Life is a Mystery

19 April 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: Ins and Outs

Remembering: Ins and Outs

One of the pleasures of these weeks with Oma was that, to the degree she ate anything, she liked eating the food I prepared for her. For years I had learned how to cook at her elbow. Oma had a very direct method of cooking, just tossing meat on the counter or veggies in the water, never really measuring, never fretting about cleanliness. And she would use everything, then throw whatever was left “out for the birds.”


The “birds” were huge crows, maybe ravens, that haunted the top of Husckagasse with an eye on Oma’s front yard. We could throw almost anything into the front yard, and within minutes it would be gone. Bones, meat, bread, leftovers of every sort would all vanish. If you paused in the living room and watched, you’d see three or four of these enormous black guardians descend, seek out the offerings, and fly away, beaks full. It didn’t take long. I taught Anna to trust in the birds, and just dispose of extras in the front yard. Only vegetables would ever be left lying around the next day, the birds were clearly carnivores.



Anyway, the joy for me was that I was forced to cook on my own, but with Oma only a room away. The dining room had been transformed into her bedroom, and it was connected to the kitchen by a small pass-through from the kitchen counter to the dining room counter. I could watch Oma while I cooked, pass the food into her room. Alex and I bought a small folding table at Ikea that we could set up to eat by the side of her bed, sharing mealtime. In Austria the main meal is in the middle of the day, when Americans would have lunch. We would spend that time with Oma. I learned how to cook fried chicken like schnitzel, which Oma particularly liked. Of course, her dentures were not fitting properly any longer, so chewing on bones, one of her favorite activities, was limited to weakly sucking on them. She didn’t eat much, but we could usually get her to eat something.

Still, each day was a struggle. As my message from April 19 describes, Oma was having a lot of trouble regulating both her ins and outs:

This week has been all about the ins and outs. Oma’s outs have been a problem, first coming way to fast, requiring five or six diaper changes a day, and then, after some immodium, coming way too slow and leaving Oma feeling constipated for three days. This is one roller coaster I’d rather not be on! I kind of enjoy changing baby diapers, they are often so smiley and playful in the process. Oma is not nearly so cheery about having come full circle.

The ins have also become an issue. While Oma has been drinking quite well (over one and a half liters per day) her blood work was still disturbing enough that her “house doctor” [Dr. B] wanted to start an IV. in fact, he wanted to ship her back to the hospital, but after a conversation with Dagmar and Dr. D he settled down to a handful of new prescriptions and the IV of saline per day. Unfortunately he placed the line in at the inside of Oma’s elbow, a location that sees quite a bit of motion, and she already displaced it today, after only three days.


Our goal, of course, was to get Oma out of bed. She would agree with that in principle, and had said as much to all her friends earlier in the week, but in practice she was much more reluctant. Alex and I turned our out-of-house excursions into forays into the Austrian insurance system, seeking and getting approvals for equipment like a wheelchair through what seemed like a maze of bureaucratic offices around Vienna. We discovered a host of new strassenbahn lines and pushed the boundaries of my German in the process. After weeks of hoops, we finally got the wheelchair home:


We also got in and (much more importantly) out of bed today. Alex and I hunted down the wheelchair (with a side trip to the insurance company for the right approval, of course) and brought it home on the strassenbahn this morning. Lucky for us, when we got home the physical therapist was there (for the first time since Oma got home) and helped us convince Oma to try out the chair. Even though Oma shouted “no” and “I can’t” and “not today, tomorrow” at us, she could and she did. Her trip to the front door to look at the garden did not last very long, but we were able to give her at least a brief glimpse at her sunny garden. Then back to bed.


One day at a time!

The physical therapist stressed the importance of activity for Oma, who had now been in bed for well over eight weeks. He gave us exercises for her to work on in bed, and also told us to get her sitting up in the chair at least twice a day. I had no idea how difficult this simple charge would be to carry out.


14 April 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: The Last Newspaper

Remembering: The Last Newspaper

A year ago on April 13 I wrote:

It is a very rainy Tuesday in Vienna and Alex and I have been here for almost a week. Some days, or really, more accurately, nights, have been horrible. Other hours have passed in quiet peacefulness and rest.

