Real Housewives of Cologne, Episode 12

1 03 2021

“DEVIL DOES CARE”

I knew the comedown in 2021 would be swift, hard and severe. But I never thought it would be this.

You all know by now what it was and how soon it happened.

I was in a state of shell shock for about a month and a half. During the better part of that time, I’ve been running on autopilot, living a perfunctory, pro forma existence.

The one human being in life, that was for me, a constant, and pervasive, to one degree or another, in the entirety of the forty-three and three-quarter years that we were both alive at the same time, is now gone.

***

All the happy events in my personal life in the 391 days from December 14, 2019 to January 7, 2021 made me blind myself to all sorts of reality. Not only with regards to everything that was going on in the world, but also, as it turned out, with regards to my mother’s condition.

I know that dementia do what it do, and it only do one thing in one direction. But her condition stabilized in the last two months or so of Frau.’s pregnancy. I was thinking that maybe just maybe that it would stabilize such that she would live long enough and have enough cognitive competence to be able to see her own grandsons and understand what she is seeing when I inevitably take Frau. to visit my native city — If I had any hesitation and any ability to turn back Frau.’s lobbying in that stead, that’s all wiped away now — I’ll have to go back at least one more time for closure. Though even before this, that would not have been able to happen until at least the summer of 2023. And now, there is obviously no great urgency insofar as a time frame and no reason to hurry up for my mother’s sake.

On the evening after the afternoon I got The Call, I suddenly realized that it was just a matter of her willing herself to hang on long enough to be on this Earth when her first grandchildren arrived, and to see them virtually. Immediately after, reality reasserted itself. It’s why both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the semicentennial date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — Not because it was “a visible and palpable remarks of Divine Favor,” but because they made it close enough to the anniversary, and willed themselves across the finish line, then collapsed. Likewise, my mother probably would have passed on months ago but for. I guess that’s the fortunate thing, because it could have well been the case that Frau. and I decided to wait a bit longer to try to have children, which means she wouldn’t have been pregnant at all in 2020, which in turn means my mother would have had no reason to will herself to a few more months of life, and she would have passed on, e.g., while we were on our honeymoon, which would have ruined our honeymoon definitely for me and well enough for Frau.

Through 2020, Frau. and I were Den Teufel wird es vielleicht interessieren. Except the devil actually does care.

***

I’ll never forget how I got The Call.

It was not long after 5 PM my time, Friday, January 8, (what a way to start a weekend, huh?), which means it was just after 10 AM back in St. Louis. You’ll recognize that as just one day after I found out that Frau. and I are going to be an aunt and uncle. The caller ID on my phone properly showed that it was my quasi-uncle, so I knew it had to be something that important. When I answered, he asked me if (my wife’s name) was home. She was, but I was wondering why he was asking about her, and then as soon as I got that thought out of my mind, he asked me to put her on the phone, which I did, but continued to be incredulous. He must have told her that he wanted her to hold the phone to my ear when he was going to tell me what he needed, because she immediately put the phone to my ear, and then he delivered the news. That was a good idea on his part, because I would have dropped the phone in my state of shock. Immediately after, Frau. took the phone back and talked to him in German for a few minutes, so it would seem, even though that was the start of my being in a state of shell shock to one degree or another for about a month and a half.

I’m glad he thought of that little piece of logistics.

***

I had made and paid for the final provisions quite some time back, with one major exception.

Aside from the emotional pain of it all, this was a really weird funeral to “attend,” I being the one and only next of kin, and being a whole ocean and continent away. In theory, I could have made the flights and been there physically. But it was something that was so impractical that it was impossible for all real world intents and purposes. Even disregarding how the world is still hysterical over a virus that’s only five times more lethal than the average seasonal flu. Remember, through all this, I’m also having to make a living and be the father of twin infants.

You may remember that my father passed in August 2018, and that was during that weird six week interregnum, after we returned from the journey and then me going back to take this job, my final month and a half as a St. Louisan. I was not close to my own father, and anyway he hadn’t been compos mentis for years. So, while I was just as much his next of kin as much as my mother’s, (his own wife, with whom they had no children, was also bedridden and out of it, I don’t even know if she’s still living, TBH), and I had to deal with the whole set of proceedings, all from my wheelchair, his passing was a way different deal for me emotionally. As you might remember me writing here in this space back then, his passing was not a shock to my system, and had for my sake fortuitous timing. I remember writing here that the mercy of death finally arrived.

This was anything but.

The day I knew I’d have to be delivering her eulogy, virtually, I knew would be one of the hardest days of my life. And that it was. I actually had to do it twice, the second time three days after I did it the first time. Reasons, long story. But the second time was not as hard as the first, even though what took place right after the second time made the day overall harder than the first.

The hardest part of all was not being able to be there.

There was only one thing that made all of it a little less of a living hell, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

***

As I wrote above, there was one major exception to my pre-planned final provisions. It was a loose end that I hadn’t finalized, because I’d been hoping that I wouldn’t have had to make a big decision on the matter for awhile. Circumstances forced my hand.

