A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Monday, 14 September 2009

Käthe Arnö 30.3.1925-29.8.2009

For a long while I've thought about how I best share my mother's passing away with my friends and acquaintainces over the net. I didn't feel it was appropriate to publish such matters in a blog entry; it felt too "private".

Then I saw her obituary notice in Hufvudstadsbladet (getting the paper takes a while when you live in exile, like I do). "Husis" is the Finland Swedish newspaper par excellence, and for generations, it's been used also for announcements in the deaths column. However, in the current global generation, not every friend subscribes to Husis. Hence, I decided to write a counterpart of the obituary notice for the web. But let me start with the one in Husis:

My mother was 84 years when she passed away. She was completely present, intellectually and emotionally, still on her death bed. I had the fortune, together with Alexander, to be able to discuss with her for nearly two hours in the same night that she passed away at 3:15.

The funeral was one week later in Lovisa, and we will place the urn into the grave in Nagu on Saturday this week. By coincidence we were in Nagu when everything happened, and prolonged our stay by a week. Since the funeral, Kirsten and I have spent a good half week in Croatia (Krk, Porec); slowly, life is returning to normal.

Here is an excerpt from my commemorative speech at the funeral, translating from Swedish to English. I've retained the word "famo" which literally means "paternal grandmother" and comes from the words for "father's mother":


Dear funeral guests
Alexander and Sophia

Famo wants us to be happy. Her character was such that it was very easy to please her when she was still alive. Now that she's no longer with us, this particular wish feels hard to fulfil.

Yet we have so much to be happy about.

We can start with Famo's words on hear death bed: "I am satisfied with my life". Not everyone is satisfied with their lives. I'm happy she was. I am also happy that she was given a long and very prosperous marriage, with Fafa.

Alexander and I could personally say our goodbyes to her, while she still listened and answered. In the car on our way to the hospital, when we still didn't know whether we would make it in time, we had plenty of time to think about what we wanted to say to her -- so that it wouldn't have to wait until we spoke to completely deaf ears. But we made it, and we could say what we had on our minds, so that she could hear it, and answer.

Even though I don't sound very happy right now, I feel that our possibility to properly say goodbye is something to be very happy about. Famo prepared us in the best possible way for the time after her death. We had the time to speak about everything that needs speaking about. That we should think "now Famo is happy" when we let down her urn into the grave, next to Fafa. Which funeral undertaker she wanted. And especially, that we are very happy and deeply grateful for her contribution, her life, her character, her inspiration, her judgement.

I am happy she got her will, that her suffering ended.

I am happy she could live at home her whole life. I am happy and proud that she bravely endured becoming nearly blind and deaf. I am happy she took most things in life in good mood and with humour. A few weeks before she died, when she visited us in her own old house in Nagu, Alexander said "You do hear better than you can see, don't you?". Her reply was "What?". But a second later, she realised what Alexander had asked, whereupon Famo, Alexander and Sophia laughed heartily together.

I am glad she remained mentally agile all her life. She was a bit worried to become senile, but perhaps that is exactly what is needed, in order not to become senile.

I am glad she was so positive. "I am an incurable optimist", she used to say. She was an expert at giving whatever happened a positive interpretation, in seeing light in darkness. Without that ability, I'm sure she wouldn't have lived as long as she did.

I am happy she kept up to date with modern life. She played computer games since the early 1980s, first on my ABC80 and ABC800. Then, she bought Monty's Commodore. After that, a few Windows computers followed suite, and soon enough, there was Internet and surfing and email and Skype. She kept surfing and skyping until the last days of her life, even if it took ages for her to read headers and find the keys on the keyboard, using a magnifying glass. With stoic patience, she noted that she could have spent an eternity in Wikipedia, as she had browsed through everything interesting on the DVDs of the Nationalencyklopedin already, "but I can't see".

She put others before herself, and didn't even understand how much influence she gained by doing so. "The people of Finland shall be lead from the front", General Adolf Ehrnrooth used to say, and my mother lived by that exact thought. Her leadership was based on humbleness, respect, consideration, helpfulness, and empathy. I explained to her that, to the degree I am a good father, it's because of her being my role model. Her reaction wasn't primarily one of pride, but a certain heaviness of heart, that I hadn't properly considered my father in my thought.


This was a longish excerpt from my commemorative speech. I tried to pick such items that are descriptive of my mother as a person, without giving away what is too private. To begin with, I didn't want to say anything at all on the web, because of respect for her perhaps seeing it as self-assertion incompatible with her humbleness. I decided to write what I've written because I want my friends and acquaintances to know, to realise, to understand something that has characterised me so deeply as a person.

I want to conclude by thanking everyone that has given us their condolences. It hurts to lose one's primary role model in life.