(107) Good Watch

This time a contribution from the district nursing services. No matter how professional the employees are towards their clients, it is and remains human work. This is most evident when the daily work extends to palliative care. Besides profession, emotions also come into play. After all, it is and remains work for people carried out by people and everything that comes with it. For all these employees it is nothing but praise from me!

And now follows Nella’s contribution… a contribution from a district nursing service, somewhere in The Netherlands.

“Good watch,” these were the words I have heard for years. During the night shift, after I gave you the care you needed.

The bond I had with you was special, our age difference of 40 years did nothing to that. You called me your friend. Not so much that I visited you outside my working hours … though. The many conversations about life itself, such as the struggle you wanted to continue to work as a highly educated woman at the time when you were married and had children. That was very unusual at the time and took a lot of struggle. But you persisted and never gave up on what you believed. Those were the powerful stories. Keep developing yourself, don’t stand still, because that was decline by definition. Being and staying independent as a woman, leading your own … That was one of the many stories and lessons and learning moments about life itself. Also, the love for your deceased husband, who supported you in those years of struggle to follow your own path as a woman. The many grateful moments with your husband, children and grandchildren together. The visits of your children, who came frequently and the grandchildren you called gifts.

It is May 4, 2019, commemoration day of the dead. Your health deteriorates very quickly when I arrive around midnight as usual. As always, the TV is on, but not now with the news sections, but the Second World War is proceeding. The bombs and all that goes with it, illuminates and engulfs your living room with sound, from a TV screen that is currently far too large. I can see that the WWII is not only on TV but also in you. With a somewhat tearful face, which I have rarely seen in all those 7 years with you, you tell me that I may go and that if it suits me, I may return later in the night or even in the morning. Your voice trembles. My doubt about leaving is great, but because you say it so emphatically and you don’t like fuss, I am starting off in the first place. But before I go out through the door, I walk back and ask, “Can I watch with you so that we are together …” “If you want it so much” and “Do you have time for that?” you asked in a snappy voice to me. For some situations I like to make time free. I know you and understand that you quickly perceive it as pity or too much involvement. I need to phrase it gently. The thought alone. That you would need someone, or that you would feel sorry. That did not suit you at all and straightened your hair. I knew that. “I always come and sit next to you” was my answer, usually going through the day. “That was true,” you confirmed. The tone became much milder again. Once next to you, I felt the quivering in your hands, and as so often I grabbed them for a moment, just like now. Because your hands were shaking so, I enclosed them with my second hand. We watched the movie together without saying anything. Despite our very close relationship, I know that you absolutely do not want to talk about the war. That era is a closed book for you. Once the movie is over, I give you the care that we give you every night.

“Didn’t it bother you that you stayed?” was your question to me. “No, being together with you right now is so much more of significance to me.” “For me too,” you say. “You don’t know how much you mean to me, because I don’t actually say it so often. Rarely actually.” “You don’t have to. Some situations you can just feel the empathy,” was my answer. This is the essence of providing care. I have known that for a long time, but now I felt it so emphatically.

In the last week of your life, you become increasingly narrow, restless and anxious. I happen to have the night shift myself that week. I was with you during the many hours of fear and unrest. I asked the questions that always must be asked in situations like this. And what we talked about much earlier, when nothing was wrong. You wanted to die peacefully, preferably asleep. The conversations become more intense, your sensitivity and your soft side are showing much more, just like the satisfaction about a completed life. It was such a beautiful valuable time together in the last week. The cocktail of medication that someone receives when the person is severely oppressed or restless (at a certain stage) and wants to do so, as would have been the case with you that evening, is started. And, as promised, I will still take care of you.