The couple nights before Sunday were the worst this week. Oma was awake half the night and very demanding. “Eric!” I would here her cry out at midnight or 1am or 2am. I’d trundle down in my pajamas to find her shouting for water or comfort. I know, I’m here to help and Oma has always been awake nights, but you might be surprised at how quickly such demands get old. It would be even worse for Veronica, who works all day with Oma only to hear the same cry at night. Veronica told me that on these nights she didn’t get to bed until three or four in the morning.

Sunday was a bit of a turning point in the week. Oma had many visitors, virtually all arriving at the same time, late that morning.


Heinz and Helga arrived first, Helga bearing a pot of soup for us. Then Tante Trude (Mariella’s mom) dropped in with her daughter Crystal. Finally the incredibly talkative Sigrun joined us. It was an Oma party, everyone in Oma’s room! Oma had such a nice smile on her face, and spoke so nicely with her friends, they all said she was doing so much better than the week before, that she must get up next, move about a bit. Oma agreed. Of course, soon after they left, Oma was back asleep.


Since then, though, the days and nights have been more peaceful. Today, at breakfast, Oma even read the paper and asked for a pen so she could try the word-game a bit. I think this is a first since she left the house back in February. Alex has a few pictures of the past few days at Flicker, he sent the URL so you can take a look. He will keep adding to that site.

Still, all is not well. Oma’s muscles cramp up something fierce since she has been in bed without physical therapy or massage for weeks. This has to be fixed. Heinz and I are trying to get physical therapy started and a wheelchair in the house so that we can encourage Oma to get moving. I move and massage her feet and legs, exercises I have learned with Alex, but I am sure she needs more. Day by day.

Anna is now back. A big smile spread on Oma’s face when she saw her. On we go!

Oma and Anna

Only after Anna returned did it become clear what a disaster Veronica had been for Oma. She had a large bedsore on her bottom from not being turned enough, and her muscle cramps had become much worse. I had been cooking for Oma since my return, so at least she had been eating better.

I still think of this day often, when Oma held her newspaper and filled out a few words of the crossword puzzle. Oma was trying life back on this day. It was bright shiny spring and I imagined that if we could find the right therapists and get Oma out of bed, she would land back on her feet. This was a great day.


11 April 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: Return

Remembering: Return

Ipad Alex joined me on my return to Vienna a year ago today. We were coming back to care for Oma, sick at home, so Dagmar could return to the US to attend to matters at home for a while. Our flight included a very long layover in Amsterdam, which gave me an opportunity to share our brand new iPad with the crew at the local Mac store. A few hours walking and boating around Amsterdam and we were back en route to Austria.

Dagmar had to leave the day before we were arriving, but we knew Oma, who was still bedridden, would be home. She was being cared for by Veronica for another week before Anna also returned. We found a chocolate bunny sitting on the shelf by Oma’s bed and fed her a bit of it. It was springtime, Eastertime, in Vienna, my favorite time to visit. On April 8 I wrote:

Alex and I arrived safely in Vienna last night. Oma was waiting up for us and very happy to see us arrive. She smiled and even laughed at part of our story.

Oma has had pneumonia these past few days, but we are seeing little evidence of this, her kidneys were also in a bit of trouble, but no complaints from her about this. She did, however, complain to me that she didn’t like anything Veronica was making her to eat, so I promised schnitzel for today.


After a walk around Cobenzl in the fabulous Vienna spring weather, Alex and I l got down to the business of cooking. Alex worked on cucumbers while I cooked the schnitzel. I put the whole tray in front of Oma and told her it was for her. Since I am used to cooking for a hungry family of four, that was quite a bit of schnitzel. “Um Gott es willen,” said Oma! When I returned with her real portion nicely cut into pieces she got an angry look on her face, “I hate it all cut up,” she said. Veronica warned me that she could not cut her own food, so I gave Oma an extra piece uncut, but left the cut-up portion there. Of course, she cut and ate the whole uncut piece just fine, and left the pre-cut stuff behind. Go Oma!

All in all she seems much better than she was two weeks ago, more engaged than she was two weeks ago. Alex and I will be here for a month.

