“I would gladly go on living and would gladly accompany you a bit further on this earth. But then I would need a new task from God. The task for which God made me is done.”
I have published this message in many ways and read it to many people. I hoped that it would help them. I also hoped that it would allow them to understand the man that he was – the man I was proud to call my husband. Yet too many of them have misunderstood and the lack of sympathy has grown worse as the decades have become more unbuttoned. It fills me with a great anger, and with a profound sorrow, that people think that the words are tepid, too restrained; that they do not contain real love; that at the end he took the easy way out because he knew it was the only thing that he could do and capitulated while still paying lip service to his broken ideals.
He died sixty-four years ago, and I still live. I was young, but not very young, when it happened. I was already the mother of three boys. I was old enough to be considered guilty if I were caught helping him; mature enough to understand his aspirations; wise enough, even, to give him my blessing – though I could not have foreseen the empty space that he would leave as I lived on for so very many years.
I believe that I have led a useful life, if one that has been hollow. I have worked hard, for causes I believe in, and I think that he would have approved. Many years after his death, I took a lover (Eugen, an old friend of mine, whom he also knew), but we did not marry. I think that he would have approved of that, too – both of the relationship and of the fact that I have always kept my innermost, private self (as well as displaying my most public self) for him.
I do not know if we shall meet again. When he died, I believed passionately that we would. Now I am not so sure. I think that there is an afterlife, but I do not know if you can reach those whom you have not seen for so long, whose life you ceased to share many decades ago, even if you are still filled with love for them and they for you. Perhaps it may be that he has been watching me. I still believe that he is talking to me sometimes, but the conviction is of the intellect rather than of the emotions – it is as if I am able to place myself in his brain as I say, “What would Helmuth have done?” and my knowledge of his character, always so constant and open, tells me the answer.
I remember so well the day that we met. It was in 1929. The country was poor and demoralised. Helmuth himself had a bitter cross to bear – coming as he did from one of our most distinguished Junker families. To have lost the war was a disgrace for them. Helmuth did not speak of it much, but I am certain that this is why he became a lawyer instead of following the family tradition to become a soldier. He was a very fine lawyer – and generous and enlightened to me when I said that I wanted to study Law, too. He encouraged me every step of the way. We were married in 1931, but, unusually for a married woman then, I studied Law and did not start to have my babies until I had qualified.
My father was a rich and powerful man, but no aristocrat. He was a banker, but his work did not light him up. It merely provided the financial means for him to spend as much time as possible immersed in literature and the arts: interests which he shared with my mother. We spent our summer holidays at a hotel in the Grundlsee, always with a group of friends of my parents who had met to debate and study books and works of art.
In 1929, Helmuth became part of the group. He and I spent whole days walking, talking, laughing. He had to return to his legal studies while this rest of us remained on holiday, but he wrote to me almost immediately to say that he thought that we were kindred souls. I knew that he was right. I was never afraid of becoming a Gräfin: it seemed so natural for me to be able to complement the way that he lived, to enact what society expected of us both. I rejected the title after the war, though. It had become a mockery.
Footnote: I am away at a conference (day-job!) for five days from Saturday April 6th. I am continuing with the blog-posts, however. Regular readers of the blog may remember that one of the early posts was about how I trained for In the Family by writing a series of short stories, at Chris Hamilton-Emery’s suggestion. There are ten stories altogether, belonging to the theme of ‘The Village’. I’ve been revising them recently and may try to publish them. For each of these five days, I am posting on the blog the opening paragraphs of the first five. If you’d like to make any comments, they’d be extremely welcome; I’ll respond to them on my return.