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Tennessee, United States
Retired teacher living in East Tennessee, adjusting to life in the land of round door knobs. Photographer for our local animal shelter and foster of many dogs and kitties. Don't ask me how many dogs I have, but my son got me one of those "I'm the crazy dog lady" sweatshirts.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Frank

Today we drove to Zwingenberg an der Neckar for Frank Heidingfelder's memorial service. The weather was chancy, not cold, but a mix of clouds and sun with a chance of rain. Overall, it was a pretty day.

Yahoo told us the trip of 125.81 miles would take 2 hours 8 minutes, so we allowed 3 hours, and with construction and one closed road, we pulled up to the cemetery 2 hours 40 minutes after leaving Baumholder and 20 minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. Zwingenberg is on the Neckar river with a large castle overlooking the town, and a ferry that runs to the campground on the other side of the river, a beautiful setting just a few miles from Eberbach, Frank's birthplace. I know his birthplace, because I took the "How well do you know Frank Heidingsfelder" quiz. Don't ask my score.

We turned onto Bahnhoffstrasse and then wound our way up a steep hill on Im Hohen Gartenstr. When I saw a group of people dressed in black, I realized we had reached our destination. We parked and walked through a small cemetery up to a chapel. We didn't know anyone there, but overheard conversations in both German and English.

We found seats and watched as people arrived and greeted the family. Frank's urn and a framed photo of him were set on a table. The cloth on the table continued out onto the floor in front where yellow roses lay scattered among candles laid out in the shape of a cross. Pots of blooming plants and flowers, wreaths and the vase of white flowers we had sent flanked the table. But, that's just decoration.

You could tell when someone was thinking about Frank, because the tears would flow and the lips would quiver. I plead guilty to several instances of this.

The minister had a cheerful face and reassuring manner, and even though the sermon was in German, I could make out enough to know that his sermon was mix of comfort and celebration of Frank's life. He mentioned that Frank had made many friends all over the world. Twice at the beginning and again at the end of his talk, he referred to the scripture from Isaiah
Be not afraid, for I have redeemed thee, I have called on thy name -- thou [art] Mine.

Remember, this was all in German. I got that because of the last line:
Du bist mein (Thou art mine).

As we entered the chapel and I was signing the guest book, I noticed a small CD player was quietly playing, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, from Monty Python's, Life of Brian. How very appropriate, I thought. Frank would like that. The song was played again during the service, along with Bob Marley's, Three Birds.
Rise up this mornin,
Smiled with the risin sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin, (this is my message to you-ou-ou:)

Singin: don't worry bout a thing,
cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin: don't worry (don't worry) bout a thing,
cause every little thing gonna be all right!
After the service, a man wearing white gloves picked up Frank's urn and carried it outside and down the hill to his grandparents' gravesite, where his urn was to be placed alongside them. As we exited the chapel, it began to sprinkle and as the minister talked, the wind came up a bit. The hardest part for me was watching the man with the white gloves very slowly lowering that urn into the ground accompanied by some really heavy music. That tugged on the heartstrings. And watching his mother watch the remains of her only child being lowered into the earth was painful, although she handled this, like everything else that day, with loving grace.

Frank's father and mother were the first to step forward and using a little shovel, take sand from a bucket and drop it into the grave. His mother also dropped a small bouquet of yellow roses. Next came his stepfather, and then the other close relatives present. Each mourner approached, often in twos dropping either the symbolic dirt or rose petals from a container or flowers they had brought. One young man dropped in a rolled up note.

When our turn came, Jim took the shovel and I took rose petals and as I dropped them in, I said to Frank "These are also from Megan and Eric and Sarah and Chris." We turned to shake hands with the family, first the stepfather, offering condolences, next Frank's mother,  Corina. To her I said, "I'm Judy Graham from Baumholder." She said, "The teacher!" and pulled me close in a big hug. I don't remember exactly what we said, but she thanked me for coming and I told her that there were many of his friends that could not be there that wanted her to know how much they loved him. It was hard to get out the words, but ya'll asked me to tell her, so I did.

