Family

children • education • parents
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Family

Things I Took for Granted

September 13, 2019 by

Heinrich and Irene, members of an intentional Christian community in upstate New York
The author’s brother Heinrich with his wife, Irene, last September

Around 10:30 p.m. early this past summer my older brother Heinrich said goodnight to his eighteen-year-old daughter who was studying for exams and walked out onto the porch outside his house. No one knows for sure what happened or why, but shortly afterwards he fell into the garden below, striking his head on the concrete block edging. His face took the full force of the impact, with massive head injuries. He was found at one in the morning, after a frantic search by his wife and their upstairs neighbor. He had managed to crawl 150 feet on his hands and knees and was standing, propped against a chain link fence, still able to speak. He was almost unrecognizable.

My brother was taken to the Orange County Hospital where the neurosurgeon on call performed emergency surgery in an effort to save his life. A few hours later he was airlifted to the Westchester Medical Center, becoming the most acute case in their Neuro ICU. Scans indicated an aneurysm deep in his brain that was the most likely trigger for his fall. There was serious concern that the aneurysm would burst, which would be fatal, but the staff were unable to operate because he was too unstable. He was still in that critical condition on Sunday afternoon when I walked in to see him.

I had been warned that it would be awful, and it was. His head was turned to one side; half his hair shaved to the scalp, showing a long, curved line of staples. His face was battered and broken; they had not been able to do any facial reconstructive surgery. He was breathing through a tube in his mouth. And yet what I felt most strongly on seeing him was that he was my brother and I loved him; I had never realized how much. There was not much I said to him. His medical situation seemed so fragile I hardly dared to touch him, but I did put my hand on his. I said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “I love you.” I think that’s the only time I’ve ever said that to him; it was always just something we took for granted.

I have four brothers, and one evening in those first days after the accident three of us were together, sitting outside around a fire with our families. The fact that I was in the US that week with my wife and one of our kids was complete coincidence, if that is what you call it. Sitting out in the sunset we weren’t being especially serious, we were just happy for the chance to be together. We had no idea how things would turn out. None of us expected our older brother to live.

a family from the Bruderhof, a Christ-centered community in upstate New YorkHeinrich and Irene and their children, first time all together in twelve years. Photo taken ten days before the accident.

Dedicated medical staff and the prayers of thousands upheld him and his family through those critical early days. He has continued to improve. The incredibly risky operation to fix the aneurysm was successful. He’s working his way through a battery of surgeries to fix his other injuries. He’s responding, talking, walking, eating. I’m back in England now, and he called me up the other day, we even had a little disagreement. He still can’t see properly and likely never will; he is having to make major adjustments to his life. But his recovery so far has completely defied all expectations.

The Barth family, who live at the BruderhofSix weeks post accident, at Helen Hayes Rehab Hospital.

Of course we were praying for him, the whole of our Bruderhof movement was praying for him. In fact a lot more people than that; he was in the prayers of many people who knew him, or knew people who knew him, or just heard about his situation. If you are one of those people, thank you. I’m nervous about talking about miracles, and in any case the word seems somewhat inadequate. As Christians we often pray those lines from the Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done.” Who knows what God’s will is? I think I would describe it more as feeling the hand of God – of feeling that we are in the hands of God.

To tell the truth, I’m not even one of the people close to my brother; I live three thousand miles away and we generally talk on the phone a few times a year. Don’t get me wrong, blood relatives are important, but just as important are the people you live with. My brother’s family is also the 180 people of the Bellvale community where he lives, and the people in schools and emergency services that he knows. They are the people he lives and works with, has fought with, made up with, lived in expectation of the kingdom of God with. I don’t know if I speak for them in what I’ve written, but I think I do.

A few days after seeing my brother I was on the porch of his house with the neighbor who found him. We talked, we cried, we sat in the garden chairs for some time without saying anything. Not every story has a happy conclusion like this one does, not every prayer gets answered. Shit still happens; I guess that’s why we were so caught off guard. But I hope this changes me. I hope it changes all of us. I hope it makes us take more time, and show more love to the people around us.

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About the author

IanBarthHorizontal

Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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  • Thelma Lucia Silva, thanks for your question. Unfortunately we do not have a community in Brazil, but we do have one in Paraguay. To see our locations, go to our homepage, www.bruderhof.com, and select the Locations tab. All the best!

    Alina
  • Gostaria de saber se tem uma comunidade desse no Brasil.

    Thelma Lucia Silva
  • I am so sorry this happened to Heinrich. My prayers for his recovery. Please send my love to Irene, Heinrich and the family. I actually just heard about this from Frank Rimes. God bless you all.

    Alice Pete, and Saira
  • May he continue to heal, sending prayers:)

    Faith Dickson