An older man indicates that he would like to speak. His head jerks back hard and he says angrily, “We were never officially informed that my sister was on the passenger list and that she died in the disaster, although I was in contact with Germanwings. I waited for them to ring me back but they never did. We had to find out everything from watching TV!”
He´s interrupted by a younger man. “I rang the Foreign Office. They also promised to ring back but they didn´t.” His face flushes with anger.
A middle-aged woman with a cynical voice shouts, “But they did ring! They rang me sometime later. It was around 10 PM and I was already in bed because I was completely knackered. Someone from the Germanwings Care Center rang and asked if I had enough food in the fridge. See? They did ring!«
The room is restless and people are whispering.
I throw in a comment: “They asked me if I´d like someone from the Care Center to ring periodically and ask how I´m doing. I declined because I don´t need that — my family are taking care of me.”
A woman continues: “I also had to get all my information from watching TV, even the announcement that my sister-in-law was murdered by a co-pilot with depression and not a technical defect. Why didn´t the French prosecutor inform the relatives before the press conference? That´s how it should have been done!”
A member of the group replies, “Maybe we can´t blame them. Everything´s frantic at the beginning. It takes a while to put the right processes in place.”
The atmosphere is getting more aggressive and the irate people take the floor. I feel the urge to run away. This pent up anger is becoming too much for me in my desolate state of mind.
A break is called. There´s a cold snack buffet waiting for us outside the meeting room.
I get to talking with a pastor who smiles at me and tells me that she lost her boyfriend years ago. He was in another country and the airplane he was on flew into a mountainside. I look at her, astounded. She tells me how difficult it has been to get her life back together. Every year she goes to the crash site to visit her late boyfriend and she always takes a memento, sometimes a stone from the mountain or a pine cone.
The break´s over and again we take our seats in the circle. We immediately decide to break into two groups, one on with coping with bereavement and the other for those who want to get rid of their anger. I´m relieved. We join the bereavement group, as do most of the others.
The “dissatisfied ones” leave us and go into a neighbouring conference room to discuss their specific problems with pastors.
We´re looking forward to moving on. The pastor with the very long hair tells us that she lost her partner in the Düsseldorf airport fire. He died of smoke inhalation in an elevator. It was so awful for her that she hardly knew what was going on around her for weeks afterward, but she has managed to find meaning in her existence again. She feels that her boyfriend is always with her, within her, still.
After a number of years she was able to have a new relationship.
Two pastors sit in front of us, examples that despite difficult tragedies there are paths out of the pain and ways to live a more or less fulfilling life.
The fates endured by the family members are sad. One family lost three members. Two children lost their parents and are being cared for by relatives.
A mother reports that those affected moved in together for a few days to share the burden of their fate with a group. They met often and talked about their deceased loved ones, remembering funny experiences and also speaking about the grief that threatens to overwhelm them. They laughed and cried together.
At the end we collect questions we have for tomorrow´s meeting with the invited experts, among them two representatives from Germanwings.
A pastor lets us know that after dinner in the hotel restaurant there will be an informal get-together.
As we are asked to pray a woman calls out, “Do we want to include the co-pilot´s mother in our prayers? How does everyone feel about that? She´s not to blame.”
I´m burdened by our own tragedy as well as all the others. Wouldn´t it have been better to have stayed at home rather than take on more stress? We take part in a short prayer. The piano music and the words spoken have a relaxing effect on my mind. After that we have the opportunity to light a candle for our loved ones and also say their names. We get in the queue. I want my husband to light the candle as I´m a bit wobbly and would surely not be able to do it properly. As we stand in front of the candle for our son, he takes my hand and together we light it. I try to steady my voice as I say: “For Jens.”
After dinner we walk through the streets of Düsseldorf and by chance end up on the Rhine. Unfortunately it´s pitch-dark so we turn around. Instead of going to the hotel restaurant we decide to go to bed as I´m too exhausted. It´s nearly midnight.
© Brigitte Voß / Translation: Ellen Rosenbaum