(130) It’s different now

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

It’s different now after learning to cope with the loss of my daughter Anne Birgit and my partner Mary-Anne. I don’t want to say that the loss, pain and sorrow are gone. On the contrary, deep in my heart I can deal with it and that line from heart to heart will always be there. I walk now on untrodden paths and amazingly, it feels like it was always meant to be.

The journey I took in the landscape of my grief and mourning, and the way I changed, I’ve articulated as follows:

It’s different now

I’m a completely different person than I used to be,
don’t do the things anymore I used to do!

I used to be materially oriented
everything needed to go fast, faster, fastest.
Then it became immaterial
and I started to slow down.

Now it is emotionally based
and I go at a snail’s pace.
I now counsel people
with their loss and grief.

In hindsight …
I would have wanted to do this sooner!
Did my muses have to die,
to make this clear?
Perhaps that was the plan all along
and embrace me
with the love
that was missing in my youth.

And now … now it feels …
no, now its Knowing …
deep inside my heart …
that I’m going in the right direction,
that everything was meant to be.

Hans Fransen, 2021

Things are different now. The journey wasn’t easy. There were times I almost gave up and yet, somehow, I was able to push through.! It took a lot of energy and perseverance. And yet, in hindsight, it was well worth it!

In hindsight, yes, that it was.

I wish you to have a fine day.

(129) Goodbye Annette, I will miss you

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

On Saturday, June 18, 2022, Annette, a dear friend, passed away. She will be missed; I will miss her!

June 18 is always a special day for me! Because 22 years earlier, on that same June 18, my daughter Anne Birgit passed away. Both terminally ill, and both died much too soon. Both ending their lives with the decision: “Until here, and no further!”

Two special women who showed the course of my life’s path!

Anne Birgit’s last wish for me was to teach people how to deal with their loss and grief. I promised her that! And somewhere on that then completely new path I put into practice at the time, I met Annette. It felt like she was predestined on my path and that the outcome would matter to both of us. At the end of May she asked me if I wanted to guide terminal patients … people who are going to die … on the last part of their life’s path … because she believes, just like my daughter at the time … because Annette believed I am good at it. I promised her to do so!

Annette

The journey with Annette began about 6, 7 years ago about the time she was diagnosed again with that terrible disease, cancer. During that journey we got closer and closer. There was hardly any other way. By regularly helping her to solve the difficult puzzles she faced and the related choices, sometimes even about life and death, you grow closer to each other.

There were many puzzles that translated into CT scans, Pet scans, chemo’s, radiation treatment … in treatments that seemed to work initially … but later the specialists found that the treatment was not working as expected. Time and time again we needed to look for new alternatives. It was to get tired of. Until the moment there were no more options available, that was the moment where our conversations started to become even more intense … even deeper.

There were puzzles that translated themselves into the interaction with the people around her. Friends became acquaintances, acquaintances fell away. We often wondered how this could be.

What surprised us even more were the unexpected friends whose relationships with Annette became more intense … more empathetic … more profound. Gifts, she thought. In my eyes they were her Golden Friends.

Despite all the sadness, Annette could intensely enjoy the colours in nature … the beauty and the smells of the flowers … of clouds flying by in a radiant sky … of the beach, the sea, the sun … of seagulls on the beach who floated in the wind and searched the terrace to snatch away some goodies … and she could … intensely enjoy the people she loved.

Annette, thank you for being my friend during my training in Coping with Loss. You were a friend in the sense of always asking what we were doing at that moment. You were the source for some of my blogs (e.g. The waiting room, Do not leave me alone). For one of the assignments necessary for my graduation you provided part of its content. You are a source for gaining an even deeper insight into the last stages of our lives as human beings. Thank you for that.

Annette, thank you for the compliment that you have shown me your true self … that of a strong, tough, proud woman … who lashes out like a tiger if you even touch her children … who has an enormous urge to survive … and if you deserved it in Annette’s eyes, nothing was too much for you! You showed me your vulnerable side too … that of a young happy woman dancing in the meadow, with long blond hair blowing in the wind and arms full of meadow flowers.

Thank you, Annette, for allowing me to guide you and for allowing me to walk many parts of your path.

Goodbye Annette, you will be missed; I will miss you!

