Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saying goodbye to Fru Østbakken

On June 5th of last year, I wrote a post about Fru Østbakken (, who in her 94th year had moved into a nursing home temporarily to recover from a small stroke. She was eventually moved to Grunerløkka nursing home in the early autumn and it was there she lived, in a small room with some of her furniture, paintings, and belongings about her, until she died last week (June 14th) at the age of 95. My husband and I attended her funeral service, which was held this past Wednesday in the basement chapel of the nursing home. The service was well-attended by her extended family and a few of her neighbors; she had no children of her own and her husband pre-deceased her in 1993. Most of the elderly ladies who lived in the same co-op development whom she socialized with have passed on or are themselves living in nursing homes now. So there has been a real changing of the guard not only at work but also in the co-op development where we live. One of the neighbors who attended the service together with us, an older man of 70, commented on this—how strange it felt to see this happening. He meant that when he looked around, he knew no one anymore. Everyone he knew has either moved away or passed on, and he will also be moving away, to Germany, at the end of the month. It is a strange feeling to watch the years pass and to see this happen. I agree with him. But there is no stopping the progression of time; it is also very strange to think that someday, God willing, we will also reach 70 and maybe even 80 or 90 years of age. It must be strange to know that most of life lies behind you, in the past, and that there is nothing you can do to stop the flow of years, that brings you to your own passing. The realization that one is a mortal being is a gradual process. Though we know when we are younger that we will not live forever, it is not ‘real’ in the same way as it is when you hit middle or old age. I remember that with my mother, who sometimes commented on it but who mostly avoided the topic. Fru Østbakken talked a little about what it meant to foresee her own death when I visited her before Christmas. She was ready to die, even though she was afraid to die. She meant that she had lived a long good life. The priest who led the service also commented on this. I think she was more afraid of not knowing when her death would happen, what it would involve, or how much pain or suffering it might involve, and so on. When we visited her a few weeks ago, her doctor had essentially informed her that it could happen at any time. She had advanced colorectal cancer and it had apparently spread, so that it was only a matter of time.

I write about her now because I look up to her and admire her courage. This life we live is a mystery, but death is also a mystery. No one has managed to explain why we age and pass on. Scientists study aging, and they have their theories with some underlying data as to how we age (e.g. telomere shortening that leads to cell aging), but why this should be the case, that we build a life on this earth that we must let go of at some point, remains an unknown. It is not for nothing that you realize at some point that life becomes about how to let go of things gracefully. Not an easy task. It is not easy to say goodbye, not easy to let go, not easy to deny our will and our desires. I have realized that truly living life is a paradox—one lives best when one knows that one will not live forever. In that way, you will not take life and loved ones for granted, when you know that seconds, hours, days, and weeks become years and decades and that time passes and that the present is what we have—to make good memories together with those we love. So I say rest in peace to Fru Østbakken; I know she would tell us to live life and to enjoy ourselves. She embraced her life each day; her will to keep going was impressive and if given a choice, she would have remained in her apartment, at home, until the end, but she was not able to afford what it would have cost to have made that possible—live-in care. So she was pragmatic. She understood this and accepted her lot. That was very characteristic of her—she was pragmatic and accepting. I hope she has found the peace that she deserves. 

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