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Lieber Opa,

Updated: May 13

Schöne Grüße an Mama.



To the man who always made sure we were well-fed, well-traveled, and looked after even as he lay dying. If you need anything, he said over and over in his hospice bed, just ask. He gave us everything he could: spargel and watches and sweaters and knives. Coffee and cake. He peddled off his yogurt every time. Du kannst alles aufessen.



He took me on a hot air balloon ride when I was 17 and we landed in a potato field, although it was more of a rough bounce: he flew from one side of the basket to the other and laughed, his glasses slanted on his nose. He told me he'd love to go skydiving (he never did). A few summers later, we ran from the bus stop home in pouring rain, drenched and cracking up. While I slept on their couch, he biked to get fresh bread and meat and cheese from the bakery down the road. At the breakfast table, he'd cut open roll after roll and tell me to eat more and more (I'd gain ten pounds every time I visited). Alles langsam, he'd remind me. Wir haben Zeit. I'd see him later doing push-ups against the kitchen counter; at 78 years old, he could always do more than me.



Oma has already said so often that Opa was such a proud, independent and outdoors-loving man that his passing at last is a blessing, and after four months in a hospital bed it is, oh it is.


 

Danielle and I talked to Oma and Opa a lot after mom died: sometimes three or four times a month. They called us on every single birthday and every American holiday, and often twice for Christmas: once on Germany's Christmas (December 24) and once on ours. I've never been the best at calling but I tried to remember: I FaceTimed them from ocean shores and mountain summits. Kuck dat mal an, Opa would puff his cheeks and smile riesengröß. Sehr schön.

Between Oma's quatsching, Opa would remind us to keep both hands on the wheel. Immer aufpassen. Genieß den Leben. Have fun, but never get in debt. Stay healthy above anything else. Eat honey. Take naps. Be careful that you don't catch a cold. Look at us, he'd beam, we're 86, 87, 88-- we're still healthy and strong, we never go to the doctor. We know, Danielle and I would shake our heads, it's really amazing.


We bragged a lot about him. He never needed a cane, medicine or machines, not until the end. He survived a bout of colon cancer a couple of years ago and bounced right back: he and Oma did their yearly pilgrimage to the Ostsee; they wrote us cards and sent us packages; they called Logan and sang him happy birthday in off-key English even though he and I are divorced (they asked me first if that was okay).


Whenever we told Opa we loved him, he said he loves us too, but we know that already. He was never a good hugger, but the last few months he held my hand until I'd let go; he'd squeeze it and gaze at me and Danielle with twinkling brown eyes; he'd light up whenever we walked into the room. And you're going to Iceland when? Opa asked almost every time I visited him. Passing away the day before I flew back to Berlin was maybe his last expression of love, of protecting Danielle and me from catastrophe as much as he could, from the war he'd grown up with. He guided us gently these last few months, always smiling and asking us how we were, but shielded us from seeing the half-conscious horror we'd witnessed with Mom. He was fluent in the language of gift-giving and perhaps that was his final act: holding it together enough for Danielle and me to say tschüss Opa, ich liebe dich, while he could still comprehend what it meant.


 

To you, Opa--for constantly reminding me to enjoy life now, to eat now, travel now--but to eat slowly (I fail at that) and take my time. Thank you for helping fund every domestic or international trip I've ever taken, and college, and my house. Thank you for providing, giving, loving. Thank you for showing me what a happy old man looks like, for demonstrating how grateful bombs can make you for shelter--and for every little thing. I know you'd just smile and say nichts zu danken, du bist unsere Enkelkind, but I'll say it again: thank you, thank you...


November 15, 1933 to June 16, 2023 (CEST)

89 years old


Rest in Peace. ❤️

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