Remembering Susie Erdmann ~ March 21, 1927 – April 3, 2017

The information from the first part of this eulogy was gathered from Mom’s autobiography, which she wrote about her family life in Mramorak both before and after the war. Her cousin David Kemle was key in encouraging Mom to write her story, and we are grateful to David for that. Mom’s book is a treasure that conveys the resiliency of the human spirit and how goodness and gratitude surpasses suffering.

Mom was born on March 21, 1927 in Mramorak, Yugoslavia (now known as Banat Serbia) into a family of six children. She had two older brothers, Peter and John, two younger sisters, Margaret and Katie, and a sixth sibling who passed away at birth. Mom’s brother, Peter, died at 17 from blood poisoning from a sliver in his toe.

Living in a town with a population of 4,000, Mom’s parents, like most people (although poor) enjoyed a wonderful family life. People were decent, honest, helpful, clean and hardworking. Every house, including the Kemle home, was whitewashed, included a barn, cows for milking, horses for fieldwork, pigs, chickens, a garden and a few small fruit trees. Most residents had small parcels of land to farm.

Extra income came from raising silkworms, something mom and family enjoyed once the vineyards were looked after and spring work was done.

Extra income also came from having a spot at the Belgrad market place. Mom always enjoyed hearing stories that her Dad shared after his travels of selling and buying goods.

Mom attended four years of school, which was compulsory. She then tended to younger siblings Margaret and Katie and looked after small household chores while her parents worked in the fields.

Attending Church every Sunday was an important tradition in Swabian life. Opa sang in the choir while Mom enjoyed singing duets with her sister, Margaret, or quartets with brothers Peter and John.

Nationalities lived harmoniously together, and different cultures admired and respected one another. Families, friends and neighbours worked, prayed and celebrated together. But things were about to change.

In 1941, when mom was 14, the arrival of German soldiers was the beginning. The regime supported segregation and discrimination between nationalities, which was disturbing for Mom and families.

Two months after occupation, men aged 18 to 60 were drafted by the German army, including Mom’s brother, John.

For those left behind, life was not easy. Fields needing to be cut down now depended on women, old men, young boys and the few men left behind with disabilities, like Mom’s Dad, born with an elbow abnormality.

In 1942, Mom and family started to notice men wandering through their forests. They were unground fighters, known as Partisans whose aim was to sabotage the German Army.

In May 1944, German solders came into Mramorak warning German people to evacuate. Mom’s family, like many other families choose to stay, thinking they’d be safe.

Only two months later, the Russians and Partisans came into Mramorak with all of their might. They beat, plundered, raped and tortured, and within hours of their occupation, picked up 48 innocent German townsmen. The 48 men were imprisoned and tortured beyond recognition. As the oldest daughter, Mom had the daunting task of bringing food to her brutalized father; a task her emotionally fraught mother just couldn’t do.

One evening, Mom’s Serbian neighbour knocked frantically on their door. She came to warn the family of the Russians’ plans to take German girls and woman between 16 and 35. Mom, 17 at the time, hid in her attic for two days. The first night, Partisan guards swarmed the town rounding up screaming women for transport to Siberia. The second night, she hid for fear they’d return.

In March 1945, Partisans stormed mom’s house and ordered the family to gather a few belongings. Townsfolk were herded like cattle onto the street and taken to a vacated section of town where 50 or 60 were jammed into one house.

Daily food rations consisted of a piece of corn bread and coffee. Mom and others old enough to work were organized into work groups. Their job was to teach the Bosnian people who had moved into their homes how to farm.

This camp lasted until everyone was moved to Karlsdorph, where 3,000 townsfolk were packed into an ex-German airplane hanger. It was an unbearable camp, but as bad as things were, mom and her family were still somehow fortunate. They were healthy enough to work, which meant leaving the airplane hanger for the day and finding food.

Mom and family moved camp a third and last time. This time closer to the Hungarian border to an ex-German town called Gakova. The town surrounded by barbed-wire fence and guarded gates had no wood for burning. With winter soon approaching, escape was now or never.

One foggy autumn night, after digging a hole underneath the barbed-wire fence, mom and family took a huge leap of faith and crawled under.

Once out and away from camp, they walked through corn and sugar beet fields. They bartered their quilts and pillows (their last possession) in exchange for help to cross the Hungarian border.

Once in Hungry, they worked for a good-hearted famer and his wife, making enough money to travel by train to the Austrian border.

When they finally arrived at the Red Cross Camp in Austria in October 1947, they knew, for the first time in 30 months, they were safe.

Mom enjoyed two fun-filled years in the beautiful country of Austria. She loved the people and the lifestyle, attended Garden festivals, a modern dance school and even learned the fox trot and tango. She danced to beautiful Straus waltzes, polkas and joined a choir proudly travelling by bus all over Austria. But Austria was overpopulated with refugees and mom’s brother, John, who they reunited with, wanted to farm in Canada.

October 8, 1949, Mom and family immigrated to Canada. They landed in Halifax and travelled seven days via rail to Abbotsford, B.C., where mom’s Uncle Phillip Kemle lived.

Three years later, at a local dance in Chilliwack, Mom met Arnold, the love of her life. The two wrote back and forth for a bit, but our guess, knowing dad’s writing skills, was that it probably was mostly x’s and o’s.

In June of 1953, Arnold and Susie married and settled together in Hay Lakes. A short while later, they bought property in Edmonton. Dad still worked for CN Railway and mom worked in a restaurant.

Over the next 10 years, together they built and sold three south Edmonton homes and had three children. Here is a snapshot of how hard mom must have worked at that time. She had a small baby, Chris, two sons, Emil and Gary, Dad, and three borders all living under the same roof. Mom made their lunches with freshly baked goods, cooked meals for the three adult men, plus Dad…. and all of us, washed and hung out to dry everyone’s clothes (and not with the washers we have today), ironed, and like all of her German neighbours, perfectly pressed everything, including the sheets and pillow cases.

In 1964, with two rambunctious boys (aka Emil), they thought it best to trade their city home for a farm in New Sarepta. It was definitely roughing it for the first year. It was an old farmhouse with no electricity or running water, a wood burning stove, one bedroom, an old attic, an outhouse, a barn and old buildings everywhere.

During the nine years we lived on the farm, we raised chickens, milked, fed pigs and farmed. While Dad worked full-time at Stelco Steel, Mom and Dad built a three-bedroom home, garage, barn, built white fences, demolished buildings, and….. mom had a big garden and flower bed on the side. Needless to say, Mom and Dad were hard workers. But they loved farm life and they loved socializing and entertaining even more, whether with friends or in-laws who lived close by, they always had time for everyone.

In 1973, mom and dad sold the farm and purchased Lamont Hotel. Over the years, mom and dad purchased several more hotels, living in some, managing others. No matter how busy mom was, she always had time to pass around deer sausage or make two or three extra plates of food at lunch to feed some of the old-timers who lived alone and frequented the hotel daily. She loved the business and the people and enjoyed socializing with everyone. Everyone in town knew Susie.

In 1991, mom and dad reluctantly retired from hotel business and moved to a Sherwood Park acreage. For some reason, mom believed she could not survive life without being busy and having a hotel. That thought was far from the truth—once she settled, she realized there were more grandchildren to enjoy, old friends and German neighbours to re-unite with, trees to plant, flowers to grow, birds to feed, and applesauce to make. Plus for the first time ever, mom had the chance to take care of herself—and for her, that came through yoga and all of the dear and wonderful friends she’d make.

During this time, Mom tended to her aging mother. Oma Elizabeth lived with them for a time on the acreage and then transitioned to the Sherwood Park Lodge and Nursing home. Mom was a committed and caring daughter and companioned her mother until her passing in 2001.

January 2003, two years later, Dad had a heart attack at home. It was a huge life change for mom. October of the same year, Chris moved into their acreage and mom transitioned into Sherwood Park.   After being married for 50 years, grieving was hard for mom.

Her solace came from her cherished grandchildren and family, her beautiful garden and flowers, the German singing group, the yoga studio and from her genuine love and appreciation for people.

