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.

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