I feel I owe it to my grandmother to actually include the original words she has written, which I translated from German to English. For better understanding I have included some notes, but am leaving the rest exactly as she wrote it in a little notebook during the last weeks of her life. She had often said to me, that her life would be worthy of a book. So this is my way of finally sort of fulfilling her wish.
I hope you don’t mind a little detour from my endometriosis story. It is an important background story for understanding where my own core belief of "life is pain and suffering" comes from. A belief that manifested in my illness - an illness that has turned my own reality into pain and suffering. In a way, my grandmother’s story is the foundation for so much of my own journey. I am only just beginning to understand how much she has influenced me (we were extremely close) and how much of her suffering I have subconsciously carried on my own shoulders (or in my womb).
I was born on 7 May 1921 in Kaiserswalde. (A village in the Sudetenland, an area in the Czech Republic on the border to Germany.) My dad was a cattle merchant, my mum a florist. In 1924, dad died of a heart attack. Mum ran the shop and she had some female home workers binding dried flower arrangements for her. Mother died in 1930. She was in Rumburg for an operation and got a lung infection. I can still hear grandfather's cries: his favourite daughter was dead and he now had to keep his promise and look after me and my sister. In 1931, he fell ill and returned to his own apartment. His eldest daughter cared for him until he died of bowel cancer.
Now, things went downhill. My half-sister did her own thing and didn't much care about me (she was 10 years older). In 1932, I was sent to an orphanage in Georgswalde. There was little to eat, meat was never to be seen. We had to get up at 6am, go to church at 7am and afterwards to school. My legal guardian must have paid the fees regularly, but otherwise nobody looked out for me. Once a month there was a visiting day. Nobody ever came for me.
On 1 July 1935, aged 14, my guardian took me to Schönlinde to work as a maid in a household. It was like a prison. Mountains of laundry and all had to be washed by hand. My bed was under the roof, on winter mornings there was snow on it!
In 1937, I found a better job in Schluckenau. I had some people I knew from school and sometimes visited their relatives. I had to work hard, but you can endure everything, when you don't know any different. For the first time, I had a chance to socialise a bit more: once a fortnight, I had Sunday afternoon off. In 1938, I met your (grand)father. My legal guardian went berserk, he laid into me. For years nobody in the wider family had cared two hoots about me, but now all hell broke loose. October 1938 fighting broke out, people talked about war. The Germans fled to Saxony and the Czech smashed everything to pieces.
I lived alone in the villa. Finally, the soldiers left and Hitler “liberated” the Sudentenland – what a "nice" liberation it was. I earned 18.50 Mark monthly salary.
Peace was short-lived. On 3 June 1939, I got married. It was a tiny ceremony in a small chapel. At least I now had a roof over my head. Granddad still had work and I had sold 2.5 hectares of agricultural land, which enabled us to buy some furniture. The money that my parents had left me had been spent by my legal guardian. Stupid as we were, we just accepted it and never did a thing about it. I still had my parents’ house. The house was mine, but I had five tenants who all paid a meagre 15 Mark rent. I could have done with someone in my life with a bit of drive or dexterity. (Note: My grandfather was a musician.)
First of September 1939 – war with Poland. The people are becoming uneasy. Hitler the criminal leads us into disaster. The men are being conscripted and the first ones die in Poland. On 2 January 1940, grandpa has to leave. There are ration cards and I somehow get by doing some home based work: weaving belts and sewing trousers.
Twice a week I walk to Kunnersdorf to visit auntie Mieli. Uncle Joseph has also moved in. I help them work the fields and I make the butter. I always get some food there and can take a piece of butter and some eggs with me. That way, my life isn't too bad.
On 26 April 1940, our son Horst was born. Grandpa was in France. All the young girls have to work in ammunition factories. The numbers are dwindling, every day Germans die in foreign lands. I get 68 Mark support, 15 Marks go for rent, which leaves me with 50 Mark a month to survive on. Everything is possible if needs be.
