Glossen 23

“Awa’s Mother”
Aus: Hans Joachim Schädlich, Anders, Reinbek: Rowohlt Verlag, 2003
(pp. 94 – 106)

Awa said, ”My mother spent twelve and a half years in a retirement home. She moved to the home when she was seventy-six years old; she died there when she was eighty-nine. When she was in her mid eighties, she began to forget.
She was happy about every visitor, although she sometimes did not know anymore who visited. It was the visit itself that brought her joy.
I asked her during the visit, ‘Are you content?’ She answered, ‘Yes, sure. I am not interested in details anymore.’ And after a short pause: ‘So sad and so much fun.’
She said, ‘I don’t pray anymore. I have become an atheist.’
‘I realized that praying doesn’t do any good. You have to get things done yourself. If you don’t praying won’t do a bit of good.’
‘You at your age. What do you still wish to get done.’
‘Is it true that I have no place I call home anymore?’
‘I don’t remember anymore who my home is. My home is my tv.’
I took a picture of her. She asked, ‘Why are you doing that?’
‘For me and for you. I will put the picture on my desk. And next time I will bring you a copy. Then you can see who you are.’
‘Who was my husband?’
‘Look at the photo over your bed. This man was your husband. Your husband was my father.’
Suddenly she started to sing, ‘All the birds are here again, all the birds, all of them. But one of them is missing.’
‘My oldest.’”
I glanced at Awa. He said, “You know my two brothers and my sister. My oldest brother visited my mother only once. Then he let us know that he had no desire to have a look into his future.
Three month later, my mother greeted me in the retirement home with the sentence: ‘If I had known that you would come, I would have cooked you something nice.’
I asked her, ‘Are you hungry?’
‘I am not really hungry,’ she answered, but I am a little hungry.’
I gave her the photo that I had made of her recently. She glanced at it for a long time. Finally she said, ‘Looking at this picture – there is something missing.’
‘What is it?’
We fell silent. Suddenly she said, ‘I have to go to the bathroom. I think I already did it in my pants.’
‘Oh dear,’ I said, ‘that is too bad.’
When we parted she said: ‘Bring a photo of yourself along next time.’
‘I will do that. Then you can always see how bald I’m getting. My grandfather was bald too.’
‘Well, she said, ‘there you have a wonderful reminder of your grandfather.’
‘The next time I visited her wasn’t until two months later. She said: ‘Life is only worth living when one has children. My daughter visits me often. I get a lot from that. It was worth it to have her. I don’t recognize you at all because you come so seldom. My oldest son, however, is here constantly.’
‘Excuse me, he hardly ever comes here. I’d really appreciate it if you remembered who I am.’
‘Who are you?’
‘Your youngest son.’
‘I see, you are my youngest son.’
‘You remember?’
‘Didn’t I just prove that?’
‘Well, my youngest son was our most refined son. He never sang songs. He was much too proper. He also was very... well, he was always afraid of insulting somebody.’
All of a sudden, I noticed that the middle button of my sports coat was hanging by a thread. I said, ‘Oh, the button on my jacket is falling off. If I had a wife, she could saw it back on.’
‘There you can see how pathetic you are. As soon as you lose a button, you need a wife.’
She bid me farewell with the question, ‘Do you know, what you have?’
‘You have too little hair on you head.’

On my next visit – it was a warm July day -- I took my mother, who could only take the shortest steps by then, for a stroll through the expansive park at the retirement home. I guided her, walking arm in arm. After a quarter of an hour, we sat down on a shady bench. All kinds of people were walking in the park: residents with their relatives or their caregivers.