I invited family to write to Oma at an email address I set up… “I’m sitting here with Oma, who does not really approve of computers. They take too much time away from life together, as she sees it. But, I have thought of something that Oma may approve of: an email address for Oma!” I found the iPad was a wonderful way to sit with Oma and still have my books to read or my email at hand. It was out-of-the-way enough that it didn’t annoy her, tapping on the screen to type was virtually silent. Alex created a Flickr photo set and started sharing pictures with the family.

It became clear that Oma and Veronica were not a good match. Veronica insisted on her way of doing things, and that way often didn’t sit well with Oma. Veronica would also back off when Oma complained, leaving her not well positioned or settled. Oma would cry out at all hours of the night for Veronica or me, which was wearing me down. Alex and I tried to spend some time away from the house every day just to get away from the tension.

29 March 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: Apart

Remembering: Apart

I was apart from Oma for the two weeks at the end of March and beginning of April 2010. Dagmar was with her, arranging for the shifts of nursing care. On March 29 I wrote:


I spoke with Dagmar this morning. Veronica, who will take Anna’s place over the next two weeks with Oma, is at the house and learning the ropes from Anna. The big news was that once Anna gets back in two weeks, she plans to stay on! In other words, no switches every two weeks. Every now and then she will have to take a break or deal with family matters (she has a nine-year-old son living with her mother in Slovakia), and at those times Curavita will supply someone else to be with Oma. But in general, Anna will be present with Oma.

Since Oma really likes Anna, this seems like a win to me.

Oma waved when Dagmar showed her the videophone with me on it. She is still in bed, but is doing well, according to those there.

Dagmar added:

I also told Anna that when I return she may bring along her boy some time, once he has summer vacation, so he wont miss her so much. I have tried to make anja feel welcome and part of the family and am glad that the effort bore fruit.

Well… “well” is relative. She will be in bed for awhile. Her blood pressure is too low and her heart beat irregular so… as I said well is relative. Tonight Dr. B made a house call and simply said… there is always hope… but her heart is weak.

Dr. B was the neighborhood doctor, who lived at the end of Oma’s block. He would stop by regularly. Oma was also being followed by Dr. D, her longtime friend and doctor who had also cared for Opa. Dr. D was more of a specialist, though, and Oma’s case did not really fit his specialty. But he was highly regarded, even by Dr. B. In addition Dagmar had arranged with the only hospice operation in Vienna, a mobile hospice, to have their doctors on call. The nurses of the mobile hospice checked in with the nurses of Curavita to make sure the home care staff, Veronica for the time being, were doing their job. It was quite an operation!

Oma and Dagmar

Meanwhile, at home, Alex was getting ready to celebrate his 18th birthday and return to Vienna with me.

28 March 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: New Technology

Remembering: New Technology

Once I landed in the States again, my incentive grew for making sure that those of us over here could communicate with her in Austria. Stephen had helped Dagmar install a Skype phone, now I really needed to use it. Here was an early success, on 3/27:

I spoke with Dagmar this morning and she said Oma was having a very good day. Oma ate breakfast by herself today. As I was on the phone, Oma started lunch. Attached is a set of images from today’s lunch. Oma eating. That is a wonderful sight to me.


It was really wonderful to be able to talk with Dagmar and Oma this way. We had also set up a frame in Oma’s room that rotated through pictures family could add to using a Flickr tag.

One of my sisters noted:

Mom’s been a little harder to catch since Natalie returned, but I have caught her once or twice on Skype to check in.

Apple was about to release the iPad as well. We had decided that Mary, Nate, Alex, and I would hold a “biggest loser” contest with the winner winning an iPad, but that would be a 3G iPad not even due out for another month. So I unilaterally decided to buy a wifi iPad and sell it in Austria at the tail end of my next visit. I really wanted something I could use to both communicate, share pictures, and read on while sitting with Oma. I’d put in my order just before leaving Vienna, now I was just hoping it would ship in time.

26 March 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: Leaving Oma Behind

Remembering: Leaving Oma Behind

The same week Oma returned to Huschkagasse I had to return to the US with Nathaniel. Before we left, though, we got to spend a couple days with Oma at home.