My mother never had any hard and fast wishes about how her earthly remains would be treated for the rest of eternity. She said that she was never keen on the idea of being six feet underground. But she also knew that the other options were either just as “bad” or untenably expensive. Ultimately, she left it all up to me. But, like I said, I didn’t even figure that part out even as late as the moment I got The Call.

Not long after she had to go into assisted living, in March 2016, realizing why she was there, and that dementia would most likely be the final diagnosis of life, someone closely affiliated to her doctors confronted me with a sensitive proposal, somehow this person got wind that what would become of her eventual earthly remains was entirely my call.

I gave it fair consideration at first, but my own life and circumstances, in one case, coming close to becoming worm food myself, and then everything that happened after that, meant that this matter quickly faded out of mind. That one phone call almost two months ago now brought it right back to the front of my mind out of necessity.

In between The Call and the final services, among everything else I had to do, I had to make this the final call. And I wound up taking up this suggestion.

Donated to medical science.

It’s because, while space is the final frontier for human exploration and settlement, the brain is the final frontier for our understanding of ourselves. Brain malfunction is what almost killed me, and is what ended my mother’s life. It’s because there are other mothers and other fathers in this world who are suffering or will soon suffer from or are genetically destined to suffer from dementia and brain degenerative conditions. If even one of them gets to have a longer more fulfilled life because of what various doctors and medical researchers will learn from having access to my late mother’s earthly remains, then I think it will be cosmically worth it. You the children and grandchildren of such people — Never thank me. Thank me by hugging and kissing your mom and dad and grandma and grandpa as often as you can.

Denn du bist Erde, und sollst zu Erde werden.

***

Mad props to Frau. and my parents-in-law, and even my sister-in-law and the soyboy-in-law in their own way, for really smoothing out the rough spots over all this time, in quite a few ways. One thing I quickly was thankful for, well, here’s a hint — “Gott sei dank, dass sie ihre anderen Großeltern haben” were the exact words I blurted out at one point during my anguish in realizing that they’ll never know their paternal grandparents, and Frau. certainly agreed. Being as their “anderen Großeltern” are only 63 and 59, barring any too-soon tragedy, they’ll be around for awhile. By comparison, my father was 82, my mother 81, when they left this world.

All five of them were there with me, and dressed appropriately for the occasion, funereally, for the final services on my virtual end, and right behind me as I delivered the eulogy. I should add that I did the second three-day-later eulogy by myself, by design — I didn’t want to have them go through all that again, even though what I found out later, indicative of what I’m about to write, meant that they would have gladly done it again.

When I finally got over my grief toward the end of February, I got to talking with my father-in-law about it. I told him that he and they didn’t have to do that, they didn’t have to be there. His response was that they did. His own words: “Deine Freude ist die gleiche wie unsere Freude, und dein Schmerz ist der gleiche wie unser Schmerz.”

He then told me something he told his oldest daughter a year ago from this coming Sunday, the morning that she was getting dressed up to get married to me. (Already a year? Tempus fugit.) As you may remember, my quasi-uncle came here to be my best man, and he bought along his own wife, his younger sister (my aunt, i.e. ex-wife of my blood uncle, the one that himself passed in June 2019), their only daughter, i.e. a first cousin of mine, she being the only actual blood relative of mine in the group, the retired pastor of my boyhood Lutheran church back in St. Louis, and our very own Puggg. I worked in the second to last into the ceremonies at close to the last minute, and Puggg as my assistant best man. Anyway, the thing which my father-in-law told me that he told his about-to-marry-me older daughter that morning, was that he noticed the relatives of mine that were here, talked to all of them, and in fact, he and my quasi-uncle became new BFFs, and yukked it up quite a bit at the wedding, though they didn’t talk much to each other until this funeral. But his words to his daughter that morning were, according to his recollection, and roughly translated into English: “His real family back in America is getting old and starting to die out. His relatives here now, this may be the last time he ever sees any of them. We are his new family now. However patient you think you have to be with him on a daily basis and through your lives together, be a little more patient than that.”

When he told me that, I knew that there was no way they weren’t going to go to this funeral. After I told him about the “encore performance” I had to do, he said that he wished I wouldn’t have kept that a secret.

I already knew that my sons had the grandpa of all time. Now I can add to it that I have the father-in-law of all time. That I genuinely do have a new family who is with me and I am with them until the end and beyond. That this city and country have truly become home in every which way of the word. Those are probably the best silver linings to these month and a half of clouds.

***

One other thing that occurred to me through all this, is that, when I am in the nursery with my sons and nobody else, in that room are the only three living descendants of both my late mother and my late father, a whole ocean away on a whole different continent, no less. Obviously their paternal grandfather passed before I even laid eyes on their mother for the first time, and their paternal grandmother passed when they were all of seventeen days old. They’ll never know them. But like I wrote above, thank God for their other set.

