North

I’m sitting here wrapped up in a warm fuzzy blanket all by myself with a fancy Sam Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA that someone left in the fridge, listening to Boston and looking out at the freezing cold channeled waters of Lake Huron. 

It was a beautiful warm day, but it is starting to get chilly again as the sun gets lower in the sky. I’ve been up here in the Les Cheneaux Islands of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan since Monday evening after an 8 and a half hour drive. I have come up here to start writing my book that perhaps, maybe, might get published someday. The rest of my family has taken this opportunity to go visit William’s family down in Texas. This is the longest and the furthest I’ve been away from my husband and children since I’ve been married. While I certainly love and appreciate my introvert’s heavenly solitude when I can get it, it’s been quiet and even just a little bit lonely at times. This place is usually so bustling with activity and laughter when I’m here. It was strange at first to adjust to the quietness! I’m excited to see my hubzbind and my kids next week and I hope they’re all having fun without me! It turns out that ten days is a long time!

I’ve had very productive days of writing and being active. It’s so easy to go for 5 mile walks when there is just endless beauty to look at. The mostly flat terrain and cooler climate is also a huge bonus! It has been bittersweet to reminisce about the walks we had gone on with Nora along much of the same route. A lump welled up in my throat as I approached the intersection I had been at with Nora when an elderly couple approached the stop sign in their car. 

They smiled so big and craned to look into the stroller at the sweet sleeping baby. There was no pity in their eyes at the sight of the portable oxygen tank dangling from her stroller. In that moment I was just simply a mom on a walk with her baby. That scene did not contain any extra 18th chromosome, no anxiety, no prognises, and no grim statistics. For just in that moment, everything was perfect. I remember tearing up, and stopping to kiss Nora as the sound of their tires crackled along the gravel in the distance, taking that moment with them. 

I’ve gone on walks, I’ve gone on bike rides on my sweet Oma’s old bike, and I’ve taken the kayak out a couple of times, Norns Doll always with me. 

Yes, I’m that weird lady seen around with the doll peeking out of the back of her drawstring pack pack. I don’t even care. 

On Wednesday, my birthday, I kayaked from Island 8 over to Government Island. There are no houses on Government, just a collection of trails and more serene beauty. Once I was on the island I had it in my mind that I wanted to cut across to the other side instead of going the way that I was used to.  I started off on what appeared to be a trail, but it gradually faded. Fortunately I had worn my creek boots. The next thing I knew, I was sloshing through mossy marshes, climbing over fallen trees, literally squeezing in between pine trees, trying to untangle my hair from their branches, wiping spider webs off my face and getting scratched to hell and back. “This is not fun anymore,” I commented to the curious little chickadee in the tree. 

Imagine this ALL around, except even worse. I didn’t get pictures of the bad parts!

I started to get a little bit nervous and eventually got my phone out. I had been tracking my hike predicament on Map My Run and I was none too happy to see the big red trail making a horseshoe shape. I was basically heading in a circle, and not the straight line I had imagined. It felt like I was turning around to go back the way I came when I set myself back in the direction I was supposed to be heading. I hadn’t realized how easy it was to get disoriented in that type of environment, but yeah! Isn’t this just like life, I thought to myself, specifically our time with Nora. We received her diagnosis and from that point on, we lost the trail. We thought we were heading in one direction, only to get thrown completely off. There were moments of panic as we tried to regain our bearings. There were times of struggle, terrible discomfort and fatigue as we unknowingly walked in circles. We tripped and we fell several times along the way, but we would get back up, dust ourselves off and continue on. We greatly appreciated the clearings when they popped up, but just as soon as we grew comfortable with the lack of obstacles – there we were again trying to snap branches out of the way, sustaining more scratches and bruises. We got to spend so much time in the lush and beautiful meadow — much longer than anyone ever would have guessed. But then we were thrust back into the tangle of forest again. It was interesting that even in the scary, painful parts — if we would just stand still for a second and stop fighting our way, there was still beauty. There were beautiful carpets of moss, sprouts of wildflowers never before seen by anyone else, tiny pine saplings bursting forth from the lush soil, and the skittish little birds that warbled up in the high branches. We missed all of that when we were so focused on getting to the other side. 

