Dawn in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. I’ve been traveling with my daughters and our friend, beginning here in my mother’s hometown. We depart for Köln today, saying loving goodbyes to my aunt and many cousins. My mother’s beautiful older sister–all three sisters are gorgeous–has been a loving, expressive presence in my life from the day I was born, radiating a generous acceptance I’ve been privileged to receive.
She has lung cancer, the reason I decided to travel here at this time. I wanted to be with her more than anyone else this holy season when, it is hoped, we can reflect on the light that warms us and dispels the darkness, and take the time to say what treasures we find in each other. And this is what we did, revisiting family history, stories I’d never heard, laughing til we cried and crying ’til we fell into each other’s arms, love spilling over. She’s the one person older than me in whose presence I’ve always been able to bare my heart. I sometimes used to wish she was my mother, knowing at the same time that if she had been, our mutual intensity might well have blinded us to each other’s glory.
“If we don’t see each other again in this life,” she said as we hugged one last time, “know that I’ve loved you always and take that love with you,” and, “I’ve lived a beautiful, wonderful life and enjoyed every minute. I’ve done and had everything I’ve ever wanted.”
This was something, coming from a daughter who lost her father in WWII when she was 11, who survived Nazi Germany and fled for the bomb shelter time and again as the allies fought to defeat Hitler; who experienced hunger and poverty and helped raise three younger siblings with a heartbroken, depressed and widowed mother; whose first-born grandson died of cancer at age five; whose first-born daughter died in her 30s; who cared for her mother-in-law and beloved mother until they died, and then cared for her husband of more than 60 years until he died. Her example inspires me to continue to see the good in others and all the light in the world in the face of profound darkness and loss.
Thank you, Tante Waltraud.
My aunt says goodbye. As we left on our last day, she hugged me tearfully and, looking me in the eye, revised what she had said to me the day before, “We won’t see each other again. But we know our love for each other.” I felt tearful and heartbroken all day, because I knew what she said is true.