My oldest son, Christoper and I made a trip to Germany and Austria. I’ve invited him give his accounts of what happened. The trip was fraught with inspiration, illness, wonderful meetings and the final resting place of my beloved wife. I hope you enjoy.
We almost didn’t make it to Vienna
by Christopher von Kap-herr
“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
Several weeks ago, at my weekly Men’s Club meeting, I mentioned that I would be journeying to Germany and Austria over most of March with my 89-year-old father. The purpose of this trip would be for him to revisit the places of his youth and exchange family stories with relatives in Austria. My role on this journey would be to assist him on the trip and to not only hear the family stories, but also to visit the places where they’d happened. There was another reason, as well, which turned out to be important in turning this from a tourists’ enterprise into a ‘Hero’s Journey’.
I uncovered this ‘other purpose’ when I started reviewing my dream journal to see if any of my dreams had predicted this journey, and then, if there would be a good outcome. When I looked back on my dreams from the past year, I found one that I’d had on October 12, 2014 that might have been a message from my mother, who had passed away in 2013.
I was approached by a woman at a flea market who asked me if I wanted a new pair of shoes. The woman was dressed in what appeared to be a peasant or gypsy skirt. Before I could answer, she led me by the hand to a mall to find a pair of shoes. I turned to my left and saw a street with a bus on it. I was not sure where I was, so I asked her, “Is that Sheffington Street?” She said, “No, we are on Shefford Road.” I awoke shortly thereafter.
This dream seemed remarkable because Shefford Road is the road on which my father still lives. The way the woman in the dream was dressed reminded me of the style of skirts favored by my mother. I began to wonder whether my insistent guide was really my mother taking me to see my father. 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 him, like this upcoming trip.
The house of my parents
How do I know this journey was what she had in mind when she escorted me towards my father’s place? The shoes suggest this because they are, obviously, symbolic of walking and travelling, something my father and I would be doing a lot of. Yet why would this be important to my mother? At first, I thought she wanted me to give this gift to my father, accompanying him on one last journey to Austria and Germany. But, perhaps there was more to it than that. What if she wanted us to undertake this journey, not for my father’s sake, but for her sake? If so, then what could be so important that she came to me in a dream? The only thing I could think of was that she wanted her ashes returned to Salzburg, the place of her birth. My father had been waffling on this idea. He said that maybe I should wait until he dies and then “do with our ashes what you will”. I cannot give the reason for why my mother might be so insistent that her ashes go back to Austria, but as with God who asks us to do things we do not understand, I decided to fulfill her wishes.
When I wrote to my father about my dream, he agreed that this was a sign and the time was right for us to travel together to Europe. He was so eager that he put together the itinerary for our trip almost immediately. Our plan was that I was to travel from the USA to Montreal and from there we would fly together to Berlin. After that, we planned to take a short trip to Austria so my father could show me where he grew up and went to University, as well to Salzburg where he had proposed to my mother. The highpoint was to be the sprinkling of my mother’s ashes on the top of the Untersberg mountain. All of this had to be accomplished in four days because we had in mind to be back in Berlin in time to celebrate my sister’s 60th birthday by attending the recital of a well-known pianist at the Symphony Hall of the famous Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. Once we arrived in Germany, however, events spun out of our control and I felt myself torn from the role of tourist and thrust into the midst of a Hero’s Journey!
I should have realized from the beginning that this excursion would not be just a stroll past the monuments of my father’s youth. Upon our arrival in Amsterdam from Montreal, I noticed my father walking through the airport in a way that seemed ‘labored’. Sure, I should have requested the use of one of those motorized golf-cart type vehicles that so annoys walking passengers with its incessant beeping. Why I didn’t was a combination of my father being, in my mind, the strong hiker he’d been for so many years, and the fact that he didn’t give me any indication that I should seek assistance. We made it to our destination in one piece, but I was finally shaken from my state of denial about my father’s condition when, on the second night of our stay in a ‘pension’ in Berlin, I heard a loud crash in the middle of the night. “Oh my God, my father has fallen!” I screamed to myself. I leaped out of bed and to my dismay realized he could not lift himself from the floor. Suffering some stress to my lower back, I managed to help him up. I held his arm to lead him to the bathroom when I noticed a standing lamp lying on the carpet. “Oh my goodness, he fell on the way to the bathroom already earlier in the evening!”, my thoughts shouted. I supported my father to the bathroom, but when he tried to sit on the toilet he fell again! Again I lifted him, then helped him back to his bed. I thought, “This is it, we are stuck in Berlin. I will have to continue on this quest alone.”
The next morning, at my sister’s nearby apartment, we related the story of my father’s falls. It occurs from time to time in my family that when something out of the ordinary happens we look for someone to blame, particularly when it is something unsettling. In this case, my sister chose to blame my younger brother for “neglecting to fulfill his role as caretaker; our father has clearly not been eating well and has not been exercising”. As described in Joseph Campbell’s classic novel, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, help was soon on the way. A friend of my sister’s advised us to bring our father to a clinic near the Schloss Charlottenburg. We arrived by taxi unannounced, which caused some grumbling on the part of the attending physician, but who despite the lack of notice agreed to admit my dad. A few tests were performed and it was quickly determined that my father was not only seriously dehydrated, but had contracted some kind of contagious intestinal virus. This diagnosis resulted in his being quarantined in a private room for five and a half days. I must say, if I had to be in a hospital this would be the place to be. My father had a large room with a picture window overlooking the Schloss, which at night was ablaze with lights. I certainly felt alright about leaving him there until he was well enough to be sent ‘home’.
Reasonable people said there was no way he could go to Austria, let alone ride in a gondola to the top of a 2000-meter mountain, which was what we planned to do in Salzburg. But, on this trip, I had checked reason in at the airport and allowed myself to be guided by the spirit of my mother. As long as we have assistance from the spirit world, who cares what is reasonable. With some persuasion, my father convinced the doctor to release him in time for our flight to Vienna. He called to tell me to pick him up, so I grabbed our suitcases, packed with a few clothes and my mother’s ashes, and took a taxi to the hospital right away. From there, we went directly to the airport to catch our flight.
Next stop, Vienna
To be continued…