Friday, January 01, 2010

The last twelve months weren't good for me.

My dear friend Guy B. Meeker died in December 2008. His body was not strong enough to withstand the merciless grip of an aggressive cancer.

In May 2009, my mother Ana Catharina Barber passed away, she was 95 years old. Even though it was not a 'tragic' death, considering her age, I miss her now that she is not around anymore. She was enviably lucid until she suffered the devastating effects from a stroke that completely paralyzed her two weeks before she was released from life.

"Mami", aka "AC" when she was 93
Photo taken in 2006

My mother wanted to be buried in Cochabamba where she spent wonderful years of her life. We, her surviving children, complied with her request, and interred her remains next to her mother, Marie-Louise Barber.

If I were requested to say what my mother's most remarkable personality traits were, three characteristics would come to my mind imm
ediately: Discipline, modesty, and independence.

Ana Catharina Barber (1913 - 2009)
Photo taken in 1969

My youngest sister Erica, aged 63, followed my mother only three weeks later. She died of cancer in June 2009, in Munich, where she has lived most of her adult life.

Erica Leander (1945 - 2009)
Photo taken in 1993

Erica, 20 years old
Photo taken in 1965

Erica when she was 15
Photo taken in 1960

Renate, Wolfgang, Erica
Photo taken in 1950

While Erica and I had a conflict-laden relationship, we had so much more in common than one would expect from siblings. To say that I 'miss' Erica would be an inadequate word to express the void I feel after her death.

Although I am a confirmed atheist, and, thus, do not believe in an after-life, I would now like to be comforted by the thought that one day my beloved sister and I will be able to find the reconciliation we both so much longed for during the often tempestuous times of our lives. But since I do not foresee a good reason to give up my agnostic conviction, I have to accept the harsh reality that we will not meet again. I will, therefore, keep the dialogue with Erica alive until I die.

Hers was a tormented earthly passage. And the more difficult it became for her to find the peace to live the present with what could be described as a 'normal' degree of happiness and a reasonable sense of worth, Erica dug deeper into the roots of our Jewish ancestry to look for the simple solace of belonging.

I recently heard an accurate metaphor for the search of one's identity - not an uncommon phenomenon in our times of crumbling social and famili
al structures. "Searching for an identity is like carrying a heavy back-pack without knowing what its content is."

Had Erica known that my sister Renate and I would put her to rest next to our grand-mother Pauline Margarethe Leander in the Berlin Weissensee Cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe, she would have just smiled the contagious smile that so much reminded me of the way our father smiled...

Click on images to enlarge

PS: On December 26, 2009, I received a mail from my young friend Matt Burnes informing me that his mother, Jean Booth-Rex, passed away unexpectedly. I have known Jean since 1968, when we fell in love with each other. We both lived in Puerto Rico back then. Our love affair didn't last but our friendship did and became perfectly natural over the years. I spoke to Jean on the phone as recently as six weeks ago when Matt joined me to dive with the tigers of Tiger Beach. Jean was healthy and, as always, full of energy and in good spirits. I still cannot imagine her not being with us anymore.

Matt's father, Glen Burnes, died only a few months earlier.

Matt - you lost your parents. They are irreplaceable - but you might find some consolation knowing that you have an old fatherly friend...

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