A tribute to my mother

This is a personal post in honour of my dear mother, who passed away last Friday the 24th of March 2023.

Marijke Wagenbuur – Ketelaars was born in Helmond (near Eindhoven) in January 1944, as the third child to her parents. In August that same year, when Helmond was attacked by British forces, to free it of the Nazis, her life was almost cut short. Scraps of an explosive landed in my mother’s cradle, moments after my grandmother had taken her out to feed her. In their street 59 houses were damaged. Her two-year elder brother was not so lucky. He died that same year of a normally curable illness because there was no medication for him in that final year of WWII. My mother’s family eventually grew to 10 children; a big catholic family! Contrary to my late father my mother did not have a huge interest in cycling. Although, until I was about 8 years old, we did everything on bicycles, for the simple reason that we did not own a car yet as a family. I have clear memories of my sister and I sitting on the front and back of my mother’s bicycle. I even have a shocking memory of the three of us falling like that, when my mother tried to start riding again at a traffic light. I know the exact location in Utrecht where this happened. But since this was a fall from standing still, or riding very slowly, there was no real harm done. We may only have had a few scratches or bruises, but I vividly remember the concern of bystanders rushing towards us.

A family picnic during a nice afternoon ride in the Summer of 1967. With my mother’s bicycle in the background.

Going through our old slides recently, I found some showing a Sunday afternoon ride. The pictures were taken by my dad, while we sit and have a small picnic with my mother’s bicycle in the background. We did also cycle during holidays. And there is one short super-8 film clip where we have a nice ride as a family in my mother’s province of birth North-Brabant. But while my father cycled to work every day, my mother learned how to drive a car. And after she got her license, the family got a second-hand car. Since my father did not have a driver’s license for quite some time, in my mind as a child the car belonged to my mother.  

Riding on rental bicycles in Brabant in the Summer of 1980. My mother and I next to eachother in the background, my sister on the far right (still from a super-8 silent film).

I cycled to secondary school, from 1977 on. My ride to school was not particularly long, but my mother was concerned about it anyway. I remember her standing at the school entrance unexpectedly one stormy and rainy afternoon. She came to pick me up with the car because she thought I was not able to endure the storm and cycle home safely. My bicycle went into the back of the car, much to the amusement of my classmates. This never happened again. I told her to not ever embarrass me like that again. Obviously, I now understand that this was out of genuine love and concern and I appreciate the gesture.

My mother and I were very close. We even went on holidays together, the two of us. We went halfway across the globe on trips to her many cousins in Australia. Twice on such trips my mother was in the hall in Sydney when I gave a presentation about cycling in the Netherlands. I could tell how proud she was to see me talk to an audience so far from home.

My parents on a cycle tour on the Canary Islands in the 1990s.

My mother was always young (we were barely 22 years apart), fit and healthy, although she has always struggled with her weight. Late 2019, however, her physiotherapist noticed she got out of breath unusually fast. He urged her to see a specialist. After a long search, doctors finally found what she had; a severe case of PAH (Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension). A rare, progressive disorder that causes the tiny arteries in the lungs to become thickened and narrowed. This condition blocks the blood flow in the lungs and that again raises the blood pressure and makes the heart work harder and eventually fail as well. This diagnose came mid-2021 but she must have had the disorder for a few years longer. Life expectancy for PAH, which cannot be cured, is about 2 to 3 years and that is indeed roughly how long she got. To prevent more suffering (shortness of breath especially) and after much deliberation my mother asked for euthanasia. Considering her severe condition, but clear mind, her wish could legally be granted. The euthanasia took place last Friday. I stayed with her, her last night, in her room in the care home. Thanks to the planned death our family could say goodbye properly and we have spoken about everything that needed to be said. I understand that her death was inevitable and that she has been spared the worst suffering, but obviously it still hurts to lose your dear mother.

A picture taken one day before her death, with the entire family on the beach boulevard of Scheveningen, possible thanks to the volunteers of the ‘Wish Ambulance Utrecht‘.

