Those were the words written on her last postcard. But it wasn’t here who wrote, but we did.
She called me, that 4th of July 2007. Whether I could drive her to the hospital, she was not feeling well. A year ago, they had detected quite severe cervical cancer. She had been two weeks at the hospital. The Charité Berlin specialists at the Rudolf-Virchow hospital had operated on the cervix. Later, she got two rounds of chemotherapy. After that, she seemed well off again. Beautiful as ever, she had restarted working. She loved her job as the head and founder of VIVA style, beauty department of VIVA model agency. Her friends, her family, we all believed, that she had won the fight against the beast.
Danielle was my first wife and the first love of my life in our early 20ies. We knew that nothing lasts forever. We were too young and so eager to live life as if it was a novel. “La vie est un roman” (1983 by Alain Resnais, French director). That was our credo. We met at the university in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1983. She was from Marseille. It was her who made me return to Berlin.
Ten years after we separated. By then, Danielle was not only tied to Berlin but remained my closest friend, my little “sister.” She has been my marriage witness when I married my second wife in 2004. It was even Danielle’s idea. She had decided that Karin was the right woman for me.
I picked her up to drive her to a hospital nearby. We had a walk, she was in a good mood. She was looking beautiful and fresh, as if nothing could bother her. She even had this sparkle in her blue eyes, which I still see when thinking about her.
Two days later, they transferred her to the Charité, Rudolf-Virchow hospital again. She stayed there over the weekend. Her lover had come to see what was going on. Yes, B was her lover, as described in the French novels by Marcel Proust, her favorite author. She was the marvelous mistress. He was the prototype of a gentleman, wealthy industrial and renowned aviator. In fact, she loved to cultivate her French lady style. Being well educated in the French way was essential to her. Her relationship complied 100% with her romantic Belle Epoque image.
Bad news, the beast had struck again. Cancer had spread. The head of the cancer station suggested an operation on Tuesday, July 10. The day before, Danielle and I had a walk in the garden of the hospital. I got a call that Herbert, 62 years, a good friend and colleague of mine, was late for a brain tumor and lung cancer this day.
Her companion, B, had paid first-class accommodation service. Well, she had a single room. That was it. First-class in a German hospital doesn’t look like. The gray walls of the room clad the light in sadness. The food was inedible. Most of the time, I had to get her something more tasty from the groceries in the neighborhood.
The medics gave her a 30% chance. It was horrifying when I came to meet her the next day. She looked as if they had not only torn off part of her interiors but her life and soul at the same time.
The operation was the contrary of successful. Danielle’s always been rather skinny, 1.70 m tall 50 kg. She must have lost 10 kg in one day and had aged by at least 10 years, Death on two legs. After this intervention, she had to stay in bed for the rest of her days. They had provided her with an artificial urine outlet in a plastic bag. Imagine a person of remarkable beauty losing this quality from one day to the other. She could not cope with it. Her hope was gone.
About ten days later, Danielle left the hospital. She had a lovely flat on the fifth floor she had arranged to perfectly reflect her personality. It was neat and clear and exhaled her taste for design and humility at the same time. But five floors were an insurmountable obstacle. So she moved to B’s Berlin apartment, near Kurfürstendamm, not far from where she lived. The large bedroom became her new home.
B asked me whether I could provide 24/7 care for her. If I had the time, he would pay me. I only needed to tell him what was required. From this moment on, I was her nurse in chief.
A medical care service came twice a day. She suffered from severe pains, so the medic provided her with a morphine pump. The mother of one of Danielle’s collabs took over the night shift. The infrastructure had been set up in two days.
My life turned upside down. I’m still grateful that my wife, Karin, was so understanding. At the beginning of our relation, she was somehow skeptical. But then she understood the special relationship between Danielle and me. Well, unconditional love, sister and brother. She became perfect friends with Danielle.
We had planned a holiday at the Côte d’Azur, France, which Danielle herself had suggested some months ago. With Karin’s sister, a friend, and their sons, we all stayed in the house of Danielle’s best friends. After 33 years, I finally returned to the places where I met Danielle. But one person was missing, she.
By mid of August, I returned to Berlin to live the most challenging period of my life. Being the all-time companion on a beloved person’s last way. I was her nurse, her caretaker, her hands. I helped her in the bathroom. I changed her diapers, everything. It was hard, but I believe It was my karmic duty.
Danielle and I talked a lot. Despite watching TV, this was our main activity. Usually, we smoked a joint. She’s always been a smoker, and she used to smoked dope as a stress relief. Given her temperament, this was maybe not the worst idea. I had stopped smoking some years ago, but not to leave her alone, I smoked dope with her. It was one of the rare pleasures left to her.