(128) The Gift

The cardiac arrest I suffered in January last year had quite an impact on my life. And, despite that, it also turned out to be a beautiful gift. It took me a while to write the recent blog.

The past year

The path that followed in the past year had periods where it felt turbulent and serene at other times, and sometimes these alternated rapidly. It was an intense period and I regularly felt like a bouncing ball … you know, like a ping pong ball bouncing on a stone floor.

I had expected early last year that I had learned to deal with the big losses in my life … the loss of Anne Birgit, my daughter, and Mary-Anne, my spouse. I thought that in doing so I had simultaneously learned to deal with the other losses in my life. On the contrary, during the training as a professional grief counsellor at the “Land van Rouw” and completed in the same period, I encountered layers of loss and grief from my childhood and adolescence … such as the lack of love, as if I did not matter, was not seen by my parents and grandparents and, was not taught the language of love and emotions. Hence, putting my feelings into words is quite a task. Although I was aware of this, the understanding struck me like lightning out of the blue.

In a clear moment

That clear moment came after a conversation with one of the supervisors of the program. It came down to this:

– Sometimes I feel fine, sometimes, let us subtly phrase it, not so fine. In fact, I am constantly in a state of survival because of the lack of love from my parents and grandparents. As if I did not matter, was not acknowledged, not seen by them and, had no right to exist.

– I have not had a chance. From my parents and grandparents, I have not learned to feel and to love. As a result, I am at a tremendous disadvantage. My neurological connections related to feeling and love are only beginning to appear now … decades later.

– When you recall moments from your childhood. What do you encounter inside? Be exceptionally curious about the why and try to articulate that from there.

– But I do not have words … words I am searching for describing my emotions … and words give limitations at the same time. Then start by describing your bodily sensations. Words will come naturally … and sometimes they will not.

– Learn to trust your body! Well … feeling is one thing with me … it is my weak point. Feeling is and remains for me a work in progress. I used to learn from people’s assessments that strong points also have a complementary side; I am (very) good at … also has a shadow side. In short, can I use my impotence about feeling and emotions as a strong point?

The gift
The Gift
The Gift

As I was writing this, two lines from Anne Birgit on her urn came back to my mind:

“Do what your heart tells you …
Do not be afraid with what you do!”

Those simple words from my daughter on her urn, empower me to continue my life’s path with confidence. That is a wonderful gift, isn’t it?

So what is that life path?

Share loss and grief experiences, both professionally and from personal experiences to others in similar situations to help them to learn to cope with their loss and grief … and to get on with their lives again. They may even discover possibilities they had not previously thought possible.

In sharing my experiences, I am thinking primarily of:

  • Counseling parents who are about to lose or have lost a child.
  • People counseling who are terminally ill.
  • Counseling people in learning to cope with their loss and grief in general.

As I look at it now, I am sure the list will get longer. We’ll see.

I hope to meet you in person or on this website or the Foundation’s Facebook page.

With heartfelt greetings,
Hans Fransen

(127) Matters of the Heart

Matters of the Heart

In “Matters of the Heart”, it is about the big themes that have to do with your heart.

Like the theme of the great loves in your life, not just your soul mates or your loved ones but especially to yourself. Or the theme of the great losses, not only the death of your soul mates and loved ones but, also the loss of that fantastic job you had or, the suffering from a terminal illness. And following on from that, the theme of learning how to deal with grief and the possible consequences of ignoring it, avoiding it or being afraid to ask for help. Or like the theme of the possible illnesses of the heart when you do not listen to your heart, not so much the medical but the emotional consequences.

The common thread running through these themes is that consequences in “matters of the heart” prove to be fundamental. These are (enormous) changes on your life’s path. Whether you want to or not, you had better learn to deal with it and try to approach it from a positive, the sunny side … however difficult that may be … so that you can get everything that is possible for you out of your life.

The great losses

The great losses in my life are the death of my soul mates, my daughter Anne Birgit and my wife Mary-Anne.

Just before her death, Anne Birgit told me that she had been looking for information on how to support children who were about to die, and how their parents could cope with that. However, she had been unable to find anything suitable. Her last wish was I would guide parents who lost a child … because she had seen what I can do.

My wife Mary-Anne received a card from a woman who worked in one of my teams, one of my Golden Teams. She knew the woman and had me read the card. The woman wrote that she found me a light on her life’s path because of the way I knew how to motivate and coach her and her team members … making the impossible … possible.