After that we needed umbrellas. We walked around and took some more photos of the area and the mourners to share with those who could not be there. We also went back into the chapel and I took one of the yellow roses. I have hung it upside down to dry out, my little memento.

When we drove away, we went to the bottom of the hill,  turned right and almost immediately saw a big gasthaus and pulled in. It took three tries for Jim to find a parking place that wasn't a. private or b. in front of a garage, but we did get parked eventually. We planned to have a late lunch before heading back home. When we walked in, we saw some people from the funeral going into a room off to the right, but thought they might be having a private gathering of the family. So, we headed out onto the covered balcony, but a woman found us (I think it was Frank's great aunt) and told us we were welcome to join everyone in the big room for kaffee und kuchen (eat your hearts out).

I was glad we had stumbled on the gathering, because it is after the funeral that people are able to lighten up and talk and smile remembering the good times. These gatherings are important for families and friends to share. We met Frank's stepbrother, Rick. I shared some of my thoughts on how funny and clever Frank was, and he said that Frank was always that way. He also said that he thought that Frank had really enjoyed his high school years, that he had started to come into his own in high school.

Frank's mother, Corina, said that she was amazed at how quickly the word had gotten out via Facebook and something about MySpace, too. She was aware and gratified by how many friends Frank had and how much love they had expressed for him.

I pointed out that Frank had been the one who reached out and reestablished or maintained contact with his friends, and would occasionally show up at the school after several years absence, just to say hello to his teachers, never letting loose of the bonds he had with the people he cared about. I told her that my own children hadn't known Frank well when he was at Baumholder, but that after friending me on Facebook, he had gone on to friend my children, and to become good friends with my daughter, who so appreciated his wit, which was much like her own, and that she had taken the loss hard.

I'm sure other people had great things to say, but since they said them in German . . . they went right past me. I'm only reporting on my conversations and observations.

When we were ready to leave, Frank's mother walked us out. She told us that they had been using this gasthaus for many years for family gatherings, birthdays, weddings, funerals. She shared with us that shortly before his death, Frank had been helping her make spaghetti in the kitchen and she had teased him about how thin he was and asked him when she was going to get a grandchild.

I wish I had the words to express what a wonderful, warm, caring woman she is.


  1. Frank was a very good friend of mine.Suddenly we had no contact.I've been looking for him too late.I'm so sorry.I will never forget you Frank.R.I.P. Frank.


  2. I'm glad you found this post. I wrote it, and attended Franks' memorial for all of you who could not be there.

    1. hallo liebe judy, ein frank heidingsfelder wohnte in crottendorf im erzgebirge und ist dann wieder weggezogen. ich habe den blog jetzt erst gefunden. frank war hier immer in der bibliothek und wir haben oft gesprochen. er war sehr nett.
      bitte schreiben sie mir mal christin39@gmx.de

    2. hallo liebe judy, ein frank heidingsfelder wohnte in crottendorf im erzgebirge und ist dann wieder weggezogen. ich habe den blog jetzt erst gefunden. frank war hier immer in der bibliothek und wir haben oft gesprochen. er war sehr nett.
      bitte schreiben sie mir mal christin39@gmx.de

  3. Thank you Judy.


  4. Hi Judy, I found this awhile back (around Christmas 2009), its actually how I found out the news of Frankie's passing. Its around his birthday now so I found myself coming back here to read your blog again. I was close to Frankie once and he helped me during a tough time in my life. Whenever I am thinking of him your blog is almost like a virtual stop at his grave site for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this. I know he would be touched.

  5. Hi Judy,

    Thank you for this article, letting all those who knew Frank participate and say good bye. . I know Frank form our military service in the German Army. I remember him as not only as a colleague but as a good friend. Unfortunately we lost contact after at some time after our military service. Rest in peace Frank.