Until today, I had a good friend in Peta van der Ridder.
Ok, she was my Mum’s friend before she was my friend… but that didn’t make her any less my friend. In fact, it probably made our friendship stronger. I will concede though, that I cannot say I knew her very well, or have had the privilege to spend a lot of time in her company. We shared a connection of love for Kenya: and that was possibly the tie that I associate most strongly with our relationship.
The last time I saw her was on the long-awaited occasion of Rev Douglas Somersets induction to the Aberdeen congregation. I just said a quick hello to her then, but I was so glad to see her and glad I had a chance to speak to her. Now I am even more glad I did. She gave me such a welcome, and reminded me of our previous meeting.
The previous meeting was when I was in Kenya, September 2004. She was around for about my first week on the mission (before she went off to Zimbabwe for a time, to fill a shortage in nurses there), and kindly had me up for lunch one day.
She got called about half-way through our lunch hour to go back up to the clinic. Like a good host, she didn’t want me to rush through my food, but with characteristic organisation, she had lunch almost prepared before I even arrived at hers. So we were both already finished before the call came. I borrowed an interesting wee book off her (I can’t even remember now what it was, but I read it avidly during the next couple of days.) and then we both headed towards the clinic.
I stood around in the out-patients clinic twiddling my thumbs a bit, and not feeling entirely comfortable with the lack of Data Protection Act-ness in place, as I was let into the secret of her current patient being “a very stubborn man, and so very frightened of just a tiny little prick of the needle”. I witnessed her telling him, “Just come on and drink this medicine now, or otherwise I will have to get these men to hold you down while I give you an injection”. I must admit I felt a bit too squeamish to be watching as she actually gave the `little prick’, though I didn’t go quite as far as putting my fingers in my ears to block the sounds of the struggle. And it was a struggle 😛 …! It took a good three full grown men to keep that one frantic man settled while he was given a sedative.
She was going to take me up to the maternity ward to see a delivery, but in the event, nothing much was happening, and I ended going to the singing class instead. But I saw her at her work, and she was exceedingly competent. She gave such an air of calm wherever she was, that her re-assurances to the mother-to-be (who was incidentally younger than I was) can only have inspired confidence.
I viewed her myself as a little bit of re-assuring stability in the middle of a chaoticly organised country. She had that air about her, of being so completely in control of herself and all her dealings, no matter the outside influences. And I believe that was true of her today too.
Today Peta was killed in an accident: a tree fell on top of her and she died instantly, so I’m told. At least she didn’t suffer much. She was ready to die; of that I can be glad. I believe too, that that quiet confidence with which she lived her life was with her as she died, and that she had the victory over her last enemy, death.
She will be missed so much. All of Kenya will be the poorer for her absence, and she will leave an empty place, not only in the hearts of some in Kenya, but also many in the Netherlands and in Scotland. I feel honoured to be able to say “she was my friend”; yet I will also bear the scar of an empty place in my heart.