Magda´s Diary: Epilogue
The verb ´to love´
in the past tense or the continuous?
It was one of those beautiful springdays of April. The trees in Bavaria were radiant with yellow, pink and white blossoms, the leaves were budding out in an endless variety of green, and young animals were dancing on the fresh blooming pastures. Nature was jubilating.
Through this feast of colours a car was driving. Its occupants however did not seem to share nature´s joy. They were talking, but a laugh or a chuckle entered but seldom in their conversation.
"Don´t be so hard on yourself, mother," the lady at the wheel said. "Auntie Magda could have included us in her life a bit more, too, you know. It´s just as much her own doing as yours."
The elderly Mrs. Lori Neumeier-Heller heaved a sigh. Her daughter was right: it was just as much Magda´s own decision to be by herself so much. And still... "But she was so lonely... I knew it; it showed the few times we did meet these past couple of years. I think she missed her work. Don´t forget that she never had anything but her work. No husband, no children... So when she had to quit her work, it must have felt like losing her whole life... And then returning to Germany, having to start all over again in making friends and settling in..."
"As far as I recall," Lena Lehmann-Neumeier pointed out dryly, "auntie Magda moved to another country about every few years. And that was definitely her own decision. So I suppose she was used to making new friends all the time."
"Why did she do that: move to another country all the time?" 14-year-old Karin Lehmann inquired from the backseat.
"I don´t know, dear," her grandmother answered. "She has been restless ever since she left Germany for the first time: to go and work for the Flying Doctors in Australia."
"Yes, I know about Australia," Karin said rather happily. "She has told me all about it: celebrating Christmas in a heatwave, with a barbecue! And their pilot Johnno taking her on a scary stuntflight, and that time they got in a thunderstorm with their little plane, and when she spent the night at a driller´s camp, she and sister Kate as the only ladies with some twenty rough and hungry mineworkers... Especially that last story always made her chuckle. I believe she really liked Australia."
Her grandmother gave her a weak smile. "I hope she did. But she has only been there for about six months. Surely she will have had some happy memories from that time, too. But I doubt very much whether she really enjoyed it there as much as those few stories seem to imply. For I still recall how quiet she was when she came back..." She sighed. "Perhaps all those diaries she kept over the years might shed some light on what happened there..."
"But she promised those to me!" Karin protested. "Last Christmas she said I could read them after she would have died, so that I could learn all about her work and all those countries she´s been!"
"Of course you can have them if she promised them to you," her grandmother soothed her with a rather shaky voice.
There were a few minutes of somewhat awkward silence, before Lena said to her mother: "Karin practically adored her. She´s been staying with auntie Magda several times since she returned to Germany."
In the backseat, Karin drew up her chin and said defiantly: "I know you think she was a bit odd, mum. But I think she was very nice. I liked her a lot; she is one of the most interesting people I have ever met!"
"She was," her grandmother reflected. "Dedicated, friendly, a heart of gold, exceptionally bright... When we were children, I always envied her," she told her granddaughter. "She was so good at school... I wanted to be just like her, but my ordinary brains were no match for her intelligence. The whole family was so proud when she went to university, and graduated even there with extremely good grades."
"I want to become a doctor, too. Just like auntie Magda," Karin announced proudly. "And then I´m not going to work in some classy hospital here in Germany. I´m going to other countries, to help the poorest people in the world. Just like auntie Magda."
"You do that," her mother said with some irony.
But her grandmother was moved by the girl´s words and smiled at her. "You are starting to sound like your auntie Magda already."
It had been a few weeks now since Mrs. Eleonora Neumeier-Heller had woken up one Saturday-night with a sudden uneasy feeling about her sister. She had dreamt about her, that was for sure, but all of a sudden she had woken up and somehow she had just known something was wrong with Magda.
For a while she had tried to go back to sleep, convincing herself that she could not possibly know what was happening to a sister who was living hundreds of kilometers away from her. But the worry refused to leave her, and at 6.30 she had got up to call her sister. Just to hear that she was allright.