Anna came home from Rudolfinerhaus with Oma, which turned out to be a huge blessing. Anna was amazing, able to pull Oma up in the bed all on her own, able to listen compassionately, but still insist on doing things Oma didn’t like, like cleaning or eating. Anna came to us from Curavita in Vienna, a firm that places nursing care in the home for extended times. They typically place a nurse in the home for two weeks, followed by another for the next two weeks. These two then trade off biweekly for as long as the care is needed. The care may be part time or full time. The nurses, like Anna, are not necessarily “licensed” as we know them in the states, but they are screened and trained, usually from neighboring countries like Slovakia or Hungary. Oma clearly liked Anna, and we quickly learned why. It is amazing how quickly this sort of stress brings someone into the family. Anna became one of us.


One of the highlights for me during these first few days at home was that Nate, who had been faithfully practicing with his cello the whole two weeks, finally got to play where Oma could hear him. He’d been too shy to bring his cello to the hospital, but sharing this with Oma at home was easy, he just practiced in the living room while she lay in the next room. Oma clearly enjoyed this connection, and the chance to hear Nate play.

Kahlenbergerstr Ghosts

Having Oma at home was wonderful, but I also needed to get away from the stress and silence of the house. We went for walks, on missions to Ikea, and visiting easter markets and other haunts around Vienna. One very special visit was to the Jewish Museum, where one permanent exhibit shows ghostly holograms of artifacts from lives lost, from a past that can no longer be touched. There we also saw a temporary art exhibit of works created by Viennese artists who were killed by the Nazi regime. One painting struck me particularly, it portrayed Kahlenberg from the same street we often walked on. This is a walk that my Opa took me on before he died and it was a walk that often soothed me during Oma’s illness and at many other times of stress in Vienna. I was so moved to find this beautiful image of my special walk painted so lovingly by someone who was so unappreciated at the time that he was thrown away by his society. It was labeled “Alte Kahlenberger Straße, 1933” by Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg. Would we all be so forgotten? Do our spirits linger in the places we love?

Standing+stephen Standing

Oma was getting stronger these days. She was sitting up in bed regularly. We were eager to see her improve and pushed her to do more. At one point, Stephen and I tried to help her stand with Anna hovering nervously nearby. Oma was super shaky. She certainly could not stand on her own. We held her for a minute and then let her down again. She was quite relieved when the ordeal was over. I was impressed by her frailty, being that close helped me understand how weak she really was.

Trude Sigrun

The thrum of the oxygen generator became the sound of the house, the curtains across the dining room, now Oma’s bedroom became our new normal. The visitors began to stop by to see Oma. Her dear Trude, faithful Sigrun, amazing neighbors Heinz and Helga, problem solver Gerd, along with the evolving medical team of Curavita, the local mobile hospice service, and the neighborhood doctor from the bottom of Huschkagasse. Dagmar planned to stay in the mix until I could return in April, but for now it was time to leave Oma in her new matrix and pray that she would recover with the help of this wonderful community around her.

The nights were rough. Oma continually cried out for help, pressed the buzzer for Anna, woke us looking for attention and solace. I was only got two hours sleep the night before Nate and I left. I can’t say I was terribly upset to get the relief of an ocean between me and the situation, but I was terribly afraid that I would not be there with Oma. We left on Tuesday 3/23.

I returned from Austria yesterday, so we are no longer with Oma. Natalie will be returning from Vienna tomorrow. Dagmar will be alone with Oma and her nurse (Anna) as of Thursday. She will stay in Vienna until April 6th. I plan to go back to Vienna on April 6th (possibly with Alex) and stay through May 4th. I think Dagmar plans to go back in mid-May.

Two days later, on 3/25, Dagmar wrote to me with increasing concern:

well…yesterday her blood pressure dropped so low the doctors did think we might loose her. the other problem may be her kidneys. has had problems with those for a while.

This would clearly not be a comfortable few weeks in America.


20 March 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: Oma Comes Home

Remembering: Oma Comes Home

Time dilates when the stresses pile on. Anyone who has tended a loved one in the ICU or lived through the aftermath of an accident experiences this rush of events that can hardly seem, in retrospect, to fit the time they were given on a calendar. This week with Oma and Stephen and Dagmar and Natalie and Nathaniel was dilated this way. How did we do everything we did?

