Monthly Archives: May 2018

Grief or guilt?

When my great aunt died, it was a massive shock, as I had said in my last blog. I was not something I was at all prepared for. Not that I didn’t realise that she has been unwell, or that she was old, but that I had managed to convince myself that she was just always going to be there.

I am going to assume that this is a fairly normal reaction – that you just can’t see a time when someone isn’t around. That they are just so, present, that life without them just doesn’t seem right?

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I have been grieving for over 2 months. It took almost all that time to stop crying at the drop of a hat. That even thinking about Tante Hilde would mean that I would either expend a lot of energy forcing the tears back, or running and hiding.

The thing, for me, when I reflect on my feelings and consider what I am going though. It is guilt. Like I said in my last blog, I have managed to escape dealing with grief for most of my life so this has hit me hard, I just don’t have the coping skills, or frankly the emotional support network.

Why was I guilty? Was it the fact I couldn’t remember whether I had sent anything at Christmas? Or that I had ignored her phone calls last year – she had left voicemails on my mobile because although I have a landline, I didn’t had an actual phone plugged in. And if I had, no doubt I would have spoken to her. But you know how quickly time passes, you just … forget. days turn into weeks and into months, then you realise that she had last called you to wish you a happy birthday. Last July.

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Or was the guilt over not having been to see her? I recall her comments coming up to her 90th Birthday, that she kept saying that she wasn’t going to see my before she died. And boy, if I thought that cut deep at the time? Nothing compared to how I feel writing that. Realising that although she was saying it to get a reaction, her was making a prophecy.

She was supposed to be alive for longer, she was supposed to at least wait until I got to see her in August. Until I had made my prodigal return to the home I had not seen in over 2 decades. The home I loved and selfishly assumed would just continue to be there. Patiently waiting for my return at a time that suits me.

Guilt because times waits for no man. Time doesn’t give us a reprieve, it doesn’t slow because we are juggling too many things and just need an extra moment. Time just marches on and we are left holding the pieces after everything comes crashing down. That is it, isn’t it? Guilt is for the survivors, the ones that were left behind. The ones that are still here, still working through memories. Wondering what they could or should have done differently.

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It is more than clear to me, that I shouldn’t have kept putting off getting my passport, that a ticket to Germany isn’t all that expensive and staying with my aunt would have been at minimal cost and would have made both of us happy. And because I could only think of myself, because I expected the world to wait until I was ready, she lost out on seeing me and I lost out on precious memories with my great aunt. My grandmother, my hero.

That is the thing, she isn’t close just because I would spend summers with her, Christmas holidays, evening visiting on my own. It wasn’t a relationship of convenience. I really loved her and looked up to her and understood some of her quirks and shared similarities. She was stubborn, headstrong, independent and fierce. I look over her old photos, and I see her smile, her love for animals, I see her climbing trees and I see some of myself in her. I may just be finding things because I want them to be there, I want a small part of her to be reflected in me.

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Because I am guilty that I didn’t spend more time with her. Not that I didn’t have more time with her, I didn’t spend the time I could have had, with her. That was my choice. I could wax lyrical about how obtaining a German passport is a massive ball ache, how the Brits are staunch in their refusal and dragged my heels over an Irish passport.

See? How easy did those excused slip out? Because that is what they are. I am an inherently self absorbed and self centred person. Over the last 3 months I have had reason to reevaluate some of the things I have done, how through laziness (no better word) I had allowed things to happen. And how to build relationships. And while I type this I realise that it has been 2 days since I last spoke to my mother and am going to cut this short to go call her….

 

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The long shadow of grief

My great aunt, Tante Hilde had been poorly for a long time. She had many damaging habits, including smoking, drinking and poor eating habits. She was in her nineties and should have moved into a nursing home last year at the very latest. She needed a lot of care and was resistant to having people in her home.

Not the most auspicious starts to a blog but I do tend to write as things come to me and not outline correctly. Three years reading English Lit at uni entirely lost on me.

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In February I went home to celebrate my FIL’s birthday (eightieth) and while there, I had lunch with my mother. My mother had power of attorney for my great aunt. Tante Hilde helped raise my mother, and since I really had no contact with my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandparents died while I was still in primary school, Tante Hilde was the closest approximation to a grandparent. Certainly the closest relative next to my mother. But I won’t go into my estranged family in too much detail as I can see this blog running away from me and I want to discuss grief.