But the phone was not answered. She had tried every fifteen minutes, with her worries increasing with every time she called, but there was no answer. By nine o´clock she had grown so worried, that she talked her husband into driving all the way over to Grafenau, just to see whether her sister was allright.
When they had arrived at Magda´s cottage in the afternoon, they had found Magda´s big striped cat wailing in the kitchen. Magda herself had been apparently asleep in her bed, tightly holding on to an old little book.
But she wasn´t just sleeping. She was dead.
The doctor they had called in told them she must have passed away during the past night, due to heartfailure. "It´s the way most people would wish to die," he had soothed the crying Mrs. Neumeier. "No fear, no pain, no suffering, no stress... Just passing away when you´re sleeping. Her face is calm and relaxed; there is even a hint of a smile. She has not suffered. Perhaps that can be a consolation in your present distress?"
Lena parked the car on the driveway. The garden around Magda´s cottage was just as festive as the rest of the landscape they had been driving through today: full with flowers, radiating in the sunshine.
"A pity she didn´t have the chance to see her garden like this anymore," Mrs. Neumeier said. "When she died, things had only just started to bud."
They went up to the house and entered rather hesitantly. Already now, after but a few weeks, it smelled pretty dusty inside.
"Okay," Lena said matter-of-factly, "we have to sort all this out. Things we´d like to keep ourselves, and things that can go to the Salvation Army. Things can get so complicated when people don´t leave a will..."
"Perhaps she did write down something somewhere," Mrs. Neumeier said hopefully.
"And we have to look for her diaries," Karin insisted.
They looked around in the living-room. It was modestly furnished, with surprisingly little proof of the thirty years Dr. Magda Heller had been living and working abroad. There were just a lot of pictures, standing on every inch of the shelves and side-tables. Pictures of happy smiling children from all over the world. Mostly in groups, sometimes alone.
Karin took up a picture of a brown-haired girl with a mischievous smile. "This is Davita," she told her mother and her grandmother. "Davita from the Ukraine. She was a foundling, and she was deaf. Auntie Magda loved her as if she were her own daughter. But when she was ten, she got run over by a car, and she was hurt so badly that there was nothing they could do to save her. She died in auntie Magda´s arms..."
Mrs. Neumeier swallowed with difficulty. "Auntie Magda told you that?"
Karin nodded soberly. "She has told me about several of the children in the pictures. But this one I remember especially, because she nearly started crying when I asked about her."
They stood silently for a moment, while the two grown-ups wondered what other matters of the heart Magda may have been hiding from them. Strange that she had told a thing like that to a young grandniece, and not to her nearer relations...
But they pulled themselves together, and started gathering things up: books and clothes and everything in boxes. In the bedroom, grandmother took up a small darkgreen book from the nightstand. She showed it to her granddaughter. "This was the book your auntie Magda was clutching when she died. She must have been reading it before she fell asleep that night."
Karin shivered as her grandmother carefully opened it. "It´s one of her diaries," she whispered as she saw the first page, filled with her aunties neat handwriting. And as she noticed a particular word down the page, she added: "The one about Australia."
The paper was crispy and old. Grandmother leafed through the book. Several pages had dog´s ears; it looked like the book had been used intensively. But perhaps all diaries look like that when they get filled up over time?
"Mother!" they heard Lena call out from the living-room. "Come and look at this!"
Mrs. Neumeier closed the diary and gave it to Karin. Then they both went to see what Lena had found.
It was a letter, dated January 16th, 2025. And it contained Magda´s wishes for after her death.
Mrs. Neumeier looked through them. It was more or less as she had expected: Magda wanted her furniture and stuff to be given to the Salvation Army as far as none of her relatives wanted it. The house had to be sold and its proceeds - together with the money left in her bankaccount - divided equally among the hospitals and children´s homes she had been working for since 1990. And last but not least, the letter ended with a PS addressed to Karin. It stated clearly that - if Karin still wanted to - she was the one entitled to all her auntie Magda´s diaries, "because you have such a wonderful interest in other people´s lives and living conditions", it said. "Dear Karin, I do not want to push you into anything, but I do hope you will find the inspiration to one day continue the work I had to quit - in one way or another. I think you can do it, as long as you keep in mind that grief is as natural a part of life as is happiness.
