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.


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:

Two Years

We took turns holding her lifeless, precious body all night long until the sun came up. Caressing her soft skin, stroking her precious fuzzy hair, I tried to memorize every single feature of her dear little face, her dimpled little hands, chubby baby fingers, and fat little toes. Occasionally one of us would recall a funny memory and a lilt of laughter would contradict the intense sorrow that tightly encapsulated the room. “How do we walk away from here? How do we just get in our car, shut the doors and drive home with all of our stuff… and no baby,” I wondered, hours in to clutching her body tightly. Somehow she had lost her exquisitely delicious baby scent, perhaps a biological process of dying, “Maybe it left with her soul? Is that what heaven smells like?” My heart ached for that enchanted baby aroma — still does and always will.

Since that morning of intense and crushing sorrow, our lives have continued on — minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, and now year into year. 

For a few days shy of two years, her little grave had been unmarked. For much of that time I was of the mindset that having “nothing” was better than settling for ordinary. We simply could not find anything that was befitting of such a special baby. About a year or so into image searching for “unique headstones” — I found one that I really liked. Indeed unique, it incorporated bronze accents into the granite. I loved that! It wasn’t EXACTLY what I wanted, but clearly who ever created that headstone had the ability to think outside the box. It was truly a work of art. I clicked on the image, ready to resign myself to the fact that they were in Europe or some far off land, as had been all the others I’d liked. Once redirected to their website, I sat staring in disbelief — Louisville, Kentucky!?!?! Really?!?! If you only knew the number of times I was redirected to a foreign website would you understand my astonishment! This is how I found Joy Monuments

And so now, without further ado, we present to you this gorgeous, distinctive, and very meaningful tribute to our beloved Nora:

Deciding on a headstone for your child is probably one of the saddest things a parent could ever have to do. But I will say that it was truly a “joy” to work with Joy Monuments. They were so patient with us as we tried to make up our minds on what it was that we truly wanted. This was nothing that we could have (or wanted to) pick out of a catalog. The portfolio of this monument company’s extraordinary work indicated to us that there wasn’t much that they weren’t capable of. So for many months we brainstormed and traded ideas back and forth until we finally settled on the perfect design, the perfect stone type and color, the perfect fonts, and the perfect accents while needing to take the cemetery regulations into consideration. 

We had to, of course, feature the “3 Little Birds” who showed up time and time again — before, throughout and after Nora’s life. The 3 little birds with their message pure true, as the song goes, “Don’t worry, about a thing. Cuz every little things gonna be alright.” Our pet house sparrow Ava (1997-2007) served as the model for the 3 little birds. They are created out of bronze, sculpted from pictures we provided of Ava. Each bird also represents a number 7, with there being 7 letters in ‘SPARROW’. The three of them together are the ‘777’ treasured days that Nora was here with us.

The headstone wouldn’t be complete without the asymmetrical, perfectly imperfect heart. The top of the heart is formed by a scripty letter E, for ‘Elanora’ (Nora’s full “fancy name”), E for ‘Eternity’, and E for the high-pitched ‘eeeeeeyeee’ noise that used to elicit a big smile from her sweet little face. The rest of the heart blends into the infinity symbol representing our infinite love, God’s infinite love, and the infinite eternity of heaven.

In anticipation for the day when our time is up on this earth we purchased the plots on either side of Nora. Someday my name and William’s name will be placed on the base of the monument with our respective dates, as we are united together in eternity. One bird in flight (Nora) and the other two birds (her Mom & Dad) perched in waiting with their paths to Eternity clearly marked, etched in stone.

Until then, I’ll be perched right here missing her, remembering her, and thinking about her and the June 3rd that she took flight. The grief is still very heavy. There are days when its weight is agonizing, but it is now just a part of me and I’ve accepted that. There is nothing I would do to be rid of it because it is all that I have left of her. It is the evidence of my love.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)