16 May 2011

Remembering: Oma’s Funeral

A year ago was Oma’s funeral. Below is a summary of the day I sent my high school advisor a couple days later.

The entire day went well. Everything that had to be done before we headed to the cemetery got done with no real issues. Sunday was quite a rainy day, but that seemed appropriate.

We went up to the cemetery around 9:30, getting there around 9:45, the trip there is just down the hill Oma’s (now Dagmar’s…) house is on and up another just across the street. As family we really had to be there a bit over an hour ahead. After taking a look at the chapel where the funeral service would take place (which felt to me like stepping right into the binder of pictures of the place at the funeral home I’d seen a few weeks ago) some of us took a walk out to the gravesite (the same one that Oma’s younger daughter and husband were previously buried in). That was nice, to see the grave dug up and prepared for the last bit of the funeral ahead of actually being there with the casket. When Dagmar arrived (she was driven up a little while after all the rest of us walked up) she gave the permission for us all to get one final look at Oma before the guests arrived. For Eric, Anna, and I, that was especially hard. I guess because the original plan was for Oma to be cremated, but Dagmar chose otherwise at practically the last moment, the people at the funeral home hadn’t really cleaned her up. Eric actually had to show people the pictures we had taken of her on April 28th just after we had cleaned her up just so that their final image of Oma wouldn’t be the almost-mess of a job that the funeral home people left her in. Eric started his iPad recording audio just as the guests started to arrive, a lot of whom I’d met at one point or another in the past 18 years of me being here off and on. The funeral service itself was led by one of the bishops who’d ordained Dagmar a Roman Catholic priest a few years back and one of Dagmar’s friends who’d gone through the ordination process with her. Aside from the obvious amount of grief and crying from everyone (but especially all of us, her immediate descendants) the service was quite pleasant. When the time came for anyone who wanted to to comment I spoke of the time I spent with her during her final 3 weeks and of the fact that both on April 28th and there at the funeral I was not just myself, but also a channel allowing all my cousins to be present as well. As we processed behind the casket to the gravesite it was raining and as a result quite cold and windy, but even after being handed my raincoat and hat by Anna I didn’t put either on. I just didn’t care too much how cold or wet I got during this time. It was hard seeing them lower Oma’s casket into the grave, and none of us could really stop crying at least slowly, but it did feel like a nice form of some sort of closure. As I had predicted, it was harder for Eric or I to cry during all this than it was for the rest of my family because we saw the suffering she went through that last week firsthand and knew her death to be a small relief amidst the sadness of her dying.

After the service we all went to one of Oma’s favorite restaurants and as a group of 40+ (Dagmar had reserved space two weeks earlier) had one of Oma’s favorite meals. That was quite nice, and in ways the enormous amount of leftovers we took back to the house was nice too. Everyone could talk with everyone else about their memories of Oma as well as assorted other topics. We didn’t walk back to the house until around 3 pm.

The rest of the day was spent with most of us just sitting around in the living room talking and looking at old photo albums. With all 5 of my dad’s siblings here plus Dagmar plus the 3 of us (Mary, Nathaniel, and myself) it was quite crowded between Saturday morning when the last 3 siblings arrived and this morning when 2 of them left. It was the first and last time all of them were here at the same time.

Obviously we’re all quite deeply sad about losing Oma, but at least for Eric and myself this also means losing the most steady home both of us have had all our lives. It is hard to think about the fact that when I leave this house Sunday evening I won’t ever be coming back, never again be walking up Hungaberg (the hill that her street goes up). I’ve really lived in three places since I was born, throughout all of them this house has stayed a constant home. That is almost as hard to be losing as losing my great-grandmother is. Vienna will never stop being a home in itself for me, but this house no longer being here will be a hard change. I don’t really think that I’ll be able to be completely sad and grieving about any of this until I’m back in MN (and likely until after I’m done with my crazy busy and important first full day being back).

As with the posts back in April feel free to comment on this post.

28 April 2011

Remembering: A Walk in the Woods then Channeling my Family to an Important Moment

Today started out quite like any other day had. I woke up and after Eric took his shower I took mine. Eric told me that he’d likely be downstairs by the time I was out, I told him that I had expected that so why did he tell me again. As I was drying myself off Eric poked his head into the bathroom and asked if I’d be interested in spending the morning taking a walk in the Vienna Woods to and from Hermanskogel, I said that of course I would be. Eric also told me that Oma’s breathing was sounding quite bubbly and led me to her to hear it for myself and say good morning to her, here I felt like it was the end for Oma after hearing her with my own ears. But before we went to her he first sent out an update email to the family list mentioning the 2-3 day estimate of Oma’s life and that we would be taking this walk as Oma’s eyes saying good-bye to the Vienna Woods for her.