***

Like I said, I was living a generally perfunctory pro forma existence for awhile; the shell shock lasted way after all the scheduled proceedings were long over. Valentines Day weekend is when I started to break out of this depression. After the process of reassembling myself psychologically, I returned a call from back in St. Louis that was made to me at a point in time between The Call and the final day of the proceedings; It was one of the nurses from the assisted living facility where she spent her final almost five years of life.

That call snapped me right back to normal. In an instant, just like that.

She and I talked about her last weeks and days and hours. She said that my mother went downhill really quickly in the final nine days, (like I said, reality reasserting itself), and upon thinking about it, I realized that it was mysterious that when I tried to call my mother on Skype during those nine days, that one of the nurses who would have set up the screen in front of my mother said that she wasn’t feeling well. That should have raised a red flag in my mind — But I was on a high considering all else, and I foolishly ignored anything that smelled like bad news.

But back to the point of me snapping right back to normal, this nurse also said that, as far as she knows, my mother’s final words in life and final coherently formed words in life, spoken hours before that moment, and spoken as if she knew that her time to go was very imminent, were:

“Tell (my name) to take care of those babies.”

B-O-O-M.

Right back up on the horse.

This was hard on me, probably the hardest thing yet. But it’s also in the past. I wasn’t about to let another day go by and not be all there mentally for my now two-month old sons, who have been and are predictably growing and progressing (i.e. becoming difficult and fussy) normally and on cue. I was not and am not about to miss out on all that. I’ve got a whole rest of my life to live, a whole career that needs me to be all there especially in a year like this, a whole two little boys to mold into future world rulers, and a whole wife who needs my attention for other reasons. I’ve seen a lot in my life, but I haven’t yet seen the clock move backward.

Yes, mom, I’m gonna.

***

On September 4, 2018, the day after Labor Day, I left St. Louis from Lambert Airport, in my wheelchair, with a bunch of luggage. There, two of the people who saw me off were my mother and my younger and at the time only remaining blood uncle. Even then, I prepared myself for the possibility that it would be the last time I would ever see them or any of the others, because you never know what could happen. At the time, I never had any inclination that I would be here in Germany for more than several years. But, by the same token, you never know what could go wrong, and in that which I was commencing, there are many possibilities, and at the time there was the still lingering specter of my TBI recovery suddenly reversing. But it turned out that one thing went very right, and it was the ultimate reason why it did indeed turn out to be the case that September 4, 2018 was the last day I ever saw my mother and my younger uncle in the flesh, and why I’ll most likely live out the rest of my own life here.

On September 4, 2018, I had no clue that, within a week’s time, I would lay eyes on her for the first time.

It should be a self-evident truism that the best things in life have the steepest costs. But it takes events and circumstances like these to make one realize how intensely and consummately true it is, and that it even applies to the realm of the abstract.

I now have everything in life I ever wanted, and all it cost me was everything I knew.


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7 responses

1 03 2021
countenance

I’ve made it to Stuttgart in one piece. This is actually my first time back in Stuttgart proper since the voyage.

I’ll be bringing back Mercedes and Porsches as souvenirs for everyone.

I’ll also make sure I spend at least a few hours in Nicholas-Stix-Stadt.

1 03 2021
Auntie Analogue

Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.

1 03 2021
David In TN

Slightly off topic, but having to do with aging.

When I read the NBA was canceling Jerry West, I did a Google search to see if Bob Pettit was still living. I found his 88th birthday was in December, and St. Louis Today writer Benjamin Hochman did a celebratory column. I hope this link works:

https://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/benjamin-hochman/hochman-touching-base-with-bob-pettit-the-basketball-great-who-won-st-louis-its-lone/article_f07251ee-0606-5e61-9fc6-37783ea4d0e1.html

Bob Pettit is doing well for his age. He was very successful after his basketball career.

A few years ago in a blog comment I asked the Blogmeister if he had heard of Bob Pettit, who was before his time. Indeed, he knew who Bob Pettit was.

1 03 2021
Anonymous

If you don’t mind me saying, your writing has taken on a really profound tone lately. But I realize there’s a good reason for that.

3 03 2021
Pangur

I’m sorry for your loss. The day I lost my mother was terrible, even though I knew it was coming. You cross one of the great barriers in life, and you will never be the same. I’ve said a prayer for her soul and will keep her in my prayers for Lent.

You may take comfort in your wife and children, you are now a parent to them as your mother was to you (this mean take care of yourself, too). You may also take lots of comfort in your mother’s knowledge of her grandchildren. That’s big.

3 03 2021
countenance

AR had this feature yesterday, which I took all the more personally, in light of a recent big decision I had to make. I’m hoping that it means my big decision will have more benefits than even I thought.

https://www.amren.com/features/2021/03/genes-brains-and-intelligence-whats-new/

4 03 2021
countenance

I head home tomorrow. Though our actual wedding anniversary is Sunday, we’re going to celebrate it as more of a Friday/Saturday thing. Next week, I’ll be right back on the road, spending a week in Mainz.

Tomorrow would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday.

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