Toxic Relationships

In a world in which “Toxic Masculinity” has become something that supposedly needs attention, it is easy to forget all the love songs in which men mourn a relationship. These songs reflect issues which are seldom subject to open discussion because men aren’t like that. Very often they mourn in silence. In that way, women are often let off the hook. They become free to begin a new relationship. Many women can pick and choose up until a certain age, then age turns on many of them. Men are rejected at youth and middle age and may find a connection later. Some obviously don’t.

We need to look into this, because the lack of reliability is spreading. It is hard to depend on people if they are not reliable. It is hard to trust if people are not trustworthy. If people don’t want responsibility, who can ensure that a relationship will hold more than ten years? The problem goes deeper into the fabric of society than just in romantic relationships. When I grow used to being the independent person with no liabilities, it becomes a lifestyle. The more people with this kind of lifestyle, the less reliability in society there is.

It was said that Jordan Peterson’s comments on women’s tendency to pick and choose was an example of “toxic masculinity” because he addressed the problems that arise if men don’t find sexual partners. The agreeableness of women is met with the lack of agreeableness in men. Men become aggressive and disorderly when frustrated. They have no other way to react, other than depression and, in more cases of a ruined relationship than women, suicide. Women are more likely to experience guilty feelings and attempt suicide, although they actually kill themselves less often than men. In women, depression is more likely to be associated with stressful life events and be more sensitive to seasonal changes.

It seems to me that the greatest problem in relationships in general is that people are communicating less, except via social media and mobile apps. It may be easier to avoid seeing the emotional distress one causes when communicating in this way, but in general, relationships of any kind deteriorate when less one-on-one communication takes place. The (love) letter has also lost its attraction so that communication is truncated. Feelings are not felt and at best presented in Emojis. This is a situation we have to address before we all become lonely behind our computer and mobile screens.

Colliding with Reality

It’s significant that today’s movies are geared to the fact that there’s a perfect technology, a superhero, or a monotonously overpowering enemy in order to be interesting. It has little to do with the life that most of us have. That’s what’s wanted, of course. Nothing is more boring than everyday life, and it’s regularly portrayed that way. The stories that are interesting today are excursions into a fantasy world. The times in which a story about special, but quite human, people who have come to a special situation are rare.

Even if there is such a situation that might be interesting, people are often as the media wants them to be. It has to be politically correct. The heroes are now homosexual or transsexual, which was not „PC“ ten years ago. But that way we can see how the media goes one step further and imposes its portrayal of reality on us. It’s a power, and that power expects us to swallow the pill.

Whoever does not want this version of the truth is immediately suspicious. In student circles, one can even be excluded if one does not take part. The gender discussion is also here and there not to be questioned. Such things that are present in Anglo-American societies precede German society – as always. It is imported, no matter what. If the Europeans were as careful with (sub)cultures as with food, we wouldn’t have some problems.

I recently saw a video of a transsexual Person who had herself surgically transformed into a man. She wouldn’t do it today – and regret it or not, it can’t be changed. Like so many things in life. Must it get that far before you collide with reality?

Verlorene Verbindungen

Ein persönlicher Kommentar zu “ Lost Connections “

des britischen Journalisten, Schriftstellers, Kolumnisten und Podcasters Johann Hari.

Von Menschen getrennt
Ich bin seit langem von meiner Familie in England getrennt. Ich war mir dessen noch nie so bewusst wie jetzt. Ich möchte Gespräche führen, ihnen in die Augen schauen und meine Arme um sie legen, anstatt nur zu schreiben. Die kurze Zeit, die ich in England hatte, ging nicht über das Kratzen der Oberfläche hinaus. Die Gespräche könnten als Aufwärmen bezeichnet werden, aber nicht mehr. Das bedeutet, dass Gespräche jetzt durch das Wissen, dass ich Depressionen habe, angespannt sind.

Aber es gibt auch Freunde und Bekannte aus meiner Vergangenheit hier in Deutschland, die ich im Grunde genommen einfach zurückgelassen habe. Ich blieb nicht in Kontakt und war so vertieft in das, was vor mir lag, dass es nicht verwunderlich ist, dass sich die Menschen auch von mir distanzierten. Ab und zu habe ich E-Mail-Kontakt zu ehemaligen Mitarbeitern, mit denen ich mich gut verstanden habe, aber es ist nur oberflächlich. Auch diese Menschen, die wissen, dass ich mit Depressionen zu kämpfen habe, würden es schwierig finden, sich bei mir wohl zu fühlen.

Die Menschen, die jeden Tag um mich herum sind, sind sehr rücksichtsvoll und wirklich besorgt um mich. Das Problem ist, dass es auch durch eine Trennung gekennzeichnet ist. Ich bin nicht mehr diejenige, die in Gesprächen unterhaltsam war, sondern jetzt diejenige, der Verständnis gezeigt wird. Es nützt natürlich nichts, sich nach der Vergangenheit zu sehnen. Vielmehr muss ich nach vorne schauen. Ich kann versuchen, mich mit den Kontakten zu verbinden, die ich hatte, aber ich muss akzeptieren, dass die Dinge nicht so sind, wie sie waren. Vielleicht entstehen neue Beziehungen.

Getrennt vom Kindheitstrauma

Da ich meine Kindheit immer als ideal beschrieben habe, ist es seltsam, wenn ich von einem Kindheitstrauma spreche. Da ich jedoch das introvertierte Kind war, das alles absorbierte, vor allem Emotionen, erlebte ich viele Dinge als kleine Traumata, die mir bis in die Nacht folgten. Die Nacht brachte viele Schrecken, Alpträume, Fantasien, Ängste, die aus einer Vielzahl von Erfahrungen resultierten, die von meiner Umgebung wahrscheinlich nicht in gleicher Weise wahrgenommen wurden. Ich war im Grunde wohlbehütet aufgewachsen, und abgesehen von vielen Umwälzungen, die durch die Entsendung meines Vaters verursacht wurden, hatte ich keine Ahnung von der Welt, bevor ich in die Welt hinausging.

Als ich Menschen begegnet bin, interessierte mich vor allem, warum sie das taten, was sie taten. Ich war schon immer neugierig auf Menschen auf diese Weise, solange ich mich erinnern kann. Zuerst waren es die Lehrer, die uns Kinder verletzt haben, oder der zerstörerische Tyrann in der Schule, aber es war auch der Pfadfinderführer, der die Kinder sexuell anzüglich war, und später bei der Arbeit waren es die jungen Frauen, die sich für Pornografie oder Prostitution hingaben, und viele andere. Ich versuchte zu verstehen – was offensichtlich nicht funktionierte. Vor allem habe ich mich selbst nicht verstanden, was wahrscheinlich der eigentliche Grund für meine Versuche zu verstehen war. Ich war für mich selbst so ein Geheimnis, dass ich oft verzweifelt war, was durch Depressionen noch verstärkt wurde. Der Bruch mit der Naivität war vielleicht das größte traumatische Ereignis überhaupt.

