Friday, March 4, 2011

Death Revisited

Many persons may question what it is like to go back to their traumatic scene, since avoidance is one of the characteristics of the post traumatic process. In this blog I will reflect on Annelie's experiences, and in the next, on one of my own.

After we were married Annelie wanted to show me where she had grown up. It was not 90% destroyed, as was Frankfurt, but her apartment house was among those in the immediate area that received a direct hit. She was born on the night of the first bombing raid of Wiesbaden and spent probably half of the nights in the next four years in the basement, along with her mother, grandmother, and the seventeen others who lived there.

Her old home is about two blocks from the hotel in which we like to stay. I was aware of several places on the way that were sites of life threatening experiences of an overwhelming nature. When I saw a heavy dark door opening into a hillside, I knew what Annelie was remembering.

When we pushed the bell of one of the apartments the door was rung open by an elderly friend Annelie had telephoned. We went first into the basement; there was still the old door that was blocked by a beam one night during a raid; there was the small upper basement window where the twenty one of them had forced their way out of the basement.

Upstairs, I met her friend. They chatted quietly, sharing remembrances of her mother and grandmother, drinking coffee and having cake in the time honored German custom. At some point the older woman noticed my looking at a faded photograph on the table. She picked it up and handed it to me. It was of a young man with a boyish face, dressed in the uniform of a German border guard. Annelie translated the words about her husband, who had died in the war. She need not. I had such long experiences as a young American pastor. I already knew the words by heart, the tone of voice, the long silences. I think they are the same, the world over.

How does a person survive in a healthy way from such long and brutal experiences? I knew that once, on her way to work, that she had been caught in a trolley in a traffic jam. The doors were automatically closed; the large windows were sealed, leaving only the small upper ventilation ones. A flashback erupted – and then Annelie realized that her phobia about closed places was a transference from those basement nights. With that insight she gained command of herself and went on to reaffirm the healing process again and again.

Insight: that is vital, isn’t it? More vital still, is my observation, are the interpersonal relationships. Thinking about Paul’s whole life story, where do you think he came out?

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