We talked about everything. We told each other the things untold during our marriage. We weren’t in our 20s anymore but in our early 40s. Sometimes maturity helps. We got closer during this time than ever before. There wasn’t a subject we didn’t address.
Her partners and lovers after our divorce were the main stories. Like me, Danielle was the sort of person to always be in some kind of relationship. And we never wholly broke up with our former companions. We both were faithful to our decisions, as she called it. Maybe two people are not compatible to share a living for a more extended period. But why should this alter love and affection? She stayed on good terms with her men as I’m doing with my women.
Since her retirement at B’s flat, she didn’t want to see many people anymore. She wanted to spare them her current looks. She called them though until these talks slowly faded into oblivion.
She had always adored reading. Books, movies, and the art of expression were her main hobbies. She’s always been an intellectual. That’s why we had the chance to meet at the university.
It hurt me to see that she had abandoned entirely reading her last days. However, she made some attempts to write. She had a very poetic and delicate style. But she had always refused to write, saying, either write like Proust or leave it. She only wrote the first lines of her autobiography. Instead, she made me promise to write it for her one day. I’m still keeping all the letters and photographs of her lovers and partners, one box for each. She’s always been very organized.
Knockin on Heaven’s door
Instead, we talked about death knocking at the door. Danielle was catholic but preferred to believe her own way. I’ve always been much more into spirituality than her. However, this was the only subject she had refused to talk about further. She couldn’t follow me. Her imagination came to its limits when I tried to draw the big picture of life, the universe, and everything.
She gave me the mandate to take care of all her belongings. In the end, we started planning for her funeral. In fact, she already had an exact concept.
She wanted the “Pope’s” coffin, designed after the model of Pope Wojtyla. She had already chosen the crematorium where she wanted to be burned. Berlin’s most outstanding crematorium from an architectural point of view before. It’s a very Bauhaus-inspired modern building, very stylish.
She didn’t want a priest. The Lord, the church was preaching, had abandoned her. Only her former partners, lovers, her younger sister, my parents, and some friends. All in all, over a hundred people.
The persona non grata list (the non-guest-list) was crucial to her. If her older sister would appear, I should deny, to let her in. And, of course, her agency partner. She didn’t treat her with empathy after her first cancer incident.
She made her testament, set up a detailed list of objects with a specific destination. The Kelly bag to L, the silver cross to B, the painting in the parlor to M, etc.
The days passed. Sleep and doze, a bit stoned from the dope and sister morphine, took over. The medics had unlocked the morphine pump weeks ago. She weighed less than 40 kg. Sometimes she insinuated not wanting to live her 46th birthday on December 1. November was marked by a steady decline in her condition.
November 22, her lover was in Berlin. In the evening, she had invited my wife and me to her favorite meal, a couscous. It was a farewell dinner. She made us promise to always take good care of each other. We knew it was the last time we were together.
The next day around noon, I was about to get some dope, my cellphone rang. B on the line. While he was outside to get her some food, she had passed.
I returned to her place, got into her room, and shared a joint with her remains. It was magic. It seemed as if she was still there.
First, I called her doctor. Then I called her younger sister, Isabelle. Then I suggested that if she’d like, I’d be her “older brother.” Danielle would have loved it.
Later I called her friends and invited them to a farewell come together. Everyone had the chance for a personal Adieu. We had champagne, Danielle was French, it was a must. But, despite the heavyweight mood, there was laughter as well when someone told a story about her. This moment is deeply engraved in our hearts.
Around midnight arrived the funeral service and put her corpse in a plastic bag. I was the only one present. I could literally see that her soul left her body this very moment.
On December 7, 2007, the burial. Several people held talks. I directed the prayer by default of a priest: “Our Father who art in heaven…” This funeral had something mythical. At the funeral feast at Café Einstein, her closest “family” decided to meet once a year for a memorial dinner.
Last but not least, it was not over yet. This funeral was an event worth a princess. We needed to transfer her ashes to France. How could we comply with her last wish to give her ashes to the sea?
At the end of January 2008, we met to pilgrimage to Danielle’s favorite bay on the Mediterranean, Suggiton, Marseille. There, in leaves of white roses and our tears, a part of her ashes glided away.
Her sister burned the urn in Savoie, next to her parents.
And we, all those who still love Danielle, keep her memory alive when meeting at the Café Einstein in December every year.
Farewell, the beautiful ones – Adieu Les Belles Choses.
PS. During these months, Danielle had shown an unequaled strength of mind. And I’m still glad having shared these precious moments with her.
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