How a man from Leipzig followed his wife in her self-determined death

“I think you eat my noodles.” As cheerful as the story of Hans-Jürgen and Anita began, it ended just as tragically. The story of one great and satisfying love, the story of a devastating disease and the story of a woman who has decided for herself when her life should end. During this accompanying suicide, Hans-Jürgen Kaiser stood by her side to the last – and has now written a book about it.

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“We were like one”

In 1989, Anita and Hans-Jürgen met in a bistro in Munich. They both ordered pasta – guests can pick up their finished dishes from the counter. Anita does not hear the bell and Hans-Jürgen takes the hill. She says, “I think you’re eating my noodles.” He is immediately struck by her hard performance. An invitation to dinner follows. And great love.

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She moves from Rosenheim to Munich. “We were like one,” says Hans-Jürgen Kaiser. The 76-year-old is happy when he talks about Anita, his eyes light up. “We danced, we got our sailing certificate, went to the theater, read together. There was an incredible harmony. We had the same aesthetics. We liked the same people. ” In hindsight, of course, there is a tendency to romanticize something, says Kaiser. But this total harmony really did exist. “We had phases – they were like in paradise.” He was single at the time and had had several affairs. “I was already in doubt about whether I would be able to have a relationship at all.” She was 34, he 43. “You already have your identity there, that was definitely an advantage.”

Shock diagnosis

Life was important to Hans-Jürgen and Anita. The social, the cultural life. The art, the music. “We always agreed that a purely biological life would have no meaning for us.” But the two had long theoretical thoughts about death. Or about bringing this about in extreme cases with your own decision.

The shadows enter the lives of Anita and Hans-Jürgen after six years. The two were out almost every weekend. They go to dance and then go to the bars. One night, Anita realizes that she can no longer pull her leg properly. “It was with the waltz, I remember that,” Hans-Jürgen Kaiser remembers. The family doctor changes immediately and refers to the neurologist. A few tests later, the diagnosis was made. MS – Multiple sclerosis. A shock.

“Then she said she would not live anymore”

The disease is initially virtually asymptomatic for several years. But then it gradually gets worse. Anita can always go worse. She often falls. First she needs a cane, then a crutch and a leg brace. As a 48-year-old, she ended up in a wheelchair. She has to give up her job in the Bavarian Chamber of Pharmacies. Hans-Jürgen Kaiser, formerly head of an adult education center and Evangelische Bildungswerk in Bavaria, initially continued to work as an education worker for the German Hostel Association. The trained social worker supports his partner as best he can. It works for eight to nine years, and from 2009 it no longer works. Hans-Jürgen Kaiser retires at the age of 63 and from then on takes care of things around the clock. Meanwhile, the two have also gotten married, even though they did not really want to. But it makes things a lot easier. From medical information to other legal matters.

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The man speaks steadily and calmly. Describes everyday life with his MS-sick wife in all its facets. Anita becomes a nurse step by step. The strong medicine hurts in the stomach, she often has to go to the toilet, and she is dependent on her husband’s help for that. He goes to the gym, is well-trained, and Anita weighs only 48 kilos. Nevertheless, a stressful situation: “She did not want a relationship with me as a nurse,” says Hans-Jürgen Kaiser. And the disease keeps getting worse. In 2014, the neck flexion syndrome was added. Extreme pain that suddenly runs through the body. As lightning strikes. Often in the middle of the night. “Sometimes I thought she was half a meter above the bed,” says Hans-Jürgen Kaiser, who has to call the ambulance several times. Last at least once a week. “She was just lying on the couch and was panicking that it would start again,” he recalls. The nerves in the bladder also become inflamed and Anita gets a catheter. And a doctor suggests that even that soon is not enough, that the urine will probably soon have to be pumped out. “Then she said she would not live any longer.”

Half a year of preparation

Hans-Jürgen Kaiser, who had made an impression so far, suddenly struggled with himself and fought back the tears. He holds his breath, he apologizes. “She said it was imperative and she asked me to help her and accompany her. She just did not want this disease anymore.” On this day, a Friday, Anita cries. After that no more. She shows coolness, strength, willpower. She contacted Dignitas, the euthanasia organization in Switzerland, a long time ago.

