(58) Would You Call My Friends

Some three or four days before her death she asked me whether I would call her friends so she could say her final farewell to them that Saturday. It is not a questions you would easily answer with yes or no. And yet, I did this for her because I had a gut feeling that the end of her life was approaching much faster than we wanted it to but also because I understood it was important to her.

Anne BirgitThis post is about the days just before the death of my daughter Anne Birgit.

Yes, I hear you thinking:
“You have written several times about this topic. So, what is different now? That you are sad… I understand… it’s part of your future that you’re missing… it is your buddy that you are missing… but… after almost 15 years…?

That our daughter wouldn’t live long, we knew one day after her birth. Year after year we lived with the thought that it might be her last one. Ultimately after almost 22 years, it was clear that she wouldn’t live much longer anymore. Her end came closer faster and faster. We all were aware of that… especially my daughter.

That her death was inevitable, I had accepted long ago. We had lived with this for almost 22 years.

Yes, it is different. Now… I understand.

Some three or four days before her death she asked me whether I would call her friends so she could say her final farewell to them that Saturday. It is not a questions you would easily answer with yes or no. And yet, I did this for her because I had a gut feeling that the end of her life was approaching much faster than we wanted it to but also because I understood it was important to her.

Today I understand that I received a lot of support from my guardian angels. Yes, you can laugh at this, or you can dismiss it but for me it is the truth. Where else do you draw the strength from for calling each of her friends and ask them to visit her a few days later in order to say a final farewell to each other.

There were calls that took more than an hour. There were calls, with the in one hand the phone I was using and in the other hand my mobile to make an emergency call in case her friend I was talking to did not respond anymore. They were all calls where you literally caught people by surprise with your request. What is still clear in my mind even though I did not know many of her friends personally, even after 15 years, was that these calls were very personal, emotional, warm and heartbreaking. My daughter wanted to witness the last two or three calls imagine my daughter’s emotions and mine. There were many tears during those 32 calls.

Calls of which I have always said after the death of my daughter… once, but never again. Calls of which no one has any idea what it meant for me and what it took from me. No one can even closely imagine my pain and distress brought on by those calls. Calls that took an enormous amount of energy from me and at the time I didn’t understand where I got the strength.

Maybe you find this all exaggerated… maybe even presumptuous, but the fact is that words… my words… are by far unable to describe what I felt at the time… and not even close to how I feel to-day.

These are moments in your life I always remember. And when I look back after 15 years, those calls give me much more pain and distress than the death of my daughter. Yes, she was terminally ill. That she had not much time to live there was no doubt about it. Although I’ve accepted her death years ago, the hurt related to placing the calls to her friends in order to say a final farewell to her personally, is still there in great fierceness. Maybe as I realize now; now, after 15 years I realize that at the end of each call, it felt for me as if my daughter died at that moment… and I died a bit also.

That, I think, is the reason why it still hurts.

The calls I made out of love for my daughter; just like everybody else would have done when they are needed to make calls like these for his or her partner or for one of their children. This month’s post is dedicated to them and I wish them a lot of support and strength in particular.

(57) Future

DSC01548 - BