There is no cloud in the sky to stop the sunray. They are falling on the flowers and the little chapel. Sparrows are chirping happily in the light green beech hedge. It smells of bark mulch and summer. It’s her weather. Colorful, warm, full of energy. On the bright urn are engraved a beach, a sailing ship and a seagull. I took the huge photograph leaning next to it about a year ago when we were traveling together. She’s laughing on it. Wrinkles around her eyes caused by affection, curiosity and even more laughter in over 80 years.
Everything at this moment is so HER. No rain, no dark march, no lethargy. I can see a brimstone butterfly in front of me on the gravel path, before everything is going to be blurry. It couldn’t have been a more perfect funeral. For a woman who inspired and changed my life forever with her courage, her dauntlessness, her love, madness, wanderlust and finally the silent goodbye: My Granny Erika.
Tenerife 2012: It’s hot and no trees are growing between the rugged rocks. I just saw her with her walking stick some minutes ago.
“Where is she now?” my grandpa Horst is asking with both, concern and amusement. We are taking a look around. Maybe she was already gone to the cafe? No. Of course not! I am putting my hand on my forehead and spotting her. Between big rocks on her way up. Waving with her stick wildly and happily.
My grandpa is following my gaze. “Strike a light!”
He knows for sure that this was happening because he has been married to my Granny for more than 60 years.
With a woman that was fighting with the building authority to get her own home finally built on a crappy piece of land. With a woman that once rode a motorbike without having a driver’s license and who rather wanted to go to prison for one day than to pay a fine of $10 for it. With a woman that got stuck in tram tracks with her bike and crashed badly but nevertheless cycled home for another 10 miles, because it would have been too uncool to see a doctor.
My grandparents always used to travel. My grandmother was always accompanied by curiosity and a willingness to take certain risks. She crossed language barriers like her problems with English without batting an eye. She once raised her voice and successfully protested in a Spanish hospital: “I go home!”
The highest wave on the beach was just good enough; the swimsuit was in her backpack on every hike and bicycle tour. In case a small lake spontaneously opened up in front of her. When we were once out canoeing and a big ship honked behind us, she just leaned back. “Oh, that won’t hit us!” I can still feel the blisters on my palms after I panicked and plunged my rudder into the water until I broke out into a sweat.
My Granny was the person who always believed in me when no one else did anymore. She secretly gave me money to travel and go to rock festivals. She put up colorful feathers and set up a tent in the garden so that I could play Wild West authentically when I was a child.
And then the call came. A stroke. Just one day ago she’d been cycling and bought wool to knit a new sweater.
It was my favorite movie, the movie of my life that suddenly got torn. My Granny had always got on her feet again. It was impossible that she’d suddenly fallen asleep and hadn’t woken up again. That simply wasn’t her style.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I shouted silently, ran barefoot across the garden and lost all feeling for time between heaven and earth. The following days thundered by like an empty train. It didn’t stop at any gate or station.
Life was an asshole. And it was finite. For everyone. Sometimes without a warning. No announcements, no cancellations, no rail replacement traffic. Terminal stop. Lights out.
As I fought my way through my exams at university like crazy and pretended to be alright, I slowly started to realize what has happened. The trip we made together last year was our last one. The cozy Christmas with the wooden carved miners, candles and pyramids would never be the same again. I would never again hear the story about the motorcycle and the building authority she used to tell me with a cheeky flash in her eyes. We would never flee a big ship, pitch a tent, hug each other.
I could have collapsed and crawled in a dark corner. But my Granny had not only been a good friend all my life, but also an inspiration. Strangely enough, the importance of that grew after I had survived the first weeks and months after her death. I thought of my childhood dream of traveling the US for several months. And instead of sitting at her grave crying, I grabbed our flag of joie de vivre and wanderlust and flew it higher than ever before. Swung it against the wind. And promised her and me that I would never stop living my life and I would keep on moving on.
Four years later when I was on my plane to New York City and my stomach was tingling like fizz, I looked at the empty seat next to me. And suddenly there she was. Not physically or as an imagination or ghost. But her energy and courage were right next to me. At that moment I knew she would be by my side wherever I was. On every endless road across the desert, in big city nights and on the peak of the highest mountains. An incomprehensible power and feeling of happiness poured into my heart like hot chocolate cream.
As long as I was alive and followed my dreams, she wouldn’t die either. Until then, I had thought “You live on in my heart” was just a shit spell on gray cards of announcing someone’s death. But right at that moment I felt what it really meant.
When I came around by car from Chicago and Los Angeles to San Francisco after more than 4000 miles, I stood at the shimmering Golden Gate Bridge and slowly put on my headphones. There was this one song I hadn’t heard since the funeral. But now the time had come to tear down the last barrier in my head. By looking at a bridge I wanted to see as a child once in my life, I sat down in the high grass close to the cliffs and pressed “play”.
I thought I would terribly cry. But in the end I stood above the traffic with my arms in the air and danced between horns, wind and the sound of crashing waves.
Dear Granny. It’s been five years since you left without saying goodbye. I still resent that. But when I stretch out my hand – no matter wherever I actually am – I can feel you. The way you laugh. There is no cloud in the sky to stop the sunray. There is nothing stopping me from living life as fully and honestly as you always did. Against all odds, all reason, all risks. Because the truth is, you told me something much more important than goodbye: Tomorrow may never come.