On the way to the Oberer Reisenbergweg stop of the 38A bus we got some sweet bakery items and sparkling juice at Bakery Swartz. We tried to stop at the church, but the doors were locked so we decided to try again on our return. The locked church, along with the ominous sky, were the first two “signs” of the day. We ate the sweets while waiting for the 38A and drank some of the juice while we waited as well. When we got on the bus it turned out that we were on the same bus as a school field trip to the petting zoo on Cobenzl.

When we arrived at Cobenzl I finished off the sweet breads before we reached the steep incline that leads to the Kretzung. The walk up to the Kretzung was fairly uneventful, equal to one we had taken earlier in the trip, the leaves were green on the second walk, it was just the first walk were they didn’t exist and this walk was the 3rd or 4th walk. At the Kretzung we stopped to drink and take pictures by the cross/Mary statue that is there.

Then we continued on the path to Jagerwiese. At Jagerwiese we stopped to rest a bit and just look at the meadow in front of us. We noted the map that we’d also seen and taken a photo of at Cobenzl and planned to maybe eat lunch here on our return. After taking a few photos of the animals in their little “zoo” we continued on the steep climb to Hermanskogel. It took only 10 or 12 minutes to get between Jagerwiese and Hermanskogel, and I thought that the entire walk was shorter than it should have been. The time was something like 11:32. Eric and I noted the days that the tower was open and sat on the steps thinking about how we might take other family on this walk if they had to be here for Oma’s funeral. We ended up finishing the juices while sitting here.

When we left, in the theoretical planning for if we had other family here to take this walk, we followed a different path back, so much for eating lunch at Jagerwiese. This path should take us to Sievering, where we’d then get on the 39A bus to the 38 streetcar for our final return, also so much for stopping at the church. We followed the path markers as best we could all the way down to the rough equivalent altitude as Jagerwiese must be. We ended up at a splitting of the paths and instead of going straight we turned to follow the creek now at our right. Somewhere before this we had seen a jogger pass and decided to follow her, also somewhere in here Eric had some recognition of being on this path before. The jogger took us through a very muddy pathway, then we lost sight of her and ended up at the aforementioned splitting of paths.

Soon after starting to follow the creek we came across a dam of some man-made sort and Eric asked me to hold his bag while he took some photos of the creek on both sides. He then needed my help to scramble back up without falling into the rocky bed of the creek. Further on we had to carefully cross this creek and then realized that we should have just crossed on the dam. The crossing, like many other parts of this walk, was a very muddy ordeal because of the rain the previous day. Soon after this we came across a sign that noted we were in the wrong direction, but the Tree Circle was 20 minutes in front of us.

We ended up climbing up to another road while on the path to the Tree Circle. As it turned out the road was the road at the intersection of the lower path from the Kretzung and the Tree Circle itself. So we went up to the Tree Circle and took pictures of both the trees and plaques of Oma, Eric, Mary, Nathaniel, and myself. We then walked along the meadow back to the bus stop and ended up riding the same bus the school children did back down. The driver had to stop to tell the teachers to get the kids to not press the Stop button for every stop partway back to Grinzing. We got out before Grinzing so we could check the church one final time. This time (at about 12:00) the church was open, so we went inside and lit candles for Oma and prayed to the Mother of God, just as Oma was apparently calling out to her the past few days.

We slowly made our way back up to Huchkagasse 9 and got back sometime around 12:30 or 13:00. Oma was sound asleep, and according to Anna had been all morning, so we just let her be. Later Eric would tell her all about our walk.

We sat with Oma most of the day, but first I remember writing an update email to my high school advisor and talking to Mary and Nathaniel on Skype. As Mary hadn’t yet looked at her email I told her to read Eric’s update. When she was done reading the email she was crying. Apparently all of Eric’s siblings called in and talked with him/Oma, so did Mary. I was downstairs eating leftover spaghetti from the evening before and then went back to my regular seat on Oma’s right side to sit. Somewhere in here Eric turned on the Oma pictures on the TV and we were telling Anna the stories of some of these. Luckily Oma slept through the photos of Nathaniel on Halloween. We also saw a spider just sitting in the top corner of the room near the kitchen that then stayed there the rest of the day.

When Eric and I got peckish we ate both bugles and tried Heinz’s store-bought “American Chocolate Chip Cookies”, which we both hated, so we ate some ice cream from Ruckenbaurers we got a day or two earlier. By now it must have been 14:00 or 15:00. While sitting there I told Eric about how Mary had told me that Oma had told her what dress she wanted to be buried in. At some point after a while of sitting there and enjoying myself I got up and put some of the snacks away. Then I saw something Eric was doing on the iPad that somehow gave me an idea for the FT Touch timer persistence, I have no idea how I got from one to the other, but the point is that I did.

So I went upstairs but before walking into the room and sitting down at the desk I went to the bathroom. It took me probably about 20-30 minutes before I emerged, but while sitting there I’d told myself that all I really needed to do was add in the one ivar and its persistence today. Then I sat down at the desk and opened up Xcode and the FT Touch source code. This must have been something like 17:25 or 17:30. I added the ivar + its persistence and also got started on the PracticeSession function that would implement it.

Then I heard Anna call my name and my adrenaline levels rose dramatically in less than a second, it must have been something like 17:37 or 17:40. I knew that only two things would be reasons for Anna to so hurriedly call me down: Either Eric was hurt, or more likely it was the final minutes of Oma’s life.

I rushed downstairs (so immediately that I left everything as it was, my computer open, etc.) and didn’t even need Eric to tell me that Oma was dying right then for me to figure it out. I immediately stood next to Oma holding her left hand tightly (she was lying on her right side) and started saying “Alles ist in Ordnung”, “Ich libe dich”, and “We’ll miss you, but it is okay to go” repeatedly to her while Anna and Eric kept track of her slowing pulse on neck and wrist. For a few minutes there it was like dark comedy with none of us knowing exactly what to look for to tell that someone had died. After a little while we became sure she was dead, I checked my watch for the time, and we noted the time as being 17:42. It was in the very moment that Oma died that I felt as if I was not just myself but also channeling all the other great-grandchildren into this moment.

There was one moment when one final quick pulse came after two or three minutes of none, and that made us jump, but as no other pulses came we figured there were no more to come. We then started to straighten Oma out and when we did that some more of this brown apple stuff came out with what we later determined was air just getting out of her body, but it made Anna jump back quickly and us all reconsider if she was dead for a second or two. Then we started cleaning her off one final time.

It must have been 17:45 or 17:47 when Trude called to ask how Oma was doing. Eric simply said something like: “Well, Trude, she just died.” Trude started crying and had to excuse herself. We then called the hospice doctor and the city. Next we had to call Dagmar. At this time I was on the other side of Oma’s body sitting where Eric had been most of the afternoon. When Dagmar first picked up and Eric said “Oma just died”, Dagmar responded “Who is this?” like either she simply couldn’t hear him or subconsciously refused to believe that Eric was telling her that her mother just died. After he said “This is Eric, Oma just died.” she responded saying “Oh my God, Oh my God.” Eric proceeded to give her details, and after she mentioned that she was driving, he told her to pull over and sit for a while, we didn’t need two family members dying within an hour of each other.

After that Eric handed me the iPad and asked me to call Mary and ask her for anything she could tell me about the dress Oma wanted to be buried in. She wasn’t online with Skype so I called her cellphone contact, which turned out to somehow be a wrong number. At this time I could barely stand, my stomach felt really wrong, and I was stumbling in both words and holding myself upright, I also kept mumbling “Oh my God, Oh my God” to myself. I managed to type in Mary’s cellphone number and call her. She quickly picked up and I said hello (which she recognized as my voice and smartly pulled over as she was apparently driving to work) and then I said: “Oma just died.” After allowing some too-short amount of time for her to process those simple yet powerful 3 words (and neither of us remembering what she said in immediate response) I asked her for any details about the dress. I could barely walk up the stairs, much less with an iPad in my left hand, but I did and then spent 5-7 minutes looking for the dress with Mary’s virtual help. With no luck I then stumbled back downstairs and Eric asked her to send out an email to the family list.

Somewhere in the next few minutes I managed to go back upstairs and send a quick email to my high school advisor informing him of the news. One thing I remember from this is that I was leaving my computer awake through all of this, I didn’t bother to close it or take myself offline in Skype. When I was upstairs I also took off my slippers and AFO and just lay in bed for a minute or two. Sometime in here Eric checked his email and saw that my eldest cousin had sent a note about her college graduation to Oma and hit the Send key at 17:42. That was a kind of scary little “sign”.

