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  • I know it took her a while to write this. Perhaps five minutes, probably ten, maybe more. She could barely hold the pen, and pressing it against the paper firmly enough to write was quite an effort. It was hard for her to speak, too, as if over 96 years her voice had become worn, like a record that had been played over and over, now crackling and creaking. It was my favourite record.

    She could hardly hear, and reading lips was no longer an option, because she had very poor eyesight. When we sat in her sofa it was hard for her to tell us apart, because she could only make out our silhouettes against the sunlit curtains behind us. It was difficult to watch television, and almost impossible to read books, newspapers, letters, yet she was always updated on the news, locally and globally, and she always had an opinion about what was going on in the world.

    Because her wheelchair was so heavy to maneuver and her allergies were exhausting, she couldn’t go outside much anymore. Even inside the apartment it was hard for her to get around, but insisting on getting by on her own, she would get up early every morning in order to take a shower and dress herself before the home help arrived. Although she was quite disabled, she would also do a lot of domestic work herself, like laundry or vacuuming, because she didn’t want to cause her relatives any inconvenience.

    Cherishing her independence, she was worried about having to move to an old people’s home. She feared that if someone else were to take over her daily routine, such as the cooking, the cleaning, the folding of clothes and so on, she would be left with nothing to do and too much time to think about her aching joints and the gnawing pain in her shoulders and hips.

    I once asked her whether she ever felt bored. She laughed. “No time to get bored,” she said, “it takes me so long to do every chore that by the time I’m done it’s bedtime!” Besides, she said, she had so many lovely memories, they were like movies and she could press ‘play’ anytime.

    Having lived alone more than forty years, she was used to her own company. They had been ten siblings, but she was the only one left. She had five children, thirteen grandchildren and an increasing number of great-grandchildren, but we all lived elsewhere, some of us abroad, and didn't visit her as often as we - or she - would have liked.

    She told me last summer that it was getting harder. She felt weaker; the wheelchair was heavy. She knew it was only a matter of time before she would be forced to give up her home and her independence, she didn't like to think about it.

    A week before Christmas she had a small stroke and was hospitalized. Realizing that she wouldn’t be allowed to move back to her apartment, she refused to eat or drink and wouldn’t accept medication. She had always been a proud and very determined woman, and I think she simply decided to take the opportunity to exit this world without ‘causing inconvenience’.

    She died peacefully, Christmas morning.

    She never demanded anything, she was unassuming and kind, a woman with a great sense of humour and a generous heart, and her absence stands out more than she ever would.
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