Everyone in the Nottingham neighborhood knew when mom moved in. Maybe it was because she never missed an opportunity to say a friendly word or chat to anyone. Mom shared garden fresh spinach, spring lettuce, home made pyrogys, canned jams or lafeteria flower seed with anyone who wanted. Mom was particularly grateful for newfound friend and neighbor, Biljana. Born from the same Banat region, the two shared many a lengthy discussion, had much in common and stayed closely connected until mom’s passing.

After dad’s heart attack, yoga became an even bigger part of mom’s life. She especially found solace in her connection with Gerda Krebs, whose husband also recently passed away. They shared in the German language and companioned one another through a difficult time.

Mom loved the studio, her yoga and the people who came to classes. In Gerda’s classes, Mom was often called up to show the side plank. Chris recalls stopping by Mom’s home while Mom was hosting lunch for her longtime German friends. There was mom enthused; excitedly showing off to her friends how well she could do the shoulderstand and plough pose.

At the yoga studio, if your mat was next to mom’s, whether you were new to the studio or old, mom was there to welcome, support, converse and laugh with. Many a yogini were invited to share lunch at mom’s house. Home baked goodies were freshly baked for chair yoga or kids’ yoga classes and fresh cut flowers filled the studio from May until October. Whether painting at the studio, folding laundry or sewing or fixing a curtain, Mom was right there enjoying every moment.

Life was full and rich for five wonderful years, and Mom slowly did find her wings after dad’s passing.

In October 2008, Mom’s life overnight changed. Getting home around 12 midnight after a late-night card game, she had a massive stroke. When mom missed her morning yoga class, Chris went to her home only to find her lying on her bedroom floor for 11 hours.

Mom remained strong and committed and she was determined to walk again. She struggled and struggled, eventually walking short distances with the assistance of caregivers or family and walker. Age and arthritis battled against Mom and her mobility did slowly decrease.

But she still had a great zest and zeal for life and during her stroke years loved attending monthly German singing groups with long time friend Emily. Emil or Gary always enjoyed bringing Mom and it was especially gratifying because she loved so much to go. Mom also loved going to church and would have wanted to go much more. Her community in New Sarepta was especially dear and she enjoyed seeing old-time church members.

Mobility may have ceased for mom, but she still had a heart and mind that loved life and knew and appreciated her grandchildren and family.

About six months ago, mom was told she was going to be a great grandmother. For years, she kept asking her grandchildren when they were having a baby, even asking 14 year-old Kerra. She desperately wanted to hold a baby and that wish did finally come true. Mom lived long enough to hold great grandchild, Clarke Emma Erdmann born on March 8, 2017.

Throughout her stroke years, mom remained active and enlivened in her mind. When we walked in her room, she happily shared how she just baked “spatzul”, gardened, planted her roses or canned peaches. Her strong and positive personality never changed even when it seemed from the outside like life was more limiting.

Even without her physical mobility, mom was engaged and plugged into life. And there were sweet moments too like when the HGTV channel was left on her TV with a renovation show and Mom would say, “Chris, you need to make lunch for them…. they are working so hard”.

No matter what….. Mom always cared.

And if we accidentally left Channel 2 on a Sunday morning and Operation Smile happened to be showing, we’d find Mom weeping in bed, torn and heartbroken for the children she was witnessing with mutilated smiles. She was deeply affected by suffering and she always, always wanted to help. We soon recognized we needed to be very careful with what we left on TV.

Mom lived with Chris for nine wonderful years and it was a blessing for Chris and caregivers to companion her in this new legacy of her life. She was appreciative, positive, funny, dynamic, and real in each and every moment. Mom was always grateful for the little things that either Chris or caregivers did for her. She was understanding, kind and a pleasure to support. She loved her caregivers and, especially as her health began to transition, relied and appreciated Amy and Michelle even more. Amy stayed with our family and cared for mom for five years. She loved mom like her own Grandmother and the two had a very special bond. Mom would always call out for Amy, whether night or day, and since Mom’s passing, she visited Amy twice. The first night after mom’s passing, asking for her teeth and the second night saying how happy she was and that she was now with her mom …..and….that she needed her blue hair brush…..

