So Far Away
A Daughter's Memoir of Life, Loss, and Love
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Vanderbilt University Press
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Introduction: How Things Turn Out
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Parents encourage or discourage, praise or scold, remain silent or yell, and yet despite these influences, children grow up to have their own unique quirks and personality traits. In part, we become who we are to protect ourselves from the people we love who can...
1. The Phone Call: 2007, 2001
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In October 2007, I came home from an early-afternoon bike ride through the colorful Massachusetts foliage to find a solitary new message on our answering machine. The red light blinked insistently at even intervals, and while I had planned to run to the...
2. The Birthday Party: 2001
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My conversation with Irmgard began innocently enough. My father’s seventieth birthday was rapidly approaching. As the master planner of the family, I appointed myself in charge of the festivities. Months earlier, I asked my father if he would like a large...
3. Origins: 2008
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When my brother and I were little we fought like . . . well, like brothers and sisters. Separated in age by just one year and twenty-one days, we felt all the rivalry of fraternal twins but not much of the camaraderie...
4. A Long Road: 1950s, 2008
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My father’s second life began on March 20, 1953, the day he fled East Germany for the West. A few days prior, he and his brother, Walter, received a short and innocuous phone call from their father. It ended with, “I’ll see you at the Schreiners’ on the...
5. Talking in the Kitchen: 2008, 1993, 1983
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Ron, who has a dry wit, exulted. “Yes, Sweetie, here it is. The only dump in all of Concord: your parents’ former home!” We stood staring at the front of the house. No wonder we had missed it on our first pass. You had to look closely to make out...
6. Making Plans: 2003
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When my mother and I talked about her plans, the conversations frequently repeated themselves. I knew she was serious, and I thought long and hard about the most logical arguments I could make to try and dissuade her. But she had a response for everything...
7. Repairing the Past: 1996, 2003
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Even when I was a child, part of me approved of my parents’ decision to divorce. Countless nights I awoke, startled by Irmgard and Hans screaming at each other. I cowered under the covers, hearing only snatches of German...
8. I Already Asked You: 2003
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Given all I knew about my mother’s intentions, why did I insist on repetitive, uncomfortable discussions about her death date? Why did her assurance that she would be present at my graduation not quell my anxieties? Did my worry focus on her presence...
9. For Better or for Worse: 2000
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Ron is my second husband. My first marriage failed dramatically, and sometimes I still blame myself for that. But I also believe it may very well have been doomed from day one. My first husband and I had thoroughly enjoyed living together...
10. Mondays: 2004
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After our argument at the DuPont gardens, Irmgard did elect to postpone her theoretical date. I took this as a sign of respect for me and as perhaps the smallest crack in her resolve to exclude my feelings from her process...
11. A Piece of Work: 2004
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Entangled in the web of the present, it is often difficult to see that the threads now binding us extend far back into the past. That a current crisis is inextricably connected to faint glimmers of experiences from long ago. That love in the present may be shaped by how...
12. Travels: 2004
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My mother never attended any therapy sessions with me. Sarah and I worked through my resistance to introspection and Irmgard’s resistance to acceptance alone. But the process continued outside the sessions, and this required Irmgard to be ready...
13. In an Instant: 2005
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In July 2005, my father finally moved out of his big house in Wilmington and into the empty condominium I owned nearby. Although the decision had been difficult to make, he felt relieved. His life would have more freedom...
14. Darkness: 2005
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Beginning in November, just two months after Hans’s latest stroke, I felt a new numbness take over. I lost my sense of connection with people around me. I became utterly unable to feel joy, and I was completely certain I would never feel happy again...
15. Saying Goodbye: 2005, 2008
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One moonless evening in early January 2005, Irmgard and I sat together in her living room, holding hands by the light of a small Tiffany lamp. Only a week earlier she had told me the exact date of her planned suicide: Wednesday, February second...
16. The Gardens: 2005, 2008
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Irmgard and I discussed how we would say our physical goodbyes. She let me choose the time and the location. I couldn’t bear for it to be in my home or hers. I could not imagine having the ghost of that agony present in my daily surroundings. So I selected one of...
17. The Suitcase: 2005
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In my last words to my mother that February morning, I demonstrated great selflessness both to her and to myself. In front of her, putting my own needs aside had been the simplest of acts. Nevertheless, after I hung up the phone, the finality of the...
18. In Sickness and in Health: 2005
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No one could have predicted in the spring of 2005 that Ron and I would meet in early summer. If someone had asked Ron’s friends about the likelihood of his settling down again, none of them would have thought it probable. True, some harbored secret wishes...
19. I'll Always Be with You: 2005
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Less than two months after my mother died and just at the time I met Ron, I began attending sessions of a grief group. These were held at the Unitarian church to which Irmgard had belonged at the end of her life. In her characteristic style, my mother regarded...
20. What's It All About?: 2005, 2006, 2007
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The shackles Irmgard placed on me, I in turn clamped on others. Before her death, when I told someone of my mother’s plans, my manner made it tacitly clear: I would tolerate no disagreement. Even after her suicide, I abided nothing less...
21. Comfort Measures: 2008
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At three in the afternoon on December 26, 2008, I sat alone in my study in Massachusetts. The president had declared this day after Christmas a federal holiday. He may have envisioned people engaging in economy-boosting, post-party shopping sprees, but I...
22. A Different Final Exit: 2008
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I spent the rest of the night at Hans’s side, either touching his arm or just sitting facing him. The sound of his panting kept me awake. I feared if I fell asleep and his respirations became more distressed, I might not notice. And if I dozed and his breathing...
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This book describes events that made me grateful to have had the support of many generous and caring individuals. I wish to thank especially the following people, who helped in various ways with its completion: Cynthia Bisman...
Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011