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Overcoming What Happened

When I was asked in 2006 if I could give a short presentation on the subject of "restart instead of crash" during a podium discussion, I immediately refused. I still did not want to talk about the pain we felt after Filippa's death, and I did not see a noteworthy restart at the time. I was then persuaded and while I was preparing the presentation, I realized how much had changed with us in recent years because of Filippa's death.

A Happy Family
We have always been a happy family, my husband, our seven children and myself. Of course there were problems, every family has problems but we were fine anyway - which we might not always realize. What luck we had with our seven children, all well. The adults had good job prospects, the little ones still at home in the school and Filippa in the middle. Our daughter had just finished the apprenticeship as a photographer in Florence, found her dream man and married him in Sayn.

Gabriela zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn

Filippa's Plans

Before the wedding Filippa was home for another month. A wonderful time in which we were very close. We talked a lot, especially about the future. Filippa told us about Vittorio, her husband, about their joint plans and their great offer as assistant to the successful advertising photographer Roberto Sisini.

Filippa's Passing

After the honeymoon she took her first foreign assignment in Cornwall, from where enthusiastic calls reached us. On September 30th, just back from the Sunday Mass, we learned that Filippa had died in a traffic accident, that we would not see our daughter alive ever again.


I can not describe what went on in us, my husband and myself, what went on in our son-in-law and our children. I only know that we would have perished without each other. Together we cried and prayed, were desperate, asked for the "why", just could not believe it.

Our cousin Johannes Eltz, today city dean in Frankfurt, came to Sayn at once when he heard of Filippa's death to comfort us. I still remember him hugging me and saying, "Promise me not to ask why?" It just drives you crazy because there's no answer. Then he said, "Maybe one day you'll get an answer to the question 'What for?'.

Our family moved even closer, each of the children struggling to help in their own way, and when one collapsed sobbing, the other consoled. We needed each other, my husband and I, the children and us. More than ever, we realized how important a family was in such a difficult time, how much strength it gave you. Again and again there were collapses, crashes as we called them. We all missed Filippa so painfully.

The Diaries
Just before Christmas we found Filippa's diaries. At first, we were very shy to read them. However, when we found Filippa's request "do read this" in one of the books, we threw in a second, tentative look. I began to read my husband a few entries. We cried, laughed, felt close to our daughter. Later, we copied some lyrics for Vittorio, Filippa's siblings and grandmother. Everyone was gripped, but happy too, remembering events that were described.


At some point, about a year after Filippa's death, the idea of publishing Filippa's diaries in excerpts came up. We discussed at length in the family whether we really were allowed to do that. After some initial doubt, everyone was finally in favor of sharing what Filippa had left us.

With the Don Bosco publishing house and Fr. Friedrich at the top, we found a publisher who understood our intention. A very busy time began. The texts had to be selected and written off. It was often as if Filippa was sitting next to us and dictating the lyrics. She had prepared us well for the work, had already read her diaries herself. What should not be read, Filippa had already made illegible. In other texts, she provided comments.

A Bestseller

The book immediately stormed the bestseller list, and we received many letters from people telling us about their fate. How often have I been reminded of Filippa's thought: "Always understand how well you are and do not reach for the stars." And compared to many people, I'm off really well. I have a loving husband, six great children, nine wonderful grandchildren, and we continue to have a deep friendship with our son-in-law Vittorio and his family. In addition, I was allowed to be Filippa's mother on earth for 21 years.

The Foundation Filippas Engel

We, Filippa's family and all those involved in the Foundation want to thank these young people and encourage them to continue their beneficial work. They show us how wonderful today's youth is, how committed young individuals are, and that their hearts are in the right place.

Of course, my thoughts, as well as those of my husband, are still with Filippa several times a day but we have learned to live with the gap she left behind. And when I think of all the good that emerged through Filippa and her diary and look into the bright faces of the young people when they hold "Filippa's angels" in their hands, I think that this may be an answer to the question: what for?

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