As our trip ended in Lyon, Debbie, Sylvia, and I rented a car and drove to Germany to meet family and attend our dearly loved Tante Kathe’s funeral. It was a few days of waves of grief. I would feel it overcome me as grief does. It was difficult. I was very fortunate in the last few years to have been able to see her one to two times a year. Tante Kathe was so much more than an aunt to me, she was my friend, my confidant. She would make us coffee and tell us that we could come to her internet café, meaning use her computer and work and check emails at her house. She was an incredible cook! Her soup was the best! But most of all she was a great listener. I would talk to her about everything going on in my life, my concerns, my joy, my questions. She would listen and give me her opinion when I asked. She consoled me when I needed it. She knew me and loved me and she will always hold a very special place in my heart.
Her daughter, Anja, husband Andreas, and grandson Mark told us about their experience with Tante Kathe in the last month. It was a difficult time. We came together as a family. Her funeral was exceptionally beautiful.
The one thing that I kept thinking about was something that Mark said. He said that the last time he saw his grandma, oma, she talked to him and told him all the most important things in life. I could not help but think what a gift. How wonderful for him to have had that moment with her for her to impart her wisdom to him. I thought to myself, what would she have said to me? What secrets or most important things would she have told me? This was my thought when we drove out of Oberkessach Germany early Sunday morning in the dark to Frankfurt to board our plane for home. Tears were streaming down my face and this was my thought and the thought that this little village, this place would never be the same.
When I boarded the plane, I was on an aisle seat in the middle section. Sitting next to me in the middle seat was an older lady. I said hello to her and smiled. Later I heard her speak German so I thought I would speak in German to her so that she knew she could communicate with me. I asked her if the air was too cold for her. She happily replied in German and seemed happy that I spoke German although she said that she spoke English and German but our conversation was entirely in German from that point on. She ordered a glass of red wine. I was not going to order wine because let’s just say that I drank plenty of wine on our wine river cruise through France. Anyway I decided to also order a glass thinking it might be a nice way to join her in our private plane dinner togetherJ We toasted to each other and she introduced herself. She said her names was Gertrude but that she goes by Trudy. In German, if you speak to someone for the first times, especially someone older, you should speak in a formal sense out of respect. She told me early on that I could speak to her informally as a friend. She was a very interesting lady and we started to share information about our lives. I was shocked to learn that she was 92 years old. She just did not seem that age! I told her about my aunt and why I was in Europe. We talked as you do on a plane sitting next to each other not really facing or eye to eye. But when we toasted with our wine, we looked into each other’s eyes. She had the most beautiful blue eyes. In the middle of our conversation, she turned to look at me and said very intently, you need to know Katy that in your life, you need to do what you want to do, you need to make decisions for yourself not what you think others want or what you should do, you need to decide how to live your life yourself. I looked into her eyes and saw that she was imparting important life information. I listened carefully. Then she turned back to the side and we carried on.
I went to the restroom and Debbie followed. I told her about my amazing friend sitting next to me and how incredible I thought she was. Debbie said, watch, you will go back to your seat and there will be nobody there. Fear hit me for a second. She could be right, had I imagined it, was it an angel, or a dream? When I returned, to my relief, she was still there. I really had so much more I wanted to talk to her about. I told her about my family. I told her about my sisters and our retreats. She told me that I was very fortunate. She told me about being a teenager in Germany during Hitler’s reign and the war and that I was so lucky that I had not experienced a war. And then it happened, she turned to me again, facing me, with something very important to say. She said you need to be grateful every single day! You need to be thankful for your life, for your family. You should give thanks every day. Coming from beautiful blue eyes, deep in her soul was this true appreciation that she, herself had for her life even though there were difficult times. And then the moment was over as quick as it started and she turned back sideways continuing on. She suggested I watch a movie and she sleep for a while. I watched her sleep, thinking how amazing it was that she had told me these two simple messages but that they were so meaningful.
Later when we talked some more, I felt as though she was my long lost friend. I told her that it was hard going to Tante Kathe’s funeral, that I loved her so much. She said, I understand. She said that at funerals, she stands at the back because she feels everyone’s sadness. She turned to me and once again looked me in the eyes and said “you should not be sad, you should be happy, you should be so happy for her, she is in heaven, she is in a beautiful place, she is happy, you know that don’t you?” My grief subsided for a moment. She was right.
As our flight came to an end, I expressed to her how much I enjoyed talking to her and how nice it was to sit next to her and how lucky I felt to have met her. She lives in South Carolina and does not really travel much and she is 92 years old but this is what she said to me, not just once, but three times, she said we will probably meet again, we will run into each other again, we might see each other again. All I could think of is that could not possibly happen, what would be the odds of that?
She could not possible know how much her words meant to me, or ….. did she?