11 April 2015, Saturday – First Emergency Pastoral Care Meeting for Family Members in Düsseldorf (1)

We arrived in Düsseldorf yesterday and spent the first night with Jens´ girlfriend.
We´re on our way to the emergency pastoral care meeting for family members which is being held in a church conference hotel. The plan is to stay there overnight and leave tomorrow afternoon when it´s over.
The organisers are waiting for us in the foyer, observing us attentively but in a friendly manner. They´re probably used to situations like this.
A waitress serves lunch before we start.
A pastor wearing a name tag on her blouse asks if she can sit with us. I nod. She tries to start a conversation but I´m not in the mood. I pick at my vegetables as I have no appetite.
The meeting begins. Chairs are set up in two circles and the room is spacious and filled with light.
The pastors introduce themselves and explain their work: supporting people after disasters and offering counsel and comfort. Among those they are helping are family members of victims who died at the Love Parade in Duisburg. We are assured that our meeting is private and that the media are barred from attending. The idea is to provide us with a safe space to connect with other families in similar situations.
We are gently encouraged to talk and the silence is broken quickly. One member of the group begins haltingly. His daughter was on the Germanwings airbus and it´s difficult for him to believe that she´s dead. The way that it happened is also hard on him and he´s sobbing heavily while he´s trying to talk. He tells us about the feeling that he can´t cope with things and the pain that threatens to tear out his heart every day. He thinks she should come back as he misses her terribly. “I´d like to kill myself. I´m toying with the idea. Then I can at least be with her.”
Suicide??? The room lets out a horrified moan and a vigorous discussion follows. My husband speaks up. “Our son Jens would give us a kick in the pants if we had such ideas.” I nod in agreement as I wipe away tears. He continues, “And surely your daughter too. She would want you to keep on living.”
He groans and we hear a quiet: “Yes.” The stout man´s shoulders shake and others also cry. A woman runs out of the room followed by a pastor. (This happens a lot today.) The wounds in our souls are too fresh. Family members speak willingly about the unfathomable, their loved ones who had to die, their grief, how they´re doing, that they lie awake for hours at night or find no more joy in life.
Moroccans are also at the meeting. Their children were married in Barcelona the weekend before the crash. They had wanted to build a future together in Germany.
Their translator and support person, also a Moroccan, speaks excellent German. He introduces the families and describes how the crash has affected them. He says, “In our culture it´s customary to give the newlyweds money.” He looks at all of us. “A lot of money. Cash,” he explains. “Who will replace it?”
The question hangs in the room, unanswered.
He says, “It is the mother´s wish to stay in Germany until she is allowed to take the young people´s remains with her.”
“That´s going to take forever,” the person sitting next to me whispers.
One of the group would like to say something but his voice breaks with grief. It´s impossible to understand him as he speaks so softly. One of the pastors sits behind him and repeats his whispered words so everyone can hear. Now we know what he wanted to tell us. He, too, speaks about his daughter: she had wanted to get married, had plans. And then she boards the aircraft and is murdered. Mass murder! Sobbing, he tells us about their last Christmas. So much has become meaningless to him. He has no idea how to overcome the emptiness left by her death.

© Brigitte Voß / Translation: Ellen Rosenbaum

(To be continued)

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