Then the hospice doctor came and confirmed that Oma was dead as well as helped explain some of the immediate next steps. Then there was some amount of downtime. I remember helping Anna and Eric rapidly try and make the kitchen usable (as Anna had been cleaning every single corner that afternoon and so stuff was strewn all over the counters and floor) and more than once either taking trash out and/or taking out the compost, stumbling all the way. I spent a chunk of time just sitting in the chair across from the one Oma always sat in just trying to compose myself. During this time Anna called her mother for instructions on some Slovac traditions for right after someone dies. One of these was to put a straw on top of a cup filled with salted water and if it moves by morning then the person’s spirit is in heaven. Another one of these was holding the dead person’s toes and praying so that they wouldn’t come and ask us to follow them in our dreams.

At some point later the city’s people came and did their official check that Oma was dead. It was after this that we could dress Oma. Heinz was needed for some of this, I think that he had actually been here to see Oma a bit earlier and had then left, but I remember running down to his house to grab him since after repeated calls he never came up. When he looked at Oma I remember seeing him start to cry, something I had never seen him do, and it was also at this time that I really cried for the first time that day. The city told us that at around 20:00 the people would be here to take Oma’s body to the funeral home (besstatung wien).

It was sometime after this that Sigrun called to ask about how Oma was doing. Like with Trude, Eric had the sad duty of simply saying that Oma had just died (though for Sigrun it was more like one and a half hours ago). Sigrun asked if she was still at home and upon hearing the answer hung up and immediately left to be here with us. When Sigrun arrived Eric and I accompanied her into the dinning room to see Oma’s body and again witness one of Oma’s best friends break into tears at the sight. Just before this Eric and I had gotten glasses of Apple juice to toast in Oma’s name, we gave one to Sigrun and all three of us sat around Oma’s deathbed in silence watching over her body. At some point soon after I ran upstairs to set up the Flickr set Mary had just emailed the family of pictures of Oma on Oma’s electronic picture frame.

By the time I got back downstairs the people to take Oma’s body away were here and at work. Sigrun was standing at the bottom of the stairs and we talked for a few minutes. She understood if I didn’t want to be around when they took Oma’s body away, but I said I actually wanted to be there and had just needed to quickly do something on my computer. Together we walked into the living room, sat down on the chairs in front of the piano, and watched as Oma’s body was moved into the metal casket they would use to transfer her body to the funeral home. When they were done each of us took a moment just staring down at her stiffened body in our own forms of farewell. Eric and Sigrun knelt over Oma’s body for this but I stayed sitting in the chair by the piano.

When they picked up the metal casket all three of us walked behind them to the gate (I think that Anna may have been with us too) and watched as she was loaded into the waiting hearse and they drove her away from Huschkagasse 9 for the final time. We went back inside the living room with Sigrun and all three of us hugged each other and cried into each other with the utter emptiness of a Huschkagasse 9 without Oma having just been unveiled.

Actually before Oma was taken away Eric took his document-keeping photos of some of the papers the city had given us. At the same time Heinz, Sigrun, and Anna, all sat at the front table smoking and just generally talking about what they remembered of Oma. Naturally Eric and I participated in the conversations, though unlike the rest of them I was sitting inside on the left arm of Oma’s armchair.

By the time Sigrun and Heinz left it was somewhere in the 21:00 hour. So Eric warmed up some leftover soup for the three of us (Anna, Eric, and myself) to eat. As we cooked the soup we also talked with Mary (Skype on our end, cellphone on her end) about how she was doing and also to get her Flickr credentials so we could fix her photoset for her. We hung up with her to start eating in the living room. I went upstairs to get Eric his laptop/both the iPad and MagSafe power adapters, when I was on the second or third step I saw out of the corner of my eye a shadow of Oma’s fox. This was another “sign” of a sort.

We first called Mary on Skype, who was just preparing to leave Luther Seminary for the day, and talked a bit with her. We then talked with Gabriella about how she was doing. I mentioned this feeling of channeling all the great-grandchildren into the room, and her response was simply how powerful that is. Eric and I were virtually present when she first told her sons (at separate times) that “Oma died today”. She and her husband both thanked Eric and I for being here for Oma and couldn’t really stop just talking about various things with us.

I remember we called Mary at one point and were surprised that she was still in her office. During this whole time Eric was also filling out a way-too-lengthy survey of Mac “stuff” (I mean “stuff”, many different loosely connected question sets). I was barely able to eat a spoonful of soup, though Eric managed to eat more, so I was really glad that I took the time to eat the spaghetti when I could. My stomach was still a bit weird-feeling.

