Michael, they have taken you away

Michael K was buried yesterday morning.  He was 50 years old.  Three of his children attended his funeral, together with about fifteen other people who knew him, including his first wife.  I’m not sure if he had other children, but that was all that turned up to a spartan chapel in a local cemetery.

I would like to be glib and say, “It was a nice funeral.”

In a way it was.  The flowers on and around his coffin were beautiful.  The mourners, especially the British – for he had many British friends – were warm and supportive towards the members of his family, saying kind words and offering sympathy and hugs.  We sang one of his favourite hymns well: There Is A Hope.

But it wasn’t a nice “he had a good innings” funeral.  He died too early, alone and lonely and lacking love and hope.  His partner had died slowly and painfully three years ago.  He had been in and out of jobs since then.  When he was working, he was doing shift work and could not get to church to be with his church family.  As for his “blood family” to quote the Prince of Wales’ brother, I think his relationship with them over the years had been strained.

Michael was what we Brits call “a bit Marmite.”  You either loved him or hated him.  I myself enjoyed his company, as long it did not involve endless hours spent on a summer afternoon in an Altstadt Irish pub.  Michael, a German, knew the words to a vast array of Irish rebel songs.  Sometimes he’d tweak the lyrics.  Sean South of Garryowen became Sean South of Gerresheim.  He and I used to sing these songs every now and again together…  All his years working in IT in Scotland and Eire had not gone to waste.  I guess his local pub in Scotland must have been full of Celtic fans, judging by his repertoire.  Oh yes, he also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of East Germany jokes.

We got on well.

We often used to sing Fields of Athenry while strolling through the local park.

Michael, they have taken you away.  May you rest in peace.

Have a peaceful day, wont you!

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“Hör auf zu meckern!”

Hello, everybody.

For those who don’t speak German, the title translates loosely into colloquial English as:

Stop your bl00dy moaning!

In the past month I’ve been doing pastoral work for the local church.  Anyone can wear the label.  Anyone can talk the talk.  Can they walk the walk?  For sure it’s rewarding, helping people to sort their problems, whether that be depression, loneliness, falling out with friends, etc.

But…………

Fast-forward to the last 24 hours.

Last night I went to the local ELCN (English Language Comedy Night) in DUS Altstadt.  It was excellent as ever, including seeing the world’s shortest comedian.  (But some other time, please.)

I get home just after 01:30, pretty much still on a high after enjoying two hours’ live stand-up comedy including the world’s shortest comedian bantering with a bald man who was a hair brush salesman.  (But some other time, please.)

A quick check on my emails and Facebook.  I’m still a bit “hyper” from the ELCN.

G, my old classmate from pads brat days nearly 40 years ago, is online.  Night owl.

Then comes the bombshell.

G, a policeman, tells me matter-of-factly,  his wife had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which had spread to the lungs.  (British understatement: Not very good news at all.)

I immediately submit a prayer to York Minster Prayer Box.  I say kind words to G… which probably all his friends had told him earlier on in the day.

It’s now 02:00.  Bedtime and BBC Radio Five.

Fast forward about 10 hours.  I’m at church, using one of the meeting rooms as a study to read one of my IT text books.

A member of congregation happens to walk in.

MoC:

Hello German Ginge.  How are you?  Bleat bleat bleat moan moan moan grumble grumble grumble…  The local kiosk had run out of bread rolls, or some similar catastrophe.

G in G:

MoC, let me tell you something.  I really enjoyed the comedy evening last night.  But something spoilt it, I’m afraid.  You see, in the wee small hours this morning, I found out that a friend of mine has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Now, do you still want to tell me about what a morning you have just had?

MoC – exit stage left.  Bis später.

Have a grateful day, won’t you!

 

 

Rheindahlen Military Cemetery Visit

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.

DSC03123

Have a poignant day, won’t you!

 

 

Cemetery Visit

I was born on dd/mm/yyyy in a British military hospital in Germany.  I am a pads brat, and proud of the fact.

The army wife giving birth before my mother died during childbirth.  I did not know that fact until ten years ago, when I was living near Oxford and planning a visit to Germany.  My dad asked me to do him a big favour and visit the grave of the mother in question, which, some months later I did.  It was a gloriously sunny day.  The Rheindahlen Military Cemetery, where she was buried, was billiard-table green and very peacefully quiet.

Two thoughts occurred to me as I stood at the lady’s grave.  Her name is Margaret.

