Rest In Peace

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Back when Mike and I were newlyweds he was working toward an advanced degree and serving as a teaching assistant at the University of Houston. He had already been the best of friends with a fellow from Germany named Egon and the two of them were selected for the honor of working with undergraduates along with a few other students. Among them was a bright and lovely young woman from the University of St. Thomas, whose name was Marita. She hailed from a big Irish family in Chicago and it wasn’t long before the three of them became inseparable at the university.

Marita liked to joke that she was looking for a relationship at that point in her life, and that she first set her sights on Mike until she noticed the gold band that he wore on his left hand. Being a good Catholic girl she quickly shifted gears and began a flirtation with Egon who was flattered by the attention from a cute girl with the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Soon enough they were a steady couple who often joined Mike and I for fun on weekends. It didn’t surprise us at all when they announced their engagement and impending wedding. It was to be an elegant affair with their families from Chicago and Germany coming to Houston to attend. Mike and I were honored to be members of the wedding party where we met their relatives and celebrated with joy.

Mike and Egon were both only children who became like brothers rather quickly. Mike’s mom would joke that she was happy to have two sons. We spent countless evenings laughing and talking with both Egon and Marita until late in the night. They were both intellectual giants whose conversations were always interesting and fun. Ours was a glorious friendship that seemed certain to extend well into our old ages. Somehow we were simply perfect together.

Egon and Marita were unable to have children of their own in spite of many valiant efforts so they more or less “adopted” our two girls. Both of their families lived so far away that they became bonafide members of ours. They were fixtures at every party, celebration or gathering that we had. They watched our children grow into adults and in the interim they became incredibly successful in their jobs. Egon worked as a sales representative for an international company and he was consistently one of their top earners. Marita used her talents to become a lawyer, graduating with honors and scoring high on the Texas Bar exam. She was hired by one of the premiere law firms in the city. We celebrated each milestone in our individual lives and found such great joy in being able to take for granted that these two remarkable people would always be by our side.

Life has a way of throwing challenges at us when we least expect it. Egon’s parents both died in Germany rather suddenly and unexpectedly. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with a number of very serious diseases including diabetes and heart problems. Marita’s father had died when she was young but her mother too died while all of this was transpiring. I suppose that they were reeling from the constant ponding of bad news and they turned to terrible and unhealthy habits to still their demons. Their lifestyle affected their performance at work and before long both of them had lost their jobs, something that was almost unthinkable given their talents and their intellects. They became more and more depressed, more unhealthy and more isolated. We saw less and less of them and we worried.

I urged them to visit their doctor and follow his instructions to the letter. They had made an appointment and assured me that they were not only going to pull themselves together, but also come to visit us on my upcoming birthday. Sadly they were never able to fulfill either promise. Shortly before their meeting with the doctor Marita became so ill that she had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Her prognosis at the time was dire and so our concern focused on Egon who was not handling the situation well.

One afternoon I had a bout of foreboding and called Egon to tell him that I was coming to check on him once the school day was over. He insisted that he was fine and asked me to just go home and visit him at another time. I reluctantly agreed but had such a strong sense that something was amiss that I called my daughter, the nurse, to get some reassurance that I was doing the right thing.

At approximately the time that I might have arrived at Egon’s home had I gone there that day he died of a heart attack. It appeared that he had checked his blood sugar and his blood pressure just as I had urged him to do because the instruments that he used for those things were sitting on a table right next to his phone. It broke my heart to think that he died alone although I realized that I would not have known what to do had I been there other than call 911. Still I felt very guilty for a long time.

Miraculously Marita recovered from her own illness and worked successfully for several more years but two separate strokes left her unable to endure the rigors of a job. She instead required help at home and slowly but surely became worse. She became a shell of her former self who was almost unrecognizable as the once powerful woman that she had been. When her best friend from college died she seemed to lose her willingness to fight. By then she was quite alone save for visits from me and Mike. She was too far away from Chicago for family there to check on her regularly and she and her brother had not been close for some time. It was a dreary and sad situation.

Marita died about fourteen years after Egon left this world. Only the staunchest of her friends attended her funeral. I gave a halting eulogy and some of my dear friends and family were there to honor Marita and support me. I felt empty and sad.

Both Egon and Marita were cremated and Mike and I kept their ashes in our home hoping that one day we might determine their ultimate fate. On several occasions they had spoken of wanting to be spread in the fjords of Norway where they had spent many happy times with Egon’s relatives from his mother’s side of the family. Now most of them were also gone and we had no idea how to fulfill their wishes. We considered taking the two of them to Galveston Bay because they had often camped on the beach there. They loved the ocean and had many happy times together in their pop up camper. Still, we just never felt that our idea was completely right.

Recently Marita’s brother who lives in Chicago with the rest of her clan contacted me. He had begun to worry that he had done nothing to provide his sister with a final resting place. He asked if I still had the ashes and wondered if I would be willing to send them to him. Of course I  understood that he had more right to them than I did. I was also happy that he had overcome whatever feelings had kept him at bay for so long. I let him know that I not only had Marita’s ashes but Egon’s as well. I asked if he wanted them both and he eagerly replied in the affirmative. We both believed that they would have wanted to stay together no matter where that may be. Soon they will find a place with Marita’s family where they will be honored and loved by nephews and cousins who like us remember how gloriously wonderful they were.

Sending them away is somewhat bittersweet, but it feels right. I have a sense of relief in knowing that their fate will be resolved. It is time for them both to rest in peace. I hope they will also know how much they were loved.

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