Christian Heilmann

Life is short and our mind is fleeting

The last weekend sucked and made me reconsider a lot of things in my life. Instead of being on stage at the landing festival talking about great web things I had to go see my family for an emergency.

On Saturday we put the urn with my father’s ashes in the ground. That was a bad thing, but at least it was foreseeable. My father was a fighter. He survived two bypasses, and three rounds of chemotherapy. His bladder was gone and he was on oxygen support because of his failing lungs. A life full of hard work as a coal miner and factory worker took its toll. Smoking three packs of cigarettes a day didn’t help either. Still he prevailed for a long time, but he had no joy in life any longer. He had no hobbies, he had nothing to do once work was over. He spent his whole life working and providing for the family.

The more devastating thing me to see is that my mother is rapidly going through the different stages of dementia. Standing next to her as the remains of her husband got lowered into the earth and having her ask why we are there was a kick to the gut. Seeing the person who taught you Math and how to read and write fail at basic addition and substraction scares the hell out of you. Having to explain the clock to that person and reminding them that they already had food and that it isn’t the time for medication yet is also gut-wrenching. Especially when that person still is under the impression that the pills will make everything well again.

Everything will not be well again. How can it? Maybe there will be a bit of an improvement if the right chemicals rewire that wonderful brain of hers again. But, all in all, this is a downward spiral.

And while there is an overwhelming amount of information online telling us that dementia isn’t hereditary, it makes you think. A lot, in my case.

I am now 44 years old and I have had quite a ride. I’ve traveled a lot, I lived in many different places. I got sloppy, fat and lost the weight again. I was a vegetarian for a long time until my doctor pointed out that I lack a lot of things in my blood that a carnivorious diet can help with. I now go the gym whenever I can, I am a non-smoker, but I drink. Leisurely, of course, and I don’t like drinking at home. I am on no medication with the exception of hayfever pills in the summer. I am actually pretty lucky.

Seeing the two people who made me fade before my eyes still scares the hell out of me. What will I be like at that age? I am financially covered and the German health system has provided well so far for my parents. But what will stay of my thoughts and memories? What will I do when the things that make me excited now don’t mean anything any longer?

There are no answers, but there are a few things I want to do much more of and maybe it helps sharing those.

About the last bit. Two things that impressed me lately were a book on the matter and a talk. Let’s first have the talk.

Guy Winch’s “How to practice emotional hygiene” is a great, short talk reminding ourselves that cleaning up our thoughts is as important as keeping our bodies germ free. This is often as easy as distracting yourself when a dark thought of self-doubt comes and does help.

The book I enjoyed is Gary John Bishop’s “Unfuck yourself”. I am not a big fan of self-help books. Often they are too rah-rah for me and very “American” in a “you are a tiger, go and maul the world and your bad feelings” fashion. This one is much simpler. I managed to read it in a day on vacation and it comes with seven simple affirmations that aren’t only “you can do this”, but more of a “why the fuck are you doing this”. Gary has been a coach for decades and helped a lot of people with more problems than you and me and this short book has some good, practical advice.

So, anyone for collecting some good memories?