With the Christmas season fast approaching, this is the time of year when emotions come to the surface, especially for those of us that have suffered a loss of a family member or close friend. I am no different and I'm sure others have their story to tell.
At the close of the Second World War there was only one grandparent left alive, my paternal grandfather. My maternal grandparent died shortly before or during the war and my paternal grandmother passed on shortly after the war, the results of malnutrition, not the war itself. My paternal grandparent were born and raised in East Prussia (southern part). When the land was taken by Poland, ethnic Germans were collected and expelled. As I learned years after the war, Germans were not allowed to receive rations, only Polish citizens, so months would pass before tranportation could be arranged. So my paternal grandmother passed away in a freight train near Thorn (Torun), West Prussia (Poland). An aunt passed away in the same train as well. That left my grandfather alone of all the grandparents. He lived for some years after the WWII and I last saw him when I was nearing 4 years old. That is when we left Germany to emigrate to Canada, landing at Montreal in June 1957. Fastforward to 1972, the year my grandfather was nearing death. I made arrangement to go to Europe for seven weeks but I had to wait until I was finished school for the year. He died in April of that year before I could get there to see him. I had been writing him in German for about a year before his passing. Well, when I did get to Germany to visit an aunt and uncle in Dortmund, Germany, my aunt asked me if I wanted to see his grave. I remember being upset and saying no. I wanted to see him when he was alive not burried six feet under. That was my introduction to loss and the emotions this kind of event brings to the surface.
My younger brother passed away in early spring of 1974. He was about a year and a half younger than me and had just turned 19 the previous December. His birthday was on the 27th, two days after Christmas. I was closing in on my 21st birthday that August. I can tell you now but it was taboo then. He died as a result of a hanging. I won't say how this happened but police told us to tell friends and family that he had died of a heart attack. It effected us in different ways for years to come. My father was never the same, nor was my mother for a while. That night in the wee hours of the night as no one could sleep, the phone wrang. My mother answered the phone to hear her mother's voice. The line went dead as soon as my mother said something. I went back to school but after two days of braving it, I couldn't stand it anylonger and saw a guidance counsellor. I was off school for a few days after that, the emotions were just too severe to keep focused. We are all born on to this Earth and have to go when its time but it is particularly hard when this happens to someone in their prime of life. One of our neighbours, the wife of a policeman, brought us some dinner but under the circumstances couldn't eat. We couldn't muster the strength to eat, no focus!
My father passed on in the mid-1980s after a heart attack late in the morning one November day. This was after he had a stroke three years earlier. I had to go to the hospital to identify him. It wasn't a pretty sight but had to be done since my mother couldn't bring herself to do it. I was 32 at the time, amazing what you can do when you have to!
His death paled to my mother's in the effect it had on who remained. By July 1999 she was in the early stages of dementia. We found that out after the autopsy, the cause likely being a series of small strokes. She was doing eratic things like climbing out of her bedroom window in the night, taking the screen off beforehand and then climbing down. This was an 80 year old woman keep in mind. She even drove the car and got disoriented. She knew that she had done these things but did not know why. She said so herself. After the car incident mid-day on a Friday, a police officer talked me into admitting her in the hospital for observation. He drove us into the hospital. Little did I know what would come later. Late that evening I received a phone call from the hospital telling me to come right away. When I got there, I learned she had tried to hang herself in the women's shower. She didn't die immediately, but did about six days later. When I was told by the psychiatrist, I had turned white and was speechless. I walked home for an hour. This allowed me to collect myself somewhat but the worst was yet to come. My half-siblings were to challenging me over the estate, even before my mother was dead and burried. I had to take the next two weeks off work. Again, I couldn't focus and still had issues after returning to work. It took about three years to settle the estate. More stress. That in itself is a long story which I won't get into here but it seems the worst comes out of some people after a death, especially when there is greed involved. Early on after my mother started having her problems, my cousin was concerned that I might suffer a nervous breakdown but thankfully this didn't happen.
So, now we come to Christmas when all these memories come to mind and emotions well up. Any loss, a beloved parent, a close friend, a pet, even a relationship gone sour can have its effect. This brings me to remind everyone something important: love and respect each and every person in your life, be it family or friend, for we never know when its time to go. Make each day count and treat each other well as you would want to be treated. Life is too short and passes by quick enough to harbour grudges or to snub someone because of an imagined slight. Count your blessings, and take the time to compliment someone. Visit someone alone and without family for Christmas, or better yet, invite them for dinner. The kindness will be rewarded! "What goes around, comes around!" I had to release the emotion! Life hasn't been all just negative stuff. There have been plenty of pleasant experiences but those memories above take their toll. Writing all this down has been very therapeutic. You may understand or you may not but will when you cross this bridge. Have a great Christmas and make the most of it!
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