It doesn’t matter that I last saw you six months before you died. I wanted to come see you one more time but I was traveling between San Francisco and Shanghai and it was complicated. It doesn’t matter that I found out you died while sitting in an airport in western China and it was surreal. There were friends around me who helped to comfort me. It doesn’t matter that I cried so hard I had to go sit by myself and while I sat sobbing, the Chinese around me didn’t understand.
It doesn’t matter that you were completely out of it for 2 years before you died, maybe that was easier for you. It doesn’t matter that when I visited you in your nursing home and took you outside in your wheelchair, you thought the trees were sails and that you were looking at the Chesapeake Bay. How comforting for you. It doesn’t matter that when I took you to Germany several years before, you didn’t realize it would be the last time. It doesn’t matter that it was difficult to accompany you on this journey, transferring in Heathrow and taking a golf cart across the miles of that airport. It doesn’t matter that you were afraid when they wouldn’t let me ride in the transport with you, that I wouldn’t find you at the gate. It doesn’t matter that the diseases which gripped your life force prevented you from being able to stand up and I had to catch you on the S-Bahn and on the little bus which left from in front of Tante Nono’s house. It doesn’t matter that we saw all of the paintings of your family, all of the model ships you helped make, all of the homes you lived in, all of the love and pain you experienced in your birth country. You told me about the cherry pit spitting contests off of your grandparents’ balcony with your siblings and cousins and I could imagine some happy years for you. It doesn’t matter that when you were a boy, you almost got arrested for finding a turnip on the ground and your sister yelled at the police officer on your behalf. You were a child.
It doesn’t matter that we visited for Hamburg for fourteen days and the sun shone for eleven. For you. We took a tour of the harbor and saw the enormous ships and the floating Opera House. You would eat Scholle, a fried flounder served with its bones, and you would meticulously extricate the bones at the restaurant on the river as your brother did the same. It doesn’t matter that it would be the last time you saw your brother. It doesn’t matter that when we got into our taxi to the airport, it would be the last time you would see your sister and you didn’t know that. She knew. It doesn’t matter that I cried when the taxi drove away because I knew as well. It doesn’t matter that it would be the last time you would see the Elbe River, the last time you would see your grandparents’ house, the last time you would see your birth house. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t talk you into going to Africa together when you were still feeling well. It would have been my pleasure.
It doesn’t matter that the next time you would return to Germany was in a box of ashes, which Bob carried on his back because they were so heavy. It doesn’t matter that it was my 50th birthday and your funeral eclipsed it, because that was the right thing. Bob and I went to the United Club at Newark Airport and he told the bartender it was my 50th. She gave me a glass or two of Veuve Cliquot champagne on the house. It doesn’t matter that I drank a lot when you died. It helped.
It doesn’t matter that I arranged this funeral before I arrived and I handed the ashes to a man who then transferred them to a beautiful white urn. In this urn I imagine you communing with angels. When the funerary opened the crypt where your ashes would lay in your family plot in the largest cemetery in Europe, there were so many other urns and I thought that was nice.
It doesn’t matter that I forgot to ask you so many questions like the pain your family experienced when your brother’s ship was destroyed by a British submarine after the German ships were called back in 1945. I can only imagine it. It doesn’t matter that I forgot to ask you how your family managed when your half-sister died in a childhood accident. I forgot to ask you what it was like when your father was ill and died from cancer. I forgot to ask you what it took for you to leave Germany and go to Canada and eventually the United States. Were you afraid? I forgot to ask if you were proud to become an American citizen. I forgot to ask how it was for you that you did work you hated for decades while raising your family. When you eventually did the work you loved, did you find joy in it? Did your belly still churn at night? Did you ever get a good night sleep?
I forgot to tell you I inherited my insomnia from you or from your parents, I wouldn’t know. The DNA of sadness and loss. My height, my blonde hair, my healthy bones but sad heart. A long lineage of sadness and loss.