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Franz L Kessler

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Once in a Lifetime or Seven Days of Hell
By Franz L Kessler
Monday, January 24, 2005

Rated "G" by the Author.

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When we hear the sentence ‘once in a lifetime,’ we tend to reflect about our first date, our first kiss etcetera. We always remember the nice things. But there is a dark and unavoidable side of our life, too - the reality of death.

In mid-January I received an email from my sister. In her message she told me that Dad had been hospitalized. I had a bad feeling. Saturday. I phoned the hospital, and inquired about my Daddy’s health. I exchanged a few words with him, then the nurse told me that he was too weak to talk. She didn’t tell me about his medical condition. She said she wasn’t allowed to tell me. “You have to ask the doctor, I can’t tell you. But your father is quite sick,” she said. “Try to come to see him soon, if you can.”
“But I’m so far away right now,” I said.
“Well, in this case.. Perhaps you could wait until Monday. Let’s see how things will develop.”
I got worried. During my recent Christmas visit, he had been quite weak already. His usual strength and energy was gone. I pitied him a lot. When we said good-bye, he hugged me and cried like a little kid. ‘Will I see him again?’ I asked myself that very moment.

Now, this Sunday evening, and some two weeks after Christmas I received another email from my sister. She had finally reached and talked to the doctor. He explained her that Dad was suffering from a ‘kidney failure.’ I knew enough of medicine to grasp that this verdict was nothing short of a death sentence, a question of days perhaps. But it was Sunday, and I needed to pop into my office to get some leave clearance, and a flight ticket. I felt very uneasy. Please hold out, please… I prayed. The night from Sunday to Monday I hardly could sleep.

Monday. Finally it dawned. I went to the office and got the necessary permissions to leave, and a flight ticket. I rushed home. By early afternoon I sat in the plane already. At a transit stop in Kuching, Malaysia, I got hold of my brother-in-law by phone. “I’m very sorry to tell you,” he said. “Your Dad has passed away last night. He died a quiet death. Your sister is there and arranges the funeral.” My words got stuck in my throat. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t. Despite trying so hard, I was arriving too late. Somehow I felt strangely calm, yet immersed in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions– my brother-in-law’s message struck me almost as a relief. Since many years I had prepared myself for the unavoidable farewell. Now this moment had come. I got my connection flight, and slept a bit in the plane.

Tuesday. I arrived in my cold, native Bavaria. I felt like a stranger. It was snowing. I got hungry and went for a bite in a scenic biergarten inn. I had a nap before my sister came to pick me up. We were happy to see each other, though the sinister event was hanging like a dark cloud above our heads. We started all the bureaucratic necessities and errands which come along with death: arranging announcements in the local press, calling family and friends, writing black-rimmed letters, booking the funeral, etc. Then we drove to the retirement home, where my Dad had been living for a few months – like in the case of many Alzheimer patients we had surrendered to the fact that we couldn’t manage him any longer by ourselves. This evening we screened and sorted his belongings. It was a painful exercise: his clothes went into blue recycling plastic bags, personal objects got stuffed in two suitcases. Nothing could feel more gut-wrenching than this. I had enough and wanted to be alone. I meditated, and got some uneasy sleep in my chilly flat- it always took a day or two to warm up these old brick walls.

Wednesday. Melanie arrived, too. In my wife’s company I felt a lot better. Together with my sister and a few good old friends we cleaned out Daddy’s room and checked his various, but mostly depleted bank accounts. We visited uncle Gerhard, and finalized the funeral arrangements. I returned to my tiny chilly flat that I had kept for so many years, and wrote down a few thoughts for a speech, to be delivered on Thursday’s funeral.

Thursday. My wife Melanie and I went for a healthy breakfast – mixed grain dark bread, eggs with bacon, orange juice and coffee. It was a stormy day and bitter cold. Tiny snowflakes swirled around everywhere. We reserved our return flights. I got a fresh hair cut. On the way back to my flat I saw a flock of some twenty-five ravens – I never had seen so many of these large, blue-black-feathered animals. One of them had two small white feathers. How strange! I looked at the bird, and the bird looked back at me for a while. Being surrounded by these dark-wing angels fitted my mood in a perfect way. At 2 pm. we went to the graveyard’s gate. Gradually, a bunch of relatives and friends turned up, and joined us for the chilly walk through a funeral forest. Like homeless winter-birds we entered the celebration hall. There was a sense of ritual, eternity and polished grief. In the center stood the coffin with my father’s corpse, and surrounded by flowers. The priest’s sermon sounded very spiritual and dignified. After a short ceremony, and an emotional farewell we altogether went to a nearby country inn. In good Bavarian style we sat together and chatted. We ordered beer for the middle-aged folks and hot tea for the elderly ladies. Then came my turn. I stood up and spoke:

“Dear family members and friends. First, I want to thank you for coming here to join us, and I’m glad to see you again. When I left my father at Christmas, I had the strange sensation I might not see him again. Today, when thinking about him and me, a picture comes to my mind. It’s a marble shrine from Classic Greece, from some 300 years B.C. A young man holds the hand of an elderly man. They look at each other with love and respect. The elderly man carries a travel stick perched under his arm – a sign that he is embarking on a journey leading to an unknown and uncertain world. This picture holds so much of warmth, and wisdom.