Getrennt von sinnvollen Werten

Das Thema der verlorenen Werte ist eines, mit dem ich mich identifizieren kann. Ich bemerkte, dass der Stress, den ich fühlte, letztendlich meinen Blick auf die Werte verdunkelte. Ich war zu einer Maschine geworden, die gut geölt werden musste, eine Show, die weitergehen musste. Die Werte, die ich zuvor bei der Arbeit in Schulungen und Vorträgen zu pflegen versucht hatte, standen nicht mehr im Fokus. Sie gehörten der Vergangenheit an, obwohl ich mich mit ihnen identifizieren konnte. Ich musste an das glauben, was ich tat. Es musste sinnvoll sein.

Die Kirche wurde unsinniger Weise zu einem Gespenst des Schreckens, nachdem ich meine Krise dort hatte. Nicht nur meine depressive Episode trug zu dieser mentalen Repräsentation bei, sondern auch der Streit, der sich in der Pfarrei abspielte, sowie die Berichte in den Medien trugen dazu bei, die Kirche zu einem eher zweifelhaften Teil meines Lebens zu machen. Aber die Art und Weise, wie ich es entledigte war nicht angemessen. Die Menschen dort konnten nicht anders, und wenn überhaupt, waren sie selbst in den Strukturen gefangen, die ich für schädlich hielt. Ich habe auch meine Trennung auf diese Weise begründet. Ich war nicht wütend auf die Menschen, sondern auf die Strukturen.

Dann orientierte ich mich an Werten, die die verlorenen Werte ersetzen sollten. Das neue Leitbild bei der Arbeit war ein solches Beispiel. Aber auch die „edlen Wahrheiten“ des Buddhismus gaben mir Orientierung. Aber wirklich, die Werte, die ich gefunden habe, unterschieden sich nicht wesentlich von den christlichen Werten. Sie waren für die allgemeine Bevölkerung akzeptabel, so dass es nicht sehr unterschiedlich sein konnte. Als ich jedoch bemerkte, dass diese neuen Werte von meinen Arbeitgebern nicht so ernst genommen wurden und sich eine „seh zu“ Kultur entwickelte, hatte ich erneute Probleme, mich mit dem zu identifizieren, was ich tat.

Getrennt von Status und Respekt

Depressiv zu werden, besonders wenn man als Führungskraft nach Effizienz, Prestige und Respekt strebt, ist ein Verfall in die Bedeutungslosigkeit. Natürlich habe ich mir am meisten die Schuld gegeben, mich selbst als Versager bezeichnet, mit den Symptomen gekämpft und wollte nicht, dass es wahr ist. Ich sah es nur als eine vorübergehende Stressreaktion, die ich in drei Wochen überwinden würde. Aber das war nicht der Fall. Was mein Kopf nicht zugeben wollte, drückte mein Körper auf mich. Ich hatte immer gedacht, dass Depressionen ein Gedankenproblem sind, aber jetzt weiß ich, dass der Geist nur einen geringen Einfluss auf den Zustand hat.

Wenn Menschen Mitgefühl mit dir haben, ist es für eine Weile von Vorteil. Wenn es jedoch so lange dauert, wird es peinlich. Wie ein rohes Ei behandelt zu werden, besonders wenn man es bemerkt, ist nicht tolerierbar. Du bemerkst, wie du zu einem schlechten Tropfen geworden bist, der jedem leid tut. Du kämpfst dagegen an, aber dein Körper widersetzt sich deinen Bemühungen. Du sagst zu deinem Körper, tu das nicht! Steh auf! Tut etwas! Sie reagieren, haben kleine Erfolgsmomente, aber Effizienz ist etwas anderes. Ich war zu einer Art von Person geworden, die ich nicht mag. Ich hatte keinen Respekt vor mir selbst und kämpfe immer noch damit. Ich beantworte die Frage, wie ich mich mit hohlen Sätzen fühle, denn es würde zu lange dauern, auch wenn ich erklären könnte, wie ich mich fühle. Wenn du keinen Respekt vor dir selbst hast, ändert das deine Reaktion auf andere. Viele der Dinge, die du vorhast zu tun, kannst du nicht tun. Manchmal fängt man gar nicht erst an. Du gehst auf die eigenen Nerven und überredest dich selbst zu glauben, dass du auch anderen Leuten auf die Nerven gehst.

Abseits der Natur

Wenn man in Depressionen verfällt, war die Welt, in der man war, giftig. Ich habe festgestellt, dass die Rückkehr zur Natur eine große Hilfe ist. Wir sind in den ersten Wochen meiner Depression umgezogen und der Blick aus unserem Wohnzimmer ist unbezahlbar. Die Bäume begannen zu sprießen, wie auch die ganze Szene, und die Beobachtung des Fortschritts der Natur im Frühjahr war eine großartige Ressource.

Vor dem Unfall war die Natur genau das, was an deinem Auto vorbeifließt. Du riechst nichts, du hörst oder fühlst nichts, du bist eine Maschine. Obwohl man merkt, wie ein kurzer Spaziergang helfen kann, blieb meist keine Zeit dafür. Es ist oft dunkel, wenn man zur Arbeit kommt, und oft dunkel, wenn man nach Hause geht. Sie bewegen sich in eine künstliche Welt mit Computern, Zahlen, Daten und Papier. Die Zeit ist knapp. Wenn Menschen an der Tür stehen, ist es eine Störung, die man so schnell wie möglich beseitigen will. Du hältst dich sogar von Kindern fern. Sie konnten Gefühle einfordern, die das ganze Kartenhaus zum Einsturz bringen konnten. Sie bewegen sich dort, wo Sie die Kontrolle haben. Sie würden lieber 10.000 Schritte auf einem Laufband als in der Natur machen, weil Sie in der Natur nichts unter Kontrolle haben.

Aber die Natur ist das, was man braucht, wo man die Kontrolle aufgeben kann, wo alles auf andere Weise „perfekt“ ist und Zeit keine praktikablen Maß ist.

Getrennt von der Hoffnung auf eine sichere Zukunft

Ich hatte gehofft, dass sich all der Aufwand und die Unsicherheit in Zukunft auszahlen würden. Ich musste einfach so lange durchhalten, bis ich in Rente ging, ein oder zwei Jahre, dann wäre alles in Ordnung. Von den vielen Faktoren, die zum Crash beitrugen, war das Platzen dieser Blase vielleicht die größte. Plötzlich zu erkennen, dass die Anzahl der Jahre, die bestimmen, wann und mit wie viel Geld man in Rente gehen kann, von Brexit abhängt, hat mir etwas angetan, das ich nicht ausreichend erklären kann. Ich hatte sieben Jahre lang in Großbritannien Beiträge gezahlt. Seit 2010 sind Sie jedoch nur noch berechtigt, wenn Sie zehn Jahre lang Beiträge geleistet haben. In meinen Gedanken sah ich mich gezwungen, mindestens vier Jahre länger zu arbeiten, aber ich wusste, dass ich den Stress, den ich empfand, für weitere vier Jahre nicht aufrechterhalten konnte.

