"When you ordered me, ordinary was sold out," I like to say to my dad. My life is truly way off the track. It is either a total drama or a perfect comedy where you can't stop smiling.
It is a couple of days before Christmas in 2018. When my uncle tells me that he's not going to his chemotherapy anymore. The side effects are just killing him. "And now?" I
"Nothing," he says. A little word. That means everything.
I'm going to the bathroom to sit on the edge of the bathtub for a while. I'm the only one who knows about his decision. That he gave up. I'm texting my finace in the USA. I'm about to rip the shower head from the wall. He simply can't do that.
It is May when I stumble into a motel in Montana, USA, after 30 hours on three airplanes. It is two minutes before midnight. I log my phone into the WiFi. The first message I get is that my uncle just passed away. While I was somewhere over the Atlantic. Fortunately, my boyfriend is with me. This time in person.
It was this situation that ultimately led me to the decision to sell my Tiny House again after only nine months. To move in with my 95-year-old grandpa. "Grandpa looks ten years younger since you moved here," the neighbors say after a week. An emotional free-fall tower without a return ticket.
He's sitting in his brown leather chair. The feet on the little stool in front of him. On the table, cookie crumbs and two remote controls.
"I can't feel my fingers anymore. When I reach into my coat, I don't know if I'm holding a handkerchief or a car key." My uncle shrugs his shoulders. He looks strange without his hair and
beard. He went to chemotherapy for over half a year. Without any noticeable improvement. But with severe side effects. "I can't hear much, I can't see much. Besides, I
can't go down the stairs unless I hold on to the railing." The light on the ceiling flickers and gets darker and brighter again for a second. "And everything tastes like shit! But I'm sick anyway
all the time." He is only 63 years old. "This is no life anymore."
As I sit in the bathroom, I feel cold as ice, even though the window is closed.
"I don't know why he doesn't go to his chemo therapy anymore," my grandpa says. How do you tell your family and friends that you have decided to die? I think about it while I drive home in the dark. I didn't try to talk him out of it. His voice was calm. His look serious. I see how bad he is doing. Maybe I would do the same thing. Would I? When I get home, I pour myself a glass of wine. Fortunately, I have my partner and my best friends to talk to.
It's January. My grandpa is turning 95. There's cake, buns and a great get-together with family and neighbors. Once again, he can't sit on his butt for even five minutes and keeps asking if anyone wants coffee. He only needs glasses when he is reading for a long time because his eyes are still like those of an eagle. He has subscribed to more science magazines than I do get newsletters in my inbox. In the morning he was working with the saw in the garage. Then he tells me randomly that he painted the entire balcony.
"But I could have done that! I am renovating anyway!" I'm throwing my hands in the air. A month ago, I bought a Tiny House and I'm working on it day and night.
"Oh, come on!" Grandpa says and jumps up. "Does anybody want some more coffee?"
My uncle is putting a piece of cake on his plate. His hair grew back. He tells stories about his involuntary business trips to Turkey with his well-known black humor. Almost everything seems to be normal. He's alright, I keep telling myself in my mind. He is fine - now. Even though by now everyone knows what's going on and what's going to happen. Just nobody knows when.
In March I am on a great road trip across Europe with my fiance. Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Ennepetal.
"Great, I'll meet your dad, your grandpa and your uncle at the same time. It's like doomsday," he says jokingly.
"Oh, if somebody says something stupid, I will simply not translate it and laugh silly," I calm him down sarcastically. My boyfriend only speaks English and my family. . . not so much.
We're driving across the A42. My boyfriend thinks the road markings in Germany are yellow because the whole Ruhr Area is a construction site.
My grandpa got the fine dishes out. We drink coffee and my dad suddenly speaks English quite well. He obviously had me on all the time by telling me that he didn't understand a word! Then we want to take a family photo. There is great laughter about setting up a tripod. My uncle jumps around, talks, laughs. More than he had in a long time.
As some of you wise guys probably know, my boyfriend is a little bit older than me. But even if my family sometimes questions my sanity about my lifestyle ("You want to travel across the entire USA for four months by yourself?!", "You have just bought a house?!"), there is no question that our family sticks together. It becomes an incredibly funny afternoon. At the end my dad hugs my boyfriend who tells him that he is invited to the USA anytime.
A week later, my dad sends me an e-mail. My grandpa seems having trouble understanding my uncle. Maybe he just needs a hearing aid. But I'm concerned. Dad and I are going to see what's going on. My uncle seems scatterbrained, mumbles, is absent. Nobody knows what kind of medication he is currently taking because he makes a mystery out of many things. Side effects?
Shortly after, at the hospital, the truth: metastases. In the brain. Irreversible. I have five weeks to go until I fly to the USA to see my boyfriend for five months.
I lie awake at night. Thoughts about life, death, sense and nonsense of many things, morality, euthanasia, saying goodbye, decisions and fear are racing through my head.
I keep going back to the hospital. Every time, my uncle gets worse. The doc is still considering radiotherapy, but my uncle is too weak. At first he can still sit, drink, talk a little. Then everything fades.
"The trees turn green," he says once and I almost have the feeling he smiles. Every time I come, he looks ten years older. "Yes, it's spring," I say. Then I tell him about flowers and a bird of prey in the park. I don't know how much he still gets. Sometimes I'm visiting with my dad. Sometimes alone. I squeeze his hand every time I leave. At the beginning he is waving. Then he just squeezes back a slightly. One day he barely speaks and looks completely through me. I try to talk to him, but without success. "He hasn't spoken to me either," my dad says. I'm not giving up. Slowly I get out my phone and show my uncle a photo of my Tiny House.
He's looking up. "House," he says quietly. "In Kamp-Lintfort." It's the last thing he will ever say to me. I still have the photo on my phone, although I have sold the house meanwhile.
One week before my flight, it is obvious that my uncle's living will will take effect. He never wanted to be fed "and kept alive by machines." My dad and I have long and intense discussions about the paper. I read all the details at home. It's consequent. And somehow, just the way I'd like it to die as well. Signed at a time when everything was fine. Extremely hard when the situation occurs in real life.
I'm going to see him one last time. I know it's the very last time. I sit with him. It pisses me off that he's in a shared room and there's always someone with us. Then I just
talk to him. I tell him where I'm going and why. He's not responding, but I don't care. I put my hand on his forehead and look at him. "We will meet again. Someday. I know that. Don't be silly in
the meantime, okay?"
Then I storm out of the room into the park and stop on a big rock. Everything is nothing. I want to cry and I can't. Life is an asshole sometimes.
My grandpa and grandma built a house together in the 60s. Yes, by themselves. My grandma at the concrete mixer. See, I am not the only nutcase in this family. After my grandma died in 2013, my grandpa lived downstairs by himself - my uncle upstairs in the attic flat. I'm pondering. "I can't move in," I say to my boyfriend. We're sitting in the car staring at the Rocky Mountains. "I just bought the Tiny House."
"You put so much work into it," friends and family say. "It looks so cozy in your little cottage."
But a house is only an object. And objects don't mean anything to me anymore. My grandpa is 95. I haven't seen him much during the last years. Once a month or so. That's 12 times a year. That's nothing.
In October I am sitting on the plane back to Germany with a mission. On Tuesday for 20 hours in the air, on Friday with my grandpa in the living room.
"How's your house looking after the five months?" he asks.
"Oh, fuck the house," I say. "What would you say if I'd move in with you upstairs?"
My grandpa almost falls off the couch. Then he grins. "Yeah, really?" he asks.
Really. Four days later we start to rearrange and set up the former apartment of my uncle. Always by my side: Dad. With whom I am digging through numerous personal belongings of my uncle. "Wow, that's a whole life," he says with a photo album in his hand. We could laugh and cry at the same time.
At this point I want to send a big thank you to my dad, who is always there for me. Who is staying awake all night with me to get me to the airport at 3:00 am. Who is waiting for me for five months while I adventure around in the wilderness. Who sometimes thinks I'm simply crazy but always stands by me.
Also to my grandfather, who at the age of 95 is still running across the house, while it is close to midnight and I say goodbye to my friends at the door by almost falling
asleep. To my soulmate and fiance who, despite the gaping distance of almost 5.000 miles, is always there for me and has helped me through damn difficult moments this year with
his endless love and great conversations. To my best friends Dani, Alex and Sarah. That I can always get on your nerves and that nothing is too blatant to talk about with
Thanks to my uncle. Who showed me in his own tragic way how important it is to live before you die and to have the courage to make unpopular decisions. I'd only be half as good as I am without those wonderful people in my life.
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