You never allowed me to have a dog even though the garden was big enough. You became angry when I said something against the Pope, especially at the dinner table, the only occasion that I saw you angry at all. You went back to the catholic church after they kicked you out for marrying a protestant.
You were incredibly kind-hearted. You taught me how to ride a bike during a holiday by the North Sea. You gave me my first toolbox with real tools, not some plastic stuff that won’t work. You built a garden shed for me, and then another, more sturdy one, and a big outdoor cage for my rabbit. And a pen for said rabbit (and the guinea pigs). And after the rabbit became so very free-spirited you fenced in half the garden so he could run free.You tried to have me train as an accountant because I struggled to get into uni, but you meant well, even though math was the problem in the first place.

You always meant well.

Opa & me, Frankfurt ca. 1990

You came from a bad place, of sorts. You came from poverty, from a PTSD-ed-after-the-wars dad, a dead kid sister and a mum who was angry and worked the early and night shifts at the news press. You went on and became an intelligent guy who even made it into a higher school, only to have your promising learning interrupted by World War II. You had even learned a little bit of Latin.
You worked so hard to support everyone. When you fell for my grandmother things were great, I suppose. You had two children, and when he was thirteen your son died and left you alone. I know you played tennis and you liked to travel and you liked Alpine folk music and your family came from northern Italy some hundred years ago to the Rhön mountains. I know your Mum’s maiden name was Radina. I know you held the catholic church in high regard, no matter what. I know you loved your family, you loved us.

Gardening, ca. 1992

Remembering you is not only remembering you in your bed at the home for the elderly and demented after caring for you got too hard for my Mum and Grandmum alone.
Remembering you is remembering a photograph of you – flatcap, parka, spade in hand – and me – tiny, quilted jacket, pirate bandana – hand in hand in the garden by the little pond. It’s the smell of fragrant mint infusion with big brown chunks of rock sugar in a café in what I think was a lighthouse. It’s you driving me to my first LARP even though you didn’t fully understand the appeal while I sewed (I was never good with deadlines).
Remembering you is every Christmas I spent in your living room, is seeing the pictures you took when I took my first steps back in Frankfurt by the pier with you and Grandma, is thinking of the weird extended-family dinner at my confirmation (I never told you I’ve left church, I didn’t tell Grandma either).

First Steps

Remembering you is remembering your smile, with those up-turned, almost curled-in mouth corners, and your wispy silver hair and your kind eyes.

When you stopped noticing me at some point when I visited you – and of course I wasn’t there often enough – it broke my heart a little. Now I know you weren’t in this world anymore back then, not entirely. When I visited last, a month ago, you were already halfway over there.

ca. 2015

I held your hand and remembered the safe feeling of my tiny, pudgy hand as a little kid in your big one and hoped that you felt somewhat as safe when my square, now far bigger hand held your thin, incredibly soft-skinned, almost translucent hand with the age spots and visible veins. I told you about the move and how I’m full of thanks for everything you have done for me and for us.
I’m glad I visited you that day.

Your name meant “the one with the bravery or spirit to shelter and protect”.

Iceland, sometime in the 1980s

I think you would have been a Hufflepuff, too.


– – –

If you haven’t noticed already this is a eulogy. Last Tuesday on the 5th of July 2016 at approx. 10 AM my grandfather on my mother’s side passed away after nine long years of dementia. I basically grew up with my grandparents because my Mum worked a lot of night shifts, and even though I knew the day would come it felt awful to hear my Mum say “well, today is a special day anyway” after listening to me rambling about the doctor’s appointment earlier that day (which ended not in the best diagnosis ever, but more on that some other time). It instantly clicked and I knew.

He was the most kind-hearted, gentle individual I ever knew.

Danke Opa, dass du da warst.


10 thoughts on “Opa

  1. I’m really sorry for your loss, my biggest internet hugs to you :( I actually cried reading this >_<

    But he lives on in you and your memories, and those of everybody that he loved and who loved him <3

  2. I am sorry for your loss. That was a heartfelt eulogy. It is heartwarming to read how much you are thankful for the time with your grandpa but that, while you will always remember, you also managed to let him go.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. It must be a strange and conflicting feeling to have someone finally pass after so many years of illness. Thinking of you and sending hugs.

    1. Thank you very much, your kind words mean so much to me. <3
      Is part of your family German? I haven't heard of the usage of Opa outside of Germany yet.

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