Ohne die Aussicht auf eine Situation ab dem 65. Lebensjahr, die es mir ermöglichen würde, zu entscheiden, was ich danach getan habe, war es, als würde ich den Boden wegziehen. Dann, angesichts des Stresses, der mich jeden Tag anstarrte, wurde in mir eine Kettenreaktion ausgelöst, die es mir unmöglich machte, weiterzumachen. Nur, dass ich es damals nicht wusste. Die Krise war im Unterbewusstsein ausgelöst worden und verursachte mehr Stress, als ich ertragen konnte. Es hinderte mich auch daran, mich so schnell zu erholen, wie ich es mir wünschte. Die anhaltende Unsicherheit ist etwas, das immer noch Probleme bereitet.

Trennung von sinnvoller Arbeit

Mein Berufswahl hatte mehr mit sinnvoller Arbeit als viele Menschen ahnen. Ich empfand der Berufswahl zudem noch als Berufung und wurde gewarnt, dass zu viel Idealismus oft Probleme hat, wenn es um praktische, tägliche Arbeit geht. Dennoch, die Altenpflege sollte, so dachten viele von uns, reformiert werden – und zwar durch uns. Wir hatten schlimmen Zustände vorgefunden, die wir ändern wollten. Ich habe einige Erfolge verbuchen können, doch war es sehr anstrengend und die Vorbedingungen wurden schlechter geworden.

Nach allem was ich von meine Kollegen aus der Zeit gehört habe sind viele an diese Ideale gescheitert und viele hörten sehr bald auf in der stationäre oder ambulante Pflege zu arbeiten. Eine davon, der Klassenbester, hat bei mir im Heim als ich bereits Pflegedienstleiter war, ein Praktikum im sozialen Dienst gemacht und er konnte in der Pflege nicht mehr arbeiten. So wie ich gehört habe, habe ich am längsten ausgehalten. Wahrscheinlich weil ich, trotz Abstürze, ein Weg fand durch das Chaos gefunden habe, bis ich schließlich doch nicht mehr konnte. Das war nach 22 Jahren

Lost Connections

A personal commentary to “Lost Connections”

by the British journalist, writer, columnist and podcaster, Johann Hari.

Separated from people

I’ve been separated from my family in England for a long time. I have never been more aware of that than I am now. I would like to have conversations, look them in the eye and put my arms around them instead of just writing. The short time I had whenever I was in England did not go beyond scratching the surface. The conversations could be described as warming up, but no more. This means that conversations now are strained by the knowledge that I have depression.

But there are also friends and acquaintances from my past here in Germany whom I basically just left behind as I went on. I did not keep in touch and was so absorbed in what was in front of me that it is not surprising that people also distanced themselves from me. Every now and then I have email contact to former employees with whom I got along well, but it is only superficial. These people too, given the fact that they know I struggle with depression, would find it difficult to be at ease with me.

The people who are around me every day are very considerate and really concerned about me. The problem is that it is also marked by a separation. I am no longer the one who was entertaining in conversations, but now the one who is shown understanding. It is of course no use to long for past. Rather, I have to look forward. I can try to connect with the contacts I had, but I have to accept that things are not the way they were.

Johann Hari gave an example of how the community spirit, especially when rallied around a worthy cause, can overcome depression and bring about conditions that no-one could foresee. His second example was a nurse on a psychiatric ward who suddenly realised that she couldn’t go on. She disconnected for seven years. Reconnection proved difficult, but the group task of building a garden on a scrubby patch of ground, usually used for dogs, against all odds and despite all difficulties, helped. Reconnection to nature opened her eyes and inspired her. It’s call social-prescribing, therapy through horticulture.

It is up to me to find a way of re-entering the community in which I live and find a role to play. I find that my anxiety is my biggest problem, a worrying anticipation that I could overstretch myself. It will be a struggle, but perhaps worth it.

Separated from childhood trauma

Since I have always described my childhood as ideal, it is strange when I speak of a childhood trauma. However, because I was the introverted child who absorbed everything, especially emotions, I experienced many things as minor traumas that followed me into the night. I had basically grown up safe and sound, and apart from much upheaval caused by my fathers posting, I had no idea of the world before I stepped out into the world. The night brought many horrors, nightmares, fantasies, fears resulting from a multitude of experiences that were probably not perceived in the same way by my environment.

When I had met people, I was interested above all in why they did what they did. I have always been curious about people in this way, as long as I can remember. To begin with it was the teachers who hurt us children, or the destructive bully at school, but it was also the scout leader, who made the children sexual advances, and later at work the young women who give themselves up for pornography or prostitution and many others. I tried to understand – which obviously didn’t work. Above all, I did not understand myself, which was probably the real reason for my attempts to understand others. I was such a mystery to myself that I often despaired, which has been compounded by depression. The break with naivety was perhaps the greatest traumatic event of all.

Johann Hari found it helpful to acknowledge the trauma and work to overcome it. For a long time I tried to just forget the bad side of being an introverted child with an over-active imagination and concentrated on the good side of my childhood. There were dark sides, however, and I must confront them so that they stop occupying my dreams.

Separated from meaningful values

The subject of lost values is one that I can identify with. I noticed that the stress I was feeling ultimately obscured my view of values. I had become a machine that had to be well oiled, a show that had to go on. The values, which I had previously tried to uphold in training courses and lectures were no longer in focus. My old values, especially at work, were a thing of the past, although I stayed identified with them. I needed to believe in what I was doing. It had to be meaningful.

The church unreasonably became a spectre of horror after I had my crisis there. Not only my depressive episode contributed to this mental representation, but the strife that was going on in the parish, and, of course, the reports in the media contributed to make the church a rather dubious part of my life. However, the way I shrugged it off wasn’t appropriate. The people there were not to blame, and if at all, they were also trapped in the structures that I saw as harmful. I also justified my separation that way. I was not angry about the people, but about the structures.

I then oriented myself to values that were supposed to replace the lost values. The new conceptual model at work was one such example. But also the „noble truths“ of Buddhism gave me direction. But really, the values I found were not much different to Christian values. They were acceptable with the general population, so it couldn’t be very different. However, when I noticed that these new values were not taken so seriously by my employers, and a „see to it“ culture developed, I had renewed problems with identifying with what I was doing.

Separated from status and respect

To become depressed, especially when one is striving for efficiency, prestige and respect as a leader, is a falling into insignificance. Of course, I blamed myself the most, calling myself a failure, I struggled with the symptoms, and didn’t want it to be true. I only saw it as a temporary stress reaction that I would overcome in three weeks. But that wasn’t the case. What my head didn’t want to admit, my body forced on me. I had always thought that depression is a mind problem, but now I know that the mind has only a slight influence on the condition.

When people have compassion with you, it is beneficial for a while. If it lasts, however, it becomes embarrassing. To be treated like a raw egg, especially if you notice it, is not tolerable. You notice how you have become a poor drip that everyone feels sorry for. You fight against it but your body resists your efforts. You say to your body, don’t do that! Get up! Do something! You react, have small moments of success, but efficiency is something else. I had become the kind of person I don’t like. I had no respect for myself, and still fight with it. I answer the question as to how I’m feeling with hollow phrases, because it would take too long, even if I could explain how I feel. If you have no respect for yourself, it changes your reaction to others. Many of the things you set out to do you cannot do. Sometimes you don’t start at all. You get on your own nerves and talk yourself into believing that you get on other people’s nerves as well.

