Two events have reminded me again of the losses I experienced as a result of WWII and the effect these past losses have on me even as I near another milestone in my life.
The first event was reading a novel: "The Cellist of Sarajevo" by Steven Galloway who teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia. The book follows four individuals "whose lives have been upended" by the Bosnian/Serbian civil war in the nineties, but who are "ultimately reminded of what it is to be human". I was laid up (1995) from my car accident when the first television reports came from that area of Europe. The daily news reports were affecting me on a level that was hard for me to grasp. But the pictures of emaciated humans behind barbed wire started to remind me again of things I had wanted to forget, but couldn't since they are part of my very being. And that was the beginning of the emergence of a delayed but full-blown case of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Oh sure I always had some symptoms. We all snickered at my jumping after a loud sound went off behind me and my kids knew not to ask Mother to take them to the fireworks. The standard operating procedure was Mom stays home, Dad takes the kids. I was lucky that he was just as much of a kid as our three children were. And, then, there were the occasional flash backs, but the Bosnian war brought all of this with a vengeance to the foreground.
The second event happened when I read a German blog. I came upon Ulli's blog through one of the sock knitting groups to which I belong. Ulli is a sock knitting fiend. But Ulli also comes from my neck of the woods in Germany, the wonderful, enchanted land of Schwaben. She also has two children, a boy, Bennie, and a daughter, Marina, who has Downs Syndrome. She freely shares photos of her family and the activities of her children as well as knitting. On Friday, March 26 Ulli showed a newspaper clipping in the Stuttgart newspaper, highlighting a local school in which special needs children are integrated into various classes with class mates who are not special needs children.
And that's when my tears of loss started to flow. After 60 years, I finally started grieving for the cousin I never met in person. She was my favorite aunt's, my Tante Emma's, child. She too had Down's Syndrome. One of my favorite past times was going through the boxes of photographs my aunt had. And that's where I found her picture. And when I asked, all I got was "Hitler took her." And then she stormed out of the room. This, a woman, who never got angry, who was all-loving and understanding. I knew better than to ask again and at the end of the day I had forgotten about my cousin. After all, I had better things to do, such as frittering the day away in the woods surrounding us with my cousin Walter. I was too young to understand the meaning behind the terse "Hitler took her." In the photo she was old enough to understand what was happening to her. The sheer terror this child must have felt. The terror is beyond my understanding. Thankfully.
But my tears are still flowing, selfishly, for all the days missed playing with her. I don't even know her name and no one left to ask.