Remembering: A Walk in the Woods then Channeling my Family to an Important Moment

/ 28 April 2011

Today started out quite like any other day had. I woke up and after Eric took his shower I took mine. Eric told me that he’d likely be downstairs by the time I was out, I told him that I had expected that so why did he tell me again. As I was drying myself off Eric poked his head into the bathroom and asked if I’d be interested in spending the morning taking a walk in the Vienna Woods to and from Hermanskogel, I said that of course I would be. Eric also told me that Oma’s breathing was sounding quite bubbly and led me to her to hear it for myself and say good morning to her, here I felt like it was the end for Oma after hearing her with my own ears. But before we went to her he first sent out an update email to the family list mentioning the 2-3 day estimate of Oma’s life and that we would be taking this walk as Oma’s eyes saying good-bye to the Vienna Woods for her.

On the way to the Oberer Reisenbergweg stop of the 38A bus we got some sweet bakery items and sparkling juice at Bakery Swartz. We tried to stop at the church, but the doors were locked so we decided to try again on our return. The locked church, along with the ominous sky, were the first two “signs” of the day. We ate the sweets while waiting for the 38A and drank some of the juice while we waited as well. When we got on the bus it turned out that we were on the same bus as a school field trip to the petting zoo on Cobenzl.

When we arrived at Cobenzl I finished off the sweet breads before we reached the steep incline that leads to the Kretzung. The walk up to the Kretzung was fairly uneventful, equal to one we had taken earlier in the trip, the leaves were green on the second walk, it was just the first walk were they didn’t exist and this walk was the 3rd or 4th walk. At the Kretzung we stopped to drink and take pictures by the cross/Mary statue that is there.

Then we continued on the path to Jagerwiese. At Jagerwiese we stopped to rest a bit and just look at the meadow in front of us. We noted the map that we’d also seen and taken a photo of at Cobenzl and planned to maybe eat lunch here on our return. After taking a few photos of the animals in their little “zoo” we continued on the steep climb to Hermanskogel. It took only 10 or 12 minutes to get between Jagerwiese and Hermanskogel, and I thought that the entire walk was shorter than it should have been. The time was something like 11:32. Eric and I noted the days that the tower was open and sat on the steps thinking about how we might take other family on this walk if they had to be here for Oma’s funeral. We ended up finishing the juices while sitting here.

When we left, in the theoretical planning for if we had other family here to take this walk, we followed a different path back, so much for eating lunch at Jagerwiese. This path should take us to Sievering, where we’d then get on the 39A bus to the 38 streetcar for our final return, also so much for stopping at the church. We followed the path markers as best we could all the way down to the rough equivalent altitude as Jagerwiese must be. We ended up at a splitting of the paths and instead of going straight we turned to follow the creek now at our right. Somewhere before this we had seen a jogger pass and decided to follow her, also somewhere in here Eric had some recognition of being on this path before. The jogger took us through a very muddy pathway, then we lost sight of her and ended up at the aforementioned splitting of paths.

Soon after starting to follow the creek we came across a dam of some man-made sort and Eric asked me to hold his bag while he took some photos of the creek on both sides. He then needed my help to scramble back up without falling into the rocky bed of the creek. Further on we had to carefully cross this creek and then realized that we should have just crossed on the dam. The crossing, like many other parts of this walk, was a very muddy ordeal because of the rain the previous day. Soon after this we came across a sign that noted we were in the wrong direction, but the Tree Circle was 20 minutes in front of us.

We ended up climbing up to another road while on the path to the Tree Circle. As it turned out the road was the road at the intersection of the lower path from the Kretzung and the Tree Circle itself. So we went up to the Tree Circle and took pictures of both the trees and plaques of Oma, Eric, Mary, Nathaniel, and myself. We then walked along the meadow back to the bus stop and ended up riding the same bus the school children did back down. The driver had to stop to tell the teachers to get the kids to not press the Stop button for every stop partway back to Grinzing. We got out before Grinzing so we could check the church one final time. This time (at about 12:00) the church was open, so we went inside and lit candles for Oma and prayed to the Mother of God, just as Oma was apparently calling out to her the past few days.

We slowly made our way back up to Huchkagasse 9 and got back sometime around 12:30 or 13:00. Oma was sound asleep, and according to Anna had been all morning, so we just let her be. Later Eric would tell her all about our walk.

We sat with Oma most of the day, but first I remember writing an update email to my high school advisor and talking to Mary and Nathaniel on Skype. As Mary hadn’t yet looked at her email I told her to read Eric’s update. When she was done reading the email she was crying. Apparently all of Eric’s siblings called in and talked with him/Oma, so did Mary. I was downstairs eating leftover spaghetti from the evening before and then went back to my regular seat on Oma’s right side to sit. Somewhere in here Eric turned on the Oma pictures on the TV and we were telling Anna the stories of some of these. Luckily Oma slept through the photos of Nathaniel on Halloween. We also saw a spider just sitting in the top corner of the room near the kitchen that then stayed there the rest of the day.