Away from the natural world

If you crash in depression, the world you’ve been in has been in some way toxic. I have found that returning to nature is a tremendous help. We moved flat in the first weeks of my depression and the view from our living room is priceless. The trees were starting to sprout, as was the whole scene and watching the progress of nature in spring was a great resource. Previously we had another house blocking our view, now we could look out into a landscape the reminded one of a park.

Before the depression, nature was just what flows past your car. You don’t smell anything, you don’t hear or feel anything, you are a machine. Although you notice how a short walk can help, there was usually no time for it. It is often dark when you come to work, and often dark when you go home. You move into an artificial world with computers, numbers, data, and paper. Time is scarce. When people are stood at the door, it is a disturbance that you want to get rid of as quickly as possible. You even stay away from children. They could demand feelings, which could cause the whole house of cards to collapse. You move where you have control. You’d rather take 10,000 paces on a treadmill than in nature because you have nothing under control in nature.
But nature is what you need, where you can give up control, where everything is „perfect“ in a different way and time is not a feasible measure.

Separated from the hope of a secure future

I had hoped that all the effort and the uncertainty would pay off in the future. I just had to hold out for so long until I retired, another year or two, then everything would be fine. Of the many factors that contributed to the crash, the bursting of this bubble was perhaps the biggest. Suddenly realizing that the number of years that determine when and with how much money you can retire may depend on Brexit did something to me that I cannot explain adequately. I had paid contributions for seven years in Britain. However, since 2010, you are only entitled if you’ve contributed for ten years. In my thoughts I saw myself forced to work at least four years longer, but I knew I couldn’t keep up the stress I was feeling for another four years.

Without the prospect of having a situation from the age of 65 that would allow me to choose what I did after that, it was like pulling the floor away. Then, facing the stress that was rushing at me every day, a chain reaction was triggered in me that made it impossible for me to go on. Only I didn’t know it then. The crisis had been triggered in the subconscious and caused more stress than I could bear. It also prevented me from recovering as fast as I wished I could. The ongoing insecurity has been something that still causes problems.

Separation from meaningful work

My career choice had more to do with meaningful work than many people suspect. I also felt that choosing a career was a calling but was warned that too much idealism often has problems when it comes to practical, daily work. Nevertheless, many of us thought that nursing care for the elderly should be reformed – by us. We had found bad conditions that we wanted to change. I have had some success, but it has been very exhausting and the preconditions have worsened.

According to everything I heard from my colleagues at the time, many failed to live up to these ideals and many soon stopped working in inpatient or outpatient care. One of them, the best in the class, did a work placement with the social support team in my home when I was already in charge of nursing. He wasn’t able to work in nursing any more. The way I heard it, I lasted the longest. Probably because I, despite crashes, found a way through the chaos, until I finally couldn’t go on any more. That was after 22 years.

At 64 I was drained and avoided contact with large groups, which caused me considerable unrest. The day-time therapy slowed me down and began helping with my anxiety disorder, and it became clear that I should seek an early pension. I still think that I can contribute in the field of geriatric care, but more in one-on-one contact, or at best with small groups. I have noticed how I had gradually worked myself into a corner and couldn’t find the support I needed. The problem was and is, that there is no work for someone who has turned 64 and is depressed.

