First off, Happy 150th Canada!
This is a hockey blog, however, there is a human behind this blog. Sometimes, that human, writes about things not hockey-related. Today, is one of those times. In the hockey world, one of the big things is players/coaches/everyone involved in the game are guilty of being closed off. That is, we don’t know a whole lot about them because they don’t share it publicly, the way other professional athletes do.
Well, here’s a look into my world.
In December, I wrote about my dream in hockey. A lot has happened since then, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Within that post, I briefly touched on the bond with my grandfather (Opa, as we Germans say). Ask anyone who knows me well, he was my world. I lived with him and my Oma for a while growing up. It was with them I learned to swim, to walk, to play soccer, and play with his incredible train set. In tough times throughout my young life, he was the first person to defend me, to support me, to drive 100 kms to watch me compete, to come on school trips with me, and most importantly, to tell me everything was going to be okay. He was my pillar of strength through it all. Weekly McDonald’s trips, just him and I, watching the Germans play football (soccer), building pine cone Christmas trees, and calling him every single day after my Oma passed away (July 2015) to talk to him. What I’m saying is, my whole life, is built on moments with him, because he never missed one.
A year ago, he passed away, rather suddenly, on vacation with our family, in Mexico. I’ll keep it short. I walked in on him having a heart attack. It is something I will never forget and something I wish no one to ever live through. It is the most helpless, empty, lost, scared feeling you can ever have. That night, while sitting by his hospital bed holding his hand, I tried to leave to get some water. He summoned some Superman strength because he nearly broke my hand, squeezing it to keep me there. That was followed by 4 days of time in the hospital with him, life saving surgeries and significant improvement. Thursday night, I promised I’d bring him pancakes the next day. I hugged him, he talked about how excited he was to go home (Saturday). We told each other how much we loved one another, and shared a long hug…that was the last time I ever saw him. Early Friday morning, another massive heart attack. This time, the damage was done. There was no saving him. My mom didn’t wake us up, it happened at 3am. But, at 9:02am, she knocked on my door. Her face was swollen and red, I knew something was wrong. She asked me to sit down and she gave the news that shattered my world. It brought me to my knees. I don’t remember a lot about that day, its a big blur. But, it is the most painful day of my life, and it isn’t even close.
What happened after his death, it still bothers me. But, I believe in karma, and that karma train is coming, full steam ahead. He never got the goodbye he deserved. I never got the chance to give the eulogy I promised I would, as I did my Oma’s. His dying wishes, unfulfilled.
The very last photo taken of him. The morning of his heart attack.
So it has been a year. I drive the car he left me, and there are days where it is too tough to do that. His sunglasses are still pinned to the shade above the driver’s seat. I still refer to it as Opa’s car. I still go to McDonald’s every Thursday, just like him and I did for 20 years. I have 22 pictures of him and I pinned on a wall in my room, 22 being his favourite number. I promised him, when Toronto FC started playing better, we’d go to a game. So when TFC made the MLS Cup Final, I went. I went with a Toronto FC jersey that read “Opa, #22” on the back, with the TFC scarf I had given him for Father’s Day. He introduced me to Bastian Schweinsteiger, my first non-hockey, athletic love. When he came to play on April 21st against TFC, I was there. Not only that, I am lucky enough to have the jersey Schweini wore that night, hanging on my wall. My Opa and I had planned a trip to Germany for Oktoberfest 2016, that didn’t happen. However, barring anything extraordinary career-wise, I will be in Germany this year for Oktoberfest. I won’t be with him, but he’ll be there.
So where am I, a year later? Well, those close to me will tell you I’m very different. For 8 months, I was a shadow of myself, almost a ghost. I completely shut down, emotionally. I couldn’t or wouldn’t allow myself to grieve, to feel the pain, to accept what had happened. It impacted other relationships, too. I’ve started to try and unlock the emotional cabinet, to grieve, and finally start to heal. I’ve started to feel a little bit better. The lack of closure has really hindered it. Moments, places or phrases bring tears to my eyes. I’ve cried myself to sleep, or woken up crying because I’ve had a dream about him. Moments in life seem incomplete because he isn’t there. He’s still on the Favourites List in my phone, right above my Oma. There isn’t an hour, let alone a day, where I don’t think of him. I heard a young child say, “Opa! Look how big this French fry is!” and remembered the many times I said that growing up.
The Last Family Photograph – (my brother, sister, myself, my mother and Opa)
He’s given me life lessons, he’s raised me to push through tough times and make yourself stronger. To be strong for those around you. To conduct yourself in a manner that he would be proud of. To laugh and enjoy the little things. I may look like my Mom, and love hockey like my Dad, but I am my Opa’s little girl.
I can still hear him saying “Langsam (slowly in English)” when I run down the stairs or calling me “Maus (mouse)”. I’ve got that signature “mouse” tattooed on my right foot, one I had long before he died. One that appeared in every card I received. A symbol of my right hand man, with me, every step of the way…wherever that may be.