“I feel we should deal with our situation accordingly, and wish the very best to the dear one, who has left us just now. We should praise him, and be happy about the many good things in him and in us. We should be grateful for the many good moments we could experience together. Try to forgive and forget the painful ones. Let me cite my son Dorian. He wrote me by email from NJ, with his very appropriate words: ‘don’t worry, Dad. Our Grandpa, in his core, was a very good person, and no doubt he’ll go to paradise.’ I hope Dorian is right…

“Dear friends, with these words I want to say farewell to my Dad, and wish him a good journey. I wish you all the courage and strength you may need on your way through this difficult world, too.”

Finally some beer and food arrived. I ate some red deer goulash with sticky Bavarian knoedeln. Seeing so many old friends and distant family members uplifted my spirit a bit. We enjoyed each other so much, that we almost left in a happy mood – with the (illusory) promise to meet more often. In reality we only meet if someone dies.

Friday. My sister and I met our lawyer. He was an expert in legal heritage matters. It’s because my father had been seen in the company of two weird ladies in recent times. Both of them had abused his ultra-short memory, and emptied his bank accounts last year. We had kept him away from these ugly human hyenas as much as we could. However, it took only a few months of relentless research until they caught him again. To hell with them! Perhaps they had stolen or tampered with Dad’s last will. I gave our advocate green light to monitor the submission of his last (as far as we knew) will, and to hunt the female vampires down. I returned to my flat then drove my wife back to the airport. It didn’t feel good to leave our kids in somewhat unknown hands for too long. The next job ahead was to help my sister screen a huge pile of folders of yellow papers and documents. It looked like Dad never had disposed of anything, and in front of us towered a stack of fifty years of personal history. What to do with all that old administrative stuff? I caught a severe headache, given the terrible and tiring exercise this was. By the time we had gone through the papers we had forgotten what we were searching for. I felt steam-rolled and went to sleep early.

Saturday. I had a gorgeous breakfast, and went to visit the Glypthothek Museum in my native Munich. I always loved this place so much, and I had reserved an hour or two before leaving the city. This museum hosts some of World’s finest Greek and Roman statues and funeral ornaments, and its architecture is an educated pleasure for the senses. In a place equally formal and hearty, I needed some quiet cool empty space and meditation. I sat in front of a gravestone shrine, the one mentioned in my Thursday’s funeral speech. How beautiful and touching it felt! I hadn’t been here for some twenty years. Some objects, particular great pieces of art, never let you down. Gradually, my mind became immersed in the picture. The waves of emotion and grief I had battled for a few days caught up with me. There was nobody around in the empty museum, and I let my tears roll.

Feeling calm and strong again, I went to the museum’s cafeteria and ordered a chorizo sandwich plus a cappuccino. Somehow even the cappuccino cream layer in the cup looked like a broken heart. But I couldn’t focus on my feelings any longer. It was time to get ready for the return flight. I regained my flat, packed my stuff and hired a taxi bound for the airport. It was late afternoon when the plane took off. It brought me some sunshine above the clouds. I took a deep breath and looked back as the city disappeared under a gray shroud of cloud cover. This nightmare was over, at last.

© 2005 by Franz L Kessler


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Reviewed by Anne Brooks 2/14/2005
As Plato described it in The Republic,the human soul during life is a traveller,a wayfarer.
Man carries a torch ,a light of truth during his voyage.


Anne Pawlak
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 1/25/2005
wow! this is so good, franz! terrific yet heartwrenching write; you are in my prayers, franz! god be with you in your grief!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in tx., karen lynn. :( >tears <
Reviewed by George Jackson 1/25/2005
A powerful, heartbreaking read, Franz. I am just now, at the age of 38, getting to know my father, to feel comfortable around him and reading this, I realize how short our time may be. Best wishes to you in your time of loss.
Reviewed by Mr. Ed 1/25/2005
You've captured this dark side of life, and the pain and grief and regret surrounding death quite powerfully here, Franz. And my sincere condolences on the loss of your father.

As I mentioned in your Grief poem, I had very similar feelings when I didn't make it to my father's side in time either, and I can truly feel your pain.


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