I remember we talked with Stephen and many other siblings of Eric’s during this “dinnertime”. I think it was Gabriella who mentioned that Dagmar was in a meeting with the Ohio governor about the death penalty. Sometime soon after Anna went to bed. Then we were back on Skype with Mary, who was now at home, though we kept putting her on hold in place of other family who called. We ended up virtually present when Nathaniel returned from school. Upon our request Mary told him instead of letting us tell him ourselves. Nathaniel tried his best to stay out of the iSight’s view, but we did manage to catch a glimpse or two of him after he found out that Oma had died (we’d seen him once before just as he walked in the front door) at 10:42 am in Saint Paul (11:42 am in Cleveland).

At around 23:45 I checked my own email and read my high school advisor’s response to my brief yet saddening note saying that Oma had died. In between two Skype calls I also was the first person to read the note he sent to Eric and Mary. Around 0:20 April 29 (or maybe it was 1:20) we finally finished Skyping (both to Skype accounts and regular phones) with various family. I tripped into bed by 2:00.

Feel free to comment on this post and the one from yesterday if you feel like it. I may very well post another in a few weeks a year after Oma’s funeral.

27 April 2011

Remembering: Visiting the Friedhof and Trude

Before reading this post I recommend reading Eric’s Remembering posts. I’ll mirror his year-later reflections for today and tomorrow, the day before Oma died and the day Oma died.

The previous Sunday (must have been April 25th) Trude had invited us to visit her apartment. Earlier this week we had searched it out so this late-afternoon we could go straight there. She didn’t answer when we rang the doorbell, but Eric figured we’d woken her up. So we decided to go visit Utzi and Opa in the friedhof and try again later.

When we entered Friedhof Grinzing we decided to purchase a flower to plant on the grave. As I recall there were red, white, and yellow flowers, but I don’t remember which one we purchased. We then wove our way deep into the friedhof to the grave. We used the black plastic marker that I think lets the gardeners know which graves have been gardened this spring to dig a place for the flower just in front of the other plants and centered on the grass of the grave. After planting it we went and found a watering can to water the flower.

When the flower was nicely watered we spent some time simply praying to Utzi that she could help her mother on whatever journey she was on. Then we slowly walked back out of the friedhof, as we walked out of the gate Eric took pictures of the map that highlight the location of the grave.

When we got back to Trude’s apartment building and rang the doorbell she was awake and let us in. I remember how impressed we both were that the elevator in her apartment building was a direct link between the front door of the building and the front door of her apartment. She was standing in her doorway waiting for us, and was surprised that we’d ridden the elevator instead of walked up the stairs. Once we got inside we took off our hats and Trude asked if we wanted to sit inside, or out on her porch, we chose out on her porch since it was a fairly pretty evening.

Once Trude brought us drinks she asked how Oma was doing and we told her that she was not doing well at all. We talked about many different things, real estate, family, the neat planters on her porch’s railing, etc. I mostly just listened while sipping my coke and eating some of the small store-bought cookies she had set out on a plate. Before we left Trude promised that she’d call the parish and have them send a priest for last rites either later today or tomorrow.

After we got back home Oma was in bad enough of a condition that we had to call the hospice doctor. Eric and I decided that spaghetti was a good, simple, meal for the evening meal and so started to prepare it. We hadn’t gotten far in the preparations when Trude called saying that a priest would be visiting us within an hour or so. This happened to be the same exact time as when the hospice doctor would be showing up.

The hospice doctor showed up first, and basically said that Oma wasn’t doing well and that we should do our best to keep her blood flowing normally. Then the doorbell rang, it was the priest. I think Dagmar may have already been on Skype, but she definitely was by the time the hospice doctor left and the priest began last rites.

During this time I stayed pretty much in the living room thinking that somehow giving Oma last rites this evening was premature, she’d have a few days left, at least. Also during this time Anna had previously transferred the spaghetti sauce because it was burning, and I failed to recognize Eric’s signals to me to turn off the sauce and check the meatballs. As a result by the time the priest left our dinner was a bit burned.

Eric and I decided to eat out in the front yard (at the table) because Eric felt that he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on eating inside due to how loud Oma’s screaming was. It was totally dark, save for the street lights, but we managed to still eat, this wasn’t the first night we ate the evening meal outside. Eric finished eating and went into the dinning room to be with Oma. When I finished eating as best I can remember I went upstairs to bed.