Thank you for all you have done for me.
your auntie Magda."
Karin stood motionless. "What have I done for her?" she asked bewildered.
Her mother pulled her close and put her arm around her daughter. "You loved her," she simply said. "You loved her, you loved coming here, you talked with her, you listened to her... I think grandmother might be right there: she might have been quite lonely."
"And you two are rather alike," grandmother added. "I´ve noticed it, too. You don´t look like her at all; you look much more like your father. But the way you are, your character, reminds me of my sister when she was younger. I suppose auntie Magda must have noticed that, too. That´s probably why you two got along so well."
Karin nodded. "Yes. Perhaps."
They continued their sorting out in silence. It felt strange, to be going through someone else´s stuff and deciding to keep it or throw it out. It felt like one couldn´t throw away anything without asking Magda. But they couldn´t ask her anymore.
Karin found a whole cupboard full with diaries. She was leafing through them, reading a few lines here and a short passage there. None of them however was as used and worn as the one on her time in Australia. And the cupboard looked like it hadn´t been opened for ages.
She looked up when she heard her grandmother sniffing at the table. Lena came up to her mother, too, and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "What is it, mother?"
"Oh my God," Mrs. Neumeier mumbled. "Poor, poor Magda... Why didn´t she tell us?!"
"Tell us what?" Karin asked hesitantly. She came up to the table. Her grandmother had been looking through auntie Magda´s purse, and had found an old yellowish letter in an envelope that nearly fell apart of its aging. There was no address or stamp on it; obviously the letter had never been sent. Karin picked up the picture lying next to it. It was an old one: the colours had faded a little, and the corners were worn. It showed a young man with dark hair, age around 25-30. He was dressed in a rather old-fashioned peach-coloured shirt and grey pants, and he held out his hands as though he was wondering about something the photographer did or said. He was standing on a sloping green pasture, and in the background a white house with a red roof could be seen among the trees.
"Who is that man?" Karin enquired.
Grandmother looked at the picture. "I think it´s your auntie Magda´s lost love..." she said toneless.
"Her what?!" Karin asked astonished.
"I thought she had been single all her life!" Lena uttered dumbfounded.
Mrs. Neumeier brushed away a trickling tear. "That´s what we all thought... But apparently she had fallen in love with a colleague or so when she was working in Australia. And he died... Oh, poor, poor Magda... No wonder she was so quiet when she came back..."
Karin looked at the man in the picture. "He looks nice," she said timidly. "What´s his name? Does she tell about him in that letter?"
"His name is David," her grandmother answered sniffing. "And the letter is actually a love-letter to him But she must have written it several years after he died." She looked at the wrinkled, stained paper in her hand. The letter was not dated, but its paper was so old and worn that Magda must have kept it in her purse for a very long time.
Her eyes went over the words again. Together with her daughter´s and her granddaughter´s.
I´ve been wanting to write this letter to you for quite some time, even though I know perfectly well that it is of no use. For I won´t be able to send it to you. But I have decided to write it anyway. Who knows: maybe you are still around in spirit, looking right over my shoulder as I sit here writing to you...
David, I have a confession to make. As a matter of fact: several ones. But I´ll start with one: I love you. Ich liebe dich. I have always loved you. I believe I have loved you from the very first sight I got from you: that picture at the base, where you are holding up a big fish you had caught. Do you remember that one?
But I was afraid. You were always so friendly and kind to me; I didn´t dare to challenge that by telling you how I felt about you. In your country, I did not know how far I could go in coming out to you, without risking to lose your friendship. Sometimes it seemed like you had some special feelings towards me, too, but I was never sure. Everything was so new to me, so strange... Even the people. Friendly, curious, but I always felt they considered me the stranger in town. And that was how I felt: the stranger. There were so many things I didn´t understand. You were my guide to Australia, to Coopers Crossing, and to the work there, never rejecting me or shrugging when I didn´t understand. I may have made lots of acquaintances, but you were my only friend. The only one who at times made me feel at home. And I can not thank you enough for that. I don´t know how I would have survived working for the RFDS without you.