When Eric and I got peckish we ate both bugles and tried Heinz’s store-bought “American Chocolate Chip Cookies”, which we both hated, so we ate some ice cream from Ruckenbaurers we got a day or two earlier. By now it must have been 14:00 or 15:00. While sitting there I told Eric about how Mary had told me that Oma had told her what dress she wanted to be buried in. At some point after a while of sitting there and enjoying myself I got up and put some of the snacks away. Then I saw something Eric was doing on the iPad that somehow gave me an idea for the FT Touch timer persistence, I have no idea how I got from one to the other, but the point is that I did.

So I went upstairs but before walking into the room and sitting down at the desk I went to the bathroom. It took me probably about 20-30 minutes before I emerged, but while sitting there I’d told myself that all I really needed to do was add in the one ivar and its persistence today. Then I sat down at the desk and opened up Xcode and the FT Touch source code. This must have been something like 17:25 or 17:30. I added the ivar + its persistence and also got started on the PracticeSession function that would implement it.

Then I heard Anna call my name and my adrenaline levels rose dramatically in less than a second, it must have been something like 17:37 or 17:40. I knew that only two things would be reasons for Anna to so hurriedly call me down: Either Eric was hurt, or more likely it was the final minutes of Oma’s life.

I rushed downstairs (so immediately that I left everything as it was, my computer open, etc.) and didn’t even need Eric to tell me that Oma was dying right then for me to figure it out. I immediately stood next to Oma holding her left hand tightly (she was lying on her right side) and started saying “Alles ist in Ordnung”, “Ich libe dich”, and “We’ll miss you, but it is okay to go” repeatedly to her while Anna and Eric kept track of her slowing pulse on neck and wrist. For a few minutes there it was like dark comedy with none of us knowing exactly what to look for to tell that someone had died. After a little while we became sure she was dead, I checked my watch for the time, and we noted the time as being 17:42. It was in the very moment that Oma died that I felt as if I was not just myself but also channeling all the other great-grandchildren into this moment.

There was one moment when one final quick pulse came after two or three minutes of none, and that made us jump, but as no other pulses came we figured there were no more to come. We then started to straighten Oma out and when we did that some more of this brown apple stuff came out with what we later determined was air just getting out of her body, but it made Anna jump back quickly and us all reconsider if she was dead for a second or two. Then we started cleaning her off one final time.

It must have been 17:45 or 17:47 when Trude called to ask how Oma was doing. Eric simply said something like: “Well, Trude, she just died.” Trude started crying and had to excuse herself. We then called the hospice doctor and the city. Next we had to call Dagmar. At this time I was on the other side of Oma’s body sitting where Eric had been most of the afternoon. When Dagmar first picked up and Eric said “Oma just died”, Dagmar responded “Who is this?” like either she simply couldn’t hear him or subconsciously refused to believe that Eric was telling her that her mother just died. After he said “This is Eric, Oma just died.” she responded saying “Oh my God, Oh my God.” Eric proceeded to give her details, and after she mentioned that she was driving, he told her to pull over and sit for a while, we didn’t need two family members dying within an hour of each other.

After that Eric handed me the iPad and asked me to call Mary and ask her for anything she could tell me about the dress Oma wanted to be buried in. She wasn’t online with Skype so I called her cellphone contact, which turned out to somehow be a wrong number. At this time I could barely stand, my stomach felt really wrong, and I was stumbling in both words and holding myself upright, I also kept mumbling “Oh my God, Oh my God” to myself. I managed to type in Mary’s cellphone number and call her. She quickly picked up and I said hello (which she recognized as my voice and smartly pulled over as she was apparently driving to work) and then I said: “Oma just died.” After allowing some too-short amount of time for her to process those simple yet powerful 3 words (and neither of us remembering what she said in immediate response) I asked her for any details about the dress. I could barely walk up the stairs, much less with an iPad in my left hand, but I did and then spent 5-7 minutes looking for the dress with Mary’s virtual help. With no luck I then stumbled back downstairs and Eric asked her to send out an email to the family list.

Somewhere in the next few minutes I managed to go back upstairs and send a quick email to my high school advisor informing him of the news. One thing I remember from this is that I was leaving my computer awake through all of this, I didn’t bother to close it or take myself offline in Skype. When I was upstairs I also took off my slippers and AFO and just lay in bed for a minute or two. Sometime in here Eric checked his email and saw that my eldest cousin had sent a note about her college graduation to Oma and hit the Send key at 17:42. That was a kind of scary little “sign”.

Then the hospice doctor came and confirmed that Oma was dead as well as helped explain some of the immediate next steps. Then there was some amount of downtime. I remember helping Anna and Eric rapidly try and make the kitchen usable (as Anna had been cleaning every single corner that afternoon and so stuff was strewn all over the counters and floor) and more than once either taking trash out and/or taking out the compost, stumbling all the way. I spent a chunk of time just sitting in the chair across from the one Oma always sat in just trying to compose myself. During this time Anna called her mother for instructions on some Slovac traditions for right after someone dies. One of these was to put a straw on top of a cup filled with salted water and if it moves by morning then the person’s spirit is in heaven. Another one of these was holding the dead person’s toes and praying so that they wouldn’t come and ask us to follow them in our dreams.

