I wonder sometimes whether you agreed at one point to let cancer defeat your body. Without you as the shield between us, Papa and I were forced to deal with one another. Was melanoma your body’s message to the world that your boundaries had been invaded like a healthy forest by foreign species? Did we intrude into your space too many times?
You accepted circumstances for what they were, rarely complained. You were serene and content with the little we had. Like a skittish deer, you met everyone with utmost gentleness, yet cautious reserve. As far as I know, you hardly ever spoke up for yourself. Growing up as an only child of a hard-working single mother during the late twenties and early thirties, you had learned to put your needs last. Papa always called you an angel sent to Earth, too good for this world. For a long time, I rolled my eyes or snickered whenever he said this. I took his statement as an exaggerated form of romanticizing you. I wonder now if Papa was right. Either way, please forgive my oblivious and erroneous behavior of so many years!
Recently it dawned on me why you might have refused with untypical vigor to see my family during your last year on Earth. Was the thought of saying good-bye in person to your beloved only grandchild too much to bear? Or did you think an encounter like this would be too devastating for her?
I am so thankful, though, that you, Mami, allowed me to be present during your final days. Although I had never felt more overwhelmed and helpless in my life, my trust in, and prayers to, the Higher Power were rewarded with a surge of unknown strength. I am ashamed that my consciousness was then still so clouded that I continued to consider Papa the villain and both of us victims of his tyranny. How much that must have hurt you to hear me accuse you of weakness for not leaving him! You loved him with all your heart and knew Papa better than most. You never could or would have deprived your only child of the father whom you had missed all your life. I see that at last. Please forgive my ignorance!
As you know now, my black and white vision has changed over the past five years. I am open to acknowledge the person you must have seen in Papa when you fell in love with him. I salute you for staying steadfast at his side no matter what the circumstances. How much sensitivity and inner strength you demonstrated when you chose to sacrifice your own hopes and dreams rather than to devastate Papa’s deeply traumatized soul any further! When you first met Papa, you had experienced your own share of war and loss. You must have been impressed by all the obstacles that Papa was willing to overcome, all the sacrifices he made to gain freedom and reach the safest harbor in West Germany, your heart. The profound bond between the two of you was undeniable and tangible to everyone around you, at all times. Even if I erred for years and thought that love had turned into a form of bondage. Please forgive me!
I wouldn’t be surprised if you planned your passing around my presence in your home. Considerate as you were, you wouldn’t have wanted Papa to face the sudden void in his life alone. After your death and a couple times since then I have met the scared little boy that grew into the old man Papa is today. During those brief moments, I got a glimpse of his intense hurt and the depth of his scars. After everything I put both of you through with my lack of awareness, I am thankful that I had the chance to be the crutch that Papa needed, and to grow by doing so.
With awe and deep gratitude I’ve noticed the increasing number of helping hands that showed up just when they were needed the most. I wouldn’t have been able to get through the events of the last years without the community surrounding you. A community, like tapestry, initiated and woven once by your mother and nanny out of colorful strands of yarn that were masterfully completed by you and Papa. You all have created this safety net in rainbow colors that has kept Papa and me from falling all the way into the abyss. Never before have I experienced this strong feeling of community, of being held up by visible and invisible forces. I wonder how many ancestors of ours have also assisted in holding up this net. Creating community is your true legacy. Working with each other, not against one another. Supporting each other through kind words and smiles, humor and patience, understanding and empathy, favors and small gifts. You knew how to do it masterfully, like the master designer you also were. I hope that one day, I will be able to live up to your remarkable legacy and create an equal work of art.
In eternal love and gratitude,
About the author
Anja Kerstin Kuentzel,
Advanced Grief Recovery Method specialist, nature lover, photographer, and bilingual wordsmith combines her passions to offer a different perspective on life that might inspire, raise awareness or even heal.