Eventually I could hear the sound of the water and saw the sparkle of sunlight dancing off of it through the trees. A few more hurdles, leaps and scratches, I was finally there. Hot, sweaty, bedraggled, with twigs in my crazy hair and covered in cobwebs, but I was there!!


 I stood there for a moment and looked out at the expanse of the Great Lake, Huron. It was beautiful and the breeze felt so good, waves lapping at the shore. 

AAAAAhhhh!!!! I rested for a moment before continuing on along the southern shore of the island. I was familiar with the rest of the way, but took careful steps over the rocky terrain so as not to twist my ankle. No Service popped up at the top of my phone — not that there was anyone close by to come and rescue me, but I could have at least updated my Facebook status about it and my friends could have felt sorry for me! (LOL) The rest of my hike was uneventful. I stopped to absorb the beauty from to time along the way back to my kayak. 


There is this really cool tree that has this crazy curved branch that just begs to be sat on. I couldn’t resist and set the timer on my camera. Hurry!! 10 seconds to jump up there in big clumsy boots… and GO

I literally went out on a limb for my birthday!


It’s funny to look at that tree. If someone were to draw a picture of it, you would look at the drawing and think, “Well that’s not right. Tree branches don’t look like that.” But here is proof that they can and do!

Since it was my birthday, I accepted the invitation to have dinner with my Uncle Roger and Aunt Mary Ann, and Pat and Terry L. later that evening. They were also up here at their beautiful places for a visit. I had joked that I was just going to be by myself on my birthday blowing out a candle on my sad sandwich that I would then eat aaaalllll alone. LOL. That seriously would not have bothered me, but it was actually very nice to be in their company. We had delicious homemade pizza and salad, and then (“eenen“) they sang Nora’s favorite song to me with a fabulous chocolate cake! It was the perfect ending for my birthday — a day that can’t help but be tinged with sorrow, as it is also the anniversary of Nora’s funeral. However, I got some incredible happy birthday wishes from heaven throughout the day, and a gorgeous sunset on the drive home. 

Zoom in closely to see the 3 birds! I followed their path of flight and discovered the rainbow that had been placed in the sky behind me!

Thursday I finally got into the groove of writing. I had been writing lots, but nothing flowed. I found that my words streamed so much more smoothly from my pen than they did from the keyboard. I had even tried writing on my Grandmother’s old manual typewriter that I had brought up here. 

After about 7 lines and yanks of the return carriage, I had to give up. Oh. My. Goodness, how spoiled we are with our neat, smooth-stroke, ergonomically designed computer keyboards and ability to backstroke, edit and revise on our word processing programs that will even correct our grammar and spelling without so much as a second thought!!!! My pitiful, weak finger muscles could NOT HANG, especially my poor scrawny little pinkies who were expected to exert about 10 lbs of force with each shift stroke. And we don’t have to growl at any ink ribbons that keep dislodging every time we hit the shift key. We are seriously, seriously so spoiled with this!!! So yeah, that did not work so well, but my pen and notebook have been great and are easy to travel / kayak with. The typewriter will just be here as nostalgic ambiance. 

Today I kayaked over to my Uncle Greg and Aunt Paula’s house over on the mainland. They weren’t there, but I figured they wouldn’t mind if I parked my kayak there for a bit. 

From there I walked down to Fox Lane where the cottage that once belonged to my Great-Grandma Bohmer sits. I had planned on just peeking by for a quick visit to reminisce. But there was no one there, and the urge to sit down at the familiar old picnic table was too much to resist! I hope no one minds! I opened up the digital albums I had archived on Google Drive and scanned through all of the old photos that were taken in that very place. 

Many of them dated all the way back to 1951 which is when Grandma Bohmer purchased the cottage. I was astounded by how much was still the same — a treasured time capsule of not only my own childhood, but also of my Mom’s and her brother’s childhoods. There were pictures of us as babies through different eras on that very porch where I currently sat all these years later in 2017. 

And then I came along, hungry for hotdogs! ~

I gasped with wide-eyed wonder to discover the picture of Uncle Joe & Aunt Nora, my Grandma Bohmer’s older sister sitting in the very spot that I had sat as a little girl and was now sitting today at that very moment.

I took some current day pictures for comparison and then sat there with my pen and my notebook and wrote for 3 hours. Writing came so easy. I imagined that all of these old souls were still sitting around this table, sharing this beautiful moment in time with me as if though they’d never left at all, infinitely connected by our strands of DNA across all time and dimensions.

I mean, even the chairs on the left are positioned the same exact way!! I did not pose them!

 

June 3

Over these past couple of weeks I took on the daunting task of organizing Nora’s closet. After she had died we placed everything organized as best as we could in the closet of the room that was supposed to have been her bedroom, but never was. Putting her things away was in no way an attempt to get her out of our minds. It was all just too painful to look at. It was as if a deep gouge had been scratched into a record, interrupting the beautiful song that had been playing. Terrible static ensued and then those last few notes kept playing over and over and over and over again. All of Nora’s things sat dutifully in place ready to be of service, waiting for the song to continue just as it always had. And now it was abruptly over. My way of turning off the record player was to put most of everything away. The heavy pall of silence that fell over our home was of no solace either. It was a stark reminder of all that was lost. 

I was taking on the task of the closet not to get rid of anything, but to make some semblance of it. I had gone in there so many times trying to find something and accomplished nothing other than making an even bigger mess of her things and of my emotions. I had prepared myself for much of what was behind those sliding white doors – her toys, her books, some of her clothes, burp rags, blankets, wash clothes, hooded little towels, her Bumbo and her beloved nest. I took it all out of the closet piece by piece. Then there were the things I had forgotten about or didn’t expect to see. These were the things that just completely annihilated me. A dried pack of wipies with one wipe standing at attention, ready for duty (“doody”), and then the boogie sucker with her boogies still in it. No one ever imagines that they’d be standing there weeping bitterly over dried snot, but there I was — my lungs constricting in lengthy jagged bursts, tears streaming down my red cheeks. The spot of blood on an IV bandaid. HER blood. The pink teddy bear that played a recording of her fetal heartbeat. These are all just THINGS, I reminded myself. Myself snapped back, “All JUST things?? All of these stupid, insignificant things?? How is it that they are all still here and she is not? How is it that the f#$%ing batteries in her toys and her birthday cards are still alive and singing, while the most important ‘thing’ is dead? These THINGS are ALL that we have left tangible.” I continued to weep. I took breaks from time to time, to go outside and gaze up at the sky, or to pound my fists into the carpet in a rage of tears. I appreciated the day of thunderstorms. It was comforting to have the weather match my own tumultuous climate. I organized it all, put it in labeled bins and boxes. The padded and ribboned box from the hospital that contained the rose that I had brought from home. Although now dried up, it had looked so pretty behind her ear for that moment in time… 


And then the last pair of pajamas she ever wore with the emergent cut down the middle. There had been no time to even remove her pajamas that horrible day in May. The box of mementos from her birth – the tag from her bassinet “NORA”, our hospital bracelets. I marveled at how tiny her little wrist once was as I slipped her bracelet over my thumb. 
  

I smiled as I thought about the fat rotund little wrists that she had when she left us. She has come such a long way. I even saved her first teeny tiny nail clippings, taped to a piece of dark paper. I saved those, but I couldn’t save HER.
After I had neatly labeled everything and put it all back into the closet, I went through the boxes and boxes of cards, notes and letters that we had collected since January of 2012. I saved and treasure each and every one of them. I sorted them out in categories: pregnancy, birth congratulations, holidays and birthdays, and then the cards of condolences. I sat in tearful awe over all of the lives Nora had touched before she was even born and continues to do so now 3 years after her death. If I could stack them all up, I would have about 2 feet of cards. I cried tears of gratitude over the drawings from kids and read through each and every card and letter. Nora had captured the hearts of so many people, young and old. It didn’t matter whether you had met her here in person or if you only knew her through pictures. You cheered us on, encouraged us, prayed for us, and then in the end you helped carry this debilitating burden of grief. Nora wasn’t just MY Lady Baby. She belonged to all of us, bringing with her a message of faith, hope and unconditional love, pointing us all toward heaven. She was everybody’s sweetheart.