We are pretty sure she will come home this week, but nothing is certain. She has been improving, more ready to smile or joke, more ready to try foods again, maybe even sleeping a bit. We have oxygen at home now, still waiting for the bed. Dagmar has worked hard to get care for Oma set up at home, the outfit doing this will be shadowing the nursing staff at the hospital for a couple days to get the routine down, then we hope on Friday to bring Oma back to H9.

It will be quite strange at home even if Oma does return. Right now it feels empty without her. But if she is lying and recovering/crying out in the diningroom/now/bedroom that will be very odd as well.

I have pictures of walksEastermarket Walking with Nathaniel and Stephen, somehow finding time to get out in the Vienna woods, or visit the easter markets around town in the spring. Finding ways to enjoy this wonderful second home our family shared.

Spring sprung in Vienna today. The sun came out after two weeks of snow, rain, and cloudy days. After Oma’s bed arrived this morning, Stephen, Nathaniel, and I took a walk from up on Kahlenberg to Nussdorf while Natalie and Dagmar visited Oma and took delivery of the mattress.

Gabriella asked me about how Nate was doing:

He says he is doing good. He is sad and worried for Oma, but he certainly helps me stay on an even keel. We do a few normal things together, going for walks, going to get ice cream, we’ll go to a movie this week.

I have pictures of us shoppingReady Sillybubbles for the things we would need to transform Oma’s dining room into a recovery room. The bubble wrap for the dishes. The boxes to pack up everything. The curtains to hang for privacy from the living room. We thought Oma would like the light of the room, the view of Cobenzl above. We knew we would appreciate the access to the kitchen and the proximity to the living room.

I have pictures of the visitorsVisit to Oma’s hospital room, where she began to smile a little and believe that she might actually make it home after all. She would not die today, instead she would talk with Günther. She would not die today, instead she would eat. She would not die today, instead she would argue with Dagmar. Anna, who would be so important and wonderful in the coming weeks, also appeared in our lives.

By this afternoon when I stopped by RH, Oma was so sound asleep she didn’t even flinch when she got a shot in the leg. Later she woke and told Dagmar she was worried about the move home. This seemed quite wise to me, as life has been pretty easy on Oma in the hospital, if you overlook all the outright suffering. Home will be substantially more demanding. Without IVs she will have to eat and drink more regularly. The noise around the house will be greater than what she deals with at RH. And Anna, the first caregiver from Curavita (the 24 hour care service), does not have quite the grasp of German we had hoped for. We expect Oma to be “delivered” home around 2pm tomorrow, it will be quite a challenge. At least Oma will get to hear Nathaniel practice his cello!

When the moment finally arrivedWaiting Return on May 19th, it was a bit of a shock.

Milestone: Oma is in the house.

She had a pretty stressful transfer, with a ride down from the top of Huschkagasse in a stretcher that was no fun at all (though Nate might have enjoyed it). She fell asleep soon after getting home.

Oma would still need oxygen. Oma would need 24 hour nursing care. Oma would be bedridden for likely weeks. But Oma would come home. She arrived in an ambulance at Huschkagasse 9 and was wheeled into the room we had prepared. She was home.


15 March 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: Aiming for Home

Remembering: Aiming for Home

This was a week of struggling to get Oma strong enough to go home, while also preparing the way for her to be there.

March 13th:

I think Noelle was essentially correct in saying that there was “no significant improvement” yesterday. However, Oma did hit some significant milestones yesterday. She stood up for the first time this week. Twice. She sat at a table. She sat up to try to eat. These were all exhausting for her, though. Her body is clearly improving, but her state of mind is not making the same progress. Her language was a bit less clear yesterday than the day before. And she shows little interest in moving toward health and away from the end, in my view anyway. Even though the doctor has said she could come home next week I would be very surprised if that was the case. However, I would be equally surprised to find she has died next week.

Still, each day has been a journey, for her and us. So I can’t really predict a thing. Oma is doing both well, and horribly poorly, depending on your perspective. We smile and weep in equal measure. I wonder what today will bring.

March 15th:

Conversations? You can hardly call them that. Tommy [a family friend and her lawyer] refuses to talk to her because she is not coherent enough to make binding decisions. Dagmar has tried, but not really gotten through. Oma has made decisions, we all more or less know them, but she failed to assign anyone the power to carry them out.

