This is something that I had posted on Facebook in November 2015 and its about one of the inspiring people I am blessed to know:
I will be boarding an intercontinental flight from Munich tomorrow and I cannot help thinking about my dear friend Helga who also boarded an intercontinental flight from Munich four years ago today. She was flying to Shanghai to spend a week with me. She is one of my dearest and “oldest” friends and I have known her now for over 15 years. She is an amazing woman and this trip to Shanghai was one of the most precious gifts I have received from her.
Bernd had mentioned in one of his posts recently about his heart attack in 2009* and how I was the only one there for him. I stood by him, gave up the life that I was beginning to build for myself in Stockholm and returned to Munich to help him get back on his feet. What I did had nothing to do with romanticism or about being “Christian”. The years after the attack were emotionally and physically exhausting for me and I had already been drained out from the years before. However not only was it taken for granted that I returned to Munich to help Bernd but I was also dealing with all the “well meant” advice and people telling me what was “expected” of me. The only real support that I had then was from two or three friends, some colleagues and ex-managers. My ex-managers saw that I had gone back to Munich to a life of “living in chains” again. So they offered me the opportunity to work in Shanghai to help me get away and give me a “real” chance to build up something new.
Moving to Shanghai brought huge challenges for me, professionally and privately. I took on a responsible job for which I had no former experience and I was also the breadwinner of the family since Bernd did not find a job there. I was also back in a culture where women are expected to sacrifice everything for their husbands. After an emotionally and physically exhaustive year in a country very foreign to me, Bernd had another setback and was admitted into hospital again when he was in London for an interview. This happened in August 2011 and again I was the one getting him back on his feet all alone (this time without any medical help!), in a foreign country, being attacked by “friends” who were blaming me for it all (even though they knew about our relationship and history), or telling me it was my turn to be strong (ignoring the fact that in the past 18 years I had been the strong one). And again it was my managers and a couple of colleagues who were there for me.
Helga was one of the few friends that I had back then who did not “fall for” appearances, who cared for me and who saw that this was all too much for me to handle alone especially after what I had gone through.
Helga is someone who generally travels either by train, bike or car. She does not deal well with flights, with unfamiliar countries, weather and food. Plus she is working in finance, which means that there is a lot to do at the end of the year and vacation is difficult. But in spite of all the hurdles (getting a visa to China is not the easiest!), misgivings and fears, she managed to get a week of vacation and boarded that plane to Shanghai four years ago!!!
She arrived in Shanghai and Bernd left for Europe shortly after that (he had got a job back here). Knowing what I was going through and that she was coming, my manager told me to take time off although it was one of the busiest periods of the year. The time that she and I had together was just amazing. We had a fabulous and carefree week in Shanghai – exploring new places, stitching new clothes at the Fabric Market, long spa sessions, high tea at five star hotels, things that girlfriends do together! We talked late into the night, laughed together, cried together and there was no well-meant advice, no accusations, no negative discussions, no “I told you so”, no “you have to be strong”, no “we all have our problems, no relationship is perfect” or no “it will all work out for the good”……. she was simply there for me and enveloped me in her love and friendship.
Being someone who had got used to always being strong, being emotionally alone, taking on huge responsibilities without hesitating, never thinking about myself; I had not noticed that I was burning the candle on both ends and the candle was getting dangerously short. In hindsight, Helga saved me from a total breakdown. The time with her gave me the strength to stay for yet another year in Shanghai. One of my ex-managers always said that I am someone who can run miles on a little bit of support and praise ☺
This precious week with her also taught me a lot about truly being there for someone, about asking myself what I can concretely do to help someone in need and not leaving them alone with “well-meant” advice, about what true friendships are about. And it started the process of my removing myself from people who use me, judge me superficially assuming that my happiness and joy comes from my circumstances, people who think that I am a happy person because I have a “perfect husband and life” (even though they have been told otherwise), people who love to tell me that I am to blame for all that has happened to me, people who want to enchain me with what “tradition” or “culture” requires of me.
The amazing thing is that Helga doesn’t think that she is special or unique; for her what she did was perfectly “normal” because she cared for me and asked herself how she could help. And she is wonderfully creative in the ways she shows she cares ☺ It took some convincing that I can write about what she did for me in Shanghai here. Some day I hope to write more about the wonderful ways her friendship has enriched my life.
Today I am blessed to have a handful of very good friends (and some family) who truly care for the person I am, friends who don’t just assume things on the basis of appearances, friends who truly care about where I am.
Thank you Helga that you put aside all your fears and got onto that plane four years ago.; it gave me the strength to carry on! I am so blessed to have such a loving, beautiful and precious friend like you!
* Bernd had a major heart attack in 2009 and he was just 44 at that time. It was very unexpected because he was fit, not a bit overweight, no family history, no high cholesterol or blood pressure, sporty and way too young.