Life is a Mystery

27 April 2011

Remembering: Utzi, Opa, and Trude

Today was Tuesday, April 27. Oma was mostly sleeping, wearing a morphine patch, and we were not even going to try to get her to exercise or get in the wheelchair. That seemed past. Dagmar suggested I get in touch with Oma’s dear friend, Tante Trude. Trude is also a great grandmother, from Oma’s generation, grew up in Krems like Oma, and now lives only a few blocks away. Trude had visited on a glorious Sunday just two weeks or so earlier and seen Oma at her best.

Dagmar knew Trude was quite active in the local parish and thought I should ask her to arrange for a priest to come see Oma. Oma had hardly gone to church since losing her daughter Utzi in a car accident while Opa was driving. Utzi had lingered for days in the hospital before dying, and Oma was terribly offended by the piss-poor job the parish did attending to her and her funeral. Still, Dagmar thought Oma would appreciate seeing a priest, and Trude could arrange that.

I told Dagmar I was very uncomfortable with the notion of asking Trude to do this. I hardly ever went visiting in Vienna, I was a loner. I’d hang out with Oma, explore the city, walk in the woods, and then return to Oma. This was well outside my comfort zone.

Alex and I did try to get out every day, and today was beautiful. I didn’t want to be gone for too long with Oma in this condition, so we decided to just go to the cemetery to visit Utzi and Opa. Friedhof Grinzing was just up the hill opposite Huschkagasse, up An den Langen Lussen. I always visited the cemetery at least once on each trip to Vienna. Utzi had been buried there all my life and I thought of her as a kind of patron saint, watching over my family. I always liked paying my respects, cleaning the grave a bit, lighting a candle. Much more recently Opa had joined his daughter in the grave, and I knew Oma expected to be laid to rest here too. I asked Utzi and Opa to help Oma. I told them she was afraid, that she needed their guidance. They told me to return home by way of Tante Trude.

Trude’s apartment was only a couple blocks from the cemetery, so Alex and I stopped there on the way back to Huschkagasse. We had not called ahead, but Trude was there. She didn’t get out much either and loved the intrusion in her day. She welcomed Alex and I to her back porch, got us something to drink, and asked us how Oma was doing. She was very sad to hear how much Oma had deteriorated since her visit, but she did not seem too surprised by it. She asked if it was time to arrange for a priest to visit, and I told her yes, I thought it was. She promised to see to it.

Alex and I returned home where Oma was still resting. But as I sat with her I saw she was not really asleep, so I talked with her a bit. I told her about our walk, said hello for Trude, and apologized for all that I had put her through the past weeks. The room she lay in was full of windows and spring sunlight streamed in as she roused herself to hold me tight. She gave me a proper hug, and though she didn’t say a word I felt her love stream into me like the spring sun and I felt her forgiveness for all, her joy at simply having me here beside her. I sensed that her fear was receding. Whether that was the morphine or the way being prepared on the other side hardly mattered. This was a hug I would remember always, it was a hug that I needed and that helps me live with what was and what was to come.

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Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org