At some point later the city’s people came and did their official check that Oma was dead. It was after this that we could dress Oma. Heinz was needed for some of this, I think that he had actually been here to see Oma a bit earlier and had then left, but I remember running down to his house to grab him since after repeated calls he never came up. When he looked at Oma I remember seeing him start to cry, something I had never seen him do, and it was also at this time that I really cried for the first time that day. The city told us that at around 20:00 the people would be here to take Oma’s body to the funeral home (besstatung wien).

It was sometime after this that Sigrun called to ask about how Oma was doing. Like with Trude, Eric had the sad duty of simply saying that Oma had just died (though for Sigrun it was more like one and a half hours ago). Sigrun asked if she was still at home and upon hearing the answer hung up and immediately left to be here with us. When Sigrun arrived Eric and I accompanied her into the dinning room to see Oma’s body and again witness one of Oma’s best friends break into tears at the sight. Just before this Eric and I had gotten glasses of Apple juice to toast in Oma’s name, we gave one to Sigrun and all three of us sat around Oma’s deathbed in silence watching over her body. At some point soon after I ran upstairs to set up the Flickr set Mary had just emailed the family of pictures of Oma on Oma’s electronic picture frame.

By the time I got back downstairs the people to take Oma’s body away were here and at work. Sigrun was standing at the bottom of the stairs and we talked for a few minutes. She understood if I didn’t want to be around when they took Oma’s body away, but I said I actually wanted to be there and had just needed to quickly do something on my computer. Together we walked into the living room, sat down on the chairs in front of the piano, and watched as Oma’s body was moved into the metal casket they would use to transfer her body to the funeral home. When they were done each of us took a moment just staring down at her stiffened body in our own forms of farewell. Eric and Sigrun knelt over Oma’s body for this but I stayed sitting in the chair by the piano.

When they picked up the metal casket all three of us walked behind them to the gate (I think that Anna may have been with us too) and watched as she was loaded into the waiting hearse and they drove her away from Huschkagasse 9 for the final time. We went back inside the living room with Sigrun and all three of us hugged each other and cried into each other with the utter emptiness of a Huschkagasse 9 without Oma having just been unveiled.

Actually before Oma was taken away Eric took his document-keeping photos of some of the papers the city had given us. At the same time Heinz, Sigrun, and Anna, all sat at the front table smoking and just generally talking about what they remembered of Oma. Naturally Eric and I participated in the conversations, though unlike the rest of them I was sitting inside on the left arm of Oma’s armchair.

By the time Sigrun and Heinz left it was somewhere in the 21:00 hour. So Eric warmed up some leftover soup for the three of us (Anna, Eric, and myself) to eat. As we cooked the soup we also talked with Mary (Skype on our end, cellphone on her end) about how she was doing and also to get her Flickr credentials so we could fix her photoset for her. We hung up with her to start eating in the living room. I went upstairs to get Eric his laptop/both the iPad and MagSafe power adapters, when I was on the second or third step I saw out of the corner of my eye a shadow of Oma’s fox. This was another “sign” of a sort.

We first called Mary on Skype, who was just preparing to leave Luther Seminary for the day, and talked a bit with her. We then talked with Gabriella about how she was doing. I mentioned this feeling of channeling all the great-grandchildren into the room, and her response was simply how powerful that is. Eric and I were virtually present when she first told her sons (at separate times) that “Oma died today”. She and her husband both thanked Eric and I for being here for Oma and couldn’t really stop just talking about various things with us.

I remember we called Mary at one point and were surprised that she was still in her office. During this whole time Eric was also filling out a way-too-lengthy survey of Mac “stuff” (I mean “stuff”, many different loosely connected question sets). I was barely able to eat a spoonful of soup, though Eric managed to eat more, so I was really glad that I took the time to eat the spaghetti when I could. My stomach was still a bit weird-feeling.

I remember we talked with Stephen and many other siblings of Eric’s during this “dinnertime”. I think it was Gabriella who mentioned that Dagmar was in a meeting with the Ohio governor about the death penalty. Sometime soon after Anna went to bed. Then we were back on Skype with Mary, who was now at home, though we kept putting her on hold in place of other family who called. We ended up virtually present when Nathaniel returned from school. Upon our request Mary told him instead of letting us tell him ourselves. Nathaniel tried his best to stay out of the iSight’s view, but we did manage to catch a glimpse or two of him after he found out that Oma had died (we’d seen him once before just as he walked in the front door) at 10:42 am in Saint Paul (11:42 am in Cleveland).

At around 23:45 I checked my own email and read my high school advisor’s response to my brief yet saddening note saying that Oma had died. In between two Skype calls I also was the first person to read the note he sent to Eric and Mary. Around 0:20 April 29 (or maybe it was 1:20) we finally finished Skyping (both to Skype accounts and regular phones) with various family. I tripped into bed by 2:00.

Feel free to comment on this post and the one from yesterday if you feel like it. I may very well post another in a few weeks a year after Oma’s funeral.