10. Civilian life in Germany

Leaving Britain in 1978 I had the feeling that I was doing something that had consequences, but I pushed it aside, just as I pushed aside the bad experiences that I’d had that made my decision easier. I was a romantic fool who had so much to learn, spurned on by romantic tales of life in Europe and those I had the short time I’d been living in Germany. Life seemed to be so easy and free of the continuous banter that I hated so much as a soldier. I am a strange person in that respect, always looking for a straight conversation, getting confused if the conversation was made lighter by such banter, which I regarded as a loss of focus. Monika’s friends had become my friends and I was looking forward to seeing my wife. It seemed strange then, at 22 years old, to talk about “my wife” but I couldn’t wait for the ferry to arrive in Belgium.
However, after my return, I had a difficult start. First of all, living in a very small flat with my wife’s Grandmother, I was getting into all sorts of problems. Behaviour, which is quite normal for a young newlywed couple, became difficult living virtually on top of an eighty-year-old blind lady. Locking the bathroom door was a problem, fooling about was a problem, coming home late was a problem, coming home early was a problem. Therefore the first months in Germany were dictated by this experience. Secondly, the simple confrontation with everyday life using a foreign language made me very self-conscious. I felt I had to get everything absolutely right. As a soldier, I had experienced the occasional German who ridiculed my pronunciation of German words, and there is a particular problem with the construction of a sentence in German. If you get it wrong, Germans often don’t understand what you are saying. So I was intent on getting it right and just shopping in the local supermarket became a challenge. I reluctantly rose to the occasion but succeeded more and more, which in turn gave me confidence.
I found work with a subcontractor of the local Brewery delivering beer, but I was constantly being persuaded to make trips to Britain using the larger vehicles. I wanted to take the opportunity to graduate from school. The long-distance trips were, therefore, a problem, as were the delivery jobs, which often had me working from 6 in the morning until 6 in the evening and gave me the added stress of keeping my co-driver, who was always drunk, in the vehicle. He would leave me to unload and, rather than arguing, I got on with it. Afterwards, I would find him downing a glass of beer, obviously not his first, any time of the day. I needed him to show me around the place, but that became increasingly difficult, the more he drank. One day he told me we could take a short cut and guided me into a cul-de-sac, where the signpost was covered by branches of a tree. It took us two hours to get back out, reversing with a trailer. My means of transport to and from work was a bicycle. After cycling across town to get home after such a day, and there were many, I was in no state to do anything more and had to get up the next day early and bright.
We moved into our own flat during that time, but it wasn’t any closer to my workplace, but closer to Monika’s parents. We used a delivery lorry to travel all over the town at the weekend, collecting used furniture, and man-handling it through the window from the street. It was old and worn, but it was ours. The flat was situated across from the main coal-mine in Dortmund, and we could see mountains of coke across the road from our bedroom. The bedroom was on the main road, and lorries carrying cinders drove back and forth from the early hours in the morning, including Saturdays. On the first day of the weekend, we would often be woken by the vibrations of these trucks. It was the dirty part of Dortmund and the cinders left thick dust on everything if you left the window open. The whole place smelled of coal and coke as well.
I was determined to get back to school and learn a trade, which had been suggested to me by Monika’s stepfather. I started learning German by reading and translating a news magazine, Der Spiegel, which was also quite left-orientated. There were many topics written with a perspective that I wasn’t used to, but which interested me. Fortunately, a mixed group of students moved into the flat above and made it into a shared apartment. These young people found it amusing to speak with a young Englishman who was learning the language and we discussed everything I had been reading. I was able to enjoy the company of Monika’s friends, but I relished the nightly discussions with these young people. They helped me better my German like no-one else had, although Monika remains the main influence over time.
After a year and a serious accident that forced my boss to write off a truck, I changed my job. I then drove a dump truck to construction sites and transported the excavators with a trailer. Not long after starting work, I fell over on to my backside and the back of my trousers were suddenly filled with bloody pus. After consulting the doctor, it turned out to be a fistula at the coccyx, or tail-bone, which had to be operated on. I was lucky that my boss didn’t sack me, but he felt it could have been an accident at work, and so he put up with it. His stepsons complained that he was treating me better than others, but he took me back after six weeks of sick leave. I used the time to read Erich Fromm’s “Haben oder Sein” (To have or to be) and translate this into English. He too was Marxist orientated but he interested me because of his use of biblical and Buddhist examples to illustrate his thesis. I bought myself a Bible and a book on Buddhism.
After I recovered, I took the opportunity to go to evening school and take the so-called 2nd educational path. Evening school in Unna was an awakening experience. The participants were mostly mid-twenties like me and had, for whatever reason, not passed the necessary exams or achieved the necessary marks. We didn’t need any time to get to know each other and often met in cafes between classes on Saturdays. Very often I experienced being interesting just because I was an Englishman, it was no different here. I noticed how characteristics associated with my country were applied to me, which I didn’t consider typical. In fact, I had left the UK because I wasn’t really the “typical” Englishman if there is one outside of the imagination. At evening school I was surprisingly successful. German and history were of particular interest to me, but also my math teacher, Mrs Hofmann, showed me that I was not incapable, although I had been unable to grasp math in England. This new chance at education at 25 was completely different from my experience of school as a child. I was very much engaged in the classes, and my German teacher, Herr Wemhöner, seemed intent on getting me through to higher education.
After passing my exams with flying colours, much better than expected, I wanted to become a geriatric nurse, but my wife had become pregnant and we decided that I had to put these plans on ice. There was no other way as I would not have earned enough money to care for my wife and child whilst training so I looked for another job. My wife and I decided that she should go back to work after the birth, to begin with, and I would stay at home for a while since she earned more than I, and her job was stable. That meant I would have to talk to my employer about how I was to become unemployed. As it happens, he was already talking about reducing the number of drivers and so I suggested he sack me, instead of another young man who had just married. He wasn’t happy, nor were his son’s, who hadn’t been happy about my sick leave so early on, but he consented.
When our son announced his birth, Monika’s amniotic sac burst and we rushed to the hospital. We were shown into the delivery ward and Monika was prepared for the birth procedure. Unfortunately, our son wasn’t prepared to arrive and so we were left waiting for some time. Monika asked me to read something to her, but the only book I had picked up on the way out was a German edition of “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells. After her initial disappointment, I started to read the story, but as our son still wasn’t ready, it began to bore her and we soon found the situation laughable. We managed to pass the time until the medical staff decided to “persuade” the child to arrive. The drama of the birth was then prolonged when the doctor asked me to leave, as he had to use forceps to pull the child out. My wife and I protested about me having to leave, also the nurses, but I found myself outside the birth room, frustrated because I wanted to be there when our son was born. Suddenly the door opened and I was ushered in “Hurry, hurry!” Our son’s cranium was just visible and he slithered out as I arrived. The standard slap opened his lungs and we thought everything was okay. The doctor thought otherwise.
The hushed conversation, probably intended to prevent us from getting worried, only amplified the seriousness of the situation. Then all was fine, the doctor came to us with a smile and we were told not to worry. Monika had a spotty face from the capillaries that had burst when she was pressing, and she was tired. We arranged to meet up later that day after we had some sleep and I had registered the birth. I shuffled off, quite exhausted by the experience, disappointed still that I hadn’t been there all the time, especially as I had felt Monika’s need for me to be there. I arrived home and fell asleep almost immediately.
Later that day, I arrived at the registry office and was told in all seriousness, that the name Marc-Ian, which we had chosen for our son, was considered to be “unusual” and I should consider the fact that he would carry this name all his life. I replied, “It’s not as though I want to call him Pumuckl or something like that!” The very conservative looking lady gave me an uncertain look and finally stamped everything and gave me the papers.
When I arrived at the hospital, I met my wife in a terrible state on the stairs to the ward. Between the tears, she told me that our son had hydrocephalus, apparently about one to two per 1,000 newborns have this condition, which is an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, and associated with several serious illnesses. I didn’t really know what to say. During the pregnancy, I had been reading all sorts of literature about being parents, including a book on what to do if your child is disabled in any way. This book had obviously caused a discussion with Monika, who was concerned about me reading on such a subject. Now it came all rushing to my mind and I felt guilty somehow.
We had several fraught days at the incubator, and Monika was allowed to go home but they still kept our little treasure in the hospital. On one occasion the nurse made a point of saying that our son was a fighter, he had already disconnected himself a couple of times. Finally, the swelling subsided and we were allowed to take him home. However, we were told that we would have to be very careful because the neck wasn’t strong enough to carry the head, and we would probably have to go to physiotherapy with him. Another problem was that he didn’t drink so well, and was very thin. This continued to cause us problems at home.

Meine Beichte – Tolstoy

„Ich verstand (1), dass die Position, die Schopenhauer, Salomo und ich mit all unserer Weisheit einnahmen, eine törichte war: Wir verstehen, dass das Leben ein Übel ist, und doch leben wir. Das ist eindeutig töricht, denn wenn das Leben töricht ist, und ich sorge mich so sehr um die Vernunft, sollte das Leben ein Ende haben, und dann gäbe es niemanden, der es leugnet. (2) Ich verstand, dass sich alle unsere Argumente in einem verzauberten Kreis drehten, wie ein Zahnrad, dessen Zähne sich nicht mehr in einem anderen verfangen. So sehr und so gut wir auch denken, wir bekommen keine Antwort auf unsere Frage; sie wird immer 0 = 0 sein, und folglich ist unsere Methode wahrscheinlich falsch. (3) Ich begann zu verstehen, dass in den Antworten des Glaubens die tiefste Quelle menschlicher Weisheit zu finden war, dass ich kein vernünftiges Recht hatte, sie abzulehnen, und dass sie allein das Problem des Lebens löste.“
„Wenn es nicht so schrecklich wäre, wäre es lächerlich, an den Stolz und das Selbstvertrauen zu denken, mit dem wir wie Kinder unsere Uhren herausziehen, die Feder wegnehmen, sie zum Spielen nutzen und dann erstaunt sind, dass sie die Zeit nicht mehr halten werden.“
Leo Tolstoi, Meine Beichte, IX

Ich finde diese Geständnisse sehr hilfreich in der Situation, in der ich mich befinde. Seit langem gehe ich die gleichen Fragen durch, die Tolstoi in seine „Beichte“ beschreibt, wenn auch ohne die Gedanken an Selbstmord, die ihn in die Enge trieben. Glücklicherweise kam mir das nicht in den Sinn, auch wenn das Leben manchmal so sinnlos erschien, aber insbesondere wenn ich meine Familie sah und meine Verantwortung erkannte. Ich fühle mich jedoch gequält und fürchte die Isolation, während ich gleichzeitig viele Dinge tue, um meine Isolation zu verursachen.