I think about and remember my sweet Lady Baby every single moment of every single day, but today is especially painful as I remember how we had to say goodbye to her during the fresh early morning hours of this day. I give so much thanks for the precious gift that we all were given. Sweet Nora, what a privilege to know and love you. 

On Monday I leave for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’ll be there for 10 days all by myself (!!!! #introvertdreamcometrue) with my laptop, my pens, notebooks, sketch pads, my paints, my Grandmother’s typewriter and a great big story to write. The book. I’m going to try to be “off the grid” as much as possible with maybe some updates on Instagram (@aleisaak). Thank you all for being a part of this epic journey along with us. Thank you for all of your texts, phone calls, messages, posts and comments throughout the day today. You made my heart smile.

Moon Bath

The thrust of warm water hisses through the pipes. My chilled skin welcomes the initial sting as its warmth surrounds me. I lean back on the bath pillow, clasping my broken heart, pretending for just a moment that you’re still here. I Imagine that someone is about to bring me your fat naked little body. That at any moment you’ll be immersed with me, an excited smile on your face. Weightless, warm, cherished and loved, I’d stroke water through your fuzzy hair, kiss your cheeks, squeeze your naked baby bum and sing to you how much I love you. The water continues to splash out from the faucet, coalescing with my tears. Only your faded mermaid sticker smiles back at me. Your bath towel and the precious imprint of where your sweet head used to lie. No kicky, squealing baby to place on it, covered in 1,070 days’ worth of dust. The moon and Jupiter peek in through a gap in the curtain — reflecting the sun’s light over great expanse to this little spot in the world where I used to hold you and love you. The bath is lonely and sad without you, but just like the sun, no time and no distance can diminish the intensity of my love for you. 

In Thanksgiving

Just over three months ago I was contacted by a family friend asking if I would be interested in doing a painting for her. The painting was to be based off of a photograph of a woman standing on mountainous terrain with her arms outstretched and her face radiantly lifted up to the heavens. The woman in the photograph was Jaime’s sister, who sadly had taken her last breath just the day before Jaime had written to me. Tammy had lost her 18 month battle with pancreatic cancer at just 54-years-old. I never had the privilege of meeting Tammy here on this earth, but from what I’ve heard and read about her, she is nothing short of extraordinary!


It had been quite a long time since I had done any large scale portrayals of real people, however I immediately agreed to do this for Jaime. If my God-given talent could bring some fraction of peace to her shattered heart — then yes, of course I will do this!

I shopped that weekend for just the right sized canvas and splurged on some durable “real artist” paints and some new fancy brushes. (The little artists in my family don’t always rinse Muthr’s brushes out properly.) And then I set to work.

The large blank canvas sat before me in my quiet, empty house.

“Lord, I thank you for this talent. I pray that you guide each brush stroke, that each dab of paint will bring honor and glory to You and to this beautiful life you created, Tammy — who was on loan to us for only a short time. I pray that the paint on this canvas will bring peace and comfort to Jaime and to the rest of Tammy’s family. Amen.”

I took a deep breath as I dipped brand new bristles into the fresh dollops of paint on my pallet. Large sweeping strokes of blues, grays, and whites, cirrus whispers of pinks and yellows, the sky, an ever changing moment in time.


The rest of the painting would come to life over the course of the next 3 months, usually on quiet uninterrupted afternoons (except for the occasional cat visit) while the kids were in school. I smiled as I contemplated the original photograph. Tammy’s face simply radiated with joy as she looked up to that sky on that day. She was in beautiful Hawaii for the gender reveal of her grand baby due in a few months time, I was later told. There was such hope and promise on that breathtaking horizon. Tammy’s terminal illness hadn’t been diagnosed, yet it had already established itself, silently and cruelly stealing her away from all that she loved and all that loved her… or so it seems from this side of heaven. There were some afternoons that I cried bitterly, especially while painting Tammy. How unfair and fragile this delicate balance of life and death is — and has always been. It’s not until someone we love deeply is torn away from us that we fully comprehend this.

