Catharina Onink was a larger than life presence in the lives of those who were lucky enough to have known her. She was complex, complicated, grandiose, belligerent, petty, loving and incredibly capable.
Miss Holland 1963 and a Miss Universe runner-up, she remained beautiful until the day she died. She was aloof with men, and made it clear that she could not only survive without them, she could soar. And soar she did.
Catharina, also known as Juno (a name she gave herself) was a self-made real estate baroness in the 1970s and 1980s, and reinvented herself as an investment specialist in the 90s and 00s. She made and lost fortunes – and made them again.
She lived life colorfully, wearing open-toed sandals in the snow and taking coffee right before bed. Catharina possessed the distinctly Dutch characteristic of extreme straightforwardness (bespreekbaarheid) and absolutely did not believe in leaving a thought unspoken. She had a soft spot for the underdog and a deeply-rooted compassion for those who had known suffering.
Born in Den Haag, The Netherlands, during the war years, she lost her father Cornelius to the Labour Camps but held fast to her memories of her Papa holding her up high, upside-down, so she could walk on the ceiling. And whistling on the way home, so she could hear him as he approached the house. Her mother, Alida, soldiered on after his death, as mothers always have. Alida’s last words on this earth were “Cornelius, what are you doing here?” shortly before she passed from cancer decades later.
My mother’s own last words were “Schaatje”, which means ‘sweetie’, spoken to her daughter, Sasha. She awoke briefly from her morphine haze a few days before her death, and the only word on her lips was a word of love.
We are the fiercely proud daughters of this beautiful and strong woman who taught us to keep on keeping on, to push, to strive, to love.
Alzheimers stole so much from my mother. Alzheimers is a relentless thief and a bastard from hell, but to the day she died my mother remembered our names: Sasha and Reneetje.
We will spend the rest of our lives trying to be worthy of such love.