My mother asked me, ‘Do you need a wife?’
‘Otherwise I would have said: Take one from here; there are plenty running around. Best would be a nurse. You can use her later, too.’
On our way back to the building, an aged woman stopped us and asked me: ‘Well, how is your dear wife today?’
Only four weeks later, on a Sunday in August, my sister and I went on an outing to a lake with my mother. We went to the restaurant there and had coffee on the terrace.
There was a distinguished looking family at the adjoining table; a large noble dog which occasionally made whimpering sounds, had positioned itself beside their table. My mother said, ‘This is a dog with good manners; it barks slowly.’
She asked me what my last name is. ‘The same as yours’, I said.
‘My name is something else.’
‘What is it?’
She said a name.
‘That is your maiden name,’ I said. ‘But your married name is...’
She interrupted me and said, ‘One of these days I have to swim across the lake to wash off the married name. But maybe I’ll drown, then I won’t need a name anymore.’
On her 85th birthday, we wanted to take my mother on an outing again. My sister had the ambition to dress Mother in a beautiful summer dress. This was a cumbersome process, and Mother shouted impatiently: ‘If it takes you much longer to get me dressed, I’ll go naked.’
On the way, my mother enjoyed the landscape and the villages. She said, ‘Wherever I go in the world, I look around. I’ll settle down where it is the cleanest. Especially where they cook the cleanest way.’
We went to an inn. Mother was dissatisfied with the dining room. She said loudly, so everyone could hear: ‘Is this a whore house?’ The other guests looked up.
At the dinner table, my mother pointed at my sister and asked me, ‘Who in the world is this woman. She has such a gentle face.’
During dinner, my mother started to sing: ‘I lost my heart in Heidelberg…’ In response to my sister’s question about how she knew this song, she answered: ‘My son taught me when I was still a child.’
When we left, I helped her rather clumsily into her summer coat. She barked at me: ‘That hurts! I don’t like you!’
As we were leaving the retirement home in the evening, Mother said to us: ‘Don’t leave me all alone. I am afraid of all these strangers here.’
At our next visit, Mother asked how old she was. My sister told her: ‘85 years!’ Mother laughed and said: ‘I haven’t been that old in my whole life.’
When we left the retirement home, the station nurse wanted to talk to my sister in private. I stepped aside, and they spoke with one another.
My sister told me that the nurse confided in her that several of the residents had complained about our mother. Why? Mother allegedly had gone to the lounge around lunchtime and had asked the old women present: ‘Hey girls, have you fucked yet today?”
I said to Awa: “Did your mother ever talk like this in her former life?”
“I have never heard anything like this come out of her mouth.

During my next visit, I introduced myself to Mother with my first name. She said: ‘I didn’t know you could fake it so well. Aren’t you already dead?’

Then she asked me: ‘How long ago was it when I was still alive?’

‘But you are alive!’

No, no, that is too long ago.’

I had brought her a box of the best chocolates. She accepted it with the sentence: ‘Did you buy them or steal them? Stolen chocolates can’t bring me any joy.’

I assured her that I had never stolen anything. But she laughed at me, saying that in the past I had stolen things constantly. I was annoyed, but I didn’t say anything.

She ate a good half of the chocolates in thirty minutes. It was difficult to watch. I said, ‘You eat chocolates, and I get a bellyache.’

She answered: ‘This is a telepathic violence.’

Anyway, some chocolate had collected in the corners of her mouth. I don’t like to look at things like that, so I gave her a napkin and asked her to wipe her mouth. She said,‘You are a per…per… perfectionist, a real monkey. This is boring.’

I was still contemplating this sentence when she said, ‘You sit there like a scared idiot.’

‘You could be right. You intimidate me.’

She responded: ‘I! How can I intimidate you. You are not a baby.’

In addition, I told her that her oldest son, at sixty-five, was still afraid of the retirement home. She responded, ‘Then we have to have him operated on. We have to cut out his fear.’

For a long time, I had no desire to visit Mother. My sister, however, continued to go to Mother’s almost every day. She brought Mother the news of her most beloved cousin’s death at the age of eighty-five. Mother laughed heartily about the news of her death.”

“I would like to know how to understand all of this,” I said.

“The personality changes.”

“That is obvious.”

“Some things are deteriorating, getting lost.”

“The learned social behavior.”

“And the ‘normal’ emotional responses. And self-control. Other characteristics remain intact and are exposed, characteristics that are no longer masked.”

“The reason for the degradation….”

“Degenerative brain processes. Organic brain damage. Brain loss, to put it simply.”

“Ask God for my sake to stamp out Satan,” I said.

“Are these your own words?”

“No, Luther’s.”

Awa said, “We are still fresh and live like princes.’ From Luther, too.

I didn’t visit my mother again until three months later.

In front of the room next door sat a new resident. He held his guitar in a cramped manner. I wanted to be friendly and made a big mistake; I asked him to play a tune, which caused him to break out in panic.

My mother and I took the elevator to the basement. There is a little café, and I wanted someone to serve her cake. Mother tripped at the doorway to the elevator. If I had not caught her, she would have fallen badly. I was terrified, but she laughed.

When we were back in her room, I read the Apostles’ Creed to her. After the words ‘…risen from the dead, gone to Heaven…’ she said: ‘… risen and gotten moldy…’ and she laughed.

After that I did not continue to read.

My sister told me that the man with the guitar was ninety years old, a former guitar teacher. She said: ‘One day he disappeared. The nurses searched the ward – without avail. Before dinner, he was finally found. He had taken a nap in our mother’s bed. Undismayed, Mother sat in front of the tv watching a sports show. Asked why she had not kicked the guitar teacher out, my mother answered, “Old men are better in bed than young ones.”’

At my next visit, four months later, Mother immediately asked me whether I was her husband.

‘No, I am your son.’

‘Well, then you can leave now.’

I had brought sugared strawberries. She loved those. She said: ‘Oh, how happy I am! But who knows how long this happiness will last. Then there will be a black-bordered announcement.’


