It is with great sadness to announce the death of my grandmother, Erika Störmer.
I wanted to write something personal, yet timely. So let me start with Covid19 which killed hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. It is sad to see what happened in our societies, how things were handled by some states and some leaders, and how intransparent things were handled by some. We all have a personal story about Covid19, from job changes, job losses, hard times, home schooling, working from home, and so on. I wrote a daily diary for a while. And yet, the world will never be the same.
Oma didn’t die of Covid19 – as far as we know of course – but she was old. 99 years is quite an achievement. But I wanted to put Covid19 into perspective with what my Oma went through.
Imagine you were born in 1920. On the back of the 1st World War you were raised in Europe. You grew up on a small farm in the heartland of Germany before you somehow ended up living more central in Germany, marrying an older man, and raising three daughters, with the oldest being born at the end of the 2nd World War, 1944. Just imagine for a moment that life wasn’t plain sailing, and nothing as ‘comfortable’ as ‘staying at home’. It must have been incredible hard work, not a lot of technology either. Manual labour, rebuilding a country, and then seeing it being destroyed again.
Your husband didn’t have to go to war. He made tents for the German Army, and therefore was needed on the home front. You ran the books and an ironing business, owning a huge rotary iron. I remember, when I was a young boy, that she worked hard to do other people’s ironing, big sheets. Hence, my mum always ironed her bed sheets too. As far as I know, these businesses hardly exist these days, at least I haven’t heard of many people ironing their bed sheets anymore. But that was her business, long until she should have probably retired, long after Opa died.
The house they owned was old. It had a small basement with lots of homemade jam, covered by loads of spiders and spider webs. The office for the business just above. Her husband, Wilhelm, liked his cigarettes, beer and a good laugh. That’s what I was told, as I never had the chance to meet him. He died at a young age of 68, 6 years before I was born. He would have lived through the 1st world war as a teenager. Hard to believe. Erika, his wife, and my grandma, lived by herself in the big house ever since. Until of course, over 20 years ago, she moved to an elderly home.
The only bathroom of the house was half way up the stairs, with the kitchen still being supplied by gas from a gas bottle in the outbuilding to the back. That outbuilding burned down at some point, as some insulation material must have caught fire by the sun shining through some glass. At least that’s what I’ve been told. There was also a big chicken coup. We played in there as kids, years after the chickens were gone.
Oma had three daughters, and 6 grandchildren of which 5 are boys and 1 is a girl. Her great-grandchildren came to 14, with interesting enough a 50% split in gender. Not that it really matters, however I find it fascinating to look at that data, coming from a household of two boys, being the youngest, having two boys of my own, and my dad being the youngest of two boys. Family history is fascinating I find.
Oma taught me how to make pasta, bought me sweets and Kinder Surprise eggs, and when I stayed with her at her place over my Easter vacation, I was allowed to sleep in her bed, watch TV and we went swimming a lot. She had this fish tank which I enjoyed looking at and we went for walks, and ice cream. We spent hours in the little Italian ice cream shop, talking. We went to the graveyard most days, where Opa was buried, and I must have asked a lot of questions about him. I vaguely remember visiting other people who were extended family, and they told me about Opa’s brothers and family. Some of those stories never made sense to me.
The town she lived in was close to the German border. Imagine. Not only did Oma see the aftermath of World War 1, lived through World War 2, she also saw Germany being split und and re-united. What a time to be alive. When I was a bit older, I was put on a bus to see my other grandparents who lived about a twenty minutes bus ride away, even closer to the German border. Oma sometimes drove me in her Golf 1 which, when she stopped driving, only had 40,000 km on the clock and was in immaculate condition given it was 14 years old and kept in a garage. Every time I sit in a new Volkswagen, the smell reminds me of her car. And it always will. The bus took me along the German-German border. Along the cherry trees so famous for the area, and my grandparents would pick me up at the other end. They didn’t have enough room for me to stay over night, so I stayed either with my cousin or took the bus back. No one had mobile phones, GPS or any worries about me doing that, being probably about 10 years old. Sometimes Opa would drive me too. His Jetta couldn’t live up to Oma’s Golf though 😉
Can you imagine, Oma never went on a plane in her life. She never visited me in the UK, and had a hard time selling her family house in Mühlstrasse number 13. The number 13 always meant luck to us, just because it was her house number. And now, I cannot come and visit her to say goodbye, because of travel restrictions.
I am sure she was lonely. She understood that there was ‘an illness out there’ which she didn’t want to catch. Hence she didn’t leave the elderly home during lockdown and after. Of course, being almost 100, you are in one of the most vulnerable group. She didn’t like her food in the end, and like many old people didn’t remember everything. A day was a day and a visitor a visitor. It became more difficult for her to differentiate between people and what was going on. I believe if she had turned 100, it would have been for us more than for her, as I am not sure she would have fully understood.
She was in hospital a few times, scaring us every time, but she always recovered. Oma was tough. She was hard working, organised and what I would describe a very well structured person. She looked after others and was looked after by great staff in the care home. She never went beyond a TV in terms of technology, a mobile phone or a smart watch wouldn’t mean anything to her. She never had an email address or send a what’s app, played computer games or knew how to use Excel. The meaning of global warming was a term she probably could just understand, but whether she really ever grasped what Covid19 meant and how it might change the world forever, I don’t know. Probably she didn’t, and she didn’t have to. And I am glad she didn’t. There are so many things that I am glad she might have never seen, or has to see.
She cared about her family, and I only have very fond memories of her. I of course remember her being angry, and I am sure she had good reasons for that, but that’s what happens with children and their grannies I suppose. When she retired she worked for a charity, always giving back.
Close to 100 years is a damn long time to be on this planet. Particularly the last 100. So much change, and yet, we might say the same in 60 years time. Will we live that long? Will the planet survive? Will we move to space?
It doesn’t matter to us today. Neither did the technology revolution and the internet matter to Oma.
Let’s enjoy the moment we can feel, understand, and comprehend.
Let’s enjoy every single one, and make this the most important thing in our lives. Ever and forever.
I will miss you, Oma Erika.
I will keep you in my memories. Forever.
For my boys you will always be the ‘old lady in Germany’ and it is a privilege for them to have met you.
You are a cornerstone of my family, and I hope that in years to come, my grandchildren will look back to me, read this article and think the same about me.
Goodbye and Amen.