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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The raw mourning caused by the loss of your child eventually turns into the gentle pain of grief. The sharp edges go off, but the pain of losing your child never passes!
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
After the birth of your child, you hear that it has not been given a long life
If, as a parent, you are told at the birth of your child that it is seriously ill and has not been given a long life, then you step into the most intense rollercoaster ride of your life you can imagine. How do you explain to your family, friends and acquaintances what is going on with your new-born? How do you explain what the future holds for your new-born?
And so, it begins
They are not easy conversations with the family! Certainly not when your new-born child looks fantastic despite everything and some family members simply cannot accept that your child is seriously ill. Or because your child has a disease that is genetically linked to one of the family systems … or even both. How do you deal with this within your family? Not to mention the world outside your family. And finally, … how do you deal with it?
How do you continue together when you later discover that the number of friends around you is slowly decreasing? As if they find it difficult or prefer not to be near you anymore. As if you yourselves … you, your partner, and your other children … don’t have a hard enough time. In the end you try to let everything that happens outside your family, slip away from you because your child and family are infinitely more important. But that is easier said than done. It adds an extra dimension to all the problems you already have.
Unconsciously you enter a survival mode
Unconsciously you end up in a survival mode in which you are always fighting for your child to be able to live if possible.
There are times when things are going so great, as if nothing is wrong and your child seems healthy. There are also those moments that are so sad, and your child is so sick that you must rush to the hospital … at that moment you are so afraid that it won’t come home again.
Sometimes those powerful emotional moments come right after each other that you switch in a fleeting moment from joy to fear. Eventually you find repeatedly asking yourself with the thought if this could be your child’s last year?
Maybe by now you have learned not to show your emotions and the pain in you and your family anymore. Because people don’t understand. Or because they think that the pain for themselves or one of their acquaintances is much severe than yours. Or because they ask you the social question “How you are doing?” … but are not interested in your answer at all.
Finally, home Your child can no longer sustain the strength to move on
And then it comes, always unexpectedly, that inevitable moment when your child shows that no matter how much it wants … how much it loves you … it can no longer muster the strength to move on with life … no longer wants to live … and decides that this is enough … it wants to go Home. How can you, as a parent, finally have the courage to give your child permission to go Home … no matter how hard that may be for you? Nights will be long and sleepless for you … if that wasn’t the case already.
The run-up to death
Eventually come those in and in sad moments where you can consciously experience the run-up to the death of your child. During those days you can only be there for your child, while you would still like to give your child so much. You would like to continue to fight for your child. You would so much like to switch with your child.
However, at a certain point, usually unexpectedly, it becomes quiet around you. Your world seems to tip over and slowly comes to a standstill. It feels like a moment of intense peace. It is the moment when you give your child with all the Love you have, permission to go Home. And you realise that everything has been said between you in Love and Light.
As soon as you have given your permission, slowly, very slowly your world begins to turn again. You begin to hear all the sounds around you again. It is also a moment when you feel a deep inner peace and realise that it is good … as if it should have been like this!
From the birth of your child until the day you allowed your child to go Home, you were in survival mode, maybe for years. No matter how lovingly you were able and allowed to go with and support your child all those years, you were always alert to whether your child was doing well. You yourself probably would have often ignored yourself, after all, your child’s health was to you much more important. The consequence of this can be that during all those years you have pushed your feelings away … which is a thing you can do easily by now.
It became silent at home now that your child is no longer with you. Yes, your partner and your other children are (perhaps) still there, but the child you gave all your attention to is no longer there anymore. The absence is missed by all and with you the most.
On the other hand, perhaps you or your family are happy that your child is at Home; simply because your child had a hard life and finally lost that sick body. It is the beginning of a period in which slowly but surely the “natural order” in and around the family is or can be restored. In my experience this process takes almost as long as your child has lived. In my opinion, your emotions also run much flatter after the death of your child, because you dealt year by year with the thought that your child would die rather sooner than later, than when your child would have suddenly died in a tragic accident.
Suddenly you run into limits again
And suddenly you run into a line again. Most people in your life are not used to the fact that the mourning after your child’s death can be long. Certainly not in today’s times where everything must happen faster and faster. Likewise, these people are not used to learning that coping with your loss and grief in your case can take quite a long time. Then at some point you get reactions like: “Gee, your child died years ago. Haven’t you got over that yet?” Reactions that cut through your soul at such a moment because it still hurts so much for you. There is no point in explaining this to the other person, he just doesn’t understand it; you had had that experience long before. The result is that almost at once … you switch back into your survival mode again … you have become incredibly good at it by now.
But do realise
But do realise that it is good for you to learn how to deal with your grief and loss. Realise that you can’t always do it on your own in this case. Also realise that you cannot always seek support for this from your partner. After all, your partner also must learn to deal with the same loss. The longer it takes, the better it is for you to seek help from a professional practitioner with a lot of empathy and experience for your situation.
With reliable professional training for counselling in the field of grief and mourning, the requirement is that a counsellor, can counsel a client as far as the counsellor him- or herself is capable with dealing him or her own loss. A great deal of time is spent on this during such a training programme. In short, you could also opt for a programme in which you are certified as a mourning counsellor as a bonus. You will never receive the certificate of such a programme as a gift. You must work very hard for it. Besides, you must work very hard anyway, because learning to cope with loss is very hard and difficult work. Perhaps this is a wonderful new challenge for you, because the loss of your child allows you to find a new destination in life.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a grief counsellor to teach you how to deal with your loss and grief, make sure that this counsellor has experience and knows very well the limits of his or her own loss.
And now a final comment
In this contribution I use the words learning to cope with your loss and mourning. It is my experience that the raw mourning caused by the loss of your child eventually turns into the gentle pain of grief. The sharp edges go off. But the pain of losing your child never passes!
Paradoxical as it is … despite all that sadness … all that pain … and all that loss … in hindsight I would not have missed a day of it. It is what it is … and that is not always easy.
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People generally avoid loss and mourning. One does not always know how to react, what to say to a grieving person. From subjects like loss, mourning or death, one becomes sad, gloomy, quiet. But why shouldn’t you be allowed or able to celebrate that the other person, your deceased loved one … that that special other person has somehow accomplished the tasks in life and is allowed to go home. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to celebrate that? Laugh with all your heart and soul, despite your mourning!
Recently, after a conversation with a friend, I noticed that I had been laughing with her. That laugh came deep inside … from my core … my soul.
Hours later it dawned on me that since the death of my daughter Anne Birgit, now more than 20 years ago, I had seldom done this! And because of the death of my wife Mary-Anne, already 10 years ago, I was not aware of how I really felt … how I was in life. Even though in those years I worked on myself … alone … or with others. Still, in those years I was able to enjoy life … have fun in life. But despite all that … or perhaps because of all that … that awareness that I had estimated from the laughter … felt to me like a thunderclap in clear heaven.
An ambivalent feeling
That awareness of that laughter deep from my heart gave me an ambivalent feeling. On the one hand it tasted like more … I wanted to be able to laugh more often with all my feelings. But on the other hand, why hadn’t I discovered this in myself sooner … hadn’t I become aware of it sooner?
Yes, I had often laughed and had fun after the great loss of both my soul mates … but somehow it wasn’t real … it didn’t sound real … as if something was missing … something deep inside.
And then all of a sudden … all of a sudden you come across statements by “verken je geest” on Facebook, translated from the Dutch language, like “It’s striking that a smile can have two different meanings … you can use it to show how good you feel … and … to hide how bad you feel”. Or a statement like “The people who laugh the most are the people who have suffered the most”. Yeah, I came across those statements suddenly after I realized that I had been laughing from all of my heart. Or did I not notice such statements earlier? I don’t know.
Light and Love
I want to heal myself and/or be healed so that after all the loss and sorrow that I have experienced so far, I can … really laugh with pleasure … really enjoy life … and really trust myself … love and light in my life are central again. But then I must go inside, to my feelings, to my heart … to my soul? Do I dare to do that? Will I succeed … or … With the help of others, professional experts in experience, it should certainly be possible.
At the same time with that insight I feel a deep peace coming in … as if I finally dare to make the leap to that part of the path that is full of obstacles. Or as Frank A. Clark describes it: “If you find a path without obstacles, it probably leads nowhere.
Dare to take that path … that path with its many obstacles and let yourself be surprised by the wonderful encounters and lessons you can learn there. Continue to cherish that path with Love and Light. Show what a wonderful person that other person was … that loved one you have lost. At the same time, show what a wonderful person you are and that despite your loss and mourning, you may shine in the Light and Love of Life. Celebrate that and Laugh with all your Heart and Soul, despite your mourning!
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Becoming aware of mourning is important because in the literature it is described how grief represents a change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the grieving needs time to restore the psychological balance.
Becoming aware of mourning
Becoming aware of mourning is
important since it is described in the literature how sadness represents a
change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological
area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the griever
needs time to restore the psychological balance.
In an earlier blog I wrote about an overwhelming loss immediately after a loved one or dear one had died. This blog is about the run-up to becoming aware of grief as a result of that overwhelming loss.
A few terms
The following terms are used in this
indicates the experience of someone whose loved one or dear one has died. Grief
consists of a collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological
changes that can vary in combination and intensity over time.
Bereavement defines the loss to which the person is trying to adjust and the
experience of having lost a loved one or dear one.
is the term that is applied to the process that people go through to adapt to
the death of their loved one or dear one. The finality and consequences of the
loss are understood and integrated into the life of the griever.
As you would expect, notions such as
grief, bereavement and mourning are not limited solely to aspects related to
the death of the loved one or a dear one. It can be drawn much wider. For example,
in relation to a terminal illness, a divorce, the loss of work, the loss of
physical functions, etc.
Why should grief be dealt
with after a big loss?
Research has shown that within normal
mourning, also referred to as uncomplicated mourning, much of the behaviour can
resemble that of depression. However, the cause is different and so does the
approach to address its behaviour. The current understanding is that while most
of the depressions during mourning are transient and do not require special
attention, the idea is nevertheless emerging that a persistent depression
during the first year of mourning does indeed require professional or clinical
attention. Seen from this perspective, it is believed mourning after the loss
of a loved one or a dear one is important.
But whatever you think
about it …
The choice of whether to handle your
grief after a major loss is entirely up to you. You are free to process your
grief or not. You may not even consider it because sadness is part of life and
many in your area die. You could choose to repress your sorrow (after a short
time) into the background simply by continuing with your daily life “as usual.”
You could even choose to replace it with someone else shortly after your
“Mourning? Do I mourn? No, not at
all! Should I? Why would I want to do that?” These are questions and reactions
from a young man from Nigeria whose family member had died. He explained that
mourning does not matter to him because death is part of daily life. After all,
many people are dying around us. A reformulation of the question could also be:
if it is normal for (many) acquaintances to die or disappear in your
environment every day … how do you look at your loss or mourning?
How do I become aware of
my grief from that great loss?
Personally, I became aware of my
grief after many years. After the death of my wife, Mary Anne, I returned to
work quickly, maybe too quickly. My work was intense, the teams worked all over
the world and as a result my working hours were quite bizarre. However, it was
a fantastic job from which I could get a lot of energy. Until that moment when
I retired a few years later. I got several of those indefinable ailments, felt
gloomy, could not sleep, was tired, and reading a page of a book took me days
and still I had no hunch what it was about. Ailments no physician could put a
finger on. Occasionally there were days when all went fantastic … at least
that added a bit of hope to the little that was left of it. It all simmered a
bit until during a vacation with my son, Mervyn, we suddenly had to rush to the
hospital, I could barely breathe anymore. They saw it happen in the hospital,
but they couldn’t find the cause. Eventually everything returned to normal and
we went on with our vacation. Once at home they could not find a cause in our
hospital either. However, once I started writing my blogs about grief and mourning,
those “ailments” started to disappear slowly. Gradually I became
aware that I had finally started processing my grief.
But could you also become
aware of your mourning … instead of by chance?
In general, mourning involves a
collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and physiological changes that can
vary over time in combination and intensity. To name just a few:
Sadness, anger, blame, guilt and self-blame, fear, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning for the deceased, emancipation or relief, numbness, hollowness in the stomach, chest tightness, tightness in the throat, hypersensitivity to noise, a feeling like you are no longer yourself, breathlessness, shortness of breath, weakness in the muscles, lack of energy, dry mouth, disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, hallucinations, sleep disorders, eating disorders, distracted and absent behaviour, withdrawn into oneself, dreams about the deceased, avoiding memories of the deceased, searching or calling for the deceased, sighing, restless, hyperactive, crying, visit places that remind of the deceased, collect or carry objects that belonged to the deceased.
Yes, there are quite a few and on top
of that you must be able to be consciously involved with this matter for a
while after that overwhelming loss. Maybe you suffer from absent behaviour or
you have no energy to do anything. Maybe family members or friends can assist
you when you are not able to do so yourself.
How to proceed
Personally, I was able to conclude
that I had started processing my mourning much later. In retrospect, I would
much rather have had direct help with the processing of my grief. It would have
given me more peace and I could have enjoyed life more. Maybe even … it is
what it is…
Anyway, you can become aware of
mourning, after the death of your loved one or dear one, when you keep track of
your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological changes from the above
collection on say a monthly basis by indicating how these vary over time in
combination and/or its intensity. You could draw the conclusion when:
• The combination and/or intensity diminishes:
that you are processing your mourning and that you can handle the loss of your
loved one or your dear one.
• The combination and/or intensity
kind of persists: then it is wise to seek help for your mourning at a practice
for grieving and loss guidance.
• The combination and/or intensity
increases: then it is wise to seek help from your doctor as soon as possible for
guiding you with your mourning. In the latter case, based on your feelings, you
may have already considered the idea of seeking help in
an earlier stage.
This blog may be a bit on the boring side, but it is my intention to help you in becoming aware of your grief after the loss of a loved one or a dear one. From own experience, experience of others and from the literature it appears that processing of grief is important. In a nutshell, body and mind must be healed, must be brought back into balance. However, realize that that balance will no longer be the same as before. Mourning also means that you are “marked” by the loss … like in my previous blog with Kathy who rarely shows the brilliant light that she really is and with Tanja where you can see the necessary setbacks she has had when you look deep into her eyes.
It is my wish that this blog can help
you with becoming aware of your grief. It is my experience that only then your
A final comment
There is a lot of literature available in the field of grief and mourning. The Dutch version of the Foundation’s website contains a literature overview that is regularly updated. The book that I find most rewarding to read and understand is “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy”, 5th edition, by J. William Worden (ISBN 9780826134745) published by Springer Publishing Company, LLC.
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Roundabout of choices. You keep making choices that lead to similar consequences as from choices you made previously. You promised yourself never to do that again, and still you did.
In our daily life we consciously and unconsciously make many choices. With one choice it is crystal clear for you to choose, with the other choice the options are not so clear, let alone that you can see the consequences of your choice. You never get full assurance for making your choice. As soon as you have made the first steps after your choice, everything will change as things that were previously hidden for you now become visible. In short, it makes no sense to reason (in detail) what choice you should make… but trust your feelings.
If you don’t make a choice, you literally stand still, and you won’t continue on your life’s path. But, make sure you don’t get on a roundabout of choices.
Roundabout of Choices
Each time you make the same choice of which you promised yourself never to make it again, then your life’s path run along a roundabout; the roundabout of choices. Even though the players you meet may change over time when you walk along your roundabout of choices, it remains a repetition of moves and decisions. You won’t proceed in life in my opinion because you didn’t learn obviously from previous lessons.
Below some examples. Many examples could be added to the list. What matters though is that you keep making choices that have the same kind of outcome or consequences… you promised to yourself not to make these choices again… and, still you did.
An example: Your partner abuses you
Consider for example of a situation where your partner abuses you, or bullies, deceives, neglects or just ignores you. You may not have experienced that in the beginning of your relationship. Later, when you became aware of the situation you were in, you still loved your partner deeply despite his or her behaviour. You didn’t want to admit at first and eventually, perhaps even after long deliberation, you decided to end the relation. And when you settled down again you thought at yourself: “Never again!”
Eventually you met someone again with whom you decided to enter a new relationship. Later, you discovered that this new partner behaved the same way as your ex-partner. “Not again!” you thought. However, your friends saw it happening again from the beginning of your new relationship and were thinking: “How is it possible that you didn’t learn from that hard lesson the last time?” At that moment you returned to the same point on the roundabout of choices where you were last time.
An example: After a break, you choose the same partner each time
The same applies to people who after a broken relationship still choose the same partner again and … sometimes keep choosing … despite the previously broken relationship (s) and the ensuing frustrations and grief. We may think at the next choice … that we did learn from our mistakes and that this time we will make the right choice. And yet others, who know you well … find that you again have again chosen a partner who is addicted to alcohol and / or drugs or threatens or abuses you. You made the same choice as before in your life when you had promised yourself that you would never make such a choice again.
Any other example
That lousy or bad situation does not necessarily have to deal with a partner. I could also be about completely different things: like your financial decisions or changing jobs every time because the last job didn’t meet your expectations again.
How to proceed from here
Get off that roundabout of choices
Get off that roundabout of choices. You can only proceed on your path of life when you choose a route that caries you away from that roundabout of choices. However, before that happens you will have to be prepared not to retreat every time … maybe you think it too bizarre for words … on that old “trusted” path that was your roundabout of choices. You must be willing to think completely out of the box and perhaps even dare to live that way. Only then can you develop yourself further and perhaps discover also new horizons that help you create new opportunities.
Go for it as soon as you leave the roundabout of choices
Once you step on that new path, that path that takes you away from that roundabout of choices, don’t look back but forward to where that path goes. Leave the past for what it is. The past cannot be changed anyway. You can only make choices that concern the future, your future.
Keep making choices
In my opinion, every person has a purpose in life. However, that goal is not important… what is important is the path you followed to achieve your goal and in particularly the lessons you learned on that path. To reach your goal you’ll have to make choices to move forward in life. What those choices are? That’s not for me. That’s up to you! You are responsible for the choices you make in your life. It also means that you must accept the consequences of a choice made… after all it’s your choice.
It amazes me time and time again is that you unwind once you’ve made your choice. You’ve put a step forward. And whatever the situation was where you’re coming from… or maybe even still is… you’ve put a step… a step forward. And with that you opened new opportunities to move forward in life. Make sure you make use of what you discover… see… get… receive… and feel. Exploit it fully! Get all out of it! At a certain point in time you may discover that you’ve learned new things… something that you never would’ve chosen otherwise … something is a revelation to you… where you become a happy person!
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