Today is the two-year anniversary of your death. And today, I sit down to write you a letter that I’ve been meaning to write for two years. Funny that today of all days, I find myself with a couple of hours in the afternoon, kids at school and the garderie, to be able to sit in a cafe with my laptop and write to you. Perhaps I wasn’t in the right mindset before too. I think I can do it now.
So, Mom, that’s it. That’s how it all went down. Your life, and your death. That’s how it was and that’s how it ended. Funny how we spend our lives wondering about our death, and now you and I both know how it ends.
One of the things I miss most about having you around is being able to talk to you, but what’s funny is, I’ have wanted so much to talk to you about your death. So many times in the days and weeks afterwards, I have wanted to get you on the phone and talk with you. « So that’s what happened. You ended up dying at 71 instead of 87 like you thought, the age at which many of your family members have died ». I wonder what you think about that. I wonder what you think of your having died pretty early, and right at the beginning of the grandmother phase of your life. I wonder how you feel about missing out on being a grandmother. I think you must feel sad about that. Maybe you feel the same way as me. Sad, but grateful too. I think that you must have not suffered too much knowing you were going to go, with regards to me. You knew you were leaving me a bit of money, you knew we had a new and bigger apartment in a nice town, you knew I was having a second child. Perhaps that offered you a bit of peace as you moved to the next part of your journey. I hope so. It offers me peace to think this.
Mom, I remember that after the trip to Greece in ’99, I came home and you went back to Florida, and after a few days of settling in, we called each other, said our hellos and then you said « It was a great trip ». I still hear your voice as you said it. « It was a great trip ». And me agreeing with you. Yes it was, it was a fantastic trip. I have imagined you and I having that conversation about your funeral. « It was a great funeral ». Wasn’t it just beautiful, Mom? Wasn’t it a wonderful funeral?
The boat ride out to the ocean, from King Harbor in Redondo Beach all the way out to a mile off the Santa Monica Pier. You didn’t specify the pier in your will, but I just really think you would have been pleased with this choice. I hope you are. I have no way of knowing and in a way, Mom, I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, at least in this realm, right? I am now the keeper of your history. If it feels right for me, I guess, that is how I have to proceed.
Anyway, so the boat ride out, and there was a moment of laughter as we pulled out of the harbor where it got ridiculously choppy, and we were all laughing hysterically about it. J was a bit motion sick. Then we got contemplative. It was me, J, who flew out two days after your death, with T and R, they even managed to get the same Lufthansa flight from Munich, so they flew together and drove in the rental car from the airport. That worked out well. Me, J, T, R, JE was there too, Dad, B, baby in my tummy. J managed to bring the Emma the dog’s ashes, which I am so thankful I thought of before he left. The boat captain said a prayer, and then JE read a bible passage (I must ask her which one), and Tante T read a poem from Rilke I believe, in German.
Then the Captain arranged your ashes in a basket, with flowers. T had asked to save a part of your ashes for burial in Munich. I hope that you were ok with this, Mom. I sometimes wonder if you weren’t annoyed that your express wishes weren’t being met, of all of you put in the ocean. At the same time, I feel that you would have found this to be a nice idea. It just goes really well with how you lived your life. You were of the two countries, Germany and America. The majority of your ashes were in Santa Monica.
As the ashes were lowered into the water, I was amazed at how the swooshed out into the water. It was so lifelike, like a cloud, spreading out and about. It was alive.
Then I took Emma’s can, kissed it, opened it and carefully poured her ashes alongside yours. This gives me so much comfort to know that you two are together. Going to face the afterlife, each of you not having to go alone. You can roam the high seas together now.
There were dolphins in the distance, leaping and dancing. « Leaping and dancing before the Lord ».
As the boat circled around the ashes, we dropped flowers into the water. JE sang. Her singing was so beautiful and brought so much comfort. She was holding your rosary. We circled and squeezed each other’s hands. I still couldn’t cry though the others did. Then we sailed back to King Harbor. Then I had the excellent idea of going to the Fish Company, wasn’t that just perfect, Mom? We sat at the table where you, me and B had had lunch the year before, when he was just seven months old. It was a wonderful ending.
Wasn’t it a beautiful funeral, Mom? And the fact that later on that summer, six months pregnant, I took B to Munich and we did another memorial at the church there, and then you were buried in the plot next to Omi, in a clandestine service. Tante T put your name on the tombstone. She now has comfort that she has a place to visit you too. I hope this is ok, Mom.
That brings me to your memorial, wasn’t that a great day, too, Mom? A great party. So many people came! So many blasts from the past. It was so comforting to see how many people loved you. People from work, people from the past. We had so much food that we went on a picnic at Sycamore Canyon the next day. T and I often talk about how beautiful it all was.