Mom had a wonderful Doctor who cared for her above and beyond, especially the last two months as her health shifted. Dr. Ribeiro was available to our family, came to visit mom at home and was always kind and caring. Mom and all of us appreciated her ongoing support.

On April 3, the morning of Mom’s passing, Chris woke up at 4:00 am to find her breathing unusually rapid. Mom was conscious alert and carried on a conversation even with her quick breathing. She loved the massages Chris gave and for her brief last massage said how wonderful it felt. It was always nice to hear when something felt wonderful.

During those last two hours of mom’s life, she shared how much she loved people ……and how much she cared for people. She expressed being ready to lie beside Dad…. …she was ready to go. Her neck hurt so badly from holding it up. And then……. when she released her head back into the support of the pillow, something happened……. Her breathing slowed, deepened, became quieter and more settled. Chris asked if she remembered the song that she so often sang and with that prompt Mom started to sing, “so nimm den meine Hande” – which translates into take my hand dear lord. Her voice audible at first and then growing quieter and quieter, until her song became only a breath and her breath became another breath and then no breath. Chris turned to look at the clock and as she was turning back, Mom took her last and final breath. Thirty seconds later, mom’s bird clock chirped its song. It was 6:00 a.m.

Mom was a beautiful woman who touched many people’s lives. She cared deeply about everything and everyone.

She loved the great country she lived in and she appreciated the Kemle family for helping her get here. She loved her grandchildren and children dearly, her siblings, her in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, caregivers and the many dear and cherished friends who filled her life. She was grateful for everything and everybody and always seen and believed in the good in everyone.

She was a beautiful mother and human being and it has been a special privilege to share her life story with all of you.

 

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this story of your Mom’s life and the legacy of love she has left. So strong and beautiful throughout every stage of her life.

    Posted by: Karen Deimert | April 13, 2017
  2. My sincerest condolences, Chris. I am very pleased I got to meet your mother on more than one occasion. She was a very gracious person. I especially enjoyed reading the biography you posted here.
    My very best wishes to you, Alvin

    Posted by: Alvin Schrader | April 13, 2017
  3. Dearest Chris,
    I was so fortunate to be one of those yoginis who enjoyed lunch with your Mother. Words cannot express the beauty of your story…………. what a wonderful Mother and a wonderful Daughter……….

    Much love,
    Marilyn

    Posted by: Marilyn | April 13, 2017
  4. I was so sorry to read of your loss Chris. It’s always hard to lose a parent, especially when it’s your last parent. I was honored to read your mother’s life story and what an exceptional lady she was. I hope in the days to come things will get easier for you and you can look back on all the memories you have had.

    Best wishes
    Pat

    Posted by: Pat Thirlwell | April 13, 2017
  5. Thanks for sharing your Susie’s story. what an incredible woman! I feel it was a great privilege to have known her if only for a few yoga classes when the studio first opened.

    Posted by: Billie Hughes | April 13, 2017
  6. Chris – my deepest sympathy and caring thoughts are with you. Your mother was an angel living on this plane. You both have been blessed to have each other.

    Posted by: donna danyluik | April 13, 2017
  7. Chris I am sorry to hear of your loss. Susie was a very, very special lady and while you must be missing her terribly, I’m certain of your gratitude for so many special, close years with your mom. My heart is with you. Love and Hugs, Bonnie.

    Posted by: Bonnie Ellison | April 13, 2017
  8. Thank you so much for sharing your Mom’s touching life story, Chris! I will always remember her being there to take Kerra so you could teach our mom & baby yoga class. Such a beautiful, open heart she was! We are truly blessed to have that live on through you now. <3<3<3

