It was on a Sunday, 13th December, 1981 when I first set eyes on Corinna and her boy-friend, Hanno Wismar. This was at the home of her step-brother, Svend and his wife, Gisela. A flat in the north of Hamburg. Corinna was 24 years of age and Hanno five years older. She was Ursula’s niece and Ursula, Julie and Cliff had known her as a child when they visited from Brazil where we lived. But I had been in Brazil at such times and so only met this vibrant, pixie-faced, titian-haired young woman later. In my diary was noted that while radiating vitality (or was it nervous energy?) there seemed a vulnerability in her that contrasted with the quiet, unassuming, sure,yet reserved Hanno.
Gisela was then pregnant with her and Svend’s first child who was to be named Kim. The evening was pleasant at Ursula’s and my first visit here and the younger generation were aware of the composite Englishman their German relative had married. I could see that Corinna and Hanno were interested and possibly amused.
After that meeting Ursula worked hard to maintain links with her German relatives and always paid for future visits to Hamburg for us and our children and, eventually, our grandchildren. These family visits began in 1983 when Julie and John accompanied us there.
And so, through the years, one by one our children and their families made the journey to Hamburg and close friendships began to be established.
Later, Hanno and Corinna came to England to visit and then Corinna brought over Svend and Gisela’s children, Kim, Nils and Linn and our family went over to all these childrens’ confirmation ceremonies.
We came to see in Corinna and Hanno’s relationship, which was both firm and loving, a mutual dependency, the balance of which changed over the years. In 1997 they decided to go through a marriage ceremony. There had been indications of depression in Corinna and hints of suicidal tendencies. She battled these moods and it was felt that marriage might help her to overcome these depressive bouts.
The wedding was on July 4th 1998 and eleven members of our family flew to Hamburg. Susannah had been born 5 days earlier on June 29th and the Coopers were unable to make the journey. It was a joyful occasion and we wished the happy couple many more years together.
There were to be less than seven. All seemed fairly much the same for some time, but Corinna’s mood swings did not lessen; rather they became more frequent and more acute and she was admitted, again and again for therapy and treatment. She made an attempt on her life once but survived and the family’s post-wedding hopeful expectations started to change to sombre concerns and it was on an evening in April 2005 that Ursula answered the phone to Gisela’s call  to learn that Corinna had been unable to endure more and had ended her life.
Ursula, Julie, Linie and I travelled to Hamburg for the funeral on 22nd April. We made our way to the beautiful, garden cemetery at Orlsdorf. There were many dozens of mourners standing about outside chapel 3 when we arrived on foot and hugged each waiting family member there, murmuring some words to each. A long wait ensued, seemingly for the arrival of Hanno’s brother and his family who were coming from some distance. Many of the women mourners  had brought one, long-stemmed rose and clutched these as they waited, some nervously smoking.
The inside of the chapel was a mass of flowers; a motif of sunflowers predominating, with wreaths on the ground and red roses on the waiting coffin. The woman pastor who had married them in such hope seven years before now conducted the funeral service. She read in low tones the attributes, relationships and struggles of Corinna. The music was of popular tunes, beloved by her, ‘midnight,’ ‘one day over the rainbow.’ There was only one German song that everyone joined in singing.

Meine Seele ist stille zu Gott, der mir hilft,
Meine Seele ist still zu Gott, der mir hilft,
Meine Seele is stille zu Gott.

I thought there was little emotional tension created at the service and it was just as well. Only Hanno seemed overwhelmed with the words of one particular song –

‘Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can’t I?’

A comforting hand from one of his brother’s daughters , sitting behind, rested on his shoulder and he seemed to recover.
As the service drew to an end I was surprised that the coffin stayed where it was. There was no closure, as there is in English services when it moves noiselessly away through draped curtains and the frisson this causes  is the climax of the service.
Hanno rose and went to stand momentarily before the coffin; then he stooped and selected a candle from a heap on the floor, lit it from an alter candle flame and moved through the seated mourners towards the door, shielding the flame with cupped hand.
One by one the congregation followed this act until everyone stood outside grouped together, each holding a lighted candle. The concentration in keeping the flame alight in the soft breeze kept a group focus of togetherness for a while until Hanno, speaking into the void, thanked those present for, ‘coming to help Corinna off on her journey,’
With the group fellowship altered a dispersal began, leaving the flower-bedecked chapel and the lonely coffin, containing such forlorn hope, at peace in the silence.

MAY 2005