted to visit my friends in Miami. My father objected and thought that me being 19 was too young to travel alone. Even though I was quite upset about not going, I acquiesced because I didn’t want him to worry. My mother sat me down again and sternly asked me,”Are you going to live your whole life pleasing your father?”
I was shocked. Not about the fact that she was completely fine with me going by myself. That part didn’t even register on my radar. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that she, and therefore I, could disagree with someone I loved, be my own person, and proceed in peace with doing what I thought was best. Since then, she’d held me accountable for taking full responsibility of my life, choices, heart, and dreams, and knew right away when I was derailing.
Because of that intervention, Robert and I met again, accidentally, or you could say synchronistically, 32 years ago and became an item in Miami, each one thousands of miles from home. From the first time until the last time they met, she adored and loved Robert as her own son.
I’m indebted to her for all the extraordinary things a courageous life has to offer, but I also want to thank my father for trusting her during each of these times of conflict and agreeing that she knew best how to raise a daughter. She paved the way for me to follow in her footsteps and made it so much easier for me as a woman in this world to develop unwavering trust in myself, knowing that she’s backing me up every step of the way, especially when making hard or unpopular decisions.
My mother was not only in tune with the stars when living full out. She also knew how to die in alignment with them. There was an intense period about 5 years ago when she told me almost daily, “I lived a full and happy life. I’m ready to go home. You guys need to let me go.” I could tell how frustrated she was that she couldn’t will her death. I explained to her that I would grant her this wish if I could, but it wasn’t up to me or us. Maybe God and mystery had a bigger plan for her.
She developed dementia soon after, and it primarily robbed her of awareness that caused her the most suffering: the limitations caused by her degenerative illness. Her longing to die instantly stopped. She retained her sweet memories of Suriname and remembered each one of us and many details until her final days. This gave us the chance to recoup, enjoy her loving presence, and work on letting her go. She was once ahead of her time and of us in her readiness to transition but she figured out how to patiently wait for everyone else to grow and catch up with her. She left us last week at this most ripe and ready time.
I’m thankful for my father for his devotion to her and for visiting her almost daily during her final years in the nursing home and for my siblings and their families and so many others around the world for supporting her and us in which ever ways they could.
As my aunt Carla in Suriname said so perfectly and beautifully when she passed, she is now joining all the stars in the night sky and will sparkle the brightest to show us the way. May we all find clarity, comfort, and peace in this.
Thank you, Ma, for my wonderful life and birthing me under a lucky star, as you liked to say. You were that lucky star that has always lit up my North Star. You will always be a part of my heart and soul.