A difficult six months follow. Documents must be obtained – and the two can not always play with open cards. Anita must have a medical certificate. “But if you tell the neurologist what you want him to do, he may not do it,” says Hans-Jürgen Kaiser. “We did not know what kind of attitude he had.” Anita explains that she needs the report so that she can have her life insurance paid out earlier – for a house conversion to make it suitable for the disabled. She tells a dentist that the x-ray of the jaw is necessary for MS therapy in the United States. The photo is required for identity verification in case of assisted suicide – for the public prosecutor. After Dignitas has received all documents, a three-hour consultation with the doctor follows. Finally, there was the green light and an appointment: Thursday, March 5, 2015, at. 11, Blue House in Pfäffikon, a suburb of Zurich.

Last Saturday

Hans-Jürgen cooked for his Anita every Saturday. A three-course meal with candles and wine. And this weekend before March 5th, he does too. He trades on Viktualienmarkt. There is cream of asparagus soup, cream of fennel vegetables with organic potatoes, flambéed bananas with ice cream and a Riesling. “She said, ‘So this is my last meal.’ Anita and Hans-Jürgen love French movies. Tonight they watch Louis Malles A Comedy in May. After the DVD, he collapses. “I realized it was our last Saturday. She comforted me.” From the day after, says Hans-Jürgen Kaiser, it just worked. On Wednesday, Anita will post 15 letters telling relatives and friends what is happening now, then the two will go to Switzerland and check into the hotel.

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On the morning of March 5, 2015, Anita puts on her make-up, she can still do it with her right hand. He sits on the edge of the bed and looks at her. She says: “If anyone sees me putting on make-up, they do not think I’m not alive in a few hours.” At 7 o’clock the doctor from Dignitas comes again and talks to Anita. It remains. At breakfast at the hotel, she sees a family with overweight children eating croissants: “They are too overweight for their age and should not eat as many croissants, but Bircher muesli and fruit – like me.” table and think: You won not be there in three hours.

Lethal doses of drugs

Hans-Jürgen Kaiser drives his wife to the Blue House. Two euthanasia assistants receive the two. Anita tells them her story. Formalities and signatures have been taken care of. The women explain what is happening now and how: Anita is given sedatives and then a glass of pentobarbital sodium – a lethal dose of anesthetic. She has to take the medicine alone, and the course is documented on video.

Anita lifts the glass to her mouth, Hans-Jürgen does not recognize the slightest shake. He carries her up on a bed and is alone with her. “She said something in my ear. It was wonderful. I keep it to myself, no one will ever know. I wanted to say something too, but I could not say more.” After two or three minutes Anita became unconscious, after 20 minutes she was no longer alive. Hans-Jürgen stays with his wife for another half hour. Then he gets in the car. In Switzerland he has to recover, but after crossing the German border no one overtakes him.He listens to heavy metal.Black Sabbath and Motorhead.

“Guarantees the prospect of a self-determined suicide”

He’s feeling bad the next few days. “As if I was dissolving.” Hans-Jürgen Kaiser moves to Berlin. “I knew a lot of people there, I had to break rituals and habits, I could not stay in the apartment.” He wants to work up time. Not with a therapist, but with a book. To write it, he moved to Leipzig three years later. Berlin was too exhausting for him.

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End-of-life care cost a total of 8,000 euros. “Of course, it’s also a question of who can afford it – there has to be a regulation for that,” says Kaiser. The formative experiences seem completely surreal to him today. The years with the disease, but above all accompanying his wife on her last trip. Ever since it became clear that Anita could go this route, she had been mentally free. Resolved due to the prospect of being able to exit this state. “This total desperation was gone.” His appeal: “If society guarantees the prospect of a self-determined and gentle suicide, those affected can look much more relaxed to the future in their great suffering.”

This text first appeared in the Leipziger Volkszeitung.

Hans-Jürgen Kaiser (2021): You’re not there in three hours. autobiographical history. Novum-Verlag Berlin / München. ISBN: 978-3-99107-493-9.

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