The other confession I have to make, is that I have betrayed you. It started when you announced that you wanted to leave the town and the Service and that you wanted to do something else with your life. I was angry. I thought you acted as though you had no consideration at all as to how I would feel upon your leaving. But now I see that perhaps you really didn´t know how I felt about you, so how could I blame you? I should have said something then, but I was angry and upset, and did not want to talk to you. Something I deeply regret. For the next day, you had hardly left when you found yourself called upon to assist a man in an emergency. He was saved. But you were the one who died.
I was in a shock when I heard the news. I could not possibly imagine that the man I truly loved so dearly, had fallen off a cliff and died. I attended the funeral, I laid the most beautiful flowers on your grave... but somehow I felt it was all my fault. If only I had told you about my feelings, wouldn´t things have gone differently? Would you have decided to leave Coopers Crossing then? I know how you felt about several things that had changed around the base; the person of Guy in particular. But perhaps we could have gone somewhere together...
The weeks following were a nightmare. Everything and everyone reminded me of you. Wherever I went, it was only memories of you that came flooding to me. Things you said. Things you did. The way you looked at me. The way you smiled. The way you laughed. The way you frowned. That delicious sparkle in your eyes. Night after night I spent watching the stars, like we did that evening at the pub, when I had gone outside in a sudden wave of homesickness, and you came after me. You pointed out the Southern Cross to me, remember? I have learned to find it on my own.
But it was too much. I could not stay. But what excuse could I find to leave, so soon after my arrival? I did not want to tell them about my feelings. I thought that was none of their business. But I could not think of a plausible reason I could give to leave. So in the end, in the wretched state I was in, I simply said that it was for personal reasons. Geoff automatically assumed it was homesickness, but Jackie started prodding. And when she suggested that I was leaving because I had fallen in love with Guy, even though I knew it could never develop into a relationship, I panicked. It came too close to the truth. And in a desparate move to avoid her finding out the real truth, I sort of admitted that she was right...
It felt miserable. Like I was betraying you, and afterwards I have cried for hours. Not out of grief, but out of shame...
Can you forgive me, David? Please? You were always so understanding! You do understand that I wanted to keep my feelings for you to myself, don´t you? Perhaps I should not have done that. Perhaps I even should have told them the truth, about missing you so much that it hurt physically. But I could not. Those feelings were too dear to me to be able to share them with anyone. I hope so that you understand...
I returned to Germany, where my family found me very quiet. But I could not tell them either. Apart from your father, no one knows what I feel for you. But it´s still there. I have never married, David. Perhaps I never will. A couple of times have men been more than interested in me, but I just couldn´t. When they talked to me, or wanted to accompany me, or danced with me, or smiled at me, I could only think of you. I still treasure you in my heart, David. I still love you. I have never stopped doing so. I feel like a widow. A widow who is not being recognized as one. I long for you, every night. And sometimes, when I´m on one of my lonely strawls, I talk to you, as if you were with me. And deep down inside, I keep hoping for the impossible: that one day the doorbell will ring and I go and open the door, and there are you, smiling at me...
Lieber David, I believe the writing of this letter has been beneficial. I have had to stop several times, because it´s so hard to write with tears streaming down my cheek. But somehow, I believe you have seen what I wrote. I feel calmer now. Thank you for all you have done for me, and for all you have given me. And whether or not I will one day find another man I can love, you will always remain in my heart. I shall treasure our memories together, and I will never, ever stop loving you.
Yours, truly and faithfully for ever,
Vergessen heißt: halt immer an dich denken
Vergessen heißt: es tut noch immer Weh
I kann mein Herz ganz wiss nie einem Anderen schenken
So lang´ i Nacht für Nacht nur deine Augen seh
Forgetting means: still thinking of you
Forgetting means: it still hurts
I will never be able to give my heart to someone else
As long as I - night after night - see nothing but your eyes"
The air was filled with astonished compassion. Poor auntie Magda...
"Karin," Lena asked slowly, "did auntie Magda ever mention this David to you?"
Karin shook her head. "Not that I recall." She had tears in her voice.
Her mother bit her lip. "She must have been even lonelier than anyone ever realized. The man she head over heels fell in love with falls off a cliff and dies... The girl she more or less regarded as her daughter is run over by a car and dies... And she never even mentioned those tragedies!"
Karin looked up. "Do you think...? This girl Davita was a foundling after all. So perhaps, if they didn´t know her name... Do you think it was auntie Magda who named her Davita? After this David?"
Her grandmother nodded. "That is quite possible, dear. But the girl died, too..."
Karin shivered. "It must have made her almost scared of loving anyone. For as soon as she loved them, they died..."
Her grandmother took a deep breath. "From what I gather from this letter, together with her holding on to the Australian diary in which she must have written a lot about this David when she loved him so much..."
"And that is the only one that looks like it is being used a lot," Karin added.
Her grandmother nodded in agreement. "I think we may safely conclude that Magda continued to love this David till her dying day. I think she just never stopped loving him, like she writes in this letter."
Karin´s lip trembled.
"Let´s hope they´re together now, then," her mother said quietly.
Karin couldn´t hold back her tears anymore. She threw herself into her mother´s arms and cried violently. "Poor auntie Magda... I feel so sorry for her...!"
But they all felt like crying. That a close relative of theirs had gone through so much grief, and never had they suspected anything about her pain and distress...! Never had she given them the slightest possibility of comforting her; never had she let them enter her life for real, to understand her and support her when she´d needed it... Magda had chosen to carry the burden of the grief over losing her most beloved ones all by herself. Alone. She had closed both David and Davita in her heart, for no one to touch. Her very own precious love, and her very own deep sorrow. They all wished now that they could have done something to comfort her or help her. But Magda herself had shut out everyone when it came to her dearest feelings. She had chosen to cherish those dear memories alone. That had been her private business, and there was nothing they could do about it. Not anymore.
"Your auntie Magda was a very special person, Karin," her mother said quietly. "I wish I had taken the opportunity to get to know her better when there was still time..."
"We can," Mrs. Neumeier said gravely. "This letter sheds quite some light on her already, and I think the diaries she left to Karin will give us an even better insight in who she really was. So I hope, Karin, that when you have read them, you will give us the chance to get to know my sister, too."
Karin nodded. "Sure."
The next evening, when they were at home again, Karin took out the darkgreen diary on her auntie Magda´s time in Australia. It felt worn, almost alive in her hands. She shivered at the thought of her greataunt clutching this book when she died. Perhaps she had been reading in it every night... Perhaps it was a way of summoning happy dreams about this David in her sleep? Dreams in which they lived their lives together, happily ever after...
Karin swallowed and cuddled up in her bed. Ever since her grandmother had found that letter she had been thinking of this David. He looked so nice in the picture. And this was the book in which she could probably read all about him!
Hesitantly she opened her greataunt´s Australian diary. She leafed through the pages, though it did feel a bit like intruding upon auntie Magda´s most intimate privacy. She noticed the name David lots and lots of times. And here, with big letters, an I LOVE YOU!!!
She sighed. A shame that her auntie never had had the chance of sharing her life with him. Surely they would have been very happy together...
But she had better start at the beginning. So she went back to the first page, and - warm and snuggled up under her blanket - she started reading Magda´s report on her time with the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia:
Well... farewell Garmisch.
It feels a little pinchy around my heart. I will miss it a little. But I am too excited about all the new things that are awaiting me to be pining. I understand that it wasn´t easy to say goodbye, especially for Mom. It might be a year before we meet again; perhaps even longer. But right now, I allow myself to be a little selfish. I want to look forward to this new life of mine, full of expectation!
Still, first I´ll have to spend two days in the plane, with a night in between to spend at a hotel in Bangkok. And if things go the way they should, I´ll be in Sydney by tomorrow evening!
Back to the last episode of Magda´s Diary: 171-173
What could (and should) have happened instead:
Note: The song Magda is referring to is Vergessen heißt: halt immer an dich denken, written by Jean Frankfurter and Irma Holder, and sung by the Bavarian folkmusicsinger Patrick Lindner. It is included in his cd Eine handvoll Herzlichkeit, 1990.
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