For a few days it seemed she just wanted to go, meaning to die. But today (and yesterday too, maybe) she began to accept that she was not dying and had to either eat and go home or not eat and end up in some kind of nursing facility. The latter is her nightmare, so she has started eating. Today she rifled through her purse with Dagmar and complained about various things, even ticking Dagmar off. For me, seeing the tension rise between mother and daughter was a sign that mother is on the mend.

This won’t be simple. She needs quite a lot of care still. Dagmar is arranging 24 hour in-house care for Oma. Those folks will do another eval on Wednesday to be sure they can pull it off.

This evening when we stopped by to see her she was sound asleep. Sleep has been very difficult for her, so this was another good sign. We let her rest peacefully in bed. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Natalie had even introduced Oma to an iPod. Ipod Oma told us she loved the Chopin Études, so we tried to make sure she could hear a bit of her favorite music.

Dagmar worked hard on logistics (finding a bed for the house, considering a renovation of the downstairs bathroom, finding nursing care) and legalities (getting a lawyer and notary to document Oma handing off legal authority to Dagmar, making sure Oma’s will was in place and up-to-date, seeing that Oma’s wishes for end-of-life care were clear). These were arduous and painful tasks made more challenging by the unfamiliar bureaucracy of Austria.

Meanwhile, we had moments of Vienna.Musikverein Nathaniel and I did get to see the Tonkünstler orchestra play at the Musikverein. We sat in the front row!

I also began to realize that two weeks was not going to be enough time in Vienna. While I had to return Nathaniel to school, I also started looking at a return to Vienna in April, possibly with Alex. I was pretty sure Oma would still need us.

13 March 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: Rudolfinerhaus

Remembering: Rudolfinerhaus

Cat Nathaniel and I arrived at the Vienna airport on Thursday March 11th and met my brother Stephen there. I like taking public transit in Vienna, so we all took the City Airport Train together. The route home to Huschkagasse from the airport goes right past Rudolfinerhaus on Billrothstrasse. This time, we didn’t go home, Oma lay in Rudolfinerhaus and we wanted to see her first thing.

Back in February of 2010 Oma I got a call while I was traveling to Code4Lib. Dagmar was very concerned because she had just spoken with Oma and Oma seemed very disconnected, she wanted me to call Oma and see what I thought. So while I waited for my plane I gave Oma a ring and said hello. We’d talked at least once every few weeks for the past few years. She always was complaining of being dizzy and not feeling particularly well. Her life sounded unimaginably lonely to me, and Dagmar and I had been asking her to consider moving to a nursing home just to be around more people. On this Monday (2/22) in February she had lost consciousness for a bit, she was lying down on her couch not feeling well at all, she was mad that her cleaning lady had been gone and unable to help. She sounded a bit off, but her wits were gathering around her. She was going to head to the hospital and was waiting for the taxi.

I was very concerned, talked with Dagmar again, and decided to fly to Vienna to see Oma in March. We assumed Oma would be out of the hospital by then, but we wanted to have a difficult conversation with her about the future, about a nursing home, or at least about home care that went beyond unreasonable expectations of cleaning ladies. Mary and I decided that Nathaniel could miss two weeks of school and join me on this trip. We began to make arrangement that same day.

Oma did improve at the hospital after what was determined to likely have been a stroke. She was in Rudolfinerhaus, a very nice private clinic only a few blocks from home. Her doctor, Dr. Djavan, practiced Urology there and had cared from her husband, my grandfather. Her case was not particularly up his alley, but they were fast friends, she trusted him, he cared for her, and Rudolfinerhaus was always her her destination when a medical crisis called her away from home. I talked with her often during those weeks, and she always expected to head home in another week or two. She was very excited that I was visiting with Nathaniel, she looked forward to hearing him play cello. But something else always came up, another bad spell, another poor test result, another procedure to be done, so the date of her return home kept receding into the future.

The day Nathaniel and I left Minnesota was the same day that she experienced another, more severe, stroke. Dr. Djavan told us to hurry, Dagmar and my sister Natalie decided to get on the next plane to Vienna. There was no question for Stephen and Nathaniel and I that Rudolfinerhaus would be our first stop, all that awaited us at Huschkagasse, after all, was a spooky silence. We stepped of the streetcar and walked into the hospital in our scruffy travel clothes pulling our bags behind us. We found Oma in a quite single room on the second floor.