Ich kam auch zu der Erkenntnis, dass unsere Existenz eine Ursache hat, wie Tolstoi schreibt. Diese „Kodierung des Lebens“ in das Chaos des Universums erregte mich kurzzeitig, nur um in der gleichen Weise nachzulassen, wie Tolstoi seine Erfahrung beschreibt. Ein Aspekt, den er jedoch entdeckte und der oft unbemerkt bleibt, ist die Tatsache, dass der „Geist“ Menschen zusammenbringt und unter ihnen aktiv ist. In der intellektuellen Diskussion tritt sie jedoch selten auf, wenn sie überhaupt vorhanden ist. Mit anderen Worten, je mehr wir diskutieren (lateinisch discussus: auseinanderbrechen, erschüttern, zerstreuen), desto unwahrscheinlicher ist es, dass der Geist effektiv sein kann.

Dieses Verständnis veranlasste Tolstoi, auf seinen sozialen Status zu verzichten und die Bauern in seiner Gegend zu studieren, die kürzlich aus dem Sklavenstatus genommen worden waren. Ihre Bedingungen waren nicht gut, aber ihr Glaube beeindruckte Tolstoi. Es hat mich auch beeindruckt und passt gut zu meinem erworbenen Verständnis, dass, wenn sich die Gemeinschaften auf das Gute und Gesunde konzentrieren, mehr Gutes geschieht. Auch das Gegenteil ist der Fall: Wer sich auf das Böse konzentriert und was ungesund ist, erlebt auch das Böse. Die Tatsache, dass das Christentum (manchmal drastische) archetypische Symbole und Metaphern verwendet, um die Darstellung dieser Realität zu beleben, zeigt uns nur, wie die Menschen in der Vergangenheit gelehrt wurden. Es nimmt der Wahrheit der Geschichten nichts weg.

Das Problem beginnt für mich, wie für Tolstoi, wenn man versucht, die Lehre nach der Vernunft zu beurteilen. Die Lehre ist sehr oft das, was die verschiedenen Kirchen trennt, und es hilft nicht, dass sie sich auf zentrale Themen des Evangeliums einigen. Das sollte meiner Meinung nach das Ziel sein, stattdessen sind die verschiedenen Kirchen wegen der Unterschiede in der Lehre in den Krieg gezogen. Tolstoi erlebte den Konflikt in Russland. Es gab unter anderem auch den Dreißigjährigen Krieg in Mitteleuropa, der auch deutlich machte, dass es bei diesen Konflikten um Machtkonstellationen und nicht um zentrale Lehren aus den Evangelien ging. Wie kann man das Gebot der Nächstenliebe, auch des eigenen Feindes, aufrechterhalten und wegen der Unterschiede in der Lehre trotzdem in den Krieg ziehen?

Ich denke, wir müssen akzeptieren, dass die Geschichten des Evangeliums, die so viel Wahrheit in sich tragen, nicht den Test der akademischen Zerlegung bestehen, sondern direkt zu dem Teil in uns sprechen, der erkennt, was dem Leben entspricht. Die Inspiration, die zu einem Fokus auf das Wahre, Gesunde und Gute führt, trifft jeden wahren Zuhörer im Herzen und wird sofort verstanden. Was oft fehlt, ist die Bereitschaft oder Fähigkeit, entsprechend zu handeln. Gott ist das, was zwischen den Menschen passiert, wenn die Liebe geteilt wird.

Confessions by Tolstoy

“I understood (1) that the position assumed by Schopenhauer, Solomon, and myself, with all our wisdom, was a foolish one: we understand that life is an evil, and yet we live. This clearly is foolish, because if life is foolish, and I care so much for reason, life should be put an end to, and then there would be no one to deny it. (2) I understood that all our arguments turned in a charmed circle, like a cogwheel, the teeth of which no longer catch in another. However much and however well we reason, we get no answer to our question; it will always be 0 = 0, and consequently our method is probably wrong. (3) I began to understand that in the answers given by faith was to be found the deepest source of human wisdom, that I had no reasonable right to reject them, and that they alone solved the problem of life.”

“If it were not so terrible, it would be laughable to think of the pride and self-confidence with which we, like children, pull out our watches, take away the spring, make a plaything of them, and are then astonished that they will no longer keep time.”

Leo Tolstoy, My Confessions, IX

I find these confessions very helpful in the situation I find myself in. For a long time I have been going through the same questions that Tolstoy describes in his „confessions“, albeit without the thoughts of suicide that cornered him. Fortunately, that didn’t occur to me, even though life sometimes seemed so pointless, but especially when I saw my family I recognized my responsibility. However, I do feel tormented and fear the isolation whilst at the same time doing many things to cause my isolation.

I also came to the realization that our existence has a cause, as Tolstoy writes. This „coding of life“ into the chaos of the universe briefly excited me, only to subside in the same way as Tolstoy describes his experience. One aspect he discovered, however, and which often goes unnoticed, is the fact that the „spirit“ brings people together and is active among them. In intellectual discussion, however, it rarely occurs if it is present at all. In other words, the more we discuss (Latin discussus: to break apart, shaken, scattered), the less likely it is that the mind can be effective.

This understanding led Tolstoy to renounce his social status and to study the farmers in his area who had recently been taken out of slave status. Their conditions were not good, but their faith impressed Tolstoy. It also impressed me and fits well with my acquired understanding that when communities focus on good and healthy, more good happens. The opposite is also the case: whoever focuses on evil and that which is unhealthy, also experiences evil. The fact that Christianity uses (sometimes drastic) archetypal symbols and metaphors to enliven the representation of this reality only shows us how people were taught in the past. It takes nothing away from the truth of the stories.

The problem begins for me, as for Tolstoy, when one tries to judge the doctrine by reason. Teaching is very often what separates the different churches, and it does not help that they agree on central themes of the Gospel. This, in my opinion, should be the goal, instead the different churches have gone to war because of the differences in doctrine. Tolstoy experienced the conflict in Russia. There was also, among other conflicts, the Thirty Years‘ War in Central Europe, which also made it clear that these conflicts were about power constellations and not about central teachings from the Gospels. How can one upkeep the command to love your neighbour, even one’s own enemy, and still go to war because of doctrinal differences?

I think we must accept that the stories of the Gospel, which carry so much truth in them, do not stand the test of academic decomposition, but speak directly to the part within us that recognizes what corresponds to life. The inspiration that leads to a focus on what is true, healthy and good, hits every true listener in the heart and is immediately understood. What is often lacking is the willingness or ability to act accordingly. God is what happens between people when love is shared.

6. Barnstaple

When we arrived in Devon again, we moved into Pilton Abbey in Barnstaple, a huge old building that had a kitchen with a massive breakfast table in the adjoining room as well as large rooms with big burgundy drapes. The walls and the window ledges inside were about three feet deep, and the kitchen had old-fashioned lead window panes with criss-cross patterns. Outside a Robin often turned up for the crumbs we threw out. I also remember Colin and I once polishing the floor with dusters tied to our feet and hands and sliding about – rather ineffectively I assume. In a room that seemed to be an endless expanse to us children, with an old Christian painting above the fireplace, we had our beds in a corner. This large painting depicted the death of the martyrs in the Roman arena. At night I had the feeling that the curtains were bending threateningly over us and that the moon brightened the death scene, making it appear life-size. I was finally moved to a smaller room with no paintings on the walls, where I dreamt less of such cruel scenes.

