On Friday, February 17th, 2012, my Oma died in the home where she had lived for over 30 years. It seems common these days to say "passed", or "passed away" (or something like that) when someone dies. I refuse to say that about either of my grandparents. The reason is this: they earned the right to die because, for all of the years that I knew them, they truly lived. The more stories I hear about them, I am also convinced that they lived life fully for as long as anyone can remember. Now, I do believe that they are in a better place, but only after making the world around them a better place.
Oma (german for grandma) was a war bride, brought to the United States by my grandfather after World War II. She was raised in Munich, Germany as an only child. They met in an unusual way, which is funnier when you hear both sides of it. The story goes that my Opa (German for grandpa) was hanging around Munich with an army buddy, chasing pretty German girls. They both saw Oma, and it was my grandfather that gave chase, so to speak. He walked after her, hoping to catch a word with her. Rumor has it that she had great legs! The problem was that she could actually walk faster than him. That's funny because he was 6' 2" and she was 5' 4". At some point, Opa realized that he could not catch her using his current method. That's when he pulled his government issue .45 caliber pistol and shouted, "Halt!" Funny how things start sometimes!
The rest of the story comes from my Oma, who recalls thinking that she was about to be mugged and have her watch stolen. Like I said, funny stuff! And there is so many more of these stories that I could tell, and I don't know very many! My dad, aunt and uncle all have so many of these stories that paint a rich picture of a life built together that was both tough and beautiful, that was tragic and hilarious at the same time. Oma and Opa spent over 55 years together, showing future generations what it is to embrace life and those around you. That life together ended in August of 2006 when Opa suffered his second and final heart attack. I can't imagine what that loss did to Oma, but she rarely let it show. At her memorial service this last weekend, my cousin Will stood up and talked about how tough Oma was, and he is right; she weathered a lot of hardship in her life, but she kept on smiling.
I don't recall too many conversations that did not contain at least one or two laughs from Oma. I think that's how she dealt with advsersity, with laughter. I love that about her. I love how she answered the phone. I love how she would get excited about so many things. I love how she was so appreciative of all the people and other good things in her life. She was good at appreciating what she had. I don't really remember her ever complaining about what she didn't have. I think it would have sounded strange coming out of her mouth. It wasn't in her character. She was raised in Nazi Germany. She never wished that away. She lost two pregancies. I have never heard her talk about the fairness of that. She had breast cancer. She suffered the treatment with such a great spirit. I can only hope that I can endure adversity with half the grace that she did.
She gave us all a second home that we could visit any time we wanted, provided that it wasn't before 9 am. She and Opa never were morning people! But there was always a warm smile, a hug and a kiss, sincere hospitality and plenty of good food to fill you up. I will miss having a sausage and potato salad lunch on the back patio, or pork roast (with the crisp fat still sizzling of course, because that's the best part!) and sour kraut for dinner, with dumplings. I will miss having coffee in the front room, where I learned that coffee is best with cream and sugar. I will miss sweating like crazy because the wood stove was always a little hard to regulate. I will miss red geraniums. And most of all, I will miss how Oma loved my wife and children.
The top picture in this post is Autumn's and my wedding in 2005. They drove 8 hours straight to get there. The next picture is of me and Oma just after Opa died. We had lunch before Autumn and I had to make the long drive home. The third picture is of Oma showing Trinity how to roll over. It was our first visit and Oma was very excited to meet Trinity. The fourth picture is when we went back about a year later. would have been about a year and a half, and Autumn was pregnant with Teagan. The fifth picture, just above here, is Oma meeting Teagan in November of 2010. The picture to the right is that same visit. She was always so excited for us and our family. She was that way with all five of us grandchildren. There was never any doubt about how she felt about us, or any of the people in her life for that matter.
That was most apparent at her memorial service. You see, any outing was an event for Oma. She spent hours at the commissary and exchange on the navy base, talking to all the employees, whom she knew well. It turns out they knew her well, and the rest of the family too! It appears that everyone there was always up to date with the goings on of Oma's family. On the way up to her memorial, Autumn and I had been wondering how all the folks at the different facilities on the navy base would know that she had died. It turns out that we need not have worried. When the opportunity came for people to stand up and speak of memories about Oma, there were at least four people representing her bank, commissary and navy exchange that stood up and spoke! They all had fond memories of Oma, her classic wedge haircut, and infectious laugh. It was amazing to see all the people Oma had touched.
The last picture, the one below, is how I will always remember Oma, mostly for selfish reasons. This is the sweet lady that would lay her head on my shoulder at what seemed to be random moments during our recent visits. This is that same sweet lady sharing her favorite lunch spot with me, Autumn and Teagan. This is Oma, treasuring me and pouring all the love that she had into me and my family. Oh how I knew it then, and will carry it with me all of my days. I love you Oma, and I miss you.