The peak of our relationship and contact was reached for me, when your son called me and asked if I wanted to stop by so that you could say goodbye to me when you were conversant. Of course, I would come over. With heavy shoes, I went to you. To be honest, I found it difficult, but once with you, I was surprised of the peace you showed. There was no sign of fear and unrest. You were ready for the last journey. Almost cheerfully you asked me if you could give me something. You have often asked me that question. Like now, I don’t need anything from you. “Everything you would like to give me fades in the contact and the bond we have had”. You smiled at me. “You are right, what we had together was unique in every way”. With a final farewell and a kiss on your cheek I leave your home. On my way home, tears roll down my cheeks. Not because you die quickly, but because of the beautiful and many memories we had together. I realized: this is and was LOVE. I feel love and gratitude for the time together with you. And a huge loss for the time to come when I must miss you.

Farewell dear friend!

(106) The shadow side of mourning

The loss of a dear one

The shadow side of mourning? Is there a light one then? Everything is relative, you could see it as the difference between dusk with a brilliant sunset and the oncoming night as the shadow side.

The mourning process about the loss of a loved one can become complicated, without talking though about complex mourning. No, about a form where many things play a role in the periphery of mourning. That I call the shadow side of mourning. A form that can lead you to deferred mourning and everything in between.

Mourning, imaged as a sunset

When you consider a sunset as an image for a mourning process, then mourning is limited to the processing of the loss of a loved one by you and by you only.

The image of the sunset is not just about the (sometimes) difficult moments in your life … but also including those great moments that you shared together. It’s about a life, that when someone asks you if you would be willing to live that life all over again … including all those sad and great moments … your answer would be an immediate yes!

It maybe is a meagre consolation, but the deeper the grief the greater the love that existed between you. At the moment of realization, it doesn’t console you though … because the other one isn’t there anymore and you can’t give him or her a hug or a kiss.

The shadow side of mourning

The shadow side of mourning is about a loss that can become an even greater one by aspects that play a role in the periphery of the grieving person.

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Besides the loss of your loved one, you will also have to deal with aspects that are the result of how others manage the same loss. A disagreement between family members during the preparations for the memorial service could cause this … or just after that. Or the handling of the inheritance became an issue … and consequently, family ties could be lost. The so-called “glass door” effect for mourners results to the loss of friends. After the memorial service of your dear one, almost everyone promises to invite you. Only a handful honour their promise though.

The loss of a dear one might even lead to anger. Anger because you are so sorry that your last words didn’t reflect not even close what you felt for the other. You may feel abandoned because you now must deal with all those things and issues your loved one always did. You may find out secrets about your dear one that were hidden from you all the time. It could be even that your anger turns into hatred.

You may feel compelled or even forced to take over the position in the company of your loved one. A position you never wanted to have because you don’t have the knowledge or skills. But now you should do so.

When the shadow side plays an important role in your loss, then mourning becomes convoluted. It’s clear though, like everyone else, that only you can process your mourning. But that is not to say that a helping hand can’t be offered … a helping hand in the form of support or guidance.

Finding support … but how?

Support and guidance should primarily be directed to raise awareness and the understanding of what is happening to you (in other words, to understand the parts of your puzzle) at that moment; and what parts are important to you; and what could be done to resolve those parts of your puzzle.

Secondly, you should find out what parts of your puzzle could be resolved by yourself or by somebody else. And, not to forget, why and for which items of your puzzle support or guidance would be required. As normally would be the case knowledge and experience are important factors, but with grief or bereavement trust is the most important factor. The rule of thumb that should be used is: “When in doubt, out!”

Personally, I find it important that the grieving person should become self supporting as soon as possible. That means that all assistance or guidance provided is only of (very) short term nature!

Afterword

Mourning is not just about the loss of a loved one. Parallels could also drawn for mourning as a result of a treatable but incurable disease up to and including a malignant terminal disease.

(105) Modern Heroes

This time the blog is devoted to modern heroes. It’s about all those who fight to turn the tide of the situations they’re in … or fight the serious or life-threatening illness they have. It is a battle of perseverance. Sometimes it works … sometimes it doesn’t … But despite all the setbacks, they keep going. They are incredibly beautiful and especially powerful people who are a shining example for all of us! Yes, they are certainly heroes!

Heroes … others sometimes call them stars. You don’t notice them! You don’t hear them! And yet you come across them every day.

What follows is not a fairy tale, it’s a harsh reality

As an example, there was the daughter who asked her mother if she could give her the name of a modern hero for her school project and also explain why he is a hero. It was not a question that the mother could answer immediately. The mother asked me if I could help her and in a whim I had an answer for her.

The mother was divorced and had to take care of her children on her own. The alimony was not really regularly paid to her by the father. Well, there you are. What now?

In order to survive, the mother decided to start her own business with a service that suited her. For that it was necessary to follow a few courses. She had to … in her opinion … and she managed it with a lot of perseverance.

Just when the company started running, the mother became ill. The diagnosis she eventually received was that she had cancer. It was a form that was treatable and benigne … but still … there was the fear.

The answer to her question was that every time the mother looked in the mirror … that in my opinion she looked at a hero. Despite all the difficulties, all the grief and the fear if things would be fine … she had managed to start a business so that she could take care of herself and her children … and that she had recovered from her illness, although it was still vaguely present in the background. That makes her in my eyes … a hero! Easy to say afterwards … but you need to realize that the mother had to go this long path all by herself.

Around us there are many more heroes like her

You meet heroes every day. These are people who are seriously ill and, above all, who don’t want to show that to others … don’t want to talk to others about it … not wanting to burden others with their grief. If only for avoiding sympathy, or to prevent others from consciously or unconsciously avoiding them … because those others are scared or don’t know how to cope with it themselves.

All these heroes … as if they have a short fuse … quickly notice whether the interest of the other person is meant … is real! They quickly see throuh all kinds of stories that make no sense.

These heroes also avoid conversations where other people say what they have been through, is it not with themselves then with somebody else but worse … many times worse. Sometimes it even goes so far that in their opinion our hero exaggerated. Whatever you think of this… it’s never a competition!

Many people consciously or unconsciously avoid our heroes. Maybe it’s because the other person’s illness is scary … and one wants nothing to do with it … or one comes into contact with a side of life that one is afraid of … a side of life where maybe death plays a role … a side where very different norms and values are important than success, beauty and status.

A personal opnion… or yet it isn’t

Personally, I think it is sad that people avoid these heroes. That way they miss the opportunity to meet … incredibly beautiful and above all powerful people … people who are a shining example to all of us!

For that reason alone I am eternally grateful to my daughter Anne Birgit for putting me on the path of the Mourn & Grief Foundation. Yes, forever … because no matter how much energy, pleasure and gratitude I have received from my clients and teams in my former professional life, that is almost nullified by the attention and gratitude I receive from our heroes.

To all these heroes … Chapeau!

(104) There are those moments in your life

There are those moments in your life, even after many years, that you’re back at that time … that time you had so much grief and pain … grief, because you lost a loved one … hurt, because you were seriously ill … that you thought that you were healed and it turned out that you have cancer again … or …

You have such moments when processing your grief … even though that may have been years ago. At moments like that you jump back into your grief again … you may cry just as intensely as then … it might hurt just as much as then. That is allowed, even though it may be after years, there is nothing wrong with that!

People around you … even dear ones such as family and friends … may not understand anything anymore of what is happening to you at that moment. When you are asked what is going on … and you just can’t find the words to describe how you feel at that moment … yes, then that’s OK too.

Maybe it helps when you don’t know the words … as an answer to their question … that you play this music by Lili Haydn – The Last Serenade. Tears and understanding come naturally. Maybe they understand … or maybe they feel … what’s going on with you. And maybe not. Only if you understand the emotions you feel!

Bereavement may take quite a while. That is very normal. After all, everyone mourns in their own way.

But mind you, it should not be that you linger in your grief. The raw mourning of the past must have changed into the gentle pain of the sorrow and the missing of people today. Because if the raw pain of the past … now, after years, still is present … then it would be good to seek help. Then indicate that it is about processing your grief! Many people assume that you have processed your grief by now. After years, not everyone immediately makes the connection that you are still dealing with (delayed) mourning.

(103) She felt herself more and more abandoned

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 John

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 …

Communication

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.

In my 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!