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!
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!
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No matter how great your loss and sadness are, how you react to it, no matter how long ago it was, what one thinks of it, there is usually a way to get out that deep valley, the valley if that great loss and sorrow. Of course, you don’t have to find the way out alone. You can get support, that is, if you allow it.
Her world stopped turning
Her world stopped turning. One of Monica’s breasts was removed because of breast cancer. For clarity, Monica is a fictitious name. About a year later she also lost her son to cancer, just before his 8th birthday. How harsh life can be. It’s so unfair.
In the meantime, again a year has passed in Monica’s life. She is still struggling with that great loss and sorrow. Yeah, who doesn’t? She’s still getting tired quickly and still can’t concentrate. Everything in life seems totally insignificant to her … especially when you compare that to that huge loss.
“Yes,” she says, “I can’t get anything out of my hands. I would really like to continue my life … but … I just can’t get it done. “
Panic strikes when the company doctor thinks Monica should be able to work again. Doesn’t he understand I’m getting tired quickly, that I can’t concentrate?
Panic strikes when people around her have an opinion about just everything. The death of her son is almost a year ago … the removal of her breast even longer. Why would you still have such an immense sadness? Shouldn’t you have processed your grief by now, right?
Panic strikes when Monica wonders how to respond to all those reactions. To her it seems that there are two worlds … the world in which she lives … and … the world in which everyone else is living. At times she can feel so lonely.
It has been a while that managers and colleagues from the company she works for, regularly contacted her or stopped by. It seems as if Monica no longer exists for them. Apart from the occasional contacts with the company doctor and human resources, nobody contacts her anymore. She must find out everything by herself and even resolve it.
“Don’t they understand what’s going on with me?” says Monica.
“Can no one give me a helping hand? Is that so much to ask? Is there no
one who even understands how gruelling times are now for me? The question ‘how I’m doing,’ they ask out of social courtesy rather then they really do want to know the answer. Can no one even produce any empathy? “
“I’m struggling more than enough in coping with my loss and sorrow. Why do I have to consider someone else? Why don’t they have any consideration for me? Is that too much to ask?” Monica asks herself. “There’s no one who hears me. No one who really listens to me. Help! “
Cry for help
On the one hand, everything in Monica’s life seems utterly insignificant when you compare that to her huge loss. But on the other hand, she’s too proud to ask for help.
And yet … Monica wants, as she said before, to continue her life … but … she just can’t get it done. Her cry for help is loud and clear! A cry that should never be ignored! By nobody!
Monica’s cry is finally heard, and people have gone along with her step by step. Her world that stopped turning, got into motion again slowly but surely. The way things look now, Monica will be fine in some point in time. However, the “scars” of her loss and sorrow will never go away, with as result that Monica will look at the world differently than before. It’s just the way it is.
No matter how big your loss and grief is … no matter how harsh and emotional you respond to this … no matter how long ago it happened … whatever people in your area think about it or their opinions are … and how you respond to this (complex) entirely … there is usually a way to get out of that deep valley … the valley of that great loss and sorrow.
Of course, you don’t have to find that road alone. There are countless people who can help you with this. People like family members, dear friends, experiential experts, professional caregivers or people from your immediate environment. Central to this is that you are willing to ask for and accept their help. It is also central that they can and want to give you that help … and continue to give that to you if you indicate you need it.
However, before that happens, it must be clear that help is needed. That could be because your world is starting slowly to move again and you, the grieving person, eventually start to realize that you can’t handle your loss or grieving on your own. That it is also possible for all of us to assure that we do not leave the grieving, you, alone in processing the loss or grief.
In a nutshell, no matter what happens or how long it takes, all of us should, without exception, stay in touch with each other … if only to help each other when one of us needs help.
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Two people who each have their own point of view, their own opinion and no matter how you look at it, both are right. That is allowed and there is nothing wrong with that. But when with one of the two violent emotions play a major role, like sadness, fear or pain, then it’s important that both are willing to understand the other’s point of view. Understanding, so that the bond between the two is not severed but strengthened!
The current blog, “don’t leave me alone,” is about two people with the fictitious names Kathy and Tanya. Both have a different even opposite view of the same situation. That is possible and should be okay. But when intense emotions play a major role at Kathy … then it is important that both can talk to each other … and … can understand each other’s opinion. “And then what,” you may think. “Can’t you have a difference of opinion?” Yes, you can. But it becomes a different story when intense grief or a serious illness play a role with Kathy. Relationships can sever or even end; as with Kathy who is afraid of being left alone. Whatever you think, it happens in daily life and it “hurts people.” Nobody wants that, right?
Kathy has no shortage of friends and,
just like my daughter Anne Birgit, she’s a beautiful young woman. However, on
the outside, you can’t see she’s seriously ill. And Kathy too had to cope with
the necessary blows in her life with the result that the brilliant light she
really is, rarely comes out.
Kathy has undergone a whole range of
chemo treatments and radiation treatments. During the last consultation with
the specialist, he indicated that the treatments will continue to work in her
body for months before something can be said about the result.
It is already the second time for
Kathy in her life that she has undergone such a series of treatments. She can still
clearly remember the first series. How relieved and happy she was after she was
told that she was free of tumours … that she could celebrate life again.
The results of the second series will take months to come. Until then, Kathy is not really in a party mood, let alone to celebrate life because the treatments have been completed. She can still remember the enormous disappointment and especially her anger when the tumours returned for the second time. Until then, Kathy is full of hope that the treatments have achieved the intended effect. On the other hand, she is so afraid of being disappointed again because she realizes what that will mean for her sooner rather than later.
Like Kathy, Tanya is a beautiful
young woman who is full of energy and who is always ready to throw a party as
soon as there is anything to celebrate.
Tanya also had the necessary setbacks
in her life … yes, who didn’t. But when you don’t know it or don’t look deep
into her eyes, everything indicates that life seems to be one big party for Tanya,
and she enjoys it to the fullest.
Tanya and Kathy are close friends.
The treatments Kathy had to undergo for almost a year took a great toll. She
was more often in bed than not and too tired to do anything. Tanya made sure
that at least Kathy was eating … that is if she could keep in that little bit,
she was able to eat … and … take care of herself.
When Kathy returned after all those
intense treatments from the last consultation, it was just natural for Tanya
that this should be celebrated. That’s what you do … it makes sense … you
have completed a phase … you can go on with life, right?
Don’t leave me alone
Kathy had a different opinion. She still remembered the conversation with the specialist, the uncertainties expressed in it and Kathy also remembered the result of that first series of treatments. The enormous relief and joy she felt at the time when they told her that she was free of cancer, and a few years later the intense sadness, the anger and the fear that the tumours had returned. Now Kathy is afraid, so afraid of being disappointed again.
“What do you mean, party? There’s
nothing to celebrate” Kathy says to Tanya who doesn’t agree with her. For Tanya
there definitely something is to celebrate. The treatments are completed, aren’t
they? And with this difference in thinking … this difference in opinion … a
difference in point of view that is so logical and obvious for each of them …
that it’s impossible for them to understand each other’s point of view.
And at this point the relationship between Tanya and Kathy starts to wane and Kathy’s cry for help, “don’t leave me alone,” becomes a reality eventually.
But on the other hand, maybe Kathy’s fear has made Tanya as frightened as she is. Or … there is something that Tanya has been touched by or afraid of … which dilutes the relationship. Or … maybe … yes, you can think of and accept anything, but it’s not something you can get along with it.
How to proceed from here
For me it is crystal clear that Kathy and Tanya should discuss this with each other … and … keep talking to each other so Kathy doesn’t feel left alone. Yes, it’s clear to me, but do they think so too?
In my opinion, it is necessary that Kathy and Tanya sit together at the table and each tells her story about … what is felt … missed … should be celebrated … or not … or what they might be even afraid of.
also be beneficial to do this together with a “mediator” so that, in
addition to helping in expressing each other’s words to the other, at the same
time he or she can foster the understanding that both look at the same
situation in their own unique way.
Both have a
point, but it is important that they can understand each other’s point of view
… so that the relationship between Kathy and Tanya does not gets diluted …
but instead … becomes stronger.
experience that people start from their own opinion, or their own view they
have of the another. That’s obvious, you might think, but in my opinion, it
will be something completely different when that image is based on a series of
assumptions. The reality regarding others is usually different and much more
complex than we initially thought or assumed. That is why it is wise to keep
talking to them in order to get a better understanding for each other. The same
applies to people we think we know very well or for a long time.
You could also assume that everyone is correct. To illustrate this, imagine you are standing in a mountain landscape. The image that you see is determined from where you look at it. When you let everyone tell you what that landscape looks like, you will hear different stories depending on where these people were standing … in that same landscape.
communicating with the other person, it is important that we are prepared to
adjust our own opinions about the other person if that should prove so during
the conversation. And there is often another bottleneck because not everyone
can just do this or want to do this.
The core of the case used in “don’t leave me alone” is not unique. There are countless examples in which communication between people is the cause that they do not understand each other … with all possible consequences … like the one in “Farewell“.
Like in the used case of this blog in which two people each have their own point of view or their own opinion. No matter how you look at it, both are correct. That is allowed and there is nothing wrong with that. But when one of the two experiences violent emotions, such as sadness, fear or pain, then it is important that everyone can understand the other’s point of view, so that one of them doesn’t feel left alone in the end!
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As if it should have been the case. Somewhere, on the way, during a coffee break, I got into conversation with Kathy, a fictitious name. The blog is about her and her partner John, also a fictitious name, who struggle with Kathy’s disease.
The story of Kathy
Kathy has breastcancer and its treatment is drastic and have the necessary effects on and in her body and on the image of her body. The consequences are not only physical, but also emotional and that is also perceived by her.
The changing body image and the emotional perception can
be seen as a mourning reaction… at that which was… and now is. And that
applies not only to Kathy but also to John.
It is important to note that both Kathy’s and John’s bereavement and the
way they deal with it is different.
Now, while Kathy is recovering slowly step by step, John has fled in his work. And at the same time Kathy is only now beginning to realize what she feels … what has happened to her … and … how should she continue with her life. Right now, Kathy feels more and more abandoned by John.
Without having spoken to
Yes, what follows are assumptions, but could it be the
case that John has all kinds of feelings deep inside him… he doesn’t know how
to phrase… or maybe even… doesn’t want to put into words.
It could also just be the case that while Kathy underwent
the treatments and interventions, John only could be there for Kathy and only
could give his support. He understood that her body was performing “top-sport”
all the time and still does, while Kathy was physically too tired to be able to
do much, or maybe even something at home. In that period was primarily the
crisis manager in the house; worried about how her healing process was
proceeding… worried about how the children and the family were dealing with her
illness… arranged the house keeping… worried how his company or employer dealt
with his absence. Has John even been able to take enough time for himself to
realize what the consequences of Kathy’s illness could be?
And maybe it could be that John is scared … afraid because he does not know how to deal with her illness and its consequences … and how to proceed with Kathy … together … or …
John and Kathy must talk to each other and keep on talking. Yes, it’s clear to me, but it doesn’t have to be that it’s clear to John and Kathy.
In my opinion, it is necessary for Kathy and John to sit around the table together, and each one tells the story about … what is being felt … or missed … what the worries are … maybe is even afraid of.
opinion, it would be useful to do this together with a supervisor, so that in
addition to helping to put everyone’s feelings into words, he or she can also
cultivate understanding that both Kathy and John go through a grieving process
in their own way. It does not matter how you go through that grieving process
and how long it takes … what matters is that mourning process is run through!
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