June 8th, 2021
“My lover’s got humor
She’s the giggle at a funeral”
from the song “Take Me to Church” by Hozier
I did not know Joachim very well. However, I know his widow, Freya. I actually only met “Joe” one time. He and Freya came to our house years ago for a small party. I talked to him for a bit about the city of Berlin. Joe grew up in Berlin during the war years. I went there one time with a friend. It was back in 1982, when the wall still divided the city.
I know Freya from my time volunteering at Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee. Freya ran the citizenship course, and I was one of her teachers. Freya is originally from Mexico, and she is an expert with the rules for becoming a U.S. citizen. Freya was constantly busy with new students, but she usually found a few minutes to talk with me. Over the years we got to be close friends, and there was nothing that I couldn’t tell her. There are very few people in this world that I trust more than Freya.
Karin and I had initially planned to go together to Joe’s funeral on Sunday afternoon. However, it was hot and humid, and the service was being held at the South Shore Pavilion near the lakefront. The pavilion lacks air conditioning. It would have necessary for Karin and I to take little Asher along with us to the visitation, and that didn’t seem like a good idea. Sitting through a vigil in a stuffy room with a hot and sweaty six month old boy just sounded like a recipe for disaster. So, I went to the service alone.
The vigil was to start at 1:30 PM. I got there a few minutes early and schmoozed for a while. I saw Freya sitting in the front row of seats, so I went up to talk to her.
Freya is a tiny woman. She was sitting in her chair next to her daughter, Christine. Freya was bent over. I knelt down in order to speak with her. She immediately placed her right hand on my shoulder and cried out,
“Frank! It is too much! I can’t do this!”
Her grief went right through my body. It cut like a dagger. I mumbled something back to her. I think I said that we love her. I tried not to say, “It’s okay”, because it wasn’t okay. Not at all.
Freya looked at me, and without any pause, asked me,
“How is you family?”
That was classic Freya. No matter how much pain she was experiencing, she wanted to know how I was doing.
I told her,
“Karin is home with Asher. The girl is doing well in rehab. We are caring for our grandson.”
Freya gave me a thumbs up.
I left Freya and sat down. The service started at 1:30, or thereabouts. A pastor who I don’t know gave the opening prayer. He was a young man with a hip and trendy look. The minister resembled Jesus, except for the fact he wore eyeglasses.
I was surprised that this minister was there at all. From what Freya had told me, Joe was an atheist. That fact was obliquely referred to later on during the service when a friend of the family said that Joe trusted science instead of superstition. Oh well, one man’s superstition is another man’s faith. A funeral is primarily for the living, not for the dead. In any case, pastor was there and Joe didn’t complain.
Joe’s granddaughter, Livia, read a statement on behalf of the family. Livia consistently referred to Joe as “Opa”, the German word for “Grandpa”. As Livia spoke, Joe’s German heritage came through quite clearly. It was a major part of who he was. It’s the same way with my wife, Karin. Karin insists on being “Oma” with our grandkids. Her mom in Germany were always “Oma”, so Karin is too. I don’t go by “Opa” with little Asher. I am “Grumpa”. A “grumpa” is like a “grampa”, just grumpier.
There was a mariachi band that played during the service. They did a nice job. Laurie sang “Amazing Grace”, and later Shana sang “If I Had a Hammer” and “Un rayo de sol”. Shana had the crowd singing along with her. She’s really good at that sort of thing.
At one point, the pastor had an open mike for reflections by members of the public. That’s always a risky move. There’s no way of telling what a person might say once they are standing at the microphone.
As expected, everyone who spoke about Joe said good things. He was loved and respected. He was a kind and honorable man.
I learned a lot about Joe as I listened to people reminisce about him. I had never known that he was a professor at UWM (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee). I was impressed that he taught thermodynamics. I had to take that course when I was a student at West Point. Thermodynamics is a bitch. It’s pretty much black magic as far as I am concerned. The fact that Joe could actually teach it amazes me.
Livia mentioned that Joe seldom talked about growing up in Berlin. That makes total sense to me. Joe was fourteen years old when WWII ended. He spent his childhood in a city that had been reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble by Allied bombers during the war. People usually don’t speak about traumatic events unless it is necessary. My father-in-law, Max, didn’t talk much about serving with the Wehrmacht on the Russian front either.
The pastor kept asking people to come up to the mike. Most were hesitant to do so. As I was sitting in my chair, I remembered an incident with Freya that concerned Joe. So, I walked up to the microphone.
I told those assembled,
“I only met Joe once, when he and Freya came to our house back in 2017. Joe and my wife hit it off well. They are both from Germany.
I know Freya much better. I worked with her for a long time at Voces with the citizenship class. She and I would always find time to talk about our families.
One time, as we were talking, I complained about some trouble that I was having with my wife, Karin. Freya just looked at me and said,
‘It’s your own fault. You married a German.'”
Truer words were never spoken.
God bless you, Joe. He believes in you even if you didn’t believe in Him.