(3) She thought she had no right to grieve

She thought at that moment that she had no right to grief because the sadness of another was many times worse than hers.

The encounter

Dealing with grief comes in many forms. As soon as we are among people we try to hide our grief. However, when a sensitive nerve is touched, grief can come up unexpectedly. This blog is about a meeting during one of the trips I made for my work.

The restaurant I had chosen was full. There was a long queue. You have that if you don’t make a reservation. At the bar there was a seat available and the waitress suggested to take that seat for the moment. I was alone and the choice was quickly made.

The place was between a man and a woman. On the left was a man who was engaged in a deep conversation with his partner about a business problem. The rest of the world didn’t seem to exist for them. A woman sat on my right side and was deeply absorbed in her thoughts.

The conversation

In the end, we came to talk to each other. She was on a business trip and missed her children. At one point she told me that the love of her life had died in a car accident. Her relationship with him had lasted 18 months. “Only 18 months,” she said. She was still devastated.

She asked about my children and my relationship. I told her about the loss of both my mates. My daughter when she was 21 and my wife, my soul mate, after 35 years of marriage. She was shocked and deeply impressed. She wanted to know how I dealt with my grief. What had happened to me was so much worse than in her case, she told me. She thought at the time that she had no right to grief because she thought that someone else’s grief was much worse.

She thought she had no right to grief.  She considered the grief of somebody else many times worse than hers.

I did not know how to react. How can you think such a thing? In the end I found the words. One has no more or less sorrow than the other. It feels the way it feels. It doesn’t matter how long it has been and it doesn’t matter how long the relationship has been. Her grief was as concrete and as intense as mine. How can you say that one person’s grief is worse than another person’s? Yes, as an outsider perhaps, but not those who experienced grief and mourning. For them there is no difference! For them, the grief is very concrete and sometimes they don’t know how to deal with the raw pain of grief.

Dealing with grief

Her grief may have been different, but it was as intense and raw as mine. After the conversation she felt a little relieved, a little happier perhaps and maybe she could handle her grief a little better. Her grief was no less … but more importantly it helped her to put things in a different perspective … by voicing it … and particularly by being able to share it with someone else.

Text updated: 22-09-2020

(2) A new experience

You would expect that after over 13 years, let me say this mildly, my emotions due to the loss of my daughter would be have been lessened by then.

Confusion

The death of Anne Birgit had an enormous impact on my life. As sad as this is, it is a new experience. Nevertheless, I would have preferred her to be alive now. But who am I to determine that?

My daughter Anne Birgit,
Private collection of Hans Fransen
My daughter Anne Birgit

The period around the death, in June 2000, of my daughter Anne Birgit was confusing for me. Strange things happened that I could not explain at the time. On the one hand, I was incredibly sad and felt the raw pain of loss. On the other hand, I was arranging everything … “cold” and without any emotion. It all felt very ambivalent. I had no idea how to deal with this. As a family, the days passed like a haze. What was crystal clear was that it felt different for each of us. It was difficult to talk about it with each other, that was also clear to us. We tried, but it didn’t work out.

After months we got structure in our life again

Months later, little by little, everything started to fall back into place; I started to become myself again. The sadness translated into the story about Anne Birgit that I told to everyone who wanted to hear it. Well … somehow the conversation, unconsciously or not, usually turned out to end up with that.

13 years later

One would expect that, after more than 13 years, let me put it thoughtfully, the emotions would be less. On the contrary.

Almost every day I still thought of Anne Birgit and remembered her as she was. The memory turned out to be a very beautiful thing at those moments: all emotions, colours, smells, warmth, conversations, environments became available again down to the smallest details … as if they were photos or film fragments … as if you were reliving it again.

At present

What surprises me most is that there are people who do not think it is normal for me to be saddened by the loss of Anne Birgit. After all, time heals all wounds, doesn’t it? Surely the grief will pass. The answer is yes … and no.

Yes, the raw pain of grief has changed into the gentle pain of grief. No, because I meet friends of Anne Birgit from time to time. Friends who are married and have children. Then, at those moments, you realise what you are missing, and you remember your own daughter and the family and children she could have had. That hurts!

Did I find myself pathetic then? No, on the contrary! I did not find myself pathetic then, as I do now. I was and am proud to be present at the death of Anne Birgit and to say goodbye to her. Am I still sad now? Yes … yes … until my death, I assume. Am I a happy person? Oh yes, I am!

Text updated: 22-10-2020

(1) Her last wish

You are not the only person who needs to process grief or loss one way or the other. With this blog I want to share with you the journey I’ve made and am still making. I want to share with you the lessons I’ve learned and am still learning.

Her last wish

My daughter Anne Birgit knew she was going to die. Her last wish was that I would coach and guide people who had lost a loved one.

My daughter Anne Birgit knew she was going to die. Her last wish was that I would coach and guide people who had lost a loved one.

Anne Birgit died in 2000, at the age of 21. Shortly after her birth it was already known that she suffered from Cystic Fibrosis. It had an enormous impact on us as parents. Not only because she suffered from this disease, but especially because she was expected to die at a (very) young age. The result was also that from year to year we wondered whether that year would not be her last.

A broken heart

My wife and soul mate Mary Anne died in 2011. She struggled with the loss of our daughter. She did not want or could not accept any form of help and support to deal with the loss. And certainly not from me because I too was struggling with the loss of our daughter. In the end my wife died of a broken heart.

In the week before her death I received a card from a woman I had coached. She indicated that she found me a special and beautiful light on her path in life. I remember talking to my wife about this over the weekend before she died. She suggested, no… even insisted that this form of coaching should become my future life path. At the same time, in her usual way, it was a subtle reminder to fulfil our daughter’s last wish.

The end of my professional life

In 2013, I retired after a working life that gave me enormous satisfaction. However, there was one disadvantage to that working life: I was very much away from home. I no longer have any idea how often I travelled around the world, how many cities I saw, let alone how many hotels I slept in. As a result, I consider myself a citizen of the world.

As a management consultant and as a project manager, I had always been able to see not only the fun but also the stress in my environment. I could see this in others … but not in myself. The result was that after I retired my body was tired and wanted to recover from all the stress I had built up in recent years. Of course, there was also the loss of my wife and my daughter. This became clear when I accidentally discovered in mid-2013 that my process of mourning had finally begun … after years!

It was time to finally fulfil my daughter’s last wish. Promising is one thing, doing it was of a completely different order.

All beginnings are difficult

You are not the only one who must deal with mourning in one way or another. Through this blog I would like to share with you the journey I have made so far and still make. I want to share with you the lessons I have learned and am still learning.

My journey, or perhaps better, my path to mourning, runs along subjects such as understanding, letting go, you thought it was over and there’s always some residue of pain left. In my opinion, the core of mourning comes down to get everything out of life and, despite all the suffering, also a little bit of enjoyment.

In addition to this blog, in accordance with her last wish, a foundation was set up in the Netherlands under the name Stichting Jouw Rouwverwerking. The aim of the foundation is to help others in coping with loss and to help them with their grief and mourning. Outside the Netherlands, the foundation is called Mourn & Grief Foundation.

It is clear to me that I cannot do this on my own. I cannot change the world on my own. What I can do is change myself and hopefully I can also teach others that things can be done differently. Hopefully, you will spread the news. You never know what will happen in the future, but I hope I can make a difference with the foundation, even if it is only a small difference.

For the writing of the blogs in the field of grief and mourning, the foundation has received contributions from several authors.

Text updated: 21-10-2020