Widow with 44: "No convention, no black, I wanted to live"
In her new book"Just about his dead body, how I lost my husband and learned so much about life"Author Brenda Strohmaier writes about her husband's death and illness. This is a lot more amusing than you would expect on this topic, but above all it is extremely smart and quite instructive? not just for widows.
Barbara.de: Your book is called "Only about his dead body, how I lost my husband and damn much learned about life". What was your most important lesson?
Brenda Strohmaier: What I definitely learned is that grief is not everywhere. When I felt inside, I realized that there are some parts that do not grieve. And Volker I was missing at first almost always and in many, but sometimes he was not missing. A bereavement counselor advised me not to transfigure the dead partner, which helped. I always felt that somehow, no matter how hard it was, I could do it.
In fact, you even write that it has advantages to be a widow. Which one?
A widow is a VIP. I was given so much attention in the time after Volkers death as never before. After telling a woman from the airline's service center on the phone that I could not take the flight to Israel because my husband had died, she immediately refunded both flights to me. Without demands. Doctors wrote for me on their vacation report for the pension fund, the property management called back after 17 clock. Even the telecom spotted the sentence: "My husband just died, I need your help". The compassion knew really no limits.
Has your grief actually become less with time?
Even after almost three years, the grief is not gone, of course, that never goes away. But she is changing a lot. In the beginning I could hardly cry, I almost did not feel depressed enough, had to do something non-stop to distract myself. The bereavement counselor said that this kind of action mourning is more of a typical man. I was afraid I would not stand it if I let the pain go. But gradually he came. Things got really bad when I finished the book, almost two years after his death. What really helps me is that I recently met a man whom I really like. It has actually become easier since then. Nevertheless, Volker sometimes lacks me. And I am happy every time I can talk about him.
Did it help you to say goodbye that Volker was ill for a long time?
I was almost amazed at how bad it felt when he died. Even if he was seriously ill for ten years and I always knew he would not grow old. Suddenly he was gone and I was alone. And the act of dying, that death in the ICU, was the most glaring experience I've had in my life. For a long time I was in a state of shock, the images of the dying people came up again and again in me.
"I almost took a trip around the world with Volker."
What helped you the most after his death?
Every single person who condoled and sympathized helped me. And especially my close friends. I am so thankful that I have them, there was always a fellow human being when I needed one. I did not cook for weeks because somebody always did something for me. Simply the existence of others helped me a lot.
What exactly did you do yourself to make you feel better?
I quickly realized that I did not want to continue like nothing had happened. That Volker, this man who loved so much in the world, died, told me that I have to plunge into life. My bosses have also directly approved a sabbatical for me, I had five months off. During this time I lived in Brussels and Los Angeles, traveling through Japan, Indonesia and Australia. And I had two photos with me, which I always unpacked first: one by Volker and one of us both. I almost made a trip around the world with Volker in my luggage.
When did you start to date again?
After exactly nine months I had a first date, but that had no consequences. I was probably not ready for a new love, but I wanted to go out quickly, I wanted to live. I did not want to wear black clothes and only mourn for years. Since I am professionally responsible as a writing editor for the topic of sexuality, I was able to train myself in the field even professionally: 2017, there was a lot of new sex parties in Berlin, I wanted to write about that. I then accompanied a woman there, and suddenly this protagonist disappeared. I waited and waited? and finally found me in the arms of a strange woman. I fell in love with them, and we met regularly for a while.All in all, I have noticed after Volker's death that I do not want to stick to conventions just because you do that. Life is too short, we all have to die.
"My saint is called Marie Kondo"
Did Volker's death make you courageous?
I've always been brave. It takes courage to get involved with a seriously ill man. Our second date took place in the hospital because there was so much in the way of his body. We got to know each other in 2005, in 2006 he had the first heart attack, in 2009 his liver transplant because of a rare disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis. His illness has shown me my own vulnerability, but I also know that I can survive something terrible. That made me more self-confident, stronger.
Volker's grave occupies a whole chapter in your book. Why?
Because I've been thinking about it for a long time. I wanted something very traditional, something timeless, but I did not find what I liked. At some point I was with a stonemason, who recommended Frankish limestone as material for the simple edging, which I had to choose. This is the material that made the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. And because a tomb is shaped like a soccer field anyway, I asked the stonemason to chisel a stylized gate into the enclosure. I thought that was fitting because Volker was a big Hertha fan. In the end I, who had never really had anything to do with football, even bought original turf from the stadium for Volkers grave. Incidentally, I'm also a bit Hertha fan by the way.
You are also a fan of Marie Kondo ...
Tidying up before death is incredibly helpful. We both cleaned out our apartment a long time ago, following instructions from Marie Kondo, the Japanese cleanup missionary. That's why it was very easy to sort Volkers estate. After such a stroke of fate you do not want to worry about where the things are that you need to fix everything. Volker had really sorted everything very well during our campaign. So because of the Virgin Mary. My saint is called Marie Kondo.
© Dominik Butzmann
Brenda Strohmaier, born in 1971, is a style editor at WELT, and has a doctorate in urban sociology. Since 2005, she has been involved with the film critic Volker Gunske, married since 2015, 2016, she was widow. Since then she tries to give this marital status new glamor.
"Just about my dead body, how I lost my husband and learned so much about life" was published by Penguin Verlag in February 2019 and costs 14 euros.