  1. When had anyone last been to see her grave?
  2. The Angel of Death could have taken me, but chose to take Margaret instead.  Even on my darkest days, I have reminded myself of that fact.  There has to be a reason why I was allowed to live.

On Facebook among the anti-Trump, “what I am having for lunch” and cute animal photos, I recently saw some posts from two army wives regarding the Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.  Tragically, these two ladies had lost babies in the same hospital where I was born.  After making enquiries of various contacts that I know, I am intending to visit the cemetery in the next few days to visit the graves of the babies buried there, as well as to take photos and video footage to share with the mothers of these babies.  As a single man with no offspring, I can only imagine the pain these mothers will have gone through, when the Army and society in general were much more “stiff upper lip” than nowadays.  Since those first two army wives messaged me, I have received two or three other requests to visit other babies’ graves.

It is my humble duty and privilege to be living close enough to the cemetery for me to pay a visit.  Door to door: about 90 minutes.  I feel it is the least I can do for my fellow pads brats and families, to pay my respects and say a prayer by their babies’ graves.

Finally…  Some years ago, I remember a story about an army wife wanting to have her daughter’s remains repatriated some years after her burial back to England, where her parents were now living.  In preparation for the planned move, the mother came over to the grave at Rheindahlen Military Cemetery.  Standing by her daughter’s grave situated among the dozens of other babies’ graves, she told her husband:

No.  Let’s leave her here, so she can carry on playing with all her friends here.  They’d miss her terribly.

 

cemetery

Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

RIP, Bettina

2016 has been a year when many celebs have died.  November 2016 was also when a non-celeb died.  (I hate that euphemism, “to pass away.”  What does that expression mean, anyway?)  Bettina, my ex-colleague from my first “posting” to Germany in 2000-2003, died “after a long illness” (the favourite euphemism for cancer, never chronic arthritis or backache).

When you’re moaning about the your bus being late, or your email server being down, or strolling round the just-opened German Christmas markets, please spare a thought for Bettina’s soul, her friends and her family.

Nobody wants to die early.  Nobody wants to die slowly.  Nobody wants to die.

I remember going to one funeral six years ago.  The minister said:

Heavenly Father, we thank You for B’s life.  We thank you for her death.

Yes, we do thank you for her death.  We want to live.  Do we really want to merely exist, in pain and suffering?  I don’t.  We thank You, God, for Your grace and ask You to welcome Bettina into Your arms.

Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

Sunray Heading Downhill

Sunray.  His children used to call him “Dad.”  His daughter nowadays calls him “the sperm-donor.”  He’s been a  “problem child” all his married life and in the years thereafter.  Serial borrower.  Serial non-payer-back.  Heavy drinker.  Alcoholic.  Serial nuisance caller, trawling his address book for people to phone up to fifteen times a day.  Serial texter.  “U R ME PAL”; “CUM N SEE ME”; “GET ME A BTL OF ROSE PLS”.

I used to write to him every week or two, either a proper type-written letter or a postcard to boost his morale.  I used to phone him once a month.  Has he ever written back?  Once this year.  He now has a professional caseworker from the Royal British Legion, the Armed Forces charity.  Her summary to me?  “Yes, he’s a very difficult case.”

So, what’s the future.?  It’s not bright.  It’s not orange.  When someone is that deep in the rut of late-stage alcoholism combined with borderline personality disorder or sociopathy, there’s little you can do.

  • Poor physical health
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity
    • Osteoarthritis of both knees
  • Estranged from most of his family
  • No real, flesh-and blood, friends in his locality
  • The kind of personality that means people give you a “wide berth” (his favourite expression)
  • Poor hygiene
  • Etc etc

Does he actually want to live any more?  What are the reasons to live any more?  To even get out of bed?  Would death be a relief for him?

Choose the action, choose the consequences.

Have a consequential day, won’t you!

There but for the grace of God (2)

Ruined Life

 

John T***** – what’s he doing?
“Fifteen, twenty years,”
Some joke.
But not for him,
Or those who loved him,
His Christmas card list
Of ruined lives.

Christmas –
Just
Away
To
Separate
One
Year
From
The
Next.
Commas in his sentence,
One with no full stop.
Doing time,
And himself inside.

Not for him –
Mortarboard and gown,
Only lock and key.
Free snaps thrown in.
And Rachel?
Killed by the pressure of his finals.

A long time till
The Happy Return.
Buttery bars are sadly lacking
In jail.

So what then?
Prison gate graduation.
The time for walking
Beaming proudly
Towards loving parents –
A joke.
A ruined life.
Add it to the list.