Today is Herlinde’s birthday and since we are traveling, I will not be able to visit her to wish her personally, give her a big hug and spend time with this wonderful and inspiring friend I am blessed to know.
I have lived in Germany on and off now for over 18 years and have moved house 5 times in this period. As a mixed couple with no kids (and now a huge dog), its not easy to find something we are looking for in an area of our choice. Although it took us longer to find something some of the times, we have always been blessed with good landlords who were open minded, uncomplicated and treated us with respect (which should be the norm but unfortunately isn’t). Herlinde however was, and is, someone very special.
She was our landlord before I left Germany for Stockholm (and then later Shanghai) and we were neighbours for over 5 years. When I first met her I was struck by the warmth and love in her eyes, even though one sensed that she had gone through a lot. It was an instant connection, something that I experience very rarely in Germany, where I am often looked at with distrust, met with prejudice and hostility. We became closer over the years even though I used to work a lot and was hardly at home. Very often I would come home to a freshly mowed garden, neatly trimmed and watered roses and plants. She knew that I normally worked long hours, Bernd traveled a lot and for her it was a small thing to do when she was mowing her own garden or trimming her roses (the first time before she did this, she checked with us if that would be OK for us 🙂 )
One day, soon after we moved in, she told me the reason for the pain that I had sensed when I first met her. She was 37 years old when she lost her only child in a car accident – he was a month short of his 16th birthday, his friend was driving, it was a rainy day, wet leaves on the street, a curve, trees on the side of the road, the car skidded and crashed against a tree, the driver survived but he didn’t. And this happened just about two kilometres away from his home.
The death of a child, and that too an only child, is one of the most painful experiences that someone can go through and has broken many a strong soul. She however sold the B&B she was running at that time, decided to do something „useful“ with her life, trained to become a nurse and then chose to work with old people. She continued building the houses that she had started to build for herself and her son – literally threw herself into physical work to deal with her loss.
We moved into one of these houses 9 years after his death. We had many friends that visited us when we lived there (at times we had over 30 grownups and 20 kids running around) and everyone thought it was a beautifully built home with lovely little details. She enjoyed seeing the house filled with love and laughter and told me often that she was so glad to have us as her tenants.
We talked many times about her loss, how she dealt with the grief and pain, about forgiveness and moving on, about how not to build walls to protect ones heart from pain and hurt. She did not move away from the village although many told her to make a fresh start far away from where it all happened.
We also laughed a lot together, talked about everything under the sun and she enriched my life in so many ways. She knew about my dream to have a dog but that I was working long hours and hardly ever at home.
When I moved back to Germany from Shanghai (Bernd had come back a year before and was living in a small apartment), she was very unhappy that she did not have a house free for us. It was her personal recommendation that got us the house that we were living in before we moved to our current one. We visit each other every now and then and when we brought Jaden home, she was one of the first people we took him to meet. She was so happy to see that I had finally fulfilled a dream of mine and needless to say, she adores him 🙂
Last year we moved house again and now live even closer to where she lives. We don’t meet as often as we would like to, but every time I meet her I am struck by her tremendous strength, the love, generosity and gentleness that she radiates – all this in such a “little” person. She reminds me that even if you go through the darkest tunnel of pain and despair, there is always hope and light at the other end; that you have to go through the pain and not ignore or bury it; that becoming bitter and hardening ones heart is NOT the way out. She has shown me that even if one loses what is most precious to one, one can still overflow with love for others.
Happy birthday Herlinde and thank you for your warmth, the inspiration that you are, the love and the light that your friendship brings to my life.