You either lose it completely…

In 1941 a book called ”Escape from Paris” was published in Sweden.

It was written by Lo Håkansson, a Swedish journalist.

For some time I have wanted to quote a piece in her book, about something she experienced during World War II, it was the bombing of a train station in Tours, France, with many casualties.

”When it was all over, I sat down at the same place where I had been standing all the time.

I was terrified over my self. How could one become so apathetic so one could calmly look at the shambles, calmly look at how the dead and wounded were carried away.

I did not understand my self any longer. I thought I knew my self rather well, and although I was sort of prepared for experiences, such as the ones I had just lived through, I had expected that some kind of reaction would appear.

That there didn´t seem to be any reaction at all, I assumed depended on a lack of feelings and compassion.

It wasn´t until much later that it dawned on me, that this was the way I reacted. You either lose it completely in sight of all these insane war experiences, or you become like a stone.”

I had a similar reaction, when it came to HIV/AIDS.

So many people died. It was funeral after funeral. And after a while I didn´t feel anything. It was time for me to go.

And still the experiences I had were limited in comparison to what the hospital staff and volunteers experienced in San Francisco, with so many people dying. I was allowed to be an observer at a Care for Caregivers workshop in San Francisco in 1987, and saw people there that were stuck in grief, overwhelmed by all the death, unable to cry.

In the end, after my son was born in 1990 – having interviewed and followed sick and dying people all through my pregnancy – I decided to not get to know any new people with HIV/AIDS, just keep on following the people I already knew.

Eventually I started to feel again, remembering certain things that moved me, like…

Ron making a final grand gesture, because it can´t be over, booking tickets to New York on the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth.

Torgny having decided to make it home by him self, hardly being able to lift his foot on to the pavement.

Carl asking me to read a poem at his partners funeral… ”If you have time”.

And Lars, whose self portrait covers my Swedish book, I can picture him sitting down, trying to dry him self after a shower, a little area at the time, having no strength.

Lars trying to strike up a conversation with an old neighbor over the fence, but the woman continues to walk…

Lars talking in the night, not understanding he is dying, not understanding his lungs are filling up, talking and talking, worried about someone else… until his partner realizes that he has died.

Memories, lines, reaching my heart.

I took these photos of Lars in Greece, 1980, about a year before his journey to New York, where he thought he got infected with the virus.

Författare: Pia-Kristina Garde

Born 1951, in Stockholm. Actress, author and libraryassistent. Retired from all, but Writing. In 1977 I published two books, one of them was a lay persons book on dying patients at a hospital in Stockholm, and at S:t Christopher´s Hospice, outside London. I have since then written one book about survivors from the concentration camps that came to Sweden in 1945, and several books about a Swedish author, Karin Boye (1900-1941).