March 13, 2014
Dear friend of Erika,
For my mother’s birthday I’m sending you this invitation to a memory project I have called anerika. I’m writing to you because you are one of Erika’s friends, one of the women who became confidants and companions in her life.
A moment from my mother’s life might best explain the reason for my project.
On one of her last days at the hospice I was sitting at Mama’s bedside. Under her comforter she caught up on the shallow day-time sleep that brought her peace. Although it was March, she liked sleeping with the window open. So as soon as I entered her room, I opened the window at the foot of her bed wide, letting in cold air and birdsong, and wrapped myself in a wool blanket. In my lap I held a book, that I would read, then lower to look at my sleeping mother.
This book was loaded. I had found it at home on Mama’s nightstand. A concert ticket from the Royal Albert Hall, that she used to mark her page, told me that she had read it in London in August. That’s where she had welcomed her grandson Konrad… and already struggled with great pain of still unknown origin … and read this book about dying of cancer: Tiziano Terzani’s The End is my Beginning.
When Mama briefly woke and apologized for sleeping so much, I asked her about the book. I had found comforting thoughts in it and wanted to share them with her. Among others, the notion that when we die we only leave our body – a shell, nothing more.
Mama found no comfort in this idea. She remembered that the book was a father’s narrative legacy for his son. Terzani still had time after his cancer diagnosis to tell his son stories from his life.
“He wasn’t as tired as I am,” said Mama, as if to justify herself. “There’s so much I would still have liked to tell you about, but I no longer have the strength.”
I assured her I wasn’t expecting that. As much as we both wished for that time – she to tell stories, me to listen to them – we no longer had it.
At the zoo I found the Albert Schweitzer quotation we printed on Mama’s obituary: “The only thing of importance, when we depart, will be the traces of love we have left behind.”
It took me almost two years to realize that this quotation does not only mark an end but also a beginning, that even after March 9, 2012, the day she died, there are still things to learn about my mother – in the traces she left behind. In people like you, that is, her friends. If anyone was aware of this, my mother was. When we were children, she told us that the way we live on after death is in the memories of our loved ones.
This is my attempt to collect some of her stories that she could no longer tell me herself. I am writing a blog about my anerika project (www.anerika.com) to record and make accessible what I learn. I will write it anonymously and only Erika’s friends and my friends will be initiated.
My mother tended to keep a low profile. This might be a reason for anerika. It’s also a reason to respect her privacy. Mama was a considerate person, always mindful not to hurt anyone. I want to write in the same spirit, her spirit.
There’s no set time frame for anerika. I am open to letting it take me where it will during this third year after her death. I am going to sporadically send out letters to Erika’s friends and wait and see what responses reach me.
Please let me know if a memory is for my eyes only, so that nothing ends up in the blog that doesn’t belong there.
Here are a few questions about you and Erika:
Since when do you know Erika?
How and when did you meet for the first time?
What was your very first impression of her?
Please write me whatever you absolutely want to have said about Erika.
I realize that what I’m asking of you isn’t easy.
Memory won’t be forced. It prefers coming on its own, like a shy animal, when we’re very patient or not looking. That’s why this letter is less of a questionnaire than a request to keep Erika in mind and see what comes to you – while doing the dishes, going for a walk or falling asleep. Any memory of my mother is precious to me – be it funny, sad, good, bad, exciting, boring, peculiar or commonplace.
I look forward to hearing from you.