In August, Horst gets ill with whooping cough. I do not have a single quiet minute anymore and I am always alone. There is no remedy against whooping cough. He gets weaker by the day, all I can do is feed him breastmilk from a tiny teaspoon. When he coughs, it all comes out again. The doctor says; “Let the poor child die in peace. A baby cannot survive this illness.” Day and night I try to feed him, he is all I have. I’m down to 48 kilos. After four long months, the cough finally subsides and he slowly improves, by spring we’re through the worst of it.
Gandpa is in Greece, his last leave was upsetting, the Germans are not doing well. But the madness continues. Grandpa gets posted to Africa. I get by somehow. Post is rare, if you want to get any information at all, you have to tune into a foreign radio station. It’s forbidden, but every now and again we risk it and try. In 1943, granddad is captured in Tunesia. After 6 months, I receive a postcard from the Red Cross. From now on I receive a card every now and then from a prisoner of war camp in Texas.
On 7 May 1946 the Russians arrive. They storm into the houses and take everything they need. We live in constant fear. By the middle of May the first Czechs arrive together with some partisan fighters. The Germans are being robbed and many are shot dead. Everyone has their own way of finding revenge.
In June 1945, my parents’ in law are being picked up. At 5am in the morning, the Red Army and two Czech soldiers knock on the door and shout “Out!” We quickly pack a few things into a hand cart, the Czechs take our keys. They leave me behind with my little boy, alone in the house. The old couple scream and shout as they are leaving, but the Russians just laugh at them. Four weeks later, people are shot daily in the streets of our little town, the teachers are beaten and imprisoned. Fear is growing.
On 10 July 1945 the big deportation begins. All Germans have to leave town. At 5am in the morning, we start off, 500 of us are being horded together in the market place. Then we have to march 5km to the nearest border crossing to Germany. The Czechs rob us of everything we carry. I no longer own a thing: I’m left with the pushchair, one pillow and 200 Marks I had hidden under my shirt that they miraculously did not find. Horst has a temperature of 40.
In Saxony, the communists greet us shouting "Nazis" at us, the Russians are hunting us down, nobody is allowed out on the streets after 8pm. An old woman kindly takes me in. I try one last time to get over the border, desperate to pick up just a few things from our old house. I tie my little boy onto my back, but on the way back they catch me and everything I had picked up is taken off me. (Note: As far as I remember, she had retrieved some jewelry she had buried in her garden.) Wherever I go, bad luck seems to follow me. I can no longer stay near the border and we have no more food.
Horst lives off once slice of bread a day, which the children are given. They have to go themselves to pick it up. I leave with the aim to get to the countryside. Where there are farms, there is food. I get to Wurzen, but the bridge has been destroyed. It takes me a week to get from Dresden to Magdeburg (Note: today a 2 hour trip). We travel in cattle trucks. Again and again we’re being disconnected, because the Russians need the train. (Note: my grandmother once told me that they were locked into the cattle trucks like animals. Some babies died and just got thrown out of the train, so the dead bodies would not cause disease.)
Once in Magdeburg, I didn’t know where to go. The Americans were retreating, the Russians took over the Altmark (Note: the region north of Magdeburg where we ended up living.) After many hours, there was a train to Oebisfelde, so I decided to go to Gehrendorf as I knew Waltraud Bomballa there and knew that her parents had a small farm. (Note: My grandfather and Waltraud’s husband did their army training together and the women had once met when the men were on leave. They had got on really well. Waltraud would become my grandmother’s best friend.)
In Gehrendorf (Note: a tiny village in the countryside north of Magdeburg, exactly where the Russian and American territories met. The river on the edge of the village would later become the border between East and West Germany), the surprise was big. Nobody had any idea that the Germans had been thrown out of the Sudetenland. There was no radio and no newspaper. A local family took me in and we at least had some food. I helped in the fields and that's how we got by from 1945 till 1946 without any money.
The only thing I knew about grandpa was that he was a prisoner of war in Texas. I hadn't received any post for over a year. Gehrendorf was now occupied by the Russians. Every night, people fled through the Aller river into the West. When some refugees passed through, I gave them a postcard addressed to the prisoner of war camp. Miraculously, the postcard actually arrived and granddad now at least knew where I was.
On 16 July 1946, gandpa arrived in Gehrendorf. He had come through the river at night. Horst was six years old. He had never met his dad and only ever called him uncle. He never got used to having a father. In October 1948 we got two rooms at the vicarage, but there was no wood and no coal. I could write a novel, nobody would believe how we lived. We somehow made ends meet, working for the local farmers. In 1947, grandpa gets a job in construction, earning 84 pennies an hour. We chop wood in the winter, I knit a little and swap some of my knitting for the odd tin of sausage meat. We feed a few rabbits and our little Horst has to get food for them. It's a sad childhood for him. This has always saddened me deeply. In 1948, Elke (Note: my mum) is born. We have to move again, this time into two damp and cold attic rooms. A human being can endure a lot!
In January 1949 our boy falls ill: he has a temperature on Sunday, by Wednesday he is dead. There was no medicine, they simply said "meningitis" and that was it. With difficulties we finally managed to find a carpenter to make us a coffin. All I wanted to do was die. But always in the darkest hours, help came from somewhere. I don't know how I survived all this.
In 1950, Brigitte was born (Note: my aunt), another little bundle of sorrow. Grandpa finds work in Oebisfelde (a nearby town). Houses are being built and he earns enough so we can eat. In 1952, I find agricultural work and earn a few Marks. Brigitte goes to nursery, a little suitcase full of spare pants in hand. Elke has to look after her when I go to work in the afternoons from 1-6pm.
In 1957, the big agricultural reform happens and the agricultural cooperative is formed. That wasn't easy. The farmers land is confiscated and they all leave to go to the West. The land lies in ruin.
In 1959 we move from the village to the town of Oebisfelde. I still work at the plant nursery in Gehrendorf from 1960-62. On 2 June 1962, I find work as a cook in the army canteen. I earned 280 Marks. In 1964, I qualify as a proper chef and earn 380 Marks. The girls, thank god, are doing well at school and with diligence and hard work they both manage to learn the professions they wanted. I always worried. I suppose that's normal for a mum who didn't experience much good in her life. Granddad only ever worked and kept the money together. We wanted the children to have a better life than we had. Did we succeed? Often, they didn't understand us. Our life had been so hard and every time we thought it got better, the next disaster would happen.
In 1992, my illness starts. I have no idea how I got through it all. My desperation at times is beyond words. I often think, this is the end, but a human being can and must endure a lot. 24 July 1992: hospital. Diagnosis: Cervical cancer. Total hysterectomy and 5 rounds of radiation therapy.
1993: a bad smear test, hospital again. Vaginal cancer. November and December: chemotherapy. On 17 December 1993 I lose all my hair and have to get a wig. I'm close to a nervous breakdown. I cannot count the tears I've cried. They tell me to recover throughout January, so they can operate in February.
In March 1994, my third chemo starts. I'm going downhill, my bloods are awful, I am constantly tired and can hardly breathe. Despite my bad bloods, they are doing another chemo. Eventually, I get blood transfusions. I recover a little, only to be given another chemo in May. On 15 May is my granddaughter's confirmation. We have visitors to stay and all I want is peace and quiet. I'm exhausted, cannot do a single thing. Another blood transfusion follows. The last chemo is cancelled, I'm too weak. End of June a check up shows that the chemos did not work.
In July 1994 another operation follows, I was is horrendous pain: every day they wash the wound with saline solution and hydrogen, it is barbaric! I come out of hospital in July. The next check up in November shows no abnormalities, but its early days yet. In January 1995 I have another check up. My days are probably numbered. An MRI scan shows more cancer cells, more radiation therapy is suggested. I am in unbearable pain. I get 23 radiation sessions in June and July. Do they really think this will help? The bladder gets radiation damage, I have metastases in the lung. What is the point? The pain is indescribable, the bladder treatments are agony. Now I am having difficulties breathing and I start coughing. I long for peace.
On a daily basis, things get worse. Now the bladder stops working completely. I am so tired. I can't go on any more. If you ever experience hard times in your life, read these lines and think about how I suffered. Were I a dog or a cat, they would have put me down long ago, but as a human you're worth nothing.
