“Beware the Ides of March” – this phrase has always filled me with a sense of foreboding. I lost two of the dearest people in my life in the month of March, one of which was my wife of 64 years. Since her passing and until recently, I kept Geraldine’s ashes in an urn in my bedroom.
Although she never complained about it openly, Geraldine had always been homesick for her beloved Salzburg. She suffered from separation anxiety when her mother, with her two daughters, left Berlin in the 1930’s, then were evacuated to a village in Austria during the War. When we were married, we moved to Hannover, and from there to Canada. It was only many years later that we were able to visit Salzburg again, but did so several times.
On one specific occasion, Geraldine and I rode a gondola up the Untersberg Mountain. She had difficulty breathing in the thin air, so we made our way slowly, just the two of us, to the peak to marvel at the panoramic view of the beautiful city below and the surrounding landscape. Taking in this breath-taking view of Salzburg and the Alps, Geraldine mentioned, casually, that she would be happy to rest in that spot for eternity.
Since her passing, my thoughts drifted every so often to the question of choosing a final resting place for Geraldine’s ashes. My parent’s family grave in the Central Cemetery of Salzburg was, of course, an option, but my father’s second wife had long ago raised objections to that prospect for reasons known only to herself. So, where? I thought, “I am getting along in years. If I don’t act now, there will be no proper end to the story of the life of an angelic woman. I must fulfill her final wish!”
It so happens that I had promised to visit my daughter, Victoria, in Berlin for her birthday this past March, along with Chris, my older son, as my travel companion. It would be an opportunity to introduce him to his cousins, nieces and nephews, as well. Chris is a very spiritual person. He prays daily, attends church regularly, and communicates with God through dreams, receiving guiding messages. In one such dream, Geraldine appeared, leading Chris to see me. As Chris related in an e-mail…
“That she was escorting me personally meant that there was an important reason for my visit. I had not seen my father since before this dream, so it seems that my mother wanted me to undertake something with my father, like this upcoming trip. Why would this be important to my mother? It could be that she wanted me to give my father one last gift of a trip to his birthplace. She knew he would not go alone, so she recruited me.
However, as I write this, I recall that in my mother’s Will it is stated that she wanted her ashes returned to her birthplace of Salzburg, Austria. My father was waffling on this; he said that maybe I should wait until he dies and then ‘do with our ashes what you will’.
It could be that this trip was important for my mother because she wanted us to return her ashes to Austria. This made no sense to me because God is everywhere, so where one’s ashes are located is unimportant. Perhaps, then, it would be for the sake of making a symbolic gesture.
I hesitate to write this, but several months after my mother died, my father fell passionately in love again. Alas, this second love also passed away. Curiously, the only memento of my mother in my father’s house is her ashes. Is it perhaps possible she wanted to remove all trace of herself? If any of this can possibly be true, then I want to believe that she did this as her last act of love for my father; from the spirit world, she is sending the message that she is releasing my father from his commitment to her. My mother was such a loving woman that perhaps she wanted to show the extent of her love by finally giving up what was always most important in her life – her husband and her family.
I like to think my musings are true because it tells me that even after death we can influence the lives of others through love. If this was a conscious act of love, it is truly remarkable to me and, I think, closely approaches the love God feels for us!”
Spurred on by this ‘message’, I instantly booked flights for Chris and myself, and arranged for Euro train passes for Germany and Austria, as well. I told Chris that he should pack his mother’s ashes in his luggage. We would bring them to the place that Geraldine fell in love with, on the top of mount Untersberg, where rain and melting snow would carry her into the earth for her eternal rest.
I almost joined Geraldine on this trip. Shortly after we arrived, I fainted in Victoria’s Berlin apartment and had to be taken to hospital with a contagious intestinal virus. But, against doctor’s orders, I refused to stay longer than three days; I had already cancelled a number of family visits due to my illness. Chris and I did finally fly to Vienna to visit my late brother’s family for a couple of days, then took the train to Salzburg.
With an altitude of 6,473 feet, Untersberg is part of a northern spur of the Alps, just ten miles from Salzburg. In The Sound of Music movie, the song The Hills are Alive is probably referring to Untersberg. (The photograph above depicts a view of the Landmark Fortress as seen from its peak, a view Geraldine and I grew up with, a large part of wonderful, unforgettable memories.)
With my oldest niece, Elisabeth, and Chris with my wife’s ashes in a rucksack, I boarded the gondola for its 1.6-mile assent to the top of the snow-covered mountain. We disembarked, a bit daunted by the 100 meters still left to climb. Hanging on the safety rope, I managed to reach the mountain-top restaurant, utterly exhausted, succumbing to the thin March air. I urged Chris to continue on with Geraldine’s ashes to the peak, where he could scatter them under the dwarf pine trees on the south face, or, if possible, let them loose to the winds to let her blanket the summit.
As Chris began his accent, I realized with horror that in his distraction of keeping his precarious footing, he was climbing not toward the top of the mountain’s face, but rather to the edge of it! He had somehow managed to maneuver himself to the wrong side of the safety railing! Elisabeth and I began to scream out for him to get back to the other side of the guide rope and railing; I had visions of him falling off the cliff, plummeting down hundreds of feet to the unsuspecting cows in the fields below.
Thank God, he heard me and found the right trail. After a moment, he rounded a corner and disappeared from my sight, and I sat daydreaming, envisioning a solemn and inspiring moment – the majesty of the Alps, the deafening silence that can only ever be heard on the top of such an awesome mountain, my visionary son fulfilling his mother’s final wish, a fine mist rising magically from the urn to be carried on the wind by the angels, Geraldine at peace…
Alas, such scenes are only found in movies. Chris returned safely and showed me the picture he had taken of my beloved wife in her final resting place.
“Ah, well,” I thought, “When the snow melts, she will become one with her beloved mountain.”
At least, she was home.