Farewell Sonata

  • Photographer
    Mirja Maria Thiel
  • Prize
    3rd Place / Deeper Perspective/Deeper Perspective
  • Jury Top 5 Selection

    Stephen Perloff This is a sweet, tender, and loving story of those coping with old age and dementia of various kinds. These are the people Donald Trump and many Republicans like Dan Patrick want to sacrifice for the sake of the economy in the United States, while letting the pandemic rage. It is a fool's errand as there is no hope for the economy until the virus is brought under control.

"Farewell Sonata" tells the story of Gisela (79) and her husband Helmut (85) who has suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than 12 years. Since then, Helmut is cared for solely by his wife. Every year they travel to their sanctuary in Winterberg, a small town located in a low mountain range in midwestern Germany. The Workers’ Welfare Association has realised the necessity to make an hotel offer to family caregivers of demented and Alzheimer’s afflicted people who are mostly in an older age themselves and urgently need a time-out from exhausting every-day-routine with their loved ones.

Story

In autumn 2015, I first met Gisela and her disabled husband Helmut, a couple married for 61 years that had raised three children together. Twelfe years before Helmut had got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The first years with dementia were still fine, but from the moment on Helmut completly lost his memory and could not articulate meaningful sentences anymore, Gisela has started to feel haunted by isolation. There are moments she feels as lonely as someone being in solitary confinement. Now she is just a familiar person that has to be at hand, that has to be available day and night. But Gisela is a tough woman, and despite feeling worn out quite often she refuses to turn her back on life’s more pleasant sides. Every year she travels with Helmut to Winterberg, a small town located in a low mountain range in midwestern Germany. The Workers’ Welfare Association has realised the necessity to make an offer to family caregivers of demented and Alzheimer’s afflicted people who are mostly in an older age themselves and urgently need a time-out from exhausting every-day-routine with their loved ones. "Landhaus Fernblick" is dedicated to give them a temporary sanctuary. Before nursing Helmut Gisela already took care of her mother and both of her parents-in-law who all suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. As over a million demented people - just in Germany - are looked for by relatives in their own home, this topic of dementia-specialized hotels for exhausted family caregivers is important for society. In Mai 2018 Helmut, aged 86, died. But Gisela’s courage to face life is unbroken: "There is a lot that is lost due to this illness but nevertheless you get something back", she summarizes. "By nursing your partner a new form of intimacy arises. It’s important always to be kind, never to scream at your partner and to always take him seriously. This is a balancing act beween infantilizing and absolutely essential support. No one is prepared for that, you have to learn it!"

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