A very poignant day today.
I did it. I visited Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.
It’s nowadays not easy to get to, now that JHQ is closed. My advice is to drive there, or take the number 26 bus and bring a pair of hiking boots for the final leg from the nearest bus stop.
Today was a bright, sunny, warm day, not enough to give a redhead sunburn. I kept my promise to visit the babies’ section of the cemetery, which I had made to the mothers of three stillborn babies.
The cemetery was beautifully maintained. Row upon row of gravestones, most with corps and regimental cap badges chiselled in. Some, however, had no regimental badges engraved, but perhaps an angel or a simple cross. These were the babies’ graves in an L-shaped section of the cemetery.
Did I feel emotional? Not until I saw one gravestone that read:
Aged 10 minutes.
And then another:
Aged 6 hours.
And yet another:
Aged five days.
When I saw those graves, it all became so, so real: the Kopfkino images of the struggle to stay alive, of pride and ecstacy of becoming a parent and then the anguish of seeing life extinguished so soon after it had come into the world. And then not being able to visit the grave at the drop of a hat. Does that make the grieving process easier, or does that make the process much harder?
And then the stillborn babies. Society has changed in its attitudes towards them. Until the mid-70’s or 80’s, stillborn babies were buried in the cemetery without even a headstone, as if, because they had not even taken one mortal breath, even for ten minutes, they were maybe not even “proper” babies. I took photos of their section and explained to their mothers that I was not able to find their babies’ exact resting places. Nonetheless, I received messages of thanks for sharing photos of their resting places, and that made the visit all worithwhile. The following is going to sound very cliched. As a single man with no children, I can – literally – only imagine what the mothers must have gone through.
Rest in peace, little ones. Rest in peace.
Have a poignant day, won’t you!