The surrounding estate was substantial as well and had tennis courts that hadn’t been used for a while, an orchard and lots of gooseberry bushes. I discovered all sorts of underground chambers and climbed into or up everything I could find, especially after we discovered a tree den in the large oak tree opposite the house, complete with metal rungs hammered into the tree. My brother, Colin, always imitating me, got stuck in a large poplar tree, and froze after looking down. I had to climb up to him and help him come down again whilst my father looked on. He said the tree wouldn’t take his weight, and besides, it was my fault for encouraging him. Once we played on a huge red clay vase full of earth in the garden, but it tipped over and broke into many pieces. I was in trouble for that as well, since the vase had fallen onto Colin and knocked the wind out of him. Mum thought he was dead at first and was panic-stricken. We got into trouble for going down into the mysterious and dark cellar that was full of spider-webs. We children didn’t go down without some lights on, because we couldn’t find our way back without crashing into a wall or pulling spiderwebs onto oneself. It wasn’t hard to catch someone down there and turn the lights off, but it was terrible to be on the receiving end. The people on the other side of the house had a huge winding stairway and many more rooms, which gave us an idea of how big the whole house was.

Whilst in the abbey I had started to go to a small primary school in Pilton next to the church, which was just across the road that wound through the buildings. My skin colour was darker than usual when we arrived, but it faded quickly. A young girl of colour felt an affinity for me, and I sat next to her. She was disappointed, however, when it turned out that my skin colour was not permanent. At that time I also started to read much more. Just the usual children’s books about a schoolboy named Jeremy, but it revived my imagination. During this time I had to do my „Eleven-Plus“ test and the result meant that I was not accepted into grammar school, which was apparently the goal. Instead, I had to go to Secondary School, which was quite a lot further than primary school, but on the way there I would experience many different adventures, most of them in my mind.

It wasn’t long before we moved into a bungalow a few miles away. I don’t know if these events had anything to do with it, but my mother was relieved. However, one of my school friends was the pastor’s son, Guy. He had resources I didn’t have and got me into all sorts of nonsense. Once we made a bomb that was heard all over the town and Guy and I were thrown off our feet when it exploded. The tree we wanted to blow up did not fall – thank God we had no knowledge of explosives! It would have buried us under it. But there were also all kinds of places to experience adventures, including haystacks, apple orchards, ruins and old buildings. We even managed to be chased by a herd of cows, which, in reality, they were being called for milking. We also used our bikes to imitate the American Evil Knievel, whose stunts were on TV at the time. It led to me taking my bike home in two parts and my parents telling me that I had to walk to school from then on.

The bungalow was set behind a wall and a number of Hortensia bushes decorated the entrance. Out the back, behind a glasshouse, which was built on to the house, there was a small lawn, a vegetable garden and behind the shed at the bottom an orchard. The orchard was “off-bounds”, but the apples didn’t taste good anyway. Colin and I often played on the lawn with plastic soldiers and a fort that my father had made that had quite some detail. He had spent hours building it and we were elated when we had it given to us one Christmas. Later on, he was devastated when he found that in our games had started trying to create “realistic” scenes and we had set fire to the fort. I think that seeing how my father was affected by the damage I had done was the first experience of empathy, and I realised how much I had hurt him. I only then saw what effort he had put in to provide for us, and what it had meant to him. For him it was wanton vandalism, for us it was in one way the beginning of consumerism – when it’s broken you get a new one. We underestimated the emotional value this piece of artistry had for him.

During our time in Barnstaple, it must have been before or during 1965, I was sent to a Christian Endeavour camp in the south of Wales in Pembrokeshire. We crossed the Bristol Channel from Ilfracombe to Mumbles, near Swansea, and took the bus to a place near Fishguard. It was quite a fun time of raft building and playing, but also of reading the Bible. I had problems at that time and was under observation because I was very often a brooding loner. I have good memories of that time, even if I had difficulties. The greatest moment of all was on my way home. We had gathered at the Mumbles Pier and the sky was already dark when we boarded the small ferry. The children and staff looked worried as we boarded, and it wasn’t long before the sky turned dark brown and the lightning brightened the sky. The boat was hurled back and forth between the waves and I could hardly tell the difference between water and sky. Almost the whole group was hanging sick over the railing. When I entered the small deck where the drinks had been served, I noticed that I was not feeling so well inside. So I took shelter in the stairs leading to the engine room, but the rain and seawater sprayed over the deck and everyone got wet. At a moment when the sky flashed with lightning, everything seemed to stop for a moment, and the scene remained in my memory as if it would tell me something that words could not say. Having read the Bible in Fishguard during the week, I connected this experience with God even though I couldn’t explain myself.

When we reached the pier in Ilfracombe, my father was waiting for me among other parents who were very worried at the sight of their seasick children. I was full of the experience and as we got into the car I excitedly told him what had happened. My father was even calmer than usual, although he asked me how I felt. I assured him that I was well and he told me that my brother Colin had fallen off his bike while I was away and was in the hospital. Somehow I linked this information to an accusation, as if it were my fault, be it because I wasn’t there, be it because I had given him the idea to go down the hill at breakneck speed. He was unlucky that his tire burst and he was thrown off his bike. He suffered a concussion and a nasty cut on his chin, which is still visible today as a scar, along with many abrasions. This was in addition to the injuries he had already sustained when he climbed trees with me and fell. He had hit almost every big branch on the way down and injured his back. I had been guilty then, too, so I felt guilty again because of his new injuries.

Once again I had a story to tell people, this time there were more people who would believe me. The idea of an epiphany subsided with time and new imaginations were colouring parts of the story in as I saw fit. Moving on to Secondary school gave me more to include in my stories because we had a history teacher who could draw incredible sketches of medieval life and an English teacher, Mr. Ford, who encouraged us to put the literature we read into practice in the classroom and on stage. He was part of the local theatre association and we went to a Greek comedy by the Classical comedic playwright Aristophanes, in which he played Mars. At school, we worked on school plays, talking about how, for example, Aristophanes used his comedies to dramatise many politicised ideas and draw attention to specific individuals in society. I don’t think we all realised how important this was, but these details made the play come to life. We also played out spontaneous choreographies to classical music. With the latter, we even took part in a drama competition that took place at colleges around Devon. But not everything was successful. I was so taken in by this activity that I was often envious of those who could play roles on the stage, whereas I was put on the wind machine. I was too emotional to be able to concentrate on my lines and got carried away. I was also not recommended for the school choir because, as the teacher told me carefully, I was „a solo singer and not suitable for a choir“.

