For Daniela: Our brave, strong, loving, faith-filled friend
Will and I met Daniela our first day in Vienna at the airport. She was part of the welcoming committee who surprised us with a giant, colorful “Willkommen in Wien!” poster. She was quiet but smiley. I remember thinking she had a gentle spirit with a surprisingly firm handshake.
That same day, Will and I arrived at our temporary apartment to find a basket of goodies from the Vienna Team and a homemade chocolate cake from Daniela. It wasn’t until the following day that we actually tasted the cake, and it is no exaggeration to say it was one of the best tasting cakes I’d ever eaten in my life.
Shortly after our arrival, Daniela volunteered to drive Will and me to house church which was taking place a little outside the city. The three of us couldn’t communicate at the time, but we certainly tried. She would ask a question in German, and Will and I would list a mixture of German we knew and English words she may have known in an attempt to give the correct answer. Ultimately we’d just end up laughing then go silent until one of us was brave enough to start up the conversation again.
Daniela also volunteered to help us move into our first apartment. She was a carpenter, an awesome one at that, and was able to borrow a large van from work that was normally used to haul around her equipment. She picked us up from IKEA and our dance with words began again, this time with a little more success, but with the same amount of hilarity included. My jaw dropped when she picked up a huge box and walked it up a flight of stairs and into our apartment like it was nothing. The woman was a beast. In fact I’m certain she was stronger than any of the men in our church. She could lift anything heavy and build anything needed. She even helped with the kitchen in our office and directed Josh and Jake as to how to mount the display case on the side of our building. When we did get around to mounting that display case, she was in the middle of chemo, but had she been able, she would’ve mounted the thing herself. She was that good.
Daniela was just plain good with her hands. While she could certainly build and lift, she could also bake and create. That chocolate cake she made for Will and me was a staple dessert in our church. Any Fellowship Sunday with that cake present was a good Fellowship Sunday. Another fan favorite was her unbelievable Tiramisu. Her fruit-filled desserts made their appearances in the summer, and it’s because of her that I’m now open to the idea of eating fruity desserts, whereas before I was strictly anti-fruity desserts. Her baking was magical. Sometimes she would bake something for our Kreativer Frauenabends, another opportunity to see her wow and amaze others with her talented hands. She could carve the most spectacular pumpkins at Halloween or put together the prettiest cards at Christmas. I loved the masterpieces she came up with, and while myself and others complimented these masterpieces a thousand times over, she always simply smiled, said thank you, and that was it. Daniela was one of the most gifted women I’ve ever met, as well as the most humble.
Some of my favorite memories of her have to do with language. She always helped Will and me with our German, and because of her kind and gentle persona, we weren’t afraid to make mistakes in front of her. For example, I will never forget the difference between the verbs “verpassen” and “vermissen”. Both mean “to miss”, but the first verb means to miss as in “I missed the bus” and the second verb means to miss as in “I miss you”. She taught me that on a Sunday in the kitchen of our office, and ever since then when I use one of those verbs, I think of her. On the English side of things, we had the pleasure of helping her add to her English vocabulary during our English For Adults class. It was in these classes that Will and I really got to know her. We learned so much about her – her favorite food, her favorite vacation spot, what she was like as a kid, who she looked up to… She told us stories about her two boys as well as a story involving her grandmother and a skateboard. Sometimes we taught her English using an actual lesson book while other times we read the Bible together. We so thoroughly enjoyed that time with her and will forever cherish those memories.
And then there’s Daniela’s mountain-moving faith. Even now, as my own faith is tempted to waiver because of losing her, I look to her as an example of someone whose faith stood firm through and through. She was baptized a few months after Will and I arrived in Vienna, and from that moment on, it was clear for whom she was living. She radiated faith, trust and love. She shared her love for the Lord with so many of her friends and family. Above all things she was a servant for the Lord, as well as a caring mother and loyal friend. Daniela was a pillar in a our church. She also loved our time of worship. She frequently had song requests, and often wanted to sing her favorite song “Ins Wasser Fällt Ein Stein”. She drew upon this song and others for peace and strength throughout her battles with cancer. Although she dealt with much pain in her last days with us, it was evident the Lord was with her as Will, Kim, Tamika, Edda, Amanda, Jake and I sang to her by her bedside.
The day we sang to her was the day before she died. It was a difficult time for all of us, but God, because he is so good, provided Will and me with our own special, beautiful memory that we’ll always remember.
When Will and I first walked into her bedroom, she immediately wanted to see Elliott. They had only seen each other a couple of times before her lengthy stay in the hospital. Will and I sat in the chairs right next to her bed and I put Elliott in my lap to face her. I took his tiny hand and placed it on hers, thinking I’d need to do this a few times so she could feel his companionship. But he left his hand on hers without my help. He patted her hand and played with her fingers. He gurgled and cooed and gave her some really big smiles. On this day, Daniela couldn’t say much, and when she did speak it was difficult to understand. But when she spoke to Elliott, her speech was clear. “Hallo, Schatz. Hallo. Du bist so süß. Hi. Hallo. Hallo, Schatz.” Elliott fell asleep while we sang to her but woke back up to say goodbye. We sat him down next to her again and they looked at each other for a long time. He babbled some more and soaked her fingers in slobber as he nibbled on each one. She didn’t mind. She smiled.
That was our last moment with sweet Daniela. And though I know Elliott won’t remember her or the time we spent with her, I’m looking forward to the day Elliott’s old enough to understand how wonderful she was, how much she impacted his mom and dad, how important she was to our church, and how in a time that seemed shrouded in darkness, he was a light.
We miss you, Daniela. We love you. And we can’t to see you again.