    Posted by: Donalee | April 13, 2017
  9. Chris – This is about the 4th time I will try this. I keep making a typing error and when I try to correct it the entire message is erased. I keep trying as I just have to tell you what a wonderful tribute you have written to your mom. Your love and devotion shine through every sentence and word. It is very obvious how much you loved and cared for your mom. I once said to you “Chris, your mom is so fortunate to have you.” Your comment back to me was “I’m very fortunate to have my mom.” Just as your mom was a wonderful, caring, and devoted mom, you were a loving, caring, devoted daughter. It was interesting to learn about your mom’s background and gave insight into how she became who she was-her love of everyone, her kindness, and her very giving nature. Thank you for sharing this with all of us who knew your mom and giving us the opportunity to know her even more although she has now left us. Susie had many admirers, I was one of them. She had so much energy which I am sure motivated many in the yoga classes she shared with us. You have given all os us to appreciate your mom even more . O.K. another typing error, but I won’t correct it. All I can say is Well Done Chris – you have done a terrific job in capturing your mom’s sparkling personality. Hugs, Grace

    Posted by: Grace Davidson | April 13, 2017
  10. Wow what a lady Susie was! I had heard the story of the escape firsthand from her at Yogs For he today and at the time I thought she should write a book about her life. I also remember how strong and flexible she was doing her yoga poses. She was an inspiration! I have thought of her often and would love to continue my yoga practice for as long as she did. Thank you so much Chris for sharing her story . It was very moving! I think it’s awesome you were able to be with her as she passed. What a great privilege.

    Posted by: Barb Johnston | April 13, 2017
  11. Dear Chris and family,
    We will miss your mom but never forget her spirit! She always had interesting stories to tell and flowers to show whoever she was talking to. I enjoyed lunch at her home sampling her tradional dishes as my mom had cooked and we compared notes.
    She was very lucky to have such a wonderful daughter to look after her, just as you felt lucky to have such a wonderful mom to look after. You have so many great memories to treasure, such a gift she left you.
    Thank you for a wonderful story of her life, I feel like I know her even better!
    Take care, hugs,
    Elaine

    Posted by: Elaine Newby | April 13, 2017
  12. Absolutely beautiful Chris! Thank you for sharing. xoxo

    Posted by: Joanne Walton | April 13, 2017
  13. Chris,
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story about your mom. What an incredible, respectful and gracious way to pay homage to such a phenomenal woman. I can now see where you get your sparkle and gentle spirit from. It’s wonderful to hear she got to hold her great grand-child, and that you were by her side during her last breath…witnessing how at peace and ready she was. What a gift indeed.
    May you continue to feel the peace, love, and comfort of your mom within you and all around you, always.
    Namaste

    Posted by: Shelly Prosko | April 13, 2017
  14. Chris, what a beautifully written story of your moms life. It really brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could have known her as she sounds like a special lady. I am sorry that you no longer have her in your life but memories are strong ang will be there for ever. What a lucky lady you are to have had such wonderful parents.

    Posted by: Irene Sproull | April 13, 2017
  15. What an incredible life story! Thank you for sharing your beautiful Mom with us.

    Posted by: Krista Power | April 13, 2017
  16. Chris,
    I am saddened by the news that you have lost your mother. She was a lovely woman whose book I have read and whose eye pillow I still use. Thank you for sharing not only her journey, but yours. Warm regards.

    Posted by: Karen Farkas | April 13, 2017
  17. What a wonderful tribute to your mother. I don’t know any of you, but was very moved by your lovely story.

    Posted by: FRAN OSWALD | April 13, 2017
  18. My deepest condolences on the loss of such a beautiful lady. Thank you for sharing bits of her journey. I certainly can see who you inherited your inner beauty and strength from. A beautiful picture of the two of you. You have a very special angel watching over you. Hugs.

    Posted by: Diane Smyth | April 13, 2017
  19. What a beautiful tribute to your mother.
    Wonderfully written and so very interesting.
    What a full life she had. Also, what a privilege
    for you to be able to share part of it with her.
    I can see many of her amazing qualities in you Chris.
    Val

    Posted by: Val MacMillan | April 13, 2017
  20. What a wonderful way to bring the memory of your beloved mom to those of us who have known her, but did not know Susie’s life story. My most fond memory of Susie as mentioned was her plank pose in Gerda’s class.
    Beautiful flower she brought to the studio, for us all to enjoy. The treats appeared, and all of us knew they were made by Susie. She was beautiful inside and out. The giving came from her heart and touched all of us. Hard working, yet always filled with joy. That is my memory of Susie. My heart goes out to you and your family Chris. My admiration for your devotion and unwavering spirit of loving kindness for your mom. Thank you for sharing this wonderful life story of your mom.
    Keeping you in my heart at this difficult time.
    Love ,Eva

    Posted by: Eva Stinn | April 13, 2017
  21. Dear Chris, thank you for sharing your mother’s story–so heartbreakingly beautiful. with heartfelt sympathy , Sheila Schacher(a long ago student of Gerda’s)

    Posted by: sheila | April 13, 2017
  22. Chris. I am very sorry to hear about your Mom’s passing. What an incredible life story she has. Thank you so much for sharing that. Even though it was her time it is always difficult to lose a parent. It will be a great comfort for you knowing how special your caring for her was in her last years. I’m sure your memories with her will bring many smiles and laughter to you and your family and friends. I don’t think I ever met her but a lot of her story reminds me so much of my wonderful mother who passed away many years ago.
    Thanks again for sharing and know I will remember this story forever.
    Thinking of you with love and sadness.
    Mariette

    Posted by: Mariette Bryant | April 14, 2017
  23. Chris, I was saddened to hear of the passing of your Mom. While I did not get a chance to meet her I know how much she meant to you. Thank you for sharing her story, it was lovely and from the heart. I hope time will bring bring peace and good memories of your Mom to you and your family.

    Lorna

    Posted by: Lorna Ross | April 14, 2017
  24. What a life, well lived, well done!

    Posted by: Sally G. | April 14, 2017
  25. Very nice tribute to Aunt Susie. Sad to hear she’s gone

    Posted by: Margit Hess | April 14, 2017
  26. Thank you for sharing, Chris.
    What a beautiful way to honour your Mom.
    Reading her life story was heart warming and inspiring.

    Sending you and your family big hugs and lots of love ❤️
    Jeanette

    Posted by: Jeanette Ward | April 15, 2017
  27. Thank you, Chris, for sharing your mother’s story. I would have loved to have met her to just be in her presence and soak up her energy. It must have been a huge privilege to have cared for her over the last few years of her life. I share her birth date, March 21. She is an inspiration to us not far behind. I fully understand how you will miss her and grieve her loss. May God be with you in the days ahead to give you strength, love, and peace.

    Posted by: Lida Baron | April 15, 2017
  28. Hi Chris,

    So sorry for your loss. Your mother was a warm and fun loving woman. She was always so kind to me and a wonderful hostess. I will miss her and her sweet ways. She touched a lot of lives at Yoga for Today. I’m sure you are feeling her absence. May peace be with you. Namaste.

    Diana Holowaychuk

    Posted by: Diana Holowaychuk | April 15, 2017
  29. Chris, What a beautiful tribute to your mom! I am sure she will be sorely missed.
    I will forward to my sister, Dianne Meyer, who now resides on Vancouver Island.
    Take good care of yourself! Hugs, Irene.

    Posted by: Irene Short | April 15, 2017
  30. Wow, Chris. How blessed you both were to have each other. You were the best of daughters and I hear you felt she was the best of Mom’s. I appreciate you sharing her story. It is a reminder of how lucky I am to be born in this country, at this time. Her light shines so brightly in you. Together you have both made the world so much better. Thank you.

    Posted by: Barbara Thrasher | April 16, 2017
  31. Dear Chris
    Thank you for sharing the story of your mom. It is truly inspirational and a testament to love and commitment and closeness of family.
    Sincerely Tracey

    Posted by: Tracey Schumacher | April 16, 2017
  32. what a beautiful story, chris. you were a wonderful daughter. i used to work in her yard after she sold the house. susie certainly had an interesting life, and the stories about harrowing escapes from the partisans and germans, and the food shortage and being held in camps. i also found the silkworm story fascinating – i thought they were grown only in the orient. your ancestors were certainly resourceful and hardworking.

    Posted by: Elaine Rodger | April 17, 2017
  33. Thank you for sharing this amazing woman’s life. It is inspirational and motivating. Blessings, Margaret

    Posted by: Margaret Robinson | April 17, 2017

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