The last two days I spent working on the final touches of this painting were such a gift. Summer would never have to bid its farewell, if I had anything to say about it. The gift of 76 blessed degrees in late November, little butterflies and sweat bees still lingering about… It would have been a tragic lapse of judgement not to drag everything outside onto the back deck. My makeshift outdoor studio overlooked Autumn’s majestic trees dressed in splendid finery of reds, yellows and blazing oranges. Wisps of feathery clouds coiled and whorled above me against the backdrop of God’s cerulean blue hue canvas. I turned on some nostalgic 70s music, and vowed to soak in the last of these perfect weather days, as was forewarned by the forecast. It certainly wasn’t Hawaii, but my rendition of Tammy, with her arms outstretched seemed to revel in the treasured warmth out on the back deck right along with me.


The blustering cold had snuck in during the night shortly after the final strokes of my signature had dried. The painting was finished. I tearfully hoped and prayed that it would bring comfort to Jaime.

And It did. I eagerly brought it to her the next day, just in time for the difficult, bittersweet holidays that loomed off in the short distance. As I presented the painting to Jaime this past Monday, we held each other in a tearful embrace. I had absolutely no idea, but this day, Jaime explained, just so happened to be the anniversary of her mother’s death. There could not have been better timing.


As we endure the empty space in our hearts and around the tables this Thanksgiving and Christmas, let us be reminded of all that is still good, and all that was once “perfect”, and all that WILL BE perfect once again, in the very true sense of the word. Love and blessings to each of you this Thanksgiving.

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“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (‭Psalm‬ ‭106:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Baby Gavin Reimer

From my desk I took a deep breath and prayed, “Lord, God, let this be a worthy and accurate portrayal of this precious baby boy’s life, and all of the love that surrounded him before and after he was born — the 6 hours he shared his breaths and heartbeats with his beloved family. I pray that there are no complications with the software, hardware or anything else. Please inspire me internally and externally and enable me to make the very most of this limited time. In your name I pray.”

Bitter tears streamed down my face as I organized, spliced, synced and labeled each precious moment captured in photographs. His mama had given me the artistic liberty to tell their story — their story that had just unfolded on that same awful road that had once scarred, bruised and blistered my own feet. How very privileged, yet nervous I was to have been entrusted with such a monumental task. With God’s help, I pressed on.

And at a reasonable hour of the night, it was complete, ready for her to see — without one glitch. I apprehensively sent her the link and watched the video again as I awaited her response. A fresh batch of tears spilled out onto my desk. How lucky he was to have been so intensely and intentionally loved, held close and cherished literally the span of his entire life. How many can lay claim to this? Each slide personalized the reckless, yet confident love his parents and brothers held for him. A love that threatened to mortally wound their hearts – yet they held fast to it anyway. This baby boy was worthy of THAT kind of love. I prayed that this love was accurately represented in this composition of photographs taken by his family and by photographers who themselves were no stranger to grief. 

She soon texted back that she was beyond pleased with what I had created and expressed such fervent gratitude. Tears of relief mingled with the tears of sorrow, “Thank you, God!!!”

With Kirsten’s permission, and with such love in my heart, I present to you The Treasured Moments and Precious Life of Gavin Mark Reimer ~

In Wait

The merciless ticking of the clock coupled with the fear of the unknown threatened to erode the very core of my being. Methodical and intentional breaths helped keep my head above the crashing waves. It all seems a thousand years ago, and yet only yesterday from where I sit in the corner of this hospital. From outside the window, the silhouette of the towers, concourses and office buildings slowly become visible against the backdrop of the early morning sky. A patterned glow of windows interrupt the darkness, and I contemplate over each one. 