I have wanted to laugh with you about some of the stressful moments. Like the morning after you died, I had to dig through my email to find your will. I remember you emailing it to me years ago, and I had brushed it off. I bet in your final moments, you were so glad you had done it. Then there was the whole snafu about finding the key. I bet you were either stressed or laughing watching us frantically trying to find the key to the safe deposit box to get your will out. That took nearly a month, didn’t it Mom? That was funny.
And wasn’t that the most awful thing, having to clear out your things? It was just about the worst pain I think I’ve ever felt. What did you think about that, Mom?
I wanted to tell you, that the afternoon before you died, I downloaded The Jungle Book on my phone. I wanted to read it to you. But I waited in the waiting room for over an hour because you were having a bath (as if that ended up serving any purpose anyway, right?) And then I had to leave.
I wish I had gotten the chance to read to you, Mom.
I have felt so bad about the fact that the week before you died, when I arrived in California, I didn’t spend enough time with you in the hospital. I went out for a nail appointment, to the promenade. But it’s just that it was so hard to see you there Mom. So hard. You couldn’t talk. You were in and out of lucidity. You were asleep so much of the time. I doubt that’s an excuse. I wish I had stayed with you more, read by you. It’s just that we also had to look after B, and he wasn’t allowed in the ER since kids aren’t allowed in there.
I hope that you forgive me for this.
Those days were filled with so much beauty even in the depths of so much sorrow. Spending time with family, J and T and R being there. Friends, showing their support, even if they were just words on facebook , it gave me so much comfort to have friends send messages. JE just proved she is the greatest friend that I’ve ever had. What she did for us. Anything we needed. She stayed with B so we could visit you in hospital. She made the pretty memorial table for your ashes at the memorial. I am so grateful for her.
Rosemary, the morning after you died, brought us a nourishing roasted chicken, rosemary bread and Caesar salad. So thoughtful. I was touched.
We stayed in California for two months to clear up your affairs. Then there was the summer, and the high pregnancy, and the birth of the baby, and Dad’s arrival for Christmas, and the baby’s baptism, and T and R coming for her baptism.
Dad stayed nearly a month. I had been trying to decide what to do with the remainder of your ashes, since the small jar that T had bought at the Getty museum for them did not have enough space for all of them. There were a couple handfuls left. I had the idea while Dad was here, that you loved France too, and maybe you should have a foot here too.
So on your birthday, the night before he left, we went to the Latin Quarter and in the shadow of Notre Dame, just up the river from the Prefecture de Police, I laid the remaining ashes into the river. Well, that’s not entirely true. There is the tiniest bit left, enough to fit in my palm. I guess I couldn’t completely let go of you yet, Mom. I hope this hasn’t impeded your entry into any eternal place. They sit on the shelf next to Emma’s empty urn. Someday, when the time is right, perhaps I will find a place to disperse them.
So, that means you lived in France, Germany and America, and now you are buried in France, Germany and America. In the Pacific Ocean with Emma, in the soil with your mother in Bavaria, and in the River Seine in the heart of Paris. That’s not too bad, is it Mom?
Isn’t that just a beautiful burial, Mom?
When Dad was here, we were talking about how we felt you were here. It was the oddest feeling. I always felt you were with me. Sitting in the empty cafe chair, sitting in the living room. After he left, the feeling lessened. I still get times when I feel you are in the room with me. But it’s not like the nine or so months after your death. When Dad left in early January, I felt that had slowly drifted. Maybe it was the settling of the rest of your ashes. But Dad said, maybe it’s because you knew I needed you still. You knew I needed you for the baby’s birth, and then you knew that I was going to be ok.
I think that is the thing that gives me a lot of comfort, is that I think you know I’m going to be ok. I am essentially starting out the second half of my life, this is the part where I get to be a mother. My children’s entire childhood lies before us. I can already see how fast it is going to go by. I am going to do my best to enjoy all of it. To tell them about you, so that they know you. To bring your legacy with us.
I hope that I am blessed enough to live as long as you did, to see the birth of my grandchildren. We never know, do we Mom? For now, I think that I need to let go of a bit of the sadness. I can’t talk about you to my kids if it makes me sad. So, know that I will always hang onto you, but that I am also going to throw myself into this next phase of my life. That I am going to enjoy this time being a mother to my children.
I truly feel in my bones that this is what you would have wanted. On the morning you went into the hospital, you told Dad that you had lived a good life. I believe that you really feel this way. You saying this gives me the gift of peace of knowing that your soul did not suffer at the time of death, that maybe this was not the way you wanted it, that you would have wanted to come visit us and know your grandchildren, but that you had been blessed too.
You don’t have to worry about us, Mom. We’re going to do well. We are doing well. I won’t worry about you either.
Perhaps I’ll write you a letter every once in a while. On your death day, for example?
Mom, thanks for the adventure. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for the love and thanks for the laughs.
Thanks for everything.
Love always, your daughter