Sunday, April 22, 2007

Christobelle Enid Oorloff

Christobelle Enid Oorloff

on her 97th birthday - 03 July 2004

My association with Mrs. Chritobelle Oorloff dates back to just over three months (3 months and 7 days to be exact) before she was called to eternal rest on 17th September 2004. It is over a month and more since and as I reflect back on my brief association with her, a sense of amazement envelops me.

My first meeting with Mrs. Oorloff was on June 10th this year, when I visited her at St. Nikolaas’ Home down Sri Saranankara Road, Dehiwala. On entering her room, my eyes surveyed the surroundings. Placed neatly on a table by her bedside were many books and next to these a pile of National Geographic magazines. After all, many people do read such stuff and it is nothing significant. But at age 96 years and 11 months aided by a magnifying glass! This really astonished me.

She looked frail. The Home’s matron told me that Mrs. Oorloff was a little hard of hearing and that one had to speak close to her ear softly. The matron then took me to her bedside and said, “auntie…. one of Gillian’s friends have come to see you”. I was with my son and daughter who had visited her previously. I then introduced myself and told her that I had met Gillian (Leembruggen – her niece) in Melbourne earlier that month.

Since then, I used to go to the home as often as time permitted. Each visit was pleasant and she used to relate various episodes of her halcyon days. One such was her brief sojourn in Jaffna during the days of World War II. “Cedric (Oorloff her late husband who was Principal of Wesley and then Trinity College during the 50s / 60s) was in the civil service and was Deputy Principal Collector of Customs. During the war days, when rationing was first introduced in Ceylon, he was transferred to Jaffna to implement the scheme.”

She continued, in between chuckles of laughter, “when the bombs began falling in Colombo, the Deputy Collector ran away and Cedric had to be brought back here do this work”. During each visit, a different anecdote would follow dating back to 50 years or more. Her memory certainly was fantastic.

July 3rd this year was very significant. It was Mrs. Oorloff’s 97th Birthday. Armed with a flower arrangement of red roses to be presented on behalf of Gillian, I made my way to the Home. There she was, lying in bed in a pretty pink dress with the bed-sheet and pillowcases too of matching pink. I wished and kissed her and said that the flowers were from Gillian. She made me place these on the table by her bedside and said how beautiful these were. She had a birthday treat comprising cake, chocolates, and sweets ready to be served to visitors with ginger beer to wash these down. She was beaming gaily and looked a pretty picture on this birthday, which turned out to be her last.

Mrs. Oorloff was a fine lady. One among the lasting impressions she left in me was that anybody can grow older and it doesn’t take any talent or ability. She gave me the feeling that the idea is to grow up, by always finding the opportunity in change. This she demonstrated amply by her actions. She was a storehouse of knowledge and it’s a pity that the many anecdotes she had could not be chronicled for posterity. She was well liked by all other ladies at St. Nikolaas’ Home and many were the times they would take their trivial problems to her. Mrs. Oorloff was always gracious when proffering advice to whomsoever came to her.

It was my good fortune and privilege that I met Gillian in Melbourne and through her Mrs. Oorloff. To the very end Mrs. Oorloff displayed tremendous courage and had no regrets. She lived a full life and epitomised that the elderly usually don't have regrets for what they did, but rather for things they did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets. She had no fear of death even in the final moments. I observed this when visiting the Home the day prior to her demise. Intrusive medical investigation was taking it’s toll on her with the onset of pain and trauma. She was calling out to Jesus to "take her"!!. And this Jesus did the following day when she passed away peacefully at high noon, with Gillian by her side. Amazingly, a few moments before this, Bishop Swithin Fernando had been with her at prayer! On completion of the prayers and even before the Bishop could reach the front door of the home, she breathed her last.

To have known Mrs. Oorloff certainly enriched my life as she shared some of her great wisdom and experience with me. In the final analysis, she died peacefully.... the same way she lived. I did not know her before at all, but when my colleague at Royal College, Dick Siebel told me that it was former Trinity College Principal, Late Mr. Cedric Oorloff’s wife, I certainly did want to meet her. Having played rugby for Royal College in the Bradby Shield games of 1966, I was introduced to Mr. Oorloff by our then Principal, Late Mr. Dudley K.G. de Silva at the Bradby second leg game in Kandy. So, a bond had already been in place one score and 18 years ago which manifested into my association, albeit briefly, with this grand lady. To us rugby players of both schools (Royal and Trinity), there is some special affinity binding us. Thus, when Gillian told me to look up Mrs. Oorloff, how could I refuse? I am glad I did not.

Goodbye Mrs. Oorloff! May the Good Lord shower eternal bliss on you.

– Branu Rahim


Anonymous L said...

Thank you for this. This remarkable lady belonged to my grandparents generation. My grandmother passed away a few months ago, and belongs to these gentle times. I feel like its a passing away of an era of gentle spirits.

6:37 AM  
Blogger Lanka Personalities said...

Your welcome. Please let me have more information about your grandmother so that I may include same on this blog. Pics, if any, will also be very welcome.

The object of this blog is to try and capture those men and women of Sri Lanka who matter to us.

6:45 AM  
Anonymous shani said...

I've just come across this post and lo and behold the photograph was familiar. On reading further I found that it was that of my old Englilsh Lit teacher (for London O levels in the late 70s) to whom I used to go to for 'Nightrunners of Bengal' about the Indian Mutiny. She really made the book come alive, and giggled all the time especially when there were naughty parts! I used to love to go to her beautifully maintained house for lessons and also hear about her niece in Australia etc. It's a pity I didn't know she was alive in 2004, I would have loved to have chatted to her.

4:30 AM  

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