Is that the room where I cradled my newborn birth daughter for the first time? Which was the room where I drew my own first breaths? The rooms where my siblings were born – when I proudly wore my “IM A BIG SISTER” sticker. Which is the window that my Oma looked out of from her hospital bed after she fell and broke her leg? Or the stark room where I spent the night with my sister after her first son was born, waiting for adoption papers, both of us still kids ourselves. This morning one of these rooms holds a mother and a father and a precious baby boy, not yet born. As the sun rises higher in the sky and up over the buildings, I pray for their peace, for visible, tangible evidence of God’s presence — not because of lack of faith, but because we NEED him that close. Inside his mother’s womb, a little baby boy is cradled in pure, unconditional love. He is safe in his cocoon, blissfully unaware of his extra 18th chromosome, and all of the fears and worry that accompany his condition. His only basic primal need is to be loved. He is LOVED.

Father God, I pray Your peace and serenity upon this family. Dispatch your legions of warrior angels to thwart off the attacks of the enemy who looms nearby studying and searching for a way in. There is no room for the enemy in any part of this hospital, Lord. Guard the hearts and minds of this family from any fear and unrest. Help them to keep their focus solely on you. Lord, I pray that your glory will shine forth through the life of this little boy who is so very, very loved. I pray that the decisions involving his care will be made clear and concise, that all of the right people will be in place at the right time. Upon his birth, I pray for this little boy’s strength and stability, that there will be no emergencies that would prevent him from spending time in his parents’ loving embrace. We thank you, Father for the beautiful life of this baby boy. He is fearfully and wonderfully made, perfect in Your loving eyes. We have no idea what is going to unfold today, but You do, Lord. You are in control of each and every little detail, mapping out each of our days. We surrender to Your will, our trust is in You. 

When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

Amen.

My Sweet Oma

We walked arm in arm along some transcendental pathway. We laughed, we talked, and there was the love. The love that gripped us to the very core and would never let go. I kept a slower pace, mindful of her injured leg. I commented on how well she seemed to be walking now, and how proud I was of her progress. In her typical style she brushed off the compliment and explained in her thick German accent how she’s not perfect yet – she has some trouble going up hills, but that she’d get there.

And then the dream was over. I turned over in bed to look at the time and to see who had just texted.

“Oma was admitted to the hospital this morning. Her oxygen levels are low and she was very lethargic. Dad is on his way there now. They had called to ask about putting her on a ventilator…” my Mom’s text read.

I sat up in bed, startled by my dream’s contrast with this sudden and unsettling reality. I didn’t know what to say in response. William and the kids were out of town visiting William’s family in Texas. I got ready in the silent house and drove to the hospital because I just didn’t know what else to do. During the 33 minute drive I reflected on the dream. Was that her saying goodbye to me on her way out of here??! No! I pressed the accelerator a little closer to the floor.

So far, there hasn’t been anything Oma couldn’t defeat. Why would this be any different? She had fallen in the shower back in April and had broken her femur. Because of the complicated nature of the break and its close proximity to one of her prosthetic knees – an involved surgery needed to take place. We were all warned of the huge risks involved, mainly concerning her heart. There was a very big chance that she might not have survived that surgery. But she did. She even made it out of the hospital to a rehabilitation facility where she worked so hard to regain her strength so she could get back home. Of course there were a few setbacks along the way, but she hurdled over each one – fighting strong.

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It was impossible for any of us to fully realize the severity of the situation early that morning in the hospital, yet in less than 24 hours she was gone.

We spent that whole day at her bed side. It was discovered later in the morning that she had suffered a stroke at some point in the previous night or early that morning. In all likelihood that is what impaired her ability to communicate with us. While she wasn’t physically able to talk to us, it seemed like she was trying her hardest. There was still a mighty fight in her, but her tired body was not cooperating anymore.

We reassured her that we were there with her, we held her hands, stroked her hair and talked about all the fun times we’d had already. And my sweet Dad… He and my Mom had become Oma’s caretakers over these past few of years. For almost 11 months of those years she had lived with them. However, that day there in the hospital I poignantly witnessed my Dad as Oma’s little boy as he recalled stories about when he was little. “Mama die kaffe is kocht,” he’d tell her in German, his first language. And how she’d obligingly pour a cup of pretend coffee into a pretend cup–the imaginary coffee he had “cooked” on the heat register in his little pewter coffee pot. That instinctual and sacred bond between mother and child – death can never tear that apart. Even though deep in our hearts we realized the end was near, I think we all expected that Oma would pop her eyes open any moment–that we’d again hear her tell us she loves us or suddenly insist that we must be so busy and shouldn’t be “bozzering vis all dis cdrap” (“bothering with all this crap”). She regarded her major, major surgeries and hospital stays as just bothers and inconveniences that must be endured — swatting at gnats. She never EVER wanted to inconvenience anyone.

