Letter to Gordon Berghoff written by his sister Janina
My dear, dear sweet little brother,
Not even 20 years - that’s all we had with you. Seems like a crime to
speak of you in the past tense. I can’t help thinking of all the things
you won’t be able to do, what you might miss out on.
How does the world keep on turning? How can people around us just live
on, while in our lives there is this sudden emptiness, a hole where you
used to be?
…how our parents told us we’d have a little sibling. I couldn’t grasp
it, was scared when Papa drove Mama to the hospital. But then, there
…how very, very cute you were when you were little, but you never
wanted to hear us say so… with your bright blue eyes and mop of light
blond hair and happy smiles.
…what a little mischief maker you were, hiding the bread with the
cutlery so the drawer wouldn’t open and building foot-angling traps
just to see what would happen. You probably got blamed for some things
that you DIDN’T do, although in 99% of the cases the culprit was clear.
Sometimes we’d be angry for a moment, but then admire your
…how scared we were that time you were in hospital and ripped out the
infusion because you were too small and scared to understand.
…how happy you were to get a tool kit for your third Christmas and how you lost all but 2 pieces within a day.
…how long it always took Opa to go on a walk with you because you had
to investigate every water pipe and every little screw that caught your
eye on the way… you even had your own language to describe tools.
…how inventive and smart you were, building all these little things to
make life easier; you could have gone so far, you were so gifted. We
were so proud of you and I think you would have won your bet with your
supervisor and become the best apprentice of the region in electronics.
Your finals would have been next week…
…how Mama worried because you were so different from all the other kids
your age, but you always went your own way, and happily. I always
admired you for that, for being so self-assured and happy.
…how you’d practice whistling until you could whistle louder and higher
than anyone else. No one will wake me up now with their whistling early
in the morning.
…how great you were with animals, spending all your freetime at the
animal shelter taking care of the most difficult dogs. You could make
Toska get up from her favourite chair and come to you when you whistled
that specific tune and you always had to take her to the vet because
with you she wasn’t so scared.
…how you always found the perfect gift for everyone. I still have those
cool gloves you gave me for Christmas three years ago and I remember us
joking on facebook that we should call you Santa’s manager because you
organized all the Family’s presents for this Christmas.
…how you would take something to eat, climb up the mountain behind our
house into the forest and have a picnic all by yourself early in the
…how you always said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, there is
only bad clothing and bad equipment.” You loved being outside, enjoying
…how you took that photo of a puffin in flight and how funny you thought the seagull’s backside looked on another picture.
…how you got skype and facebook so you could be in closer contact with your sister abroad.
…how you saved a fellow apprentice from serious burn injuries because everyone else was too shocked to react.
…how you were online ALL the time while I waited 5h at Kerry airport,
checking for news about the flight and then - surprise - pick me up in
Frankfurt Hahn with Gerrit at 2am so I could spend one last Christmas
…how we climbed up to Wachenburg fortress early on 26th of December to
watch an amazing sunrise together, just the two of us. I will never
look at snow and sunrises the same now.
I remember your easy laugh, how your blue eyes would sparkle, and the
spring in your every step. It hurts to think of these things, but I’m
so afraid that these memories might fade… that some day I might not
remember the sound of your voice…
I’m so glad we became closer friends over the last months. Maybe you’re
wondering why I’m writing this in English. Well, fact is more than two
of the last three years I spent abroad; and maybe it feels easier
because it makes things more complicated.
I remember when I came back from Israel in 2006, you were at the
airport and shocked me with having outgrown me in just 7 months - grown
into a very handsome young man. I also remember us speaking in English
all the way from Skellig Michael to the Irish main land last summer
because you wanted to practise so you’d be more comfortable with
visiting me or travelling to maybe Canada. Now I regret even more
missing out on you growing up, moving out from home so early. I just
assumed we’d have more time together - now that will never be. There
are many more memories, more difficult to put into words or just
waiting to come out behind the more prominent ones (I will probably add
many more lines to this letter over time).
We miss you so much, little brother (yeah, I know you weren’t so
“little”). I hope that for you it’s all right, that you had a full and
happy life. That you didn’t suffer, as the doctors said. That you want
us to grieve, but then remember you as the happy, special and great
person you were. It sounds pompous, but I wish now I could say it to
you: you will live on in our hearts. You will laugh when I’m disgusted
with yet another rain shower and you’ll walk with me when I’m going out
to enjoy the sun. You will ask me every once in a while if I have cured
cancer yet and I’ll give my best with my stupid project, even though
right now there doesn’t seem to be a point in doing anything. When I’m
sad you’re gonna crack one of your stupid (or not so stupid) jokes. And
when I’m ready to be happy again you’ll laugh along with me. You will
be by my side for however long I’ll outlive you, that I want to
believe. I regret NOT doing so many things now, but most of all I’m
sorry I probably never said it out loud, because we were both
uncomfortable with displays of emotion, but it’s true and I hope you
know: I love you, Gordon, very much.
I wish I could hug you one last time,
Your sister Janina