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My Sister Monika

Oct. 3, 2018

My sister Monika died yesterday in Germany. She was 75, the child of my father during his imprisonment in World War II. I only found out about her when I was already in my 40s and she in her 50s (more than ten years after my father's death). She was, unfortunately, a family secret kept from us all those years.

Monika had only met my father once as a toddler, when he came back to see her and her mother in her northern German town after the War ended. My father then went to New York to live and he had our family. Monika's mother died when she was 11 and she was basically orphaned in Germany.

I am sorry we were not part of her life in those years but I have treasured knowing her all this time since I contacted her. And the richness of knowing her family and forming these bonds has been wonderful. Now my family knows her family and they know us. I miss you Monika and always remember you. Love.

Oct. 5, 2018

My sister Monika died. It was October 2nd. My sister, Gina, also died in October, the 18th. Fallecidas. My oldest sister and youngest sister are gone now.

Monika was a very private person. When she visited Florida a year and a half ago, she stayed with us. It was hard for her to be active. She couldn’t do much and I remember her sleeping a lot. Her grandson, Arne, was so sweet, organizing the trip for her and talking to her about her needs and translating, and so on. She spent a good time with my mother, too, who would have been her stepmother.

A car crash for Gina, needless, maybe she was in a rush to get home, a little high, missed a turn. Eighteen—we had her for too little time.

For Monika perhaps the hospital stay was her ruin, kidney complications, heart failure, who knows. What was the real cause of her death? Now Manfred is left alone, and others. I am finding pictures and diaries and letters.

In Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector: the girl asks, what about happiness? And when you have it, what’s next? What is the point?

We live and we die. Between that people interact with us and after that we are remembered. What is it that we are remembered for? The things others want to remember. We have no say in the matter. Monika is remembered by me as a woman who accepted her lot, a working class woman who had the same fate as many other young people following the war, as she said. It was a very hard time, traumatizing for everyone. Then, her mother, a single mother, died and Monika too must have had terrible grief at the age of 11, like we did when Gina died.

I remember Mrs. Schubert, the neighbor, telling me that she was the one who told Monika the stories about her father, my father, and Monika’s mother. Mrs Schubert was the one who helped Monika construct her story about her father, not her mother. Monika’s mother kept the letters and all the rest of the story a secret. Mrs. Schubert, with her upbeat attitude and her view of the story as a romance, or at the least a moment of passion, was responsible. Monika was a product of this romance. Monika with her quiet and somewhat negative outlook, maybe because of growing up as a teenager the way she did. Was it cynical or merely somber? I don’t know.

This was the first year in a long time I got her birthday right. I told her I would soon start learning German. Too late. And I didn’t remember the date of Gina’s death. Why should I remember those things? I got a note from Gina's friend, Deirdre, recently. Was it a foreboding? Of Monika’s death? A coincidence.

She is our sister, yes. Daughter of my father.

Day by day, time goes by.

Oct. 10, 2018

Heiden, Germany. The funeral was small. That was what you wanted. We walked with the coffin to the cemetery and watched as the coffin was lowered into the grave. So final.

I know your spirit is not there, it is just your body that could not be cured by medicine. Your spirit is with us—somewhere in the air, the bird flying by, bells ringing, our hearts.

I knew that you did not like that I published your story “Pigeons from Heiden” in my book. You were a private person. I am sorry.

So many regrets: that I did not go see you when I was in Spain this summer, and just that we did not spend enough time.

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