Glasshopper and I go back to over 40 years to the days when he and I were pads brats “Klassenkameraden” at Wolfenbüttel, Germany. He is nowadays a police officer, and spent several years as a riot policeman (Bereitschaftspolizist). On the nerd/jock spectrum he and I would probably find ourselves at opposite ends.
In fact, here we are in this photo from 1977, HM Queen’s silver jubilee year. Glasshopper is rear rank, furthest left. I am next to him, with my finger in mouth. Cute, eh?
On the last Wednesday in October 2017 Glasshopper’s wife was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
How is it that I remember that date? Photographic memory? No. Did I just check in my Moleskine diary? No. It was the night that I had just come home from an excellent comedy evening down the Altstadt. In fact, when I got home, I had been laughing so much, it was as if I had been doing sit-ups all night. (Most unlikely.)
But once I had arrived home and had logged onto Facebook, I wasn’t laughing
much any longer.
I saw Glasshopper’s posts on Facebook. I saw his wife’s posts on Facebook. I had arrived home at 02:12. Glasshopper was still up and on Facebook. Glasshopper told me the devastating news.
My reply did not consist of Bible passages or words from hymns:
F*ck f*ck f*ck.
Sh1t, sh1t, sh1t!
Today was Mrs Glasshopper’s last of ten chemotherapy sessions. This week they have several appointments to review progress (or lack thereof) and options. Frankly, there are few options left. When I asked Schatz (who knows a thing or two about medicine) a week after diagnosis, I summarised her answer as:
Also, der Tod ist sicher.
(“So, death is certain.”)
Over the last month I’ve chatted to Glasshopper a lot, forming a rapport with him, trying to work him out. He seemed cheery, but was that alpha-male, riot policeman, bravado? No, he is genuinely businesslike (perhaps as his coping strategy) and realistic. He even uses the D-word: death. No euphemisms. No:
- The inevitable
- When she passes away
- When she moves on
- When the end happens
Instead: death and dying. He’s calling a spade a spade. (DE: die Ding beim Namen nennen.)
Mrs Glasshopper, on the other hand, is in denial. She’s not saying her goodbyes, because she denies shes going yet. She is convinced that she will still be alive – despite doctors’s predictions – for her son’s graduation in two years and probably many more family events. Death is the last taboo in our western society. Nobody wants to die, at least, not early.
By analogy, I once joked to a female friend of mine:
Women have PMT. Men suffer from PMT.
Maybe it’s similar here. The patient has the terminal cancer. The family suffer from the cancer. Am I being too cold? Too clinical here? Is Glasshopper?
He even ‘fessed up last week:
Sometimes I just want her to go so she is no longer in pain, and so I don’t have to deal with this any more. And I feel an absolute a$$hole for saying that.
Since then he has called me “Padre Ginge.”
This is not Hollywood cliché. No:
- Miraculous recovery
- Constant hugs
- Reiterations of “I love you”
- Final hours in hospital bed, surrounded by loved ones and devoted medics
- Final beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep on the electronic monitor
Woody Allen is famous/notorious for his quotation:
“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.“
What can I do? What can Glasshopper do? Probably not much. I told him this morning:
Padre Ginge is here if you need to let off steam, swap silly jokes, send internet memes or links to YouTube videos of cheesy 1970’s hits.
We pads brats don’t hug trees. We don’t even hug humans. We don’t do group therapy. We do, however, look after each other in our own unique way, which “bl00dy civvies” never quite understand.
Please, folks, pray for and think of Glasshopper and his wife next time your train is running late or there is too much milk in your tea.
Have a grateful day, won’t you!