It was comforting to hear her say that she had had a beautiful life. We wrote her death announcement together and planned the cremation ceremony together. It is good to know how much she liked the farewell video that I created with the many images (photos and film) we have of her and our life together as a family. One day before her planned death we had the opportunity to grant her a final wish. The volunteers of the ‘Wish Ambulance Utrecht’ took her one last time to the beach in Scheveningen. It was then even more clear to us how much her body was failing her (and how much she had tried to hide the awful truth from us), but we cherish the beautiful moments of that day together as a family. The moment we had to let my mother go was exceptionally emotional. Her two children and her two grandchildren were all sitting around her bed with their partners. We held her when she clearly said “yes” in response to the doctor’s legally required question whether she understood what was going to happen and if she really wanted to die.

Marijke Wagenbuur-Ketelaars passed away calmly, without pain but with dignity, as the brave and strong woman she had always been. I am a proud son and grateful that this was possible for her. I will dearly miss my sweet mother.

32 thoughts on “A tribute to my mother

  1. I’m so sorry, Mark. Thankyou for sharing this beautiful tribute to your dear mother. I didn’t know that she had come with you on your trips to Australia, that must have been very special to you both.

  2. Thank you for sharing your heart! Your writing reminded me that each moment we have is precious. Thank you for all that you do.

  3. Thanks everyone for your kind words regarding the passing of my mother, here, on Twitter and on LinkedIn, in public or private messages. The cremation ceremony took place last Thursday. All the kindness we received helps us cope with our loss.

  4. What a beautiful tribute to your mum. Condolences from down here in Canberra. I’m glad you were all able to say goodbye, and she could die with dignity.

  5. Mark, I am sorry for your loss. Having lost my mother about three and a half years ago, I understand how the beautiful memories can brighten your day but also highlight your loss. You wrote a beautiful tribute.

  6. Mark, I am again so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your memories of her in this post, it is a lovely tribute to your mother. It has reminded me of a fond memory of cycling to the beach with my mother who died last year.

  7. Hoi Mark,
    Wat goed van jou dit verhaal over je Moeder.

    Veel sterkte en tot morgen.

    Liefs Oom Pim en Tante Tonnie.

  8. Oh Mark, I am so very sorry to read this – but what a touching and lovely tribute. All the very best to you and your family at this sad time.

  9. I am so sorry for your loss. My condolences to you and your family. Your post is a beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing it.

  10. Hi Mark, Thankyou for writing & sharing your Mother’s beautiful story. My own Mother was born about the same time as yours. She died a couple of years ago & feel the loss every day. Take care & thanks again from Australia. Sam.

  11. Thank you for sharing your mother’s full life and death with dignity with folks like us who follow your channel. While both my wife and I are sad to read about your mum’s death, we are inspired by your mother’s choice and by the support and honor your family gave her by listening to her choice for how & when she wanted to die. How wonderful that by being able to choose when she does, she was able to spend her last days in ways that allowed for love to be expressed fully among everyone in your family.
    We condole with you and your family at this time of bereavement.

  12. Dear Mark – So many great memories in your lovely tribute to your mother. My Mom chose euthanasia last August so I have a pretty good idea of what you went through last week.

    Both my father and mother drove a car (we only had one for a family of 6 until I was a teenager) but I think it was my Mom who taught me how to bicycle. Good thing she didn’t know how far I’d bike around Montreal at the age of 8 or she may have wanted to pick me up with the car – as your mother did with you!

    I’m sure your mother will always be with you in spirit whether you’re riding your bike or not. Take care, MC

  13. Thank you for sharing that beautiful story of love and courage. Please accept my condolences.

  14. My condolences… My mother passed a year ago, and chose to do so with medical assistance instead of waiting for her terminal COPD to take her. Wishing you well during this difficult time.

  15. Geondollerd met het overlijden van je moeder, Mark. Ik hoop dat jullie als familie veel steun aan elkaar hebben bij de verwerking. Alle goeds,

    Koen vV

  16. Thank you for sharing this important personal story as you have shared so many important public stories. It sounds like your mother lived a wonderful life, clearly, with much love and joy. We keep your family in our thoughts as you go through this powerful part of the human journey

  17. Thank you for this beautiful writing. My own mother was born in June 1938. The Second World War started when she was only one year and three months old. My grandfather and his brothers volunteered to fight.

    After they finished liberating The Netherlands (my family is Canadian), my grandfather came home in 1946. My mother, now eight years old, did not know this strange man who called himself her father.

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