My dear Theo,
Would it surprise you very much if — let’s suppose the people at home intend to move between March and May next1 — would it surprise you very much if before that time — something were to happen to Ma? This thought sometimes occurs to me when I go there. It seems to me that there’s been a change recently. ‘Getting old’ is such a singular thing, and there are certainly a lot of instances where the wife doesn’t survive the husband very long. The change I’ve observed is that every so often Ma is much more lucid in her thinking, whereas in the last few months she has had long periods when it seemed to be rather clouded — which is really not to be wondered at. There’s been something harried about her for a while — as a result — I can well imagine — of the emptiness and feeling alone. Well — it struck me — that she’s become very calm and very composed — and something resolute has taken the place of fretting. There’s nothing more to see.  1v:2
I don’t consider it impossible — that death could also come to her unexpectedly and gently, much as with Pa and for similar reason.
Since it struck me — and because Wil said when I spoke to her about it that she’d also noticed that Ma had changed rather a lot and that she too was anxious about it — I’m just writing to you about it.
Otherwise, one would say, Ma looks very well. But there’s a certain something that makes me think of what I’m telling you. If Ma goes on a trip to Anna, to Amsterdam, to Cor before long2 — it seems to me that can’t do any harm, particularly since she seems to be set on it and is looking forward to seeing them all again. But it could well be that she herself has a presentiment that it will at the same time be a leave-taking.  1v:3
I had to pay my rent this month, and at the same time gave notice on my studio come May. The drawback to which is that because of the neighbours, as you know, I really lack privacy,3 and I observe that the people are still afraid of the priest — although perhaps he wouldn’t meddle in things any more. Still, given that there’s been trouble, the most straightforward thing is to make a change.
What I did most recently is a rather large thing of an old mill on the bare heath, a dark silhouette against an evening sky.4
It goes without saying that I’d telegraph you if there were something at home.
Now it’s an uneasiness that I feel — but then to an extent that I’m telling you about it. Since Ma still goes to see Van de Loo from time to time, he would tell us if there were anything to tell. But were it to be the same sort of death as Pa’s, that’s to say, sudden, it’s something that can just as easily  1r:4 happen in a few days as in a few years. So — who can say? If the lucidity and calm last, for my part I expect a crisis after the trip, in other words before long — and a death without much struggle. But — it sometimes happens that the mind becomes rather clouded, then it drags on, and in that case there could still be much suffering and worry to struggle through. Think about this, whether I might be wrong in suggesting these two possibilities, either quickly without suffering, or the other. Regards, with a handshake.

Yours truly,

I’ll just say again, so that you know what I’m basing this on, I didn’t see anything particular apart from this return of serenity from time to time, and that Ma looks well, considering. Rather too well, even, so that for my part I have my doubts.


Br. 1990: 543 | CL: 432
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Wednesday, 11 November 1885

1. A minister’s widow was entitled to go on living in the parsonage for a year. Mr van Gogh died in March 1885 so plans were made to move in the spring of 1886.
2. Mrs van Gogh wanted to go via Leiden (where her daughter Anna lived), to Amsterdam, where she and her daughter Willemien were to stay with J.P. Stricker. A visit was also planned to the Bonger family at the beginning of December (FR b1830). At this time her son Cor was living in Helmond, near Nuenen.
3. Van Gogh rented his studio in the house of the sacristan Johannes Schafrat, which was right next door to the presbytery of the priest Andreas Pauwels, with whom Van Gogh was at odds.
4. This painting of a mill on the moor at dusk is not known.