Life, Death and Legacy

Lydia Valeria Rust
born 29th January 1927 in Birnai, CSSR
passed 27th June 2015 in Weimar, Germany

Lydia was my Grandmother. She died last week at the age of 88. She was cremated and laid to rest yesterday.

I wish I could show you a picture of her but my old photoalbums are all currently in the loft.

It is very difficult to describe how I feel about the death of my nana. She led a tough life, worked very hard and went through a lot in her lifetime. She told me a few stories which I shall share with you in a moment.

But… the first thing I feel is guilt.
Guilt, because I saw my nana for the last time when I was 17 years old. That was 10 years ago.

My nana played a very special part in my childhood. My mother was a single parent from when I was 5 years old. At that time my middle brother was 13 years old, spending most of his time playing handball and listening to music and my oldest brother was 17 and just starting his apprenticeship.
My mother worked in a retaurant as kitchen assistant 6 days a week from 10 am to 3 pm and from 5 pm to midnight, She worked christmas, the summer holidays … you get the point. Between the three of them they looked after me.
There was no one else close by to help as we had moved about 210 miles away from the rest of my mothers family only months before her marriage to my stepfather fell apart.

I didn’t have a bad childhood – I was fed and clothed, I went to a good school, had toys and friends and so on, but certain emotional things were missing. No one ever read me a bed time story or tucked me in at night or went to the park with me… They were there but they had their own interests or were rushed off their feet and since I was a very independant and confident child no one really worried about me. I often felt quite lonely…
My mother did the best she could but she was stretched thin and I dare say there were many occassions when she got her priorities slightly wrong – but who am I to judge ? – Parenting is so so hard and I can’t even begin to imagine having to do it on my own …
Anyway … My Grandmother came to visit us a couple of times a year for a few weeks at a time.She did it to help my mother out and when she around it was truly magical for me.
She. had. time.
She read to me, She tucked me into bed at night, she taught me how to cook and bake. She went for walks with me and taught me about birds and types of trees and showed me things to forage. She tried to teach me knitting, went over my homework with me and let me sit with her and talk while she mended jeans and hemmed trousers.
She did the things my mother had no time or energy for. And I loved her so so dearly for it.
She told me stories about the war and her youth. And I truly treasured the time I got to spend with her.

She was born right near the Elbe, one of the major rivers of central Europe. She was the youngest of 3 sisters and sadly orphaned at the age of 2. Her mother died of an illness that I cannot remember.
The 3 siblings were sent to their uncle who had a big farm and she often told me about her childhood there. How she used to watch the cows grazing, how they cut apples into rings and strung them out in front of the fire to dry so they would have apple chips all winter.
How their aunt and uncle were the wealthiest family within all the surrounding villages and yet her uncle contemplated every penny he spent.
When the war started she was a young woman and sent to train as a maid. She was an immaculate housekeeper all her life due to what she learned there as a young woman. She would show me how to fold laundry so that every item fitted into the shape of an A4 sized sheet of paper.
Her Laundry was always ironed (down to the underwear) and smelled of palmolive soap bars which she slid between the linen to make it smell fresh.
After her training she was sent to the mountains with a group of children as a sort of nanny to keep the children out of the bombing zones. She would tell me how she learned to ski and was trained in extensive first aid during her time there.

My Grandmother was a “Sudetendeutsche” which means she was of German ancestry. A while before the war many Germans were offered Land to cultivate in the CSSR and that is how she came to be born and raised there.
But there came a time during the second world war where the tables turned and those German Families were marched back to Germany with nothing but what they were able to carry on their backs. No money or valuable possessions apart from their wedding bands.
Her Uncle was a cobbler and she used to tell me how he took the sole of one of her boots’ heels to hide in it a necklace. I have this necklace now. It has a little hole in it where the nail went into the silver. I wore it as something old on my wedding day.


So this is how she ended up in Weimar. I’m not sure about the exact journey. I can’t remember her telling me that part…
She was an avid gardener and worked as a shopkeeper throughout her adult life. She had 3 children by 3 different men.
Her eldest son, my uncle,  was as I believe fathered by a soldjer that she lost contact with…
My mother was her middle child. My mothers’ father died in a motorcycle accident.
She married the father of her youngest daughter and loved him very much although he was an alcoholic and made her life far from pleasant.