In November 1995 I am in hospital again with kidney problems. They say only an operation can help: the bladder needs to be taken out. 20 November is the operation, I'm in a bad way. No air, no strength. 2 December 1995, I can finally go home. I can hardly walk. Brigitte has to change the catheter bags, I cannot go on, I have no strength left. Now my bowel starts troubling me. Only God knows what comes next. I hope it won't be long anymore.
1996: the bowel is the most painful. I had the flu which totally flattened me, coughing still hurts.
These were the last lines she wrote. My grandmother finally died in May 1996. In July 1995, I left Germany to be an Au pair in England. Returning home for the Christmas holiday, both my grandmother and I know that this is the last time we will see each other, the last time we will hug, our last goodbye. I remember both of us crying our eyes out, trying to stay strong but failing miserably. I will forever be grateful for that final goodbye.
My grandmother was an incredibly strong, emancipated, independent woman who gave me so much love. We were incredibly close. I would spend every holiday with her and I think in a way she cherished being able to finally in retirement be able to dote on especially her granddaughters in a way she never could on her own daughters because of the difficult circumstances. There was always a sadness in her eyes, that as a child I didn't understand. Reading her story, it's no wonder it was there. How much can a person endure? I think through us, she had the chance to witness the happy, carefree childhood any child should be able to live.
After her death, her best friend Waltraud tells us a part of my grandmother's story that she had been too ashamed to include in her handwritten notebook. Something nobody ever mentioned and something that her daughters never knew: As a young woman working in the fields after the war she had been raped by a whole group of drunk Russian soldiers. The rape left her with such horrendous wounds that she had to be taken to hospital to have several stitches. This finally explains so much to us. Why she disliked men, especially drunken men. Why my own mother would grow up with an incredible, inexplicable fear of drunken men (nothing had ever happened to my mum involving drunken men - she had obviously picked up on her own mother's fear).
For many years, I have carried the knowledge of her suffering with me. Many times I have cried for her, for everything she went through, everything she endured, so that I could eventually be born and have one of the best grandmothers in the world.
All this is coming up again during my therapy sessions at the 3E centre. I have never really dealt with it all. The loss, the pain. Have I subconsciously made her pain mine? My own mother had a hysterectomy at 42. Have we all carried this trauma in us energetically? Can I now heal it for all of us, so it at least doesn't get passed on to the next generation?
I write. I cry. I write. I cry. Slowly, I can feel that all the suppressed emotions I had buried for years are finally leaving my body. I can physically feel the muscles in my sacral chakra area (where our sexual organs are) relaxing and releasing tensions that have been there for years. I work through my own limiting beliefs of womanhood and motherhood.
I suddenly see with such clarity, that the painful periods I have always had, started to turn into unbearable endometriosis pain after I became a mum. I also remember weird dreams or visions I had as a child, that I never understood. Needle like pains in my vagina from as young as five, six years old that would occur in dreams. Dreams as a teenager and young woman, in which a row of men would queue to have sex with me. Is it possible that experiences of ones ancestors are projected into ones own energy field subconsciously? Can trauma be passed on from one generation to the next?
In a powerful meditation, my life coach gives me the chance to heal my ancestry line. I feel incredibly free afterwards. I don't care that this makes no rational sense. Judging from most normal people's perspective, all this sounds utterly crazy. But it definitely changes something in me. I don't know what is happening or how it works. But I know that whatever they do here does work. I am starting to feel better. Lighter. More positive.
When I go to the toilet, there are grey pieces of what looks like dead tissue in my stool. It almost looks like endometriosis tissue, but dead. Is the detoxification, the healthy nutrition and the emotional work I do making my body release on a physical level as well? I am a little scared but also incredibly hopeful. I decide to trust my gut and to take the tissue as a good sign rather than as something to worry about. The body detoxes through the bowel, bladder and skin. So it makes sense that it might rid itself of stuff through my bowel.
It's raining and I sit by the window watching the raindrops fall from the sky. I imagine how happy all the plants outside must be about the rain, the elixir of life. It feels cleansing and healing. Water can make things come to life again. It's regenerative. I connect in my mind with the nature outside my window and feel my own body regenerating.