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When the pain became unbearable, Dutch Swain beckoned her daughter Suzanne a little closer to her bed at the nursing home in Charlton.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Dutch Swain whispered, more in resignation than sadness. “I miss your father.”

Suzanne nodded and called her sister, Jen, in California. Jen got on the next plane.

They moved her to the hospice section. The nurses managed the pain and Dutch managed everything else, how she would leave this world.

She was born Madeline, but a neighbor in Walpole decided that was too formal for a 6-year-old girl. She had a Dutch-boy haircut, so he called her Dutch and it stuck.


Her family summered on Nantucket and it was there that Dutch met a guy called Bing. Everybody knew Jonathan Swain as Bing. Dutch and Bing were a perfect match. They got married and settled in Sudbury and raised two girls.

Dutch Swain graduated from Wheaton College and was smart as a whip and could have done anything she chose to. She chose to raise her daughters, as Bing traveled 36 weeks a year, doing management consulting.

She taught her daughters to be strong, independent women, and to give back. She volunteered for everything, at the schools and at the Sudbury United Methodist Church. She stocked food pantries for the poor.

About the meanest thing she ever did, a few years ago, at the age of 81, was to heckle Alex Rodriguez at Fenway Park.

“You stink,” she told A-Rod from a seat near the Yankees dugout.

Dutch Swain was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago, and she fought it. A piece of her died when Bing died a couple of years ago, at the nursing home in Charlton where they had lived together since 2010. They were married for 56 years.


When she knew the end was near, she called Suzanne close and mother and daughter held hands.

“You were my greatest joy,” Dutch Swain told her younger daughter. “I will always hold you in my heart.”

She wasn’t playing favorites. She told Jen the same thing when she arrived from California.

Dutch picked out the Scripture for her memorial services. She insisted no one wear black. She wanted bright colors. Suzanne asked if she wanted to ask for donations to a charity in her memory.

Dutch Swain thought about it for a while and said that instead of donations, she would ask that people perform a random act of kindness in her memory and to post it on Facebook, so others might be inspired to do the same.

“It would be a much nicer world if people would be more kind to each other,” Dutch Swain said.

It was, appropriately, one of the last things she said. She died on Friday. Her daughters were with her, each holding one of her hands. Jen and Suzanne lingered with their mom, telling stories, laughing, crying. A nurse came in and opened the window so Dutch Swain’s spirit could take flight.

A few hours later, Suzanne was driving home to Winchester on the Pike, and she changed lanes. Some guy pulled alongside of her, his face contorted in anger. He cursed her and gave her the middle finger.

Suzanne didn’t know what she may have done to make him so angry. She shrugged and kept driving.


At the Weston tolls, Suzanne pulled into the cash lane. As she waited in line, she looked in her rearview mirror to see that the guy who flipped her the bird was right in back of her.

“My mother just died,” Suzanne told the toll taker, “and I want to do something nice for someone. Can I pay for the man in back of me?”

“Sure,” the toll taker replied. “Can I tell him that?”

Suzanne nodded. She was not far down the road when the same car pulled alongside again.

“I’m sorry,” the guy mouthed. “Thank you.”

Somewhere, in a realm different than ours, Dutch Swain smiled.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com