Sunday, July 30, 2017

This is the post about my father’s death…

…the one I have started so many times since he collapsed at 3:15 AM on the morning of February 21st, almost six months ago. The one I just can’t seem to ever finish.
For most of my life, the mere thought of my father dying would prompt my throat to close up and tears to well in my eyes. The world needed my father, I reasoned (unreasonably); he simply couldn’t leave us – ever.
That’s about as far as I got every time I began this post because at this point I simply become overwhelmed at the enormity of the story I have to tell - the story of my father’s childhood as a Mischling (half-Jew) in Nazi Germany, the story of his mother’s role as unwitting protectorate of her family, and of her sudden death in January, 1944 which cast my father, his siblings, and their Jewish father into chaos. It’s the story of my Jewish grandfather whose passion was his highly regarded collection of German Romanticist art – a separate, but related story that continues to this day as we await word regarding restitution of some works from his collection which found their way to various museums in Austria and Germany.
Every time I begin to write about my father’s death, I feel obligated to speak to the enormity of his entire life.
But today I decided that it’s just too much to ask of myself, so I’ve given myself permission to write only about one small event -  the last time I saw my father.
This much, I can do.
Ironically, I don’t have a single photo of Dad and me together during that visit, which took place from January 26th through January 30th of this year, less than a month before his death. But I do have lots of pictures of Elisabeth with her Opa. (Elisabeth, who was on hiatus between graduation from CRNA school in California and the beginning of her job as a Nurse Anesthetist at University of Washington Medical Center, came with me to visit Dad and Lou in Ashland.)
Baby steps. I can finish this post.
I can post photos from that visit by just going through my photos in the folder at Pictures/Events and Excursions/2017/January – Ashland.
These first photos actually sum up Dad perfectly. He is in his perfectly organized workshop. Always the practical engineer, Dad decided that his walker needed some storage space, so he shuffled into his garage workshop, my index finger in his belt loop to steady him. And there, Dad proceeded to improve his walker using spare parts that he’d saved from some other random project. (Because he was German, and organized, and frugal, and inventive.)
Dad was quite unstable on his feet, so Elisabeth stayed close by, ready to catch him, should he begin to fall.
How ironic, I thought, that I’m concerned about him falling as he works on his walker – with power tools, no less!
One of our main goals on this trip was to fill Dad and Lou’s freezer with lots of healthy homemade meals. Caring for Dad had become a full-time job for Lou, and she was exhausted. Surely we could help by cooking a few simple meals!
When Elisabeth and I are on a mission, we are a force to be reckoned with! Or not to be reckoned with, depending on perspective. Of one mind, we knew our mission: plan, shop, cook, freeze.
On it.
The day after our cooking extravaganza, Elisabeth asked Opa about “the suitcase.” This suitcase, which has always contained works from my grandfather’s art collection and has lived under my parents’ bed for well over 60 years, deserves a blog post (or book chapter) of its own, but suffice it to say that it’s all my father had to his name in April, 1953 as he arrived in America.
Immigration photo Thomas NY
I loved watching Dad and Elisabeth exploring the contents of the suitcase together – and I was amazed that my dad was able to kneel, crouch, and be the least bit comfortable on the floor! Maybe he wasn’t at all comfortable; maybe he powered through, understanding the important connections being made – even, in a way, between generations that would never meet.
The suitcase is now empty. Much of the art will being going back to two European museums, lovingly bequeathed by my father, in honor of his father.
The next day, having watched the toll my father’s deteriorating physical (and mental) condition was having on Lou, and concerned that some action would need to be taken soon, Elisabeth and I (with Lou’s approval) visited an assisted care facility.
It was a heartbreaking but necessary next step. We didn’t tell Dad.
That evening, we did what we’ve done after dinner since Elisabeth was a baby – we played a game.
I have no idea who won. It didn’t matter.
A few weeks later, just days before my father died, his sister, Ulli, visited from Berkeley. Oh, what these two have been through together!
Thomas Ulli 1932Thomas Ulli circa 1939Ulli Thomas c 1939Ulli and Th teensUlli pinUlli Tom Omis memorial
It seems only fitting that the last photos taken of Dad are with his beloved little sister. The sweetness of this last goodbye almost has me wondering…
For those who came to Dad’s memorial and saw the botched version of the slide show that Tom and I had so carefully timed to the tenth of a second (that somehow played with NO timing at all), here is something a bit closer to what you should have seen -- though the music and transitions are still botched. (Would Dad appreciate the perfectionist in me that is still so frustrated at not being able to show this slideshow to you exactly as it was created?!)
And for those who weren’t at the memorial, here’s a glimpse of my father’s life.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Chris Heumann said...

Thanks, Carol. for capturing moments and emotions so well in both photos and words. To his honor, and yours! CH

Margaret said...

The aging process is so brutal and takes so much away. Yet these photos and your stories make me feel, if not happy, touched and amazed by a life well-lived.

Related Posts with Thumbnails