It’s strange, preparing to say goodbye to someone who died nearly two years earlier. You’ve already cried. You’ve grieved. You’ve come to terms with your loss. Yet there we were, on June 28, 2022, scrunched into row 39 on a crowded KLM flight, taking Mom to her final resting place.
For years, our mother suffered from peripheral neuropathy and more recently, dementia, but neither had been as cruel as COVID-19 and its ensuing isolation. Neuropathy compromised her mobility; dementia stole pieces of her mind; but the pandemic robbed her of the human connections that fueled her soul. When she took her last breath on Friday, August 28, 2020, I could almost see her spirit rejoice, breaking free from all that ailed her.
Under normal circumstances, we would have taken her ashes to Norway last summer, but COVID-related restrictions remained rigid. We had to wait.
What a blessing that we could go this summer, eight years after our last trip. In 2014, we celebrated Mom’s 80th birthday in Norway. This time, David, Serina, Sophia, and I would travel alone, her ashes packed safely in my carryon. We’d meet my sister, Heidi, and her kids, Lena and Riorden, along with my brother, Larry, in Egersund, our dad’s hometown.
Our cousins picked us up at the Stavanger airport, where cold winds cut through warm embraces. (A far cry from Huntsville’s sweltering heat and humidity.) While we were disappointed by a dismal 10-day forecast, we weren’t surprised. Norway’s weather is a crapshoot. Of course, this trip wasn’t about temperatures or barometric pressure. It was about bringing our mom’s cremains home and reconnecting ourselves—and our children—to the roots of our family tree, which bore branches on both sides of the Atlantic.
Besides DNA, we share many childhood memories with this crew. We, the “Americans,” returned to Norway several times in our youth, spending cherished time at Blåsenborg (on Eigerøya), the mountaintop home in which my father and his sister were born and raised. They’ve expanded and renovated the once tiny home, but the spectacular view is unchanged. The North Sea, speckled with commercial fishing boats, recreational speedboats, and the occasional kayak and yacht, still fascinates me.
When Dad died in 2002, we brought him home to Egersund the following summer. We buried his ashes in his parents’ plot, knowing we’d eventually do the same with Mom’s.
We held her interment on Friday, July 1st, with Reidar Strand, Mom’s cousin-in-law (married to Liv Serina), officiating. While we had accepted the cold and rainy forecast, we were gleefully surprised when, mid-service, clouds parted, giving way to blue skies and sunshine. My mom revered the sun so the shift in weather seemed fitting, if not deliberate.
Reidar delivered a short sermon and read John 14:2, one of my mom’s favorite Bible verses, especially in the months leading up to her death. We sang hymns and enjoyed the flowers that brightened the graveside. A rose bouquet from our Faster (Aunt) Petra and her family read: Siste Hilsen. Translated directly, it means “last greeting,” but it’s more like “the final farewell.”
Before I left the cemetery, I took a moment to kneel beside the deep hole that held Mom’s cremains. The weight of those words sunk in: Siste hilsen. The last greeting. The final farewell. While I didn’t outright cry, a few tears slid down my face as I realized this was it. The final farewell that was long overdue, yet somehow timed just right. I imagined, for a moment, she was there with me. Dad too. I was still, somber yet serene, until a cool wind swept me out of my thoughts.
Afterward, we gathered at the nearby Grand Hotel, sharing food and fellowship with those who loved our mother almost as much as we did. We reminisced, telling stories about Mom and Dad. They had built an extraordinary life together and balanced it beautifully between the US and Norway.
I never asked why they wanted to be buried in Norway, but it makes sense to me now. Dad was strategic to the end. The interment of Mom’s ashes brought us back to their homeland, where we connected (and reconnected) more deeply than ever with relatives. In all, we spent 12 days overseas, visiting friends and family in Egersund, Stavanger, and Bergen. We built new relationships, strengthened old ones, and fell in love, again, with our heritage, our family, and the country itself.
We enjoyed many adventures: boat rides on the frigid North Sea, ziplining in the mountains, and a hike up Preikestolen, a majestic mountain overlooking Lysefjord. Cold, rainy weather be damned; kids and adults alike bonded through each experience.
As our trip drew to a close, I had no doubt our parents were beaming. They had worked hard to keep us, first generation Americans, tethered to our Norwegian roots. Mom maintained her Norwegian citizenship, while Dad was USA. Regardless of passport origin, both were part of each country and each country was part of them.
I think that’s also true for Larry, Heidi, and me. And can’t the same be said for our kids? In less than two weeks, the girls made strong connections with their Norwegian relatives, some they’d never met before. They fell in love with country and countryside. They made memories and forged friendships. They learned bits and pieces of the language and better understood their heritage.
As everyone said goodbye, it seemed clear that these farewells were far from final. They were more like “see you next time.” After all, a part of our parents will always be in Norway and a part of us—all of us—will always be there, too.