Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Thank you Madeleine, for your beautiful piece about Ata’s departure.

I will now add my own eulogy.

Just in case, here is a brief explanation: Our mother died in the Netherlands about four weeks ago. The weeks that followed were enormously hectic. There was a funeral to organize, obituaries, real estate transactions, dealings with banks, packing, dispatching, all of this in a land six thousand miles away from my home and my office. I have now finally returned home, exhausted. The flight to Los Angeles alone took over thirteen hours, before connecting to Sacramento. Writing and posting a brief eulogy for my mother for the blog was something I simply couldn’t get to until now.

This essay is basically a description of what happened, along with some musings about families and life.

But first, a brief comment about my “feelings:” Since Ata’s death on September 15, just two days shy of her 104th birthday, I have felt curiously numb rather than devastated. This is possibly due to how very busy I have been ever since.

Every time I think about Ata (and I have already had at least two dreams that she is still alive), I think of the marvelous life and the relatively peaceful death she enjoyed. Ata got what she so richly deserved. During her long and phenomenally exciting and rewarding life, a life full of unforgettable experiences, she enjoyed the respect, recognition and love of her vast family (20 or so descendants) and her countless friends. Her record of achievements is unsurpassed; she became famous. Above all, she possessed an exceptional mind that remained alert to the very end and was always geared to the positive, an incomparable ability to see the good, happy and wonderful things in life…

When she left us, relatively painlessly, she could truly conclude: “mission accomplished.” Not very many of us are likely to be able to look back and quote Edith Piaf’s immortal words, as Ata would: “Non, je ne regrette rien.”

As for me, the void which Ata is leaving behind will continue for the rest of my life.

But this is not about me, it’s about Ata. So what happened?

On September 13, my wife Anita and I were flying across the Atlantic to celebrate Ata’s joyous 104th birthday in Holland. Unbeknownst to us, that night Ata fell and broke her leg. She and the doctors agreed that this was “irreparable” - at her age. She made it utterly clear that she didn’t want to go to the hospital. So she was promptly put on a palliative end-stage regimen - essentially morphine plus a sleep-inducer.

The news hit us like a bomb shell. As we were joyfully entering Ata’s apartment building and hauling our suitcases in, Marja - the angelic lady who has been taking care of Ata these past few years - intercepted us and gave us the news.

Shocked, we walked into Ata’s bedroom. Although half asleep, she did recognize me. We hugged. She embraced me forcefully, didn’t want to let go.

Within hours, she became increasingly non-conscious, essentially sleeping peacefully. When my sister Juliette arrived from Spain the next day, Ata was still alive, but I doubt that she recognized Juliette. My other sister Madeleine arrived from Boston the following day, alas too late to see her mother alive. Ata had passed painlessly in the middle of the night, with Juliette by her side and Anita confirming her death by checking her now absent pulse.

Ata’s death was about as good as it gets, in no small part thanks to the Dutch way. The palliative care and the support provided by assisted living personnel and doctors are unparalleled. The nursing team attended her every couple of hours. Her doctors paid house calls to the very end, sometimes more than once per day! The morphine doses were adjusted to eradicate pain but keep Ata alive for another day or two until her children arrived.

Immediately following Ata’s death, her three adult children became brutally busy: All three of us from far-away lands, we nevertheless had to navigate Dutch society and bureaucracies, organizing the funeral, obituaries, invitations, press releases (the major Dutch newspapers carried prominent articles about Ata’s death, accompanied by large pictures of hers), preparing and putting Ata’s flat on the market, dealing with mortuary, lawyers and banks, packing and sending many things overseas, changing our travel plans, etc.  Four weeks later, I am finally home. Only now am I able to sit back and ponder what happened. Here is one of many random thoughts:

For the past two or three years, Ata’s quality of life had finally noticeably deteriorated.

At least until she began her second century of life, Ata continued to enjoy living. We, her children, took her on innumerable trips across Europe every time we visited her, i.e. half a dozen times every year. To Hungary, Poland, Andalusia, the Ardennes, Venice, Prague, the French Riviera, the Swiss Alps, and elsewhere. Each year we celebrated her birthday with dozens and sometimes over one hundred guests, at her apartment building or at museums such as the Kranenburgh. Over one hundred years old, Ata continued to bask in her success, her popularity, in the genuine love of her family and her many friends.

However, she became increasingly impaired, and pain became chronic. Her sight, hearing and mobility gradually deteriorated to the point of overwhelming her. Her body was hurting non-stop. No more trips, hardly even an outing to a local restaurant. Just 24 hours a day sleeping or sitting by her window, still 100% lucid and thinking, but hurting. Still frequent visits from friends, admirers, and her family from overseas.

We became so accustomed to the situation that we subliminally felt that Ata would never die. We were the ones who wanted her to go on forever. In our weekly skyping sessions from California, I pooh-poohed her ailments, urging her to force herself to walk more frequently, to eat more, always reminding her of my next bi-annual visit, only a few weeks hence. Can we be blamed for our selfishness? For our desire to keep her with us just a bit longer?

Ata was the center, the matriarch. Thanks to her, our far-flung family living on several continents was more cohesive than most families living physically together. Ata determined our lifestyle and our life cycle, our annual schedule of travel and other activities. We were in constant touch, Skyping, e-mailing. We published things together (I wrote the text for several of her photo books). Our friendships in Europe were based on our visits to Ata. This carried through to Ata’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are all keenly aware of her. Without Ata, I would not continue to be half-Dutch.

There have been three broad phases in the Kando family’s life:

The first chapter was our childhood, up to and including our teen years. We were as close-knit as could be. That was the era when Ata produced her marvelous fairy-tale like books, with us as actors and the four of us living the happy and freewheeling life of rebellious Hungarian vagabonds crisscrossing the roads of Europe, moving from country to country.

Then, we flew the coop, as many children do. This was a veritable diaspora. Madeleine and I moved to America, Juliette to England and later Spain.

However, over the last two decades of Ata’s life, she became once again the center, the mother, as central to the Kandos as mother Gaia is to humanity. Whatever may have motivated us to leave the Netherlands and Ata half a century ago, by the dawn of the 21st century we had all re-discovered Ata’s importance and significance in our lives. The final chapter, the Kando family in the 21st century, was one of reunification, recognition and love. All is well that ends well.

© Tom Kando 2017;All Rights Reserved

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