We sat on the bed waiting for breakfast to arrive with piles of cards, cash and checks, and a small frame of my grandfather between us. The wedding day two days prior, was everything I had hoped it would be. I felt like a rock star.
I glanced down at the photo of my smiling grandfather and asked if he had a good time, too.
It had been less than two years since Ota passed away and the thought of not being able to dance with him on my wedding day sickened me. So I made sure to find one of my favorite photos of him and placed it into a tiny frame and carried it with me to the banquet hall. I had my niece hold it during the ceremony, and during the reception, Ota sat at the head table between me and my maid of honor/cousin.
|Oma and Ota, Christmas 2003 (?)|
My new husband, my cousins, my siblings and I all had at least one of Ota’s favorite drinks- a “Highball with no ice!”- in honor of him.
I asked the DJ to play the Chicken Dance and smiled at Oma’s reaction when she heard it. I knew we were both thinking of him and his love of life and polka music.
My mom called me at about 11:30 on the first Tuesday night in November. I knew the moment I recognized her voice on the other end that something was drastically wrong.
“Ota fell,” her voice shook.
I shot up into a sitting position in bed. She was calling me as the ambulance was taking him to the hospital. She called me again a couple hours later to confirm he was gone.
I was alone in my condo, in my bed. I couldn’t speak. I nearly vomited. I don’t remember hanging up the phone, I only remember feeling this incredibly deep pain and sadness. The tears flowed so freely. I screamed out loud several times, trying to stifle some of them into a pillow. I hadn’t felt that alone in a very long time.
The next several days were hard… and long and very sad. My cousins and I created four large poster boards full of pictures of Ota’s life to display at his memorial. He lived a long, full 89 years. He lived through and survived the war (WWII). His story was one that was repeated time and time again any opportunity he had to tell it. He even spent several years typing his words onto paper in both English and German, his native tongue, so that he could turn those words into a book about his life, his history… and ours.
We each have a copy of that book, each individually handmade and assembled by Ota, and while it’s not an easy read because of the language translation, it’s one of the most amazing gifts I’ve ever received.