“Because so many people die here. They die very fast. Just like monkeys.’

I was tired from the trip. She noticed that and said: ‘Hello, you pathetic customer .’

I helped her into her wheelchair and took her again to the park on the grounds of the retirement home. She said, ‘Beautiful weather today. The Lord is still faithful to us.’

We sat under an awning and watched the people.

A resident came closer. She told us that her son had died at the age of 55: ‘This is the worst thing that can happen to a mother. My son could not get over the death of his young wife after a caesarian. Drank himself to death. He had three engineering diplomas. An intelligent man.’

When the old woman was gone, my mother said: Finally! The old rascal!’

Through the garden came a younger woman. My mother said: ‘Who is the young woman?’ You can order her to come over here. Then you’ll have something to fuck.’

I didn’t want to say: ‘Mother, listen to how you talk,’ because I knew I could not take her out of her world. That’s why I only said: ‘I don’t like that woman.’

She answered: ‘Then order another one; there are plenty of stray women running around here.’

I asked her: ‘Isn’t there anything good about old age?’

‘Something like you. Who are you?’

‘Your son.’

‘There again, I learned something new.’

‘I am 25 years younger than you are.”

‘Then you are on old codger already.’

After a long break she added: ‘I don’t even know who I am and who I was. I feel quite childish.’

“Didn’t you ever have the desire to be rude to your mother? She cursed and insulted you,” I said.

“No, no. She would not have understood. I left her in her world. Deep down, I felt sorry for her. However, it became harder and harder to visit her. My sister is tougher. She visited Mother almost every day.

One time, my sister told me that Mother was afraid of all of the dogs.”

“Why dogs?”

Eventually, my sister discovered that there were pictures of dachshunds on a wool blanket. Those were what Mother didn’t want to look at anymore.

I didn’t visit Mother again until four months later. I brought her bananas and pudding. She did not say anything that day. She only wanted to eat the bananas and the pudding.

Two months later she became bed ridden. That made me visit her soon.

I had to wait in the hallway because Mother was being cared for. A patient who walked along the hallway with great effort stopped next to me and said, ‘You are a knowledgeable man. You will understand me.’

‘I am a man who is searching,’ I replied, but the man did not let himself be distracted.

‘I am alone’, he said. ‘Last year, my only brother died, this year my wife. Both from cancer. They simply went away and left me alone. I am healthy. But maybe I have cancer, too. You always believe it can only hit the others, and suddenly, you yourself are the one. My wife is calling me. But I don’t want to go up there yet. I don’t even know how it is up there.’

The conversation with my mother was brief. She asked me: ‘Why do you have such big ears?’

‘You passed them on to me.’

‘Nobody inherited anything from me. I am a poor old woman. I don’t even know anymore whether I have an ass. Maybe it is burnt already.’

‘Why would it be burnt?’

‘People wanted it to be a littler brighter.’

I remained silent.

Finally, she said: ‘Everything is going to be over soon. We will leave the house. But we have to wait a little more. Why do we still have to wait?’

I remained silent.

Two weeks later, my two brothers and I were ordered to come to the retirement home by my sister because Mother kept her eyes closed almost all of the time and constantly spoke about a farewell.

The oldest brother made a dismissive gesture with his hand. He also let it be known that he would not come to the funeral.

The middle brother and his wife came immediately from their town. He had not seen Mother in a long time and turned lovingly towards her. However, she said, ‘Who is this old geezer?’

‘Don’t you know who I am”?

‘An old monkey.’

The daughter-in-law wanted to cheer Mother up and said, “Four days from today is Christmas.’

Mother replied: ‘I don’t care. You can do whatever you want.’

In her 86th year, mother did not recognize anybody anymore except for my sister. She was made legal guardian of Mother by the local court. After that, only my sister visited Mother. One time when she said goodbye to Mother, Mother said, ‘If possible, stay away for a long time.’ – ‘Why?’ ‘To be alone feels best.’

On her 87th birthday, mother did not respond anymore to me, only to my sister. After two hours, we wanted to leave, and my sister said to Mother, ‘Are you going to be sad when we leave now?’ – ‘No,’ she said, ‘I am not sad.’ This was her only sentence that afternoon.

Three months later, I visited Mother again. My sister was there already. Mother looked at my sister as trustingly as a child looks at her mother. My sister asked Mother: ‘Did you sleep?’ –‘Yes.’ ‘Did you dream?’ – ‘Yes.’ – ‘What did you dream?’ – ‘That I was sleeping.’

At noon, my sister took on the nurses’ work and fed my mother. After lunch, my sister asked Mother to talk to me, too. Mother replied, ‘I don’t have any time.’

At her 88th birthday, Mother did not say anything anymore.

Eight months later, she stopped living.

(Translation by Wolfgang Müller and Jane Muller-Peterson)