My mother bears a lot of resentment towards him and the choices her mother made during that perid of time, but I still remember my nana speaking fondly of him and his love of dancing and cake … He died of cancer in the end – long before I was born – so I never met him…

So you see – quite a life.
She bore 3 children. She has 8 grandchildren and to this day 7 great grandchildren with one more on the way 😉

She was a strict but funny and patient woman – at least that’s how I know her. You had to take her with a pinch of salt and mind your manners in her presence but as I said she was very very dear to me.
I remember how she used to make me proper english tea with cream and sugar in a white china cup that had an orange and gold chinese style dragon on it.
She could cook the most delicious food – a lot of it had an eastern european twist … due to her heritage and upbringing. I remember dishes like bloff – a fried rice and beef dish, borscht – and beetroot and cabbage soup, Schinkenfleckel – a tagliatelle and ham dish served with apple sauce.
There were cakes and pastries that make my mouth water just thinking about. And I always remember how she used to take such great care when making them … She never wasted an ingredient or got in a flap – her baking was always calm and precise …
At christmas time she would bake a huge box full of all sorts of biscuits such as vanilla half moons and a type of jammy dodger and cinnamon stars and then keep the box under her bed.
When we came to her house she would wink at me and indicate for me to follow – I would silently follow her to the bedroom where she got out the box and let me choose a biscuit. I’d look at her and she’d wink at me again – encouraging me to take another …

Her bedroom was always ice cold – she never closed the window in there …

I’m sorry if this is somewhat longwinded – the more I type the more I remember (and well up) …

But I was talking about guilt before … so let me explain …
When I was 14 we moved back to Weimar. After living away for 9 years and a very sour end to a long term relationship – my mother made the decision to move back home. We then lived just down the road from my nana so we got to spend a lot of time with her again which I loved.
But a few years later she started to change. She developed very peculiar habits, got into trouble with debt which was very very unlike her and picked fights with family members. I was in the middle of my A-levels by then and had other things on my mind. So I became a bystander of an increasingly intense rift in my family …
As a family we got the impression that she had become resentful and bitter and started to spend less time with her to avoid arguments. My nana became very difficult to reason with and as a result my mother developed a very strained relationship with her. She was also still working very hard day and night and couldn’t handle the upset in her free time i suppose … so we pretty much almost stopped seeing her in the end.
Very shortly after this I met Craig and not after that I moved to England.

A year or so later, during a phone call with my mum she told me that my grandmother had been taken into a secure ward at the local hospiatal because she had been found wandering the streets aimlessly. She had been diagnosed with dementia and was assigned a social worker who recommended she be taken into a care home that specialised in dementia care.
This was a big shock for us but it also explained a lot of her behaviour in the past few years.
My mother went to visit her several times but she felt guilty and couldn’t handle seeing her mother in the state she was in. She was very well looked after from a care point of view but it was still heartbreaking for my mother to watch. Neither my brothers nor me ever went to visit her after this. I can’t quite explain why … I can only speak for myself but there was a lot of guilt there.
And then there was this part of me who wanted to remember her as she was – my nana who had time for me when I was little, who smelled of palmolive and made me english tea. I could not bring myself to go and see her – a shell of herself, I don’t even really want to think about it …
It makes me feel incredibly selfish and cowardly and guilty. I learned so much from her but could not muster up the courage to go and see her.

Shortly after I moved to England I began work in an elderly care home, I was there for about a year and I witnessed a lot of suffering, heartbreak and pain there and I just did not want to see her that way… Oh sweet denial and ignorance. Still everyone makes their own decisions and at least this way I have no distorted picture haunting me – i’ll always remember her as the person she was for me.
I have been thinking about her a lot since finding out about her death.

Death scares me … It petrifies me … It takes my breath away and makes me feel utterly depressed.
I considder myself a christian – I believe in christian values and am familiar with its teachings and stories…

I believe the bible to be a book full of metaphors intended to teach you how to live a good life. I identify with christian values such as kindness, humility, compassion and forgiveness. I suppose they are human values really…  Anyway – but as for God and life after death … I’m not so sure

The scary part about death for me is the fact that no one knows what happens afterwards. I’m a realist and I believe in science and so I fear that after death there is nothing. As such I shouldn’t be scared since I won’t be around to experience it… And yet – I’m not as arrogant as to believe that as humans we know everything and understand everything … and therefore I can’t be sure that there isn’t something after life and death that we don’t know about.
The fact is that no one knows …
We work hard all of our lives to achieve certain things… Some people want to make money, some want to see the world, some want to enjoy the journey and surround themselves with love and happiness, some want to live on in their children and childrens children, some don’t want children at all, some just do what is expected of them – but in the end what is it really all for ?
My Grandmother enjoyed old movies, She loved crime and thrillers – she was forever trying to figure out “whodunit”, she loved crosswords and sweets and enjoyed listening to music. She’s seen some remarkable things and achieved a lot in her life despite so much hardship.

I would like to think that her life was far from wasted, that all her hard work was worth it and her continued efforts paid off. My passion for cookery and baking certainly has an awful lot to do with her, She is the reason why storytime and tucking my children into bed at night is such an important part of my day.
I know from her how much it means to a child that someone is just there … interested in their little worlds, paying attention to their questions, letting them be part of your grown up world whenever possible, slowing down to their pace.
I loved her very much, She touched my life in a way she will never really understand, but if she is out there somewhere watching – Then I hope she is proud of what she achieved and I hope that she can smile with satisfaction at the ripples that her drop of life inspired …

I truly hope you rest in peace !

Until next time …

Ta da