New York and Erika



We had been considering for some time when, during our time in Japan, we would fly back to New York to visit Tom’s Mum, Erika. Though she had made quite a good recovery from a very bad experience in hospital in May 2010, it was clear from emails we received from Tom’s sister, Inge, that Erika’s health was steadily declining. While we were in Guam, Inge let us know that there had been a marked deterioration in Erika’s health in recent weeks. At this point we determined that we would fly back from Japan as soon as we reasonably could, having ensured that ‘Sunstone’ was likely to be safe while we were away. As a result, we flew from Osaka’s Kansai airport, only 20km from Tannowa, on 7 December.







Fortunately, though she was often very uncomfortable and in pain, Erika was able to go out occasionally and treated us all to a sumptuous and exotic lunch at Jean George on the occasion of Inge’s birthday. Despite busy work schedules, both Inge and Chris were able to get away for a couple of hours for the first of several family get-togethers during the weeks around Christmas.









One of the reasons we had decided to return to New York so promptly after arriving in Japan was Erika’s devotion to the celebration of Christmas. Like many Germans, she loved the occasion, particularly Christmas Eve. Of course, the celebration is nothing without lots of preparation. Thus a tree, however small, is essential and it must be exactly the right shape so that it can be thoroughly decorated. In addition, there are myriad small decorations and candles to be scattered in very particular places and orders throughout the apartment. In this case, Inge, Vicky and I were delighted to do exactly as we were bid. Inge had already baked Christmas cookies and Tom had concocted the essential ‘heering salat’, all under Erika’s direction.


December is a busy month for Jackson family celebrations. Having celebrated Inge’s birthday in high style as a family, Erika also treated the two of us, to dinner at the Ocean Grill on the occasion of our 38th anniversary, giving us one of our few evenings out in NYC during our stay and a chance to walk through the very beautiful Christmas lights on the Columbia University campus.








Whenever in New York, Vicky cannot resist a few arty photos. In this case, a portrait of doorman, John, who has been so kind to Erika over the years (with the artist mirrored in the background); the famous Flat Iron building; and her annual shot of the Empire State.


Though Erika was not up to the journey, the two of us went for the evening to Chris and Susan’s lovely house in New Jersey and were flabbergasted by their huge and very fully decorated tree.









As is traditional in the Jackson family, everyone gathers on Christmas Eve for dinner and presents. It was a lovely occasion, made poignant by our all knowing that it was almost certainly Erika’s last Christmas and perhaps the last occasion on which everyone would be together with her. Nevertheless, everyone, perhaps especially Erika, enjoyed themselves, in the usual, somewhat raucous, Jackson fashion.







As though she had been holding on for Christmas, Erika’s health deteriorated sharply almost immediately thereafter. On 30 January, just the day before we were to leave, Tom took Erika for her scheduled appointment at the hospital with Dr. Chuang. Dr. Chuang has taken wonderful care of Erika, preserving her quality of life through several years of illness and treatment. But it was now apparent that her long battle with cancer was over. Erika had determined in her own mind that she was ready, almost indeed eager to go. As she put it, “I would like to join Daddy, who has the champagne cooling and ready!”






Our departure had, fortuitously been postponed by mother nature, in the form of two feet of snow deposited on the New York area, bringing chaos to all forms of transport. It was just as well, because it gave us a few extra days with Erika. We were reluctant to leave, with Erika in her weakened state, but she seemed comfortable and stable at the time and arrangements for almost full-time care at home seemed to be almost settled.


Unfortunately, shortly after our return to Japan, Erika weakened markedly. Inge battled with the bureaucracy to ensure full-time care cover and eventually won, but still, with Chris’ support, had to take most of the burden of caring for Erika for the last three difficult weeks of her life.



Erika died on 20 January 2011, just 13 days short of her 92nd birthday. She had a remarkable life. She was an amazing survivor, having come physically unscathed through both the holocaust and the bombing of Berlin during WWII. If anything these experiences seemed to have made her a more determined person. Despite her German up-bringing and English husband, she was a staunch American. Yet she loved the English countryside. Though she adored flowers and revelled in gardening, she was really a city girl and delighted in walking the streets of New York with all its variety and lively chaos. Though she had many talents, including her remarkable ability as a linguist, and although she could have been extremely successful in working life, she, like many women of her generation, determined that her first job was as a mother.  It was a job she did with extraordinary devotion and intensity – from the virtuosity of her haute cuisine to the passionate interest and pride she displayed in all her children’s lives and accomplishments.  Sometimes that intensity was almost too much for us, her children.  But in the end we will remember the extraordinary gusto with which she led her life, and we will always be grateful for everything she gave us, both in terms of our relative successes in life and whatever strengths there may be in our characters.