(74) Communication

When you want to communicate with a grieving person you will need to embrace her or him figuratively, you have to listen carefully to the other, you need to understand what is said and you have to show interest in the other. What is more, topics could be discussed which you personally may find difficult to talk about.

The way we mourn or grieve is unique for each of us. Standard solutions are not available for bereavement or for people who find themselves in difficult situations outside their control. But the first thing we need to do, in order to reach out to or to help these people, is to be able to communicate with them.

Provided that someone who grieves or is in a difficult situation is able to talk to you or even is willing to talk to you, you can safely assume that it won’t be an everyday conversation with each other, but that it’s much more about to let the other do the talking about the issues that she or he finds important at that moment. During those moments you will need to be able to show a lot of understanding… a lot of insight of the problems the other is coping with… that you especially have a lot of empathy and… maybe even a good dose of patience. You also need to be able to cope with the (long) silences that fall into the “conversation.”

SJR (NL-077) en MGF (UK-074) shutterstock_163706276What is more, during a conversation with a grieving person charged topics can be often touched upon. Topics of which we have a preference in our culture not to talk about. Topics such as death, life after death, faith and the loss of the other and all the emotions that go along with it. Topics of which you may have opinions of your own. And your opinions aren’t necessarily aligned to those of the other.

In a nutshell, if you really want to communicate with a grieving person you will need to embrace her or him figuratively… you have to listen carefully to the other… and you need to understand what is said… you have to show interest in the other. What is more, topics could be discussed of which you personally may find difficult to talk about. And that is exactly the problem in communicating with people who grieve.

It’s too crazy for words that it often turns out that communication between people is inconvenient or difficult at times. How often do you find that the other understood your message differently than you actually meant it to be… that you didn’t understand the other… or that without further asking you assumed you understood the other? Yes… it’s too crazy for words… we learned very early on how to talk and to communicate. We all should be experts in this field, the thing is… why isn’t that the case?

It would be a major step for all of us when we would learn how to communicate with each other in a better or more effective way. It’s something we can use almost every day and every moment. Communication is not just about the words we say to each other, it’s also about the long silences or… the not telling and the poses of our body that sends silent messages to the other. Communication is also about learning to understand each other, to have empathy for each other and… to accept who we are! Communication also means that we don’t avoid difficult situations (anymore) but that we are willing to communicate with someone who struggles in life or we offer support.

Perhaps at this time it’s too much to ask in our world… but nevertheless… I believe that we must dare to face the challenge together!

Personally I’m committed to this challenge. No matter how hard I find a conversation, I always try to learn from it so I can do better next time. It comes with much trials and errors… but I keep pushing myself to improve!

(73) You Thought It Was Over…

Suddenly there are those memories of that moment… that moment that felt like your world was destroyed. Suddenly you’re back to square one. You thought it was over.

Suddenly there are those memories of that moment… that moment that felt like your world was destroyed. You’re back to square one again. You thought it was over.

At the start of your grief or your loss – that period immediately after the death of your loved one, or the loss of the job you so loved to do, or your illness that can’t be cured – that period just after that intense loss… that period in which you felt that intense raw pain of your loss… at such a moment you are off balance and you are almost at risk to fall over. A period in which you would like to reset the clock. A period in which you would love everything was as before. A period in which you would prefer to crawl into a safe haven. A period in which you withdraw into yourself.

Je dacht dat het over wasAs time goes on you start to scramble out eventually… little by little. You are beginning to get involved again with everything that people around you are doing. In the end you start a number of activities yourself. Hesitantly… step by step.

You’re insecure. For how to proceed… alone… or without that job… or… You’re afraid that you will make mistakes. Now… you need to do or to arrange activities you never needed to do before… you may never have wanted to do. Yes, you expect to make mistakes, but the people around you have a different opinion. The people around you find you powerful… but… that’s not the way how you feel this.

Despite all your grief you proceed step by step… you have to. And with each step you get a little bit more confident.

There are moments you’re going too fast. Something unexpected happens that evokes a memory… like a smell, a color, a voice, a sound… a memory related to that loss. And again the realization that you must proceed alone… or that you don’t have that special job any more… or that you will not heal… or… Again you hit that loss… and you start all over again with your bereavement.

That falling back, repeats itself regularly during the processing of your grief. And each time you may recognize somehow all stages of grief like denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Over time you less and less fall back. Each time this happens it feels a bit different from the one before. The harsh pain of your grief is slowly changing into the moderate pain of your loss. Not that you won’t be remembered of your loss anymore… that your loved one is no longer there. That memory remains with you for the rest of your life.

Little by little you get into balance again. Your heart and your head are starting to balancing each other out. The days return when you are happy again. Days where people can hear you laughing again. Moments that are a delight to you.

During those days something can happen that recalls a memory… like a face, a voice, a melody, a perfume, an image… a memory of that moment when it all started. You can’t see it coming, it just happens to you. And the process repeats itself again. Only each time a bit different. That is processing your grief. That’s the way it feels. Step by step.

When you can review yourself over a longer period of time you could find that each time you fall back… you fall back a bit less in your grief… and at the same time you might see that you also moved on a bit further… and that you became more confident.

Independent from how far you progressed in processing your grief, there will always be moments in your future where you revert to that moment when it all happened. The difference is that when your loss occurred it took a long time to proceed while processing your grief, in the future it will take less time. Eventually those moments change from sadness into moments where you can be proud at yourself because you came at a point at which you can proceed with your life. That you are carrying out new and different activities. That you have got new opportunities. That you are a complete human being again, which you always have been only you thought differently, who has an idea that everything in life happens as you think it should happen. Those are the days when you are in balance.

It might be challenging times for you at the moment or you have to cope somehow with a (great) loss in your life. Yet, I have faith you can become a happy person again who can smile and celebrate life. Maybe not in my way, but certainly in your way!

(58) Would You Call My Friends

Some three or four days before her death she asked me whether I would call her friends so she could say her final farewell to them that Saturday. It is not a questions you would easily answer with yes or no. And yet, I did this for her because I had a gut feeling that the end of her life was approaching much faster than we wanted it to but also because I understood it was important to her.

Anne BirgitThis post is about the days just before the death of my daughter Anne Birgit.

Yes, I hear you thinking:
“You have written several times about this topic. So, what is different now? That you are sad… I understand… it’s part of your future that you’re missing… it is your buddy that you are missing… but… after almost 15 years…?

That our daughter wouldn’t live long, we knew one day after her birth. Year after year we lived with the thought that it might be her last one. Ultimately after almost 22 years, it was clear that she wouldn’t live much longer anymore. Her end came closer faster and faster. We all were aware of that… especially my daughter.

That her death was inevitable, I had accepted long ago. We had lived with this for almost 22 years.

Yes, it is different. Now… I understand.

Some three or four days before her death she asked me whether I would call her friends so she could say her final farewell to them that Saturday. It is not a questions you would easily answer with yes or no. And yet, I did this for her because I had a gut feeling that the end of her life was approaching much faster than we wanted it to but also because I understood it was important to her.

Today I understand that I received a lot of support from my guardian angels. Yes, you can laugh at this, or you can dismiss it but for me it is the truth. Where else do you draw the strength from for calling each of her friends and ask them to visit her a few days later in order to say a final farewell to each other.

There were calls that took more than an hour. There were calls, with the in one hand the phone I was using and in the other hand my mobile to make an emergency call in case her friend I was talking to did not respond anymore. They were all calls where you literally caught people by surprise with your request. What is still clear in my mind even though I did not know many of her friends personally, even after 15 years, was that these calls were very personal, emotional, warm and heartbreaking. My daughter wanted to witness the last two or three calls imagine my daughter’s emotions and mine. There were many tears during those 32 calls.

Calls of which I have always said after the death of my daughter… once, but never again. Calls of which no one has any idea what it meant for me and what it took from me. No one can even closely imagine my pain and distress brought on by those calls. Calls that took an enormous amount of energy from me and at the time I didn’t understand where I got the strength.

Maybe you find this all exaggerated… maybe even presumptuous, but the fact is that words… my words… are by far unable to describe what I felt at the time… and not even close to how I feel to-day.

These are moments in your life I always remember. And when I look back after 15 years, those calls give me much more pain and distress than the death of my daughter. Yes, she was terminally ill. That she had not much time to live there was no doubt about it. Although I’ve accepted her death years ago, the hurt related to placing the calls to her friends in order to say a final farewell to her personally, is still there in great fierceness. Maybe as I realize now; now, after 15 years I realize that at the end of each call, it felt for me as if my daughter died at that moment… and I died a bit also.

That, I think, is the reason why it still hurts.

The calls I made out of love for my daughter; just like everybody else would have done when they are needed to make calls like these for his or her partner or for one of their children. This month’s post is dedicated to them and I wish them a lot of support and strength in particular.

(47) No One Ever Told Me…

In my previous blog I made a reference to a text by C.S. Lewis. The texts are beautiful and one of them in particular. It describes what you feel when you lost a dearest shortly. Here it is:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me . . .

An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m afraid of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t . . .

And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness . . .

By C. S. Lewis, from ‘A Grief Observed’

I found this text so beautiful that I had to share it with you.

(46) Afraid of…

There appears to exist a very common fear for people. For most people this fear exists in a mild form with which they can live well. Even though they feel uncomfortable when they contact unfamiliar people.

In addition to this we have the concept of xenophobia, fear for foreigners. In this case the fear for people might be ‘enhanced’ because we don’t have an understanding of the habits and the background of the foreign cultures; the fear for the unknown.

Personally I can’t imagine those fears. Maybe it’s because I’m used to travel to a lot of places around the world and… have worked over there. Maybe it’s because I’m also interested in other cultures and people. While waiting at the airport for the (connecting) flight and often during the flight itself, I often spoke with people. Usually I found those conversations interesting and on parting I always kept a good feeling about these. Sometimes you met the other somewhere again and you were greeted as a close acquaintance; those were the great moments in life.

Fear is an emotion we as humans create ourselves. It’s an emotion that is usually not based on facts but on what could happen. However, fear that is based on previous experiences creates a stronger emotion because that what could happen is much more realistic to us.

C.S Lewis wrote in “A Grief Observed”:
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.

Maybe that’s why people avoid you when you’re in mourning… because they are afraid of a loss of one of their loved ones themselves… because they are afraid not knowing how to respond to you … because they don’t want to talk about this … because they are afraid of the unknown. It could also be the case that you avoid other people … because you don’t want to be remembered every time about your sorrow … or the loss you suffered.

It could also explain why people who have experienced loss and grief themselves, do not avoid you and start a conversation with you.