It was a shock. She was asleep, but looked incredibly worn. She had not been responding to the nursing care since her stroke the day before. We bent close, we held her hand, we let her know we were there. We didn’t really get words back, but we did get a response. That room in Rudolfinerhaus became the center of our universe.

I can hardly express how much it meant to me to share this experience with Nathaniel. I could not cry that morning, but Nathaniel wept in the hall. I needed his tears and I needed the future he represented. We had lived with Oma for six months in 2007, and I was so glad he knew her enough to feel the pain of this moment so keenly. She was not the person we had known so well, and yet, there she was, still with us and needing us. It was awful, but it was also an amazing gift. I had space in my life that let me be with Oma, be with Nathaniel, and be with my mother and sister who would gather together the next day.

Although Rudolfinerhaus became the center of the universe, Cellopickupit was not the whole universe. Having Nathaniel along helped ensure that. He had become a cellist in his school orchestra, and he needed to stay in practice. We found that Vienna is full of cellos for rent, and got one the next day from a little shop tucked into the block with the Musikverein. Excursions like this, or to get ice cream or go shopping balanced the intensity of Oma’s room. It was wonderful to be in Vienna!

Headingdown Thelook Dagmar and Natalie arrived, and we all started to take shifts with Oma, pulling her back to us with our care and presence. One year ago today was one of the victorious milestones of this journey: Oma sat up in her bed. Threeheadssitup Holdingon She had outlasted Dr. Djavan’s worst fears, but it was unclear what that meant. Could there be a fate worse than death? As Dagmar wrote a year ago on this day:

living in limbo may be worse? i wish oma could trust the universe enough to just give her power, whats left of it, to tommy her lawyer or her only child….but i am afraid thats asking for more than is possible. i honestly don’t believe she understands the full implications of her stubborn refusal to trust us.

meanwhile she was doing much worse last night.

she has difficulty breathing even with oxygen, is in pain from a back injury she suffered when she fell during her last stroke, won’t eat and drinks very little. all together not a great recipe for recovering?
then again….”with god all things are possible”.

We bought some supplies to pack up everything in her dining room. The mission for the next week and a half became clear: we were going to bring Oma home.


9 March 2011 . Comments Off on Remembering: One Year Ago

Remembering: One Year Ago

One year ago today I got a call from Dr. Djavan, my grandmother’s doctor in Vienna. Oma was very ill, she had been in the hospital already for a few weeks and I was planning a to visit. In fact, Nathaniel and I would be leaving later that day. Dr. Djavan was calling us to say he didn’t think Oma would last much longer. He had done all he could, but the downward spiral had begun and would get faster as the days passed. He was trying to reach my mother so he could tell her to come quickly.

The whole Cleveland branch of the family went on the hunt for Dagmar. She is usually so easy to reach, one cell phone call away. But today, with this urgent news, nobody could find her. She was out of touch.

I have scattered emails and notes about the two months that followed. I want to record them here, in a series of posts over the next few months. I want to remember what it was like to share these last weeks with Oma. She did indeed die, but not right away. As I said to family that evening one year ago: “I am not sure how much longer Oma has with us or what the next hours and days of her journey will bring, but I’m sure she can use your prayers. I am heading to Vienna this evening, so I’ll keep you posted from there once I arrive tomorrow.”

This will be a retelling of that story, with maybe a few more recent reflections woven in.

One year ago today I wrote this, I’ll share it with you today:

I find myself crying and praying.
But I’m not sure what for.

My Oma is dying, and I certainly don’t want to keep her.
Let God and the universe have her soul
her energy
her courage
her love.

I don’t want to keep her,
but I do want to he there for her.
To help her in whatever way I can.
To make some waffles or a boiled egg.

I want to tickle her one more time.
Play cards.
Talk about her in the fields as a young girl,
see the wonder in her eyes.

I want to let her know, again, how much I love her.
That I will never forget her.
That I am so happy my children have known her and will remember her.

My Oma is dying, and I don’t want to keep her.
But it is so so hard to let her go.


Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /