This was not an easy post to prepare. My mother-in-law, Else (nee Arnold) Braune, passed away in her 90th year, Friday, August 12, 2011. A hard fought battle with Alzheimer’s finally ended, leaving behind the breaking hearts of her two daughters and bitter tears of grief & frustration staining loving memories. Alzheimer’s doesn’t just condemn an individual, it devastates a family. With this post, I will try to begin the process of healing and recovering some of the memory of Else Braune as she truly was to her family and friends.
She was born in Germany and was part of that generation that came of age in the Great Depression and was carried off by the tide of history into WWII. Working first as a nanny, she trained as a nurse and eventually was employed in a hospital in Berlin. When she was prompted with some old photos, after the onset of the memory loss, she talked to her daughter, my wife Elizabeth, about some of those events for the first time. Among her other duties, she remembered going out to clear bomb & bomb fragments from the front of the hospital.
Else was married to Herbert Braune. A marriage that lasted 63 years, till Herbert’s passing in 2008, it was typical of many couples of that generation, their love, commitment, and marriage endured the test of time. Their daughters, Elenore & Elizabeth, gave them four grandchildren ( Maria, Robert, Alexander, & Natasha) & four great grandchildren (Lucas, Robert, Jana-Lena, & Tobias), who enriched Else & Herb’s lives, as they did theirs .
If I was to sum up my memory of Mom Braune, I guess it would have to include the following words: hugs, smiles, bright colours – flowers & clothes – kaffee und kuchen, gardening & dancing. Meeting Else for the first time was to be greeted with a huge smile and an even huger hug. In all likelihood, if it was the afternoon, it would include coffee & cake.
Mom loved bright colours in her garden and her clothing, pinks, yellows, reds & purples. For that reason this post is full of bright flowers (from Elizabeth’s garden) for Else. Mom seemed to always be dressed in style and colour. Much of the clothing was sewn by her. She and Herb were furriers- her seamstress skills were put to good use at home and at their business, Braune’s Furs in London On.: her girls were never without beautiful outfits . In spite of her style and elegance, Mom never lost her farm girl simplicity of manner. She loved to party and dress up, but she never looked down on others and she would welcome everyone to the party that was her life.
Now is the time for wine, song, and dance. You will have to provide your own wine, but I can provide you with a few songs and a dance to go with my memories and photographs of Mom Braune. Like my parents, Herb and Else loved to dance; they were all part of the last great generation of dancers, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers were their patron saints. One dance that Mom Braune enjoyed at our wedding was one that Herb would not do, the Chicken Dance. For those who want to learn it here it is, for those trying to forget, my apologies.
The first song on the list is Lily Marlene . There were a few times when, in her confusion, Else would call out in German for her young man – “where is my young man ? ”. Though Herb was safe and alive, in her mind memories & anxiety for her young man on the Russian front and being a young woman in Berlin at the time of the invasion & occupation had come to haunt her. At other times this song would take her to a better place in her heart.
The second song is When the Saints go Marching In ( by Louis Armstrong, one Dad’s favourites ). Elizabeth would get Mom going by singing this song. When Mom would not know where to go or how to get going, this song could get a lively and determined step & a smile.
Now is time to draw this post to a close, as Else & Herb Braune dance away to the sound of Louis & the Band. We are all missing you in our own ways: I hope to share laughter and some kaffee und kuchen in The Garden with you again.
Apologies and Acknowledgements :
To my frequent visitors and those who have taken the time to leave comments, I apologize for not responding in the last few posts. Events and emotions over took me. Below you will find a link to Else’s obituary ( this is primarily for distant friends & family who may be reading this post).
There is someone very close to our family who needs to be mentioned. Gunther Barth was Herb’s friend since childhood. It was he who got Herb & Else to move to Canada. He and his late wife, Evelyn, were dear friends of the Braunes through many years. Liz & I know “Uncle” Gunther has felt a loss equal to ours and that is why I chose to include photographs of both him and Evelyn in this post.
Below are also links to two blogs that helped me organize my ideas and get a handle on my responses to Else’s passing. You may also find them of interest and value . In any case, I thank both Life in the Bogs * and Jason Muses for posting their thoughts, feelings and photographs on their own experiences. They were of great help to me in this process. Thanks to all.