I don’t know where to start. I just knew I wanted to edit all the picture I have been meaning to edit since coming back from Germany a month ago.
So I did. Some pictures made me smile and then I’d have to stop and dry the flood if tears and hold my mouth closed because I just can’t believe this is really happening and I don’t know if I want to scream or cry more.
My head hurts from crying. But I just want to get through this blog post. I want to post those special pictures. I want you all to know my wonderful Papa. I want the whole world to know how much I love him.
Don took Landon to my mother-in-law’s house so I could be alone.
It was exactly a month ago when I was in Germany with Landon to celebrate my Papa’s 85. birthday.
I already blogged about the first 10 days of our trip to Germany that lead up to his birthday, and the next blog post was going to be about his 85. birthday — the big celebration of that big day with our little family and many of my parents’ friends.
It’s almost as if those pictures I shot that day waited to be looked at and edited today.
I feel so blessed to have those pictures and videos.
A few hours ago I received a phone call and I heard my brother’s voice on the other end, far away. He never calls.
“Dagmar, I have bad news.”
My dad died today, suddenly, from an undetected heart defect, in a hospital in the town in Germany he was born in 85 years and one month ago.
I never before heard myself cry out in that deep voice. Those sounds came from somewhere I had never felt or expressed before.
This morning he was at home with my mom and told her he wasn’t feeling right. My mom wasn’t with him when he passed away, she had been assured she would be called when his test would be done, but the nurse said he was never in pain. I pray to God that’s the truth. He passed away while my mom was on her way back to the hospital with the bag for his overnight stay.
I’m numb. I’m in shock. I’m writing all this and I know it’s true, but I want to be able to will it to not be true.
My dad was the most gentle, self-less, generous, brave, proud, honorable man I know.
When I moved to America, I first lived at an illegally run hostel in Los Angeles, and a week after I got there I received a package. My dad had boxed up his most prized possession — a teddy bear he had had since childhood that was the only thing that had survived the war. It arrived with a note that said: “Your Papa thought you shouldn’t be alone in this big, far-away country…”
That’s the kind of man my dad was. He was a man of few words, but this act of kindness was his way of showing me how much he loved and missed me. That teddy bear has been with me now for 18 years here in the U.S and is right now sitting in our bedroom. Oh, the stories it could tell!
He was generous while also being very smart with money. He was an architect and loved numbers. He worked for the same company for over 40 years. His little family — my mom, my brother and I — was everything to him. He came home for lunch to be with us every workday and would take a nap with our little dog in his arms before heading back.
He wouldn’t let us chew gum growing up because he thought that looked just awful, and he was a stickler when it came to manners and grammar. He didn’t like to eat chicken or fish, so we never had it growing up. He taught my brother and me to swim at a young age and we only found out years later that he was a terrible swimmer and would just stand in the pool :)
He was terrified that something would happen to us so we had to swear to never get on a motorcycle. We never have. I’m going to make L swear the same thing.
He couldn’t stand that I move to America, so far away, but he always supported me. He knew I was happy here and that was more important to him than his desire to have me live next door.
When I wanted to study in Los Angeles, he and my mom paid the huge bills for community college and UCLA. He beamed with pride when he saw me give the Valedictorian speech at Pasadena City College.
No one will ever know what kind of horror he went through as a 17-year-old boy in World War II. Bombs exploded around him and he was the only one left standing — all the other boys he had been grouped together with days before as cannon fodder at the end of the war were injured or died.
He was smart. He was shot in the finger and put a coin under the bandage so it would get infected, which got him to the war hospital and on the last train out of where he was. When he realized it was going in the wrong direction and not heading back to Germany, he jumped off the train and with a lot of luck (a drunken officer gave him papers to go back to his home town), he knocked on his parent’s door a few days before the end of the war. He said everyone else on that train was never heard from again.
I don’t know much more because my dad didn’t want to talk about his war experiences. And I must say I never pressured him for more information as a way to honor his wishes.
But I know that he had survivor guilt every day for the rest of his life. And that he never had anyone to talk to about that. And that he never expected to get to be 85 years old. And that he wasn’t afraid of death.
He visited the cemeteries in France of his fallen comrades several times in the last 10 years. Instead of gifts, he always asked for donations for the nonprofit that takes care of graves of German soldiers. And this year he told my mom that he needed to go one more time — he had promised his mom he would find the grave of his fallen uncles.
My mom said she just couldn’t bear to do another one of those tours of just cemeteries and all that sadness day after day. I understand. She told her sister, and my aunt’s gift for his birthday was that she would drive my mom and dad to France to make that wish come true.
She could not have given my dad a more welcome gift — he was so touched, he couldn’t talk after reading her card. I have that moment on video. We were all in tears; words were not necessary. We all knew this meant the world to him.
They were going to go in a few months. Only a few more months! Why now?!
I’m sick to my stomach. I have to fly back to Germany. I was just there. My mom doesn’t even know where to start. My brother is saying he will stay with my mom for a month or so. For how long will I go back? Who will take care of Landon? Are we all going — Don, Landon and I? What about all my work? I just want to see my mom, brother, aunt, and niece; I don’t want to see all the other people there.
I was up until 5 in the morning working on something super important that has to get in the mail, and all of a sudden that doesn’t seem important anymore.
So here are some pictures of my dear dad and the thoughts that went through my head when I was editing them. But first a video: this is so typical, my dad didn’t say a word but loved to make people laugh:
Opening presents in pajamas, a family tradition after he woke up to us singing the Happy Birthday song:
I had brought a few of L’s preschool crafts as a birthday gift, and the hat was perfect for my dad!
Going straight for the chocolate, of course :)
My dad and mom laughing after he gets certificates for his favorite, cheap breakfast place (breakfast for 2 Euros) from my niece. Such a great idea – my mom and dad would go there twice a week.
This is a picture of my dad when he was younger that hangs in our garden house. He loved to eat, can you tell? :)
My dad’s favorite cake: whipped cream cake with nuts and marzipan.
Always the first one at the table :)
My mom is such a wonderful hostess, she always decorates everything so lovely.
One of my favorite pictures of the birthday party: my beautiful Mama and strapping Papa at the restaurant.
Surrounded by love — this is just half of the people that were at his birthday party.
And I got some rare photos of my Dad with Landon, his only grandchild, that I will cherish forever:
Saying good-bye for the last time.
Oh, how I wish you could have spend more time with your Opa, Landon.
Papa, I love you so much! I will miss you so. Thank you for always letting us know how much you loved Mama and Oliver and me, even without many words.
You might have loved sleeping even more than eating. May you rest in peace, Papa. I know you are watching over me.