(5) Outside Your Comfort Zone

When travelling you meet a lot of people, many … many people. People with different shades of color, from different cultures, using different languages, from various ages and having different backgrounds and what they all have in common is that each of them is a beautiful person with a beautiful mind and with an interesting story of their life.

When travelling you meet a lot of people, many … many people. People with different shades of color, from different cultures, using different languages, from various ages and having different backgrounds and what they all have in common is that each of them is a beautiful person with a beautiful mind and with an interesting story of their life.

People have become important to me. I changed from steel and ships to people. I got used to people just started talking to me … even about personal things. Met once a woman with a child on a 9 hour flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam. They were sitting next to me. We started talking to each other. She talked about her life, her issues, her anxieties, her hopes and the fun she had in live. It took us over 7 hours. This was one the best flights I ever made in my life.

I have no idea how this works. Maybe I am open to others, or maybe it’s the chemistry between people or maybe I transmit a signal that says “Hey I’m here and am open to have a chat with you. Don’t mind the topic.” That some people are sensitive to this signal; a signal that is non-visible. None the less they seem to receive it. On the other hand I used to find that people could be afraid of me. I used to be above average in length and can easily fill out a door frame, so what could I expect.

The reverse “I don’t want talking to you” also occurs. I assume that people are much more sensitive for signals like those or they themselves want to be left alone, or don’t feel like talking, or don’t feel safe or … maybe it’s me and I’m just boring. In itself this is strange because with today’s technology (mobile, web, text) the whole world can be reached; at any time and any place you can reach any person in the world; maybe that is what people do because they don’t talk to each other but text to each other. Or is it because one feels much safer anonymously … or is it that they have something on their mind, … or is it they want to stay within their own comfort zone?

Yet, as soon as you touch base with young people, not only young people but with people from any age, from any religion, from any culture, or with aggressive people, or with weird people, and with weird I mean outside your comfort zone, and when you start talking and discussing with any of them a lot of beautiful things will happen.

We were on holiday and drove from Big Bend National Park to El Paso, Texas, US and were looking for a plaid and some leather articles made by local Indian people. We had received an address and we had a road map, but we lost our way completely. OK, that can happen but the area is huge and you hardly see people around the place. Eventually we ended up in an area where people at home would strongly advise you not to go there; however we did. We explained where came from, what we wanted and … that we were lost. Yeah they could see that. We started chatting, had some drinks, we stayed talking, we had fun, we enjoyed lunch and they gave us a very detailed explanation how to drive to the place where we wanted to go originally. Looking back, a place and people that we found really scary in the beginning, that day became one of the best experiences and one of the best days during our trip.

You probably started wondering what this post has to do with mourning and grief. Well, actually, it has a lot to do with mourning and grief.

In my previous post “It’s All About Ourselves, Isn’t It?” from October 20th I raised the question why we have a tendency to avoid the discussion about separation or death. My statement was at the end of the post that, whether we want it or not, as a result of a separation or a death we have to change and sometimes we have to change the hard way; most often a very emotional one. That is something we really don’t like and which is most of the time an understatement.

In my Dutch version of this blog a comment was given by somebody that it is in our human nature to live and that we do not want to be confronted with death. But death came very close to her when her husband died and when her life was threatened by a terminal decease. Imagine when she was confronted with death she started thinking about death and loss and she started to feel and understand what it means to be mortal. Her last sentences say it all “And I started to live! Really live!!”

In other words, come out of your comfort zone and try to learn and understand. Don’t be afraid and discover new possibilities and new horizons. Opportunities you couldn’t even imagine before. These don’t appear by themselves, you have to do something for it. Do you need to have guts for that? Maybe … but later on you will say “gosh, I wished I had done this earlier.”

Please talk to me. Do you recognize this? Or … do you have a different opinion?

Talk to me.
There are two ways you can “talk” to me. Thru “contact us”; in that case your response is not posted in the blog. Or via this post in which case your comment is posted and it is visible to everybody.

(4) It’s All About Ourselves, Isn’t It?

It’s all about ourselves. Is that why we avoid the conversation after a divorce or the death of somebody close to you?

When you start talking about divorce, death or grief, people tend to avoid the discussion because… Yes, why? Why don’t we talk about death? Why do people react that way?

After some research at the Dutch Bureau of Census and a couple of checklists on dealing with stress, it appears that in the Netherlands on average one in 30 to 35 people are somehow involved in coping with mourning. Look around you and wonder why people react in this way.

Listen to the news. Every day, people face divorce, death of a loved one, loss of work, an incurable disease or war. The question is not if, but when it happens to you or me. We don’t like it and we want to stay far away from it. However, life is different. Look around you and wonder why you react in this way.

Is it better, then, to prepare ourselves in some way in case something similar happens to us? I do not know. I have lost quite a few people who were close to me. Each time it was different and each time it felt different, not a little, but a lot different. In other words, preparing for it is difficult… if not impossible.

Yes, you can prepare for the rituals that are performed after a divorce or a death. But from an emotional point of view? It is not a play where you are a spectator. You are personally involved, and the script is different every time. It depends on many factors, such as the people around you, their relationships, and the way they deal with grief. Family and in-laws can talk very emotionally about the division of the estate; discussions that can go as far as breaking family ties. The more people are involved, the more complicated it becomes. In short, how should you prepare for such a situation? Personally, I believe this is not possible, but… this does not mean that we cannot try.

A first hurdle that could be taken is the taboo of talking about grief and mourning. It’s about the sad side of life, a side with an emotional charge. We don’t want it to happen to us, but it happens. We may be afraid of it, afraid of the change that is about to happen to us… afraid of the unknown.

But whatever the reason, we have lost someone and that has a significant impact on us and our lives. Sometimes that is a hard lesson and an extremely painful process that goes against everything we feel and want. Sometimes… we want… or we can’t adapt. And yet somehow, we will have to learn to live with it and find a new balance… or not… with all its consequences.

In short, it is not about the person we have lost, but about ourselves… is that why we do not want to talk about it?

Text updated on 23-09-2020

(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