During the weekend, Mary-Anne said that she recognised the compliment and that she thought that this should be more my future path. On that path I would be able to be completely myself … who I am in my core. It would also help to fulfil the last wish of our daughter.

The symbol of a heart wearing a headset.
Listen to your heart

Two days later, my soul mate Mary-Anne died.

However, it took a few years before I even had the courage to fulfil that promise. It meant a life’s change … a completely different path in life. Suddenly it happened to me … I had forgotten to listen to my heart.

Open-heart surgery

Six years ago, I had two open-heart operations in quick succession. Two because the first time, when the aortic valve was replaced during the operation, it turned out that even more needed to be renewed. Altogether, it wasn’t so much that these operations were aggravating, but it was the enormous impact they had on my life. An impact that changed my life’s path.

A compass.
Change of my life’s path

Prior to the open-heart operations, I had registered for a European assignment through a colleague. As the client had ranked me second, I missed the contract… too bad, better luck next time. But after those operations, my colleague told me that the client wanted to hire the first three people on the list and he at once asked when I could come for the intake interview. Only … the bizarre thing was that when I heard that … I didn’t want to do this kind of work anymore. Make no mistake, I always found the work awesome. Stimulate people within my teams to enjoy doing the work … each time making the “impossible” come true. They became my Golden Teams. Fantastic jobs they were … I always enjoyed them!

After those open-heart operations it was over … it was just all over. I still don’t know how that was possible, but I had no desire to do what I used to do. I changed my career path and went to work in the land of loss and grief as a grief counsellor. In this way I’m fulfilling the last wishes of my two soul mates, my daughter Anne Birgit and my wife Mary-Anne.

Cardiac arrest
A line on a monitor with the rhythm of a beating heart. The line ends in a flat line towards the Light.
And then … it was quiet … and there was peace

Recently, I suffered two cardiac arrests. It happened in the ambulance after I had fainted during a walk in the dunes. I was not afraid for a moment. Only afterwards I did realise that I had been on the brink of death and the question arose… “Why weren’t you afraid? Even a friend who was with me experienced the peace around us. She was aware that incomprehensible forces were at work to protect us and support me. During the moments when my heart was stopped … I was very aware of the peace and tranquillity around me and felt very Alive. No, I was not afraid! I had an unshakeable confidence that there was something around me that would ensure that I would not die and that all would be well.

It was not the intention I would die at that moment. I already knew that working as a grief counsellor was the right path in life for me … but now I know without any doubt that this is my mission. A mission that I will not shy away from in the Land of Light. And it is precisely this that has made such an impression … in the same order as after those open-heart surgeries. However, this time not only on a deeper level, but also giving more direction.

As a grief counsellor, I am going to specialize in counselling parents who have lost a child … or will lose a child. I have also become aware that I must do something (to others) about the impact that the Near-Death Experience can have on a life. I don’t know yet how to do this, but I have blind faith that I’ll find the answers in my future.

Blind trust

You might think this sounds arrogant, but I have a blind faith that I can deal with what comes my way … and that I may and can guide the people I am going to meet. It is a very deep confidence. In retrospect, I consider those two times that my heart stopped as a Great Gift … as a gift from God! What happened then, I was allowed to Know and experience … I would never have wanted to miss the Near-Death Experience. I feel gifted, blessed, humble … and one with utter Consciousness! Something like that … but on a much deeper level.

True love
A heart in the Light.
True Love

When I look at the way I am now in life, I can say that I was never afraid to live. At the same time, I was never afraid to Be after my death in that other Universe to which we all eventually go.

On the other hand, I was afraid of the run-up to my death and the transition to that other Universe. I clearly had an opinion about that. But since those two times when my heart stopped and what I then experienced … that fear has also disappeared. What I also realise now is that the loss and mourning of both my soul mates has reached a point where I miss them … and will always do so … but now I can move onward with confidence with a new partner in my life. I am now fully aware that about that “ability”, I have been lacking in the past years to enter a new relationship.

Message
Spring. Budding branches.
A new beginning

The message I want to give you as a reader of the blog “matters of the heart” … no matter what happens … most of the time there’s a way to cope with the situation at hand … “a new beginning.” It helps by being really positive in your life. It can just be a new beginning where you start doing completely different things in your life.

Dear Reader, I fully realise that being positive in your life can be difficult from time to time … I know from experience … but for matters of the heart it is more than worth it. Whether it is the loss of a child … medical matters relating to your heart … a cardiac arrest and the deeper insights you may receive at that time … or the love for your partner, your soul mate … these are all matters of the heart that make life worth living!

(126) After the loss of a child the pain will always remain

The pain will always remain.

Many people responded to the Dutch version of the previous blog: Shortly after the birth of your child you are told that it is not going to live long.The responses ranged from compassion and intense grief in similar situations to the pain will always remain.

In summary, the responses to the blog in question came down to the following:

  • No matter how long the loss of your child has been …
  • Months … years … even decades …
  • No matter how long the child has lived …
  • Wounds are not healed …
  • Wounds only get worse …
  • No matter how long it takes …
  • It feels (sometimes) like yesterday …
  • The raw and hard edges of loss will (perhaps) eventually soften a little …
  • The pain of losing your child will always stay with you!

The purpose of today’s blog is to try to answer the questions that arose from these responses. However, everyone deals with loss and grief in their own way. Hence, I cannot give a personal answer now … but I can give you a general outline.

Now for the two questions:

  • Why does it take so long to (perhaps) cope with the loss of your child?
  • Maybe the raw and hard edges of the pain of losing your child will eventually soften but why does it never really go away?
An (almost) consecutive series of moment of loss

It is about an (almost) continuous series of moments of los … like an accumulation of loose stones where each stone stands for a moment of loss, including the accompanying emotions. For each stone … for each moment of loss, you could learn to deal with the loss and the grief that goes with it.

It begins when you are told just after the birth of your child that it will not have a long life … perhaps because it is chronically ill or has an inherited genetic defect … and although the medical profession is capable of much … unfortunately not for your new-born. Or it starts after years when you are informed that your child is seriously ill … and must undergo severe treatment … like with cancer. At those times, you jump from one moment to the next … from immense joy … to intense sadness.

Your heart is pounding, and you ask yourself “how do I continue from here?”

During the following years when you are doing your utmost to care for your child … so that he/she may live as long as possible … there are moments when it goes well with your child … maybe even excellent … and you get hope again. Only to discover the next time (again) that it was in vain because your child has deteriorated even further. Your heart is pounding … you have sleepless nights … you wonder … is this what it is … how do I continue from here … what can I still do for my child?

Eventually comes that moment of loss in the run-up to the death of your child … and finally the death of your child … that ultimate moment … when you have no choice … but to let your child go.

And afterwards? Only then do you begin to realise little by little what a roller-coaster ride your life has been. Finally, you begin to realise that you still have a long way to go in the hope of becoming your “old” self again … only to discover later that you must go on in life with your “new” self. And here a moment of loss arises with the discovery that your “old self” is no longer an option.

In retrospect, you discover that this (almost) unbroken series of moment of loss … can no longer be considered an accumulation of separate stones, each stone standing for a moment of loss and the emotions associated with it. Because of your child’s chronic illness, the many moments of hope and hardship … the almost continuous survival … there was not really time to learn to cope (properly) with loss and grief … it became a continuous process of loss and grief … the stones of the pile seem to have been forged together into large(er) blocks that only complicate your bereavement. Something you don’t want because you have so little time left … for yourself.

That makes it all so hard … maybe extra hard … to (eventually) deal with your loss and your grief and the pain will always remain.

An emotional rollercoaster

During all those months … years … it seems to you as if you went from one crisis into the next. Each time you had to look for new answers because old answers no longer seemed to suffice. It was exhausting … you could not rest … giving up was out of the question … after all, caring for your child was much more important to you. They were feelings that regularly overwhelmed you … shook you to the core … turned your world view upside down … made you insecure. It can’t be right that your child should die before you as a parent … that’s not right … that’s not acceptable, is it? It’s just not fair! Yet it happened!

Your greatest fear as a parent is that you will lose your child … that you will lose (part of) your future. The fear that you as a parent have failed … that you should have done more … that you … that you … And even if no blame can be attached to you … you somehow have the feeling that you have failed.

That we are all going to die one day … we know that … that is, however, difficult it may be, that is okay. But losing a child? Even though you have fully committed to your child … you have gone to extremes to let your child live as long as possible … your child eventually died.

On top of that, what these parents went through during all those months … years … is that they went from one crisis to another … from one moment of loss to another. In the meantime, to learn how to deal with loss and grief for every loss … to find a balance … they just didn’t have the time. They were busy taking care of their child … letting the child live as long as possible … these parents could only … survive.

That makes it all so hard … maybe extra hard … to (eventually) deal with your loss and your grief and the pain will always remain.

Your world seems to stand almost still and your outside world … it rushes on.

Once the funeral of your child is over … when you think you can relax and can come to rest … that all the strain of caring for your child is ended … that you can finally learn dealing with your loss of your child and your mourning … only then do you discover that the death of your child has changed everything … forever!

The loss of your child also makes you realise that your family has changed … that there is an empty place. It will never be the same. During joyful family events … during holidays and birthdays … there is always that special feeling … the feeling of that empty place … the feeling of missing your deceased child.

When you meet friends of your child over the years … who have since gotten married … who may have had children of their own … who may have gone to college … you grieve over all the things your deceased child can never do again. At times like that, you can see that friends of your child have grown older, but you can’t imagine what your deceased child would look like at that moment … other than in the photo that is standing or hanging somewhere in the house. Despite all the loss and the emptiness, you will have to continue with your own life … whether you are ready for it or not. Not only for the onrushing world around you … but especially for your family.

Many people know that everyone has their own way of dealing with loss and grief, and yet you run the risk that people outside your family are seeing you as “someone who doesn’t deal with grief in the proper way.” As a result, you repress your grief at that moment again because you need to be there for your partner, your other child(ren) … for the people around you. In the end you draw back into survival mode … which you had already become particularly good at during the life of your child. Learning to deal with your loss and grief threatens to sneak out (again) … and as the years go by, the people around you stop to think about it anymore … and you are unconsciously stuck in your grief.

That makes it all so hard … maybe extra hard … to (eventually) deal with your loss and your grief and the pain will always remain.

Your outside world has no idea what is going on with you.
Overwhelming emotions

You often hear people say that they sympathise with you … that they know how you feel. One thing is certain … these people have no idea what it means when you lose your child … when the death of your child sends a tsunami of emotions through you, and your family. The feeling is “devastating” … is overwhelming … is almost beyond comprehension … is almost beyond words.

Eventually, there comes a time when you no longer want to talk about the loss of your child with others… to avoid burdening others with your grief. Even if it is only to avoid the label of pity, or to prevent others from consciously or unconsciously avoiding you … because those others are afraid or do not know how to deal with it themselves. You get something like a short fuse … you quickly see whether the interest that the other person expresses is genuine … is real! You quickly fathom all kinds of nonsense stories that do not make sense.

You avoid conversations where others say they have experienced the same thing, if not with themselves then with someone else, only worse. How empathetic are these people? On top of that, the puzzles you must solve … or deal with for the rest of your life … is often a lengthy process. Because the grief is often hard to see from the outside, others will be surprised that you are still thinking about your deceased child … months, years, decades later. They have a strong opinion about this without realizing and understanding what is really going on … what it means emotially for you to lose a child that you have cared for, helped, and cared for as long as possible.

Many people end up avoiding you, consciously or unconsciously. Perhaps it is because they find the loss of a child frightening … they do not want to have anything to do with it … they meet a side of life they are afraid of … a side of life where death plays a role … a side where quite different values are important than success, beauty, and status. It makes you have less and less people around you … often a few others come in their place … and you are left with a small select group of people … real friends who support you through thick and thin.

That makes it all so hard … maybe extra hard … to (eventually) deal with your loss and your grief and the pain will always remain.

Completion

It is a tough journey for the parent(s) who care for and take care of a chronically ill child. It becomes even harder when the child is terminal and eventually dies. However, the journey does not end there. The family journey continues without the child … with that empty place in the family … with that empty feeling inside … with the constant reminders at holidays and family events … with the silent grief not to burden others … with the loss of all the dreams you had for your child … with the loss of (part of) your future.

That’s what makes it all so hard … maybe extra hard … and takes so long … months, years, decades … to finally (maybe) deal with your loss and your grief … maybe that’s why the pain of losing your child never goes away.