I took this experience with me, however, and my father was concerned at one stage that his son was being turned into an effeminate dancer. Of course, it soon wore off and I became enthralled by the next new discovery, but the importance of writing and conveying thoughts, and the ability to hint at things without blurting them out, became a real challenge for me. I started writing and filling up notebooks with plagiarised versions of what I had heard or seen somewhere, and tried to find ways of expressing what I struggled to convey verbally. It was then that puberty was taking place and I struggled with feelings that my parents didn’t want to talk about. Wet dreams and uncontrolled emotional outbursts left me a very confused boy. At this stage, my mother suddenly stopped bathing me with my brothers and I had to take a bath on my own. I heard from school mates that they knew all about sex and even the first accounts of sexual encounters were being passed about. I smiled or laughed as though I knew what they meant, but I didn’t. All I knew was that I had another problem that I couldn’t deal with. My fathers “Men’s magazines” suddenly left something stirring in my groin, which hadn’t had that effect before, so I told stories like those I had read to other boys in an attempt to belong to the crowd. I found that I had the knack of telling stories and went on to tell more of them. Unfortunately, my stories became my reality and I had difficulty for a while to differentiate between fact and fiction. Sometimes they were extremely childish, but I relished the interest I awoke.

Belonging to the crowd didn’t last long. My father had been growing deaf and had attempted to get compensation on leaving the Army, but it couldn’t be proved that his deafness had been caused by anything he had experienced in the service. I can imagine that this was a serious issue for him since his plans to serve 22 years and leave with a pension had been thwarted. In the end, it frustrated him and after we had moved to Swindon once again, and he stayed in Devon to clear up, hand over the quarter and leave the service. The marital struggles returned again after my mother found out that my father had been seeing a younger woman, who had been a neighbour and a friend of hers, during the weeks he was alone in Devon. He told me nothing had happened, but that he had just run across her and spent some time with her. My mother was furious, and it became quite clear to the rest of the family that this issue was being blown out of context. I just saw it as another cause of confusion, and I discovered that I had become quite efficient at saying good-bye to people, although making new friends was another thing altogether.

Sterbebegleitung

Mein Beruf als Altenpfleger wurde stark von Sterbenden geprägt. Man entwickelt ein Verfahren, um den Sterbeprozess würdig ablaufen zu lassen; man sucht Menschen, die da sein können, sei es aus der Familie oder vom Personal. Auch der Abschied nach dem Tod sollte würdig sein. Der Verstorbene hat ein Leben geführt, wie wir alle, mit all seinen unterschiedlichen Irrtümern und Verwirrungen. Ob die Person ein gutes Leben hatte oder nicht, können wir nicht beurteilen. Jeder Sterbende muss das für sich selbst oder mit einem Pastor oder einer anderen Person entscheiden. Eine professionelle Pflege kann nur die Grundvoraussetzungen schaffen und einige Stunden sitzen, bevor die anderen Bewohner oder Patienten rufen und betreut werden müssen.

Als Leiter eines Altenheims war es mir immer wichtig, eine aktive Rolle zu spielen, damit im Haus verstanden wurde, was im Sterbeprozess wichtig ist. Manchmal war es schwierig, wenn die Mitarbeiter auf ihre Arbeitsbelastung hinwiesen und sich beschwerten, dass sie diesen wichtigen Service für die Bewohner nicht erbringen konnten. Selten gab es Mitarbeiter, die kein Mitgefühl mit älteren Menschen oder Sterbenden zu haben schienen. Für sie musste die Tür geschlossen werden. Es gab auch Verwandte, die versuchten, das Verfahren nach dem Tod objektiv zu diskutieren, obwohl der sterbende Bewohner lieber seine Hand gehalten hätte oder die Stimme seiner Verwandten gehört hätte.

Wie man sich auf solche Situationen vorbereitet, war ein Thema, das ich oft mit den Mitarbeitern besprach. Ich habe festgestellt, dass es möglich ist, durch einen Plan das Engagement bei den Mitarbeitern zu wecken. Oft genug waren die engagierten Mitarbeiter enttäuscht, weil andere Mitarbeiter sich nicht an den Plan hielten oder weil Verwandte alle Vereinbarungen frustrierten. Aber wenn es funktionierte, war die Erfahrung anders, und alle waren glücklich. Ehrfurcht vor den Sterbenden zu lehren ist nicht so einfach, aber darum geht es doch. Man braucht Zeit für die Vorbereitung und Zeit während des Prozesses. Man findet keine Zeit, wenn es keine Ehrfurcht vor den Sterbenden gibt.

In meiner letzten Anstellung gab es keine Zeit und damit nicht genug Ehrfurcht vor den Sterbenden. Ich bin selbst ein wenig gestorben, jedes Mal, wenn ich hörte, wie der Tod eines Bewohners geschehen war, oder wie der Gedenkdienst durchgeführt wurde. Es gab einige Mitarbeiter, die versuchten, das Engagement aufrechtzuerhalten, aber für viele blieb keine Zeit. Ich hatte das Gefühl, dass ich versagt hatte, weil mich die kaufmännischen Aufgaben so sehr beschäftigt hatten und ich nicht die Zeit fand, diesen wichtigen Bereich aktiv mitzugestalten.

Ich denke, viele Menschen erwarten, dass die Bewohner eines Altenheims in einer hospizähnlichen Situation sterben, aber noch immer werden zu viele zum Sterben ins Krankenhaus gebracht, weil das Personal keine Unterstützung erhält. Nicht zuletzt deshalb, weil die Altenpflege zu einem profitablen Geschäft geworden ist.

Terminal Care

My profession as a nurse for the elderly was very much influenced by dying people. One develops a procedure to let the process run in a dignified manner; one looks for people who can be there, whether from the family or from the staff. The farewell after death should also be dignified. The deceased person has led a life, like all of us, with all its varying mistakes and confusions. Whether the person had a good life or not, we can’t judge. Every dying person has to decide that for himself or with a pastor or some other person. Professional care can only provide the basic conditions and sit for a few hours before the other residents or patients call and have to be cared for.

As a manager of an old people’s home, it was always important for me to play an active role so that there was an understanding in the house of what is important during the process of dying. Sometimes it was difficult when employees pointed out their workload and complained that they could not provide this important service to the resident. Rarely, but often present, there were employees who seemed to have no empathy with the elderly or the dying. For them, the door had to be closed. There were also relatives who tried to discuss objectively the procedure after death, although dying resident would rather have had their hand held, or hear the voice of their relatives.

How to prepare such situations was a topic I often discussed with staff. I noticed that it is possible to arouse commitment with the staff by making a plan. Often enough, the committed employees were disappointed because other employees did not stick to the plan or because relatives frustrated all arrangements. But if it worked, the experience was different, and everyone was happy. Teaching reverence for the dying is not so easy, but that’s what it’s all about. You need time for preparation and time during the process. You don’t find time when there is no reverence for the dying.

In my last employment there was no time, and therefore no reverence for the dying. I died a little bit each time I heard how the death of a resident had happened, or how the memory-service was conducted. There were some employees who tried to keep up the commitment, but for many, there was no time. I had the feeling that I had failed because the commercial tasks had occupied me so much and I didn’t find the time to actively help shape this important area.

I think many people expect residents of an old people’s home to die in a hospice-like situation, but too many are still being delivered to the hospital to die because the staff does not receive support. Part of the reason is that nursing care for the elderly has become a profitable business. Another reason is that idealists like me tend to run themselves into the ground.