You can write about grief. Your grief that you may or may not have processed for your father since he died almost ten years ago. So much grief for a man who was, for the most part, unable to show emotions. You could write about the weirdness that comes with death, the physical things, like getting the body cremated, and how the ashes come in a cardboard box that is roughly the size of a whiskey bottle. An invoice comes from the mortuary that says things like, “cremated remains disposition”. His distraught parter won’t touch the box, so you pick it up from the mortuary and bring it to your hotel. You take the ashes to Germany the next day, your husband has them in his backpack. You show a certificate to airport security so they know you have human remains and you have to put the ashes through the x-ray. The day you fly to Germany is your 50th birthday.  You go to the airline lounge at Newark Airport. Bob tells the bartender that your dad’s ashes are in the backback and that it is your birthday. She gives you a complimentary glass of champagne. 

You arrive in Hamburg and bring the box of ashes to Ohlsdorf Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. It is 1000 acres, has 280,000 burial sites, and has 265 full-time gardeners, and rates very high on Tripadvisor. You have been there twice when other family members were interred there. You meet the funeral director who takes the ashes and puts them into a white urn that you choose online, and it’s beautiful and you are happy you have such good taste. You burst into tears when you see your father’s oldest friend from elementary school has driven to Hamburg from Berlin for the service. You hug him and kiss his cheeks with your sloppy tears and thank him for coming. 

A pastor who does not know your father gives a brief eulogy. You walk to a nearby plot with a large bust of a man with your last name, and many headstones. You place your father’s urn into a crypt below ground covered by a metal sheet. Dad’s partner laments that it looks so dark and cold. You tell her, “Look, there are so many urns. He won’t be alone.” There is a brief lunch with the family in the restaurant at the cemetery, and you have soup and bread with your cousins who loved your dad and always thought well of him. You stand up and give an awkward toast in English, mostly saying you will miss him. The luncheon is short, and you think, thank goodness because it is so weird. 

The headstone is on order and you go see it 6 months later in January when your aunt dies. Tante Nono is the aunt who was so nice to you as a child, teen, and young adult. You stayed with her when you were fifteen with your friend Elsa. You and Elsa listened to American Armed Forces Radio late into the night. Nono’s husband, Hans-Henning, was suffering from dementia and told the story on repeat of how he sailed around the world as a merchant marine, that each sailor received a pineapple in Hawaii.  You can hear those words now. He also tells you not to go to the Reeperbahn, the red light district where the Beatles first played in Hamburg, because you might get pickpocketed. Coming from New York, you and Elsa think that is hilarious and go to the Reeperbahn right away. 

You stayed with Tante Nono when you were 20 after Hans-Henning passed away. You were the au pair to the little cousins next door, and her house provided a refuge from them, a place to read and write into the night. She says you are too sensitive and gives you a small turtle totem, and hopes I get some strength like the turtle’s shell.

Six months after your father dies, Tante Nono passes away at the age of 100 and you find yourself in Hamburg again. She is buried elsewhere and you need to make a special trip to Ohlsdorf to see your father’s headstone. You take the S-Bahn to the Cemetery and walk to the family plot in the rain. It doesn’t occur to you to take a taxi because public transport is so good in Europe. You are wet and cold, searching until dusk until you find the plot and Dad’s headstone and you take a photo for your siblings. You get coffee and a slice of pflaumenkuchen, plumcake, your favorite German dessert, from the cafe at the cemetery.  Plums aren’t in season but the cake is delicious.

In the middle of the night you have a high fever and it feels like there are knives in your throat. You do the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit several times and it seems high either way. You think you are sweating it out like your dad would have but after 48 hours you go to a clinic for antibiotics. You change your flight reservations and stay at your cousin’s house a few more days, sweating under blankets. She makes chicken soup and puts the series finale of Downton Abbey on TV for you. You cry for all of the characters of Downton—the nice sisters and the mean sister and the mean funny granny and the folks who work in service for the rich family and everyone because it’s almost over, the landed gentry and their castles. It’s both the right thing and so fucking sad that the castles and manor houses will become wedding venues or Airbnbs. You cry great sobs of tears and snot, and soon you realize you are crying for your dad and Tante Nono.


6 Responses

  1. Danielle, I feel your grief along with mine. It was a hard and emotional time when your Dad died. I will love him forever.

    The girlfriend Lyn

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