Now in mid February I discussed getting my paws on a passport (another long story, for another blog) so I could go to Germany with my mother in August. She was planning on going over at the end of March which wouldn’t have given me enough time to get one organised and she was finding the visits increasingly difficult. Not long after my discussion, my aunt had a serious fall in her home and ended up in Hospital. My mother was in contact with both the hospital and local relatives. She was going to be placed in a local nursing home after being assessed and given the all clear by the medical staff. It was looking good and mother had discussed arrangements with the staff at the nursing home. Confident that while my great aunt would not like being in a nursing home and not her own home, she would at least be well looked after.

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And then, Tante Hilde had another fall. My mother was already concerned about the extend of her dementia (undiagnosed but at her age, not unexpected) and following the fall, it was decided that she should have her hip replaced to ease pain and promote recovery.

Which should have been a standard operation, one preformed many times, every day in every part of the globe, in most cases on elderly patients.

However, my great aunt had a D.N.R disclosure. Again, not something that would normally need to be acted upon after a relatively routine operation.

However, my mother received the call. The one that you don’t want to get. The one from medical staff asking for permission to resuscitate your relative. Because you are the only one who can make that choice. So at the end of February, my mother found herself going out to Germany a month earlier than anticipated. To sign paperwork to state that my great aunt was not to have a tube inserted to give her food. That she was to live on purely water until she passed. Which could be up to 3 weeks. Three weeks of watching your loved one, the person who helped raise you, who you ad spent over seventy years with. Who had been at your wedding, watched your children grow into adults. Who at her most vulnerable, could not tell you to ignore the D.N.R disclosure on her records.

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My great aunt died on Mother’s Day – 11th March for those outside the UK.

I remember the day well, I had been speaking to my mother daily while she was in Germany, visiting my aunt and staying in her house on her own. Various family members and friends visiting. There was no particular time for our phone calls, so when I picked my phone up to call Pete to pick my up after my gym session on the Sunday, and saw a missed call from Germany, I didn’t give it a second thought.

I called my mother, still hyped from the gym, expecting her to tell me about her breakfast on the veranda listening to the church bells. But that isn’t what happened. She told me that my aunt had died earlier that morning and I didn’t know what to say, I don’t remember exactly what I said but I remember I tried to distract my mother as I could tell she was on the verge of tears and I couldn’t do anything to comfort her.

I crossed the road and got in the car with Pete and … and I didn’t say a word. I didn’t tell him my great aunt had died. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to think about it. I needed time to process it. To understand.

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On the Monday I did everything possible to try and distract myself. On the Tuesday I was due to have dinner with two close friends. I had to cancel. I was just not able to pretend that everything was okay. I went home, and told Pete that Tante Hilde had died. And I don’t think he really knew what to say or do because I didn’t give him the ques to allow him to help me.

Because I am nearing 40 and this is the first time that I have had to deal with real grief. I had had loss before, I have been to a couple of funerals (although again, all children until a year ago). I had had relatives die – my paternal grandparents died in quick succession not long after I had started to get to know that side of my family. A close friend died this year and that did knock me sideways as it was unexpected.

To a degree, Tante Hilde was unexpected. I was making plans to see her in August. She had smoked at least 40 a day for longer than anyone cares to recall and had the lungs, and stamina of an ox. We often joked that she would outlive us all. So yes, shock was a big part of what I was going through, processing.

I realise that I am rambling but I am trying to get this all out in some sort of order. One thing that hit me hard, and I think has been the hardest thing to process, is losing my home.

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They say home is where the heart is, and I although I was born in England, I have always said that Germany was my home. And I never really had to give it any thought, I didn’t reflect. I grew up speaking German, most of the relatives that I had met or had a relationship with are from my mother’s side.

But what I began to realise is that, my heart, and home, where entwined with Tante Hilde. As I write this, I realise that it sounds like New Age bullshit. But hell, thanks for making it this far?

I have moved around a lot in my life, and I have lived in my current home, longer that any home prior to this. I guess it isn’t all that unusual to many people these days, but it means that I am lacking a rock. I have nowhere I can say stayed the same. But going to my great aunts? It never changed, it was always the same, she didn’t change. The town, for the most part, remained unchanged. There was a routine when we went there. We slotted into the routine without any real thought. Not only had I lost my great aunt, my rock, I had lost my home. I had lost my childhood. My security blanket.

And here we must stop for today because this has although become longer than I anticipated and need to break it up a little.