Her tenacious spirit seemed immortal. For those of us who called her “Oma” or “Mom” there has never been a world in which she didn’t exist. That iconic German accent, her quirky, animated and sometimes blunt personality–she is the leading character in so many memories–emphasis on the word “character”! Sometimes it was just the language / cultural barrier situations that she ended up in that were so hilarious! She came over here from Germany with her husband in 1953 with a toddler and five months pregnant with my Dad. They started off with very little money and not much English either. One story I remember in particular from my Dad is the time Oma went to the beauty parlor maybe back in the sixties. She had been in conversation with the woman styling up her big hair and Oma had apparently shared something astounding with her. The stylist’s response was, “You’ve gotta be shittin’ me, Maria!!” Safe to say that Oma knew what all of those words meant by then, but she had never heard them in that context and was extremely confused. “Vott is dat shuppose to mean??”

The photographs of her sweeping across the dance floor to the tune of some grand waltz with my Opa,

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visits back home to Germany,

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at home with her kids on Stanhope Avenue in their first house,

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in a candid loving moment with her husband, my dear sweet Opa,

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or behind the counter at Koester’s Bakery

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— she always wore that beautiful smile.

Shortly before she broke her leg back in April she had a few more photographs for me to add to the rest of her photos I have been organizing, digitizing and archiving. I asked about this one in particular:

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She shook her head in mock dismay, “Acht! My fdriends tolt me zet dis vas a svimvear pah-tee. Vee vere all schuppose to vear our bazing soots an I vas zee only von. Ohhhh, how vee LAUGHED.” (Her friends invited her to a swimwear party and when she showed up, she was the only one wearing her bathing suit.) Seems that bathing suit debacles run in our family!!!?

Behind her loving, contagious smile and those sparkling eyes was a woman who had witnessed and endured unthinkable circumstances and horrors, especially during WWII in Germany. {We helped her put together her autobiography several years ago: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARIA A. KOESTER.} She had every right to be bitter, distrustful and withdrawn — but she chose not to be. I never ever heard her complain or feel sorry for herself. Life didn’t owe her anything. She made the absolute best with what she had and had a blast doing it.

In the day after she passed a great storm had rolled through. We were busy weeding through 88 years of photographs for the slideshow that we would play at her funeral. A strange yellow sky summoned our attention at the window. We were drawn outside and stared up at the peculiar cloud formations cast in an unnatural shade of yellow. We walked barefoot through the wet grass to investigate the bright pink color shining through the trees.

“What is that?”

And then it came into view…

A streak of purple lightening slashed through the sky and across the rainbow taking my breath away. We were awestruck, dumbfounded and overcome with emotion. With each blink the rainbow changed in intensity. I had NEVER seen anything like it in my life — even the clouds — they had a strange blur around edges that gave the illusion that they were out of focus – like a blurry photograph where you can see 2 of the same object. As I took photo after photo my phone began receiving a series of texts. Apparently from where I was standing, I was only seeing a small part of this INCREDIBLE rainbow.

These are from my brother:

And then this one from my friend Tonya:

The one that sent tears spilling down my cheeks – the double rainbow. The two of them, little Nora with her bright and vibrant Oma, playing the harmonica and singing “Hoppe Hoppe, Reiter” or “Klip Klop” together in Eternity. The exquisite timing was absolutely overwhelming. No way I could dismiss or deny these implications.

Maria Koester, my Oma was one beautiful, compassionate, feisty, tender, determined, brave, selfless, mighty, hilarious and extraordinary woman who I am completely and utterly honored to call my Oma. I am eternally grateful for the gift of that one last walk with her, and for that enormous colorful beacon from the heavens, sent to let us know she had arrived safely and that she got her hands on my fat little cherub up there!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
(Romans 8:18)

The slideshow from Oma’s funeral: