The cardiac arrest I suffered in January last year had quite an impact on my life. And, despite that, it also turned out to be a beautiful gift. It took me a while to write the recent blog.
The past year
The path that followed in the past year had periods where it felt turbulent and serene at other times, and sometimes these alternated rapidly. It was an intense period and I regularly felt like a bouncing ball … you know, like a ping pong ball bouncing on a stone floor.
I had expected early last year that I had learned to deal with the big losses in my life … the loss of Anne Birgit, my daughter, and Mary-Anne, my spouse. I thought that in doing so I had simultaneously learned to deal with the other losses in my life. On the contrary, during the training as a professional grief counsellor at the “Land van Rouw” and completed in the same period, I encountered layers of loss and grief from my childhood and adolescence … such as the lack of love, as if I did not matter, was not seen by my parents and grandparents and, was not taught the language of love and emotions. Hence, putting my feelings into words is quite a task. Although I was aware of this, the understanding struck me like lightning out of the blue.
In a clear moment
That clear moment came after a conversation with one of the supervisors of the program. It came down to this:
– Sometimes I feel fine, sometimes, let us subtly phrase it, not so fine. In fact, I am constantly in a state of survival because of the lack of love from my parents and grandparents. As if I did not matter, was not acknowledged, not seen by them and, had no right to exist.
– I have not had a chance. From my parents and grandparents, I have not learned to feel and to love. As a result, I am at a tremendous disadvantage. My neurological connections related to feeling and love are only beginning to appear now … decades later.
– When you recall moments from your childhood. What do you encounter inside? Be exceptionally curious about the why and try to articulate that from there.
– But I do not have words … words I am searching for describing my emotions … and words give limitations at the same time. Then start by describing your bodily sensations. Words will come naturally … and sometimes they will not.
– Learn to trust your body! Well … feeling is one thing with me … it is my weak point. Feeling is and remains for me a work in progress. I used to learn from people’s assessments that strong points also have a complementary side; I am (very) good at … also has a shadow side. In short, can I use my impotence about feeling and emotions as a strong point?
As I was writing this, two lines from Anne Birgit on her urn came back to my mind:
“Do what your heart tells you … Do not be afraid with what you do!”
Those simple words from my daughter on her urn, empower me to continue my life’s path with confidence. That is a wonderful gift, isn’t it?
So what is that life path?
Share loss and grief experiences, both professionally and from personal experiences to others in similar situations to help them to learn to cope with their loss and grief … and to get on with their lives again. They may even discover possibilities they had not previously thought possible.
In sharing my experiences, I am thinking primarily of:
Counseling parents who are about to lose or have lost a child.
People counseling who are terminally ill.
Counseling people in learning to cope with their loss and grief in general.
As I look at it now, I am sure the list will get longer. We’ll see.
I hope to meet you in person or on this website or the Foundation’s Facebook page.
With heartfelt greetings, Hans Fransen
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The story starts with the only time I can consciously remember seeing my father. It ends with the enormous loss during the upbringing of my son. Yes Dad, I missed you so much … afterwards.
As a 3-year-old, I can still remember very well the image of my father about which the story in this blog is about. There are other images, but … these have been photos that have gradually disappeared over the years due to the many removals. That one image, 70 years ago now, which this blog is about, is still crystal-clear to me. However, it seems as if I am now looking through a magnifying glass. I see my father’s face in every detail. The rest of the space he is in, is blurred.
As I now remember it
As a 3-year-old, I see myself on my knees in the hallway of my grandparents’ house and play with my grandfathers’s blue-grey wooden toolbox. I finally got the lid open and nothing was in the box. From the noises behind me I could hear that my grandmother was busy in the kitchen. Furthermore the house was quiet, very quiet and … the way I now experience it again and letting the feeling of that moment come to me … the house feels as if it waited for something … as if something very intense … something very important was about to happen.
Then the front door opens, and my mother comes in. As soon as she sees me, there is a big smile on her face, and I am glad to see her again. She asks if I will go with her to my Father. Of course, I want to. She picks me up and carries me upstairs to the room where my Father is resting. It is the room I am never allowed to enter. He has tuberculosis and everyone is so terrified that he could infect me that I was certainly not allowed to go to him.
My Father has just woken up and while my Mother is sitting with me on her lap on the floor, away from the bed, he is turning on his side. When he sees me, a radiant smile appears on his face. His eyes are shining all over, he is so happy. So much energy and love he radiates to me. It is a contact from eye to eye … from soul to soul … short and intense. It feels like a farewell … as if he knows he will never see me again.
My mother lifted me up again and we went back downstairs. It was far too short. I wanted to go back to him, but it was not allowed. They were so afraid that I would also be infected with TB. That just wasn’t goingto happen.
Years later I heard from my Mother that my Father had died a few weeks later. My Mother and Grandparents never really wanted to talk about my Father; that’s how it felt with me. Only many years later during the upbringing of Mervyn, my son, I started to miss my Father enormously. I would have liked so much to talk to him about raising a son. How would he have raised me and what would he have run into? What else would he have wanted to do differently afterwards? So that I wouldn’t have had to raise my Son with “trial and error”. As a father to my son, the number of failures is in stark contrast to the bits that succeeded. Unfortunately, my Father was not allowed to experience my upbringing and that of his grandchild. Dad, I missed you so much!
What I became aware of again
What I realised again while writing this blog is that memory is a fantastic tool. You can’t retrieve everything from your memory just like that. It usually requires triggers, such as a smell, a colour, a sound, an image, or an emotion. One of the triggers with me was a journey through my soul where you go back to your past under hypnosis. Another trigger recently was during a training about loss and mourning in young people. What I now also realise … realise again … is that the consequences of loss and mourning can surface again (many) years later. Time does not heal all wounds, there will always be scars left. It is what it is.
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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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She thought at that moment that she had no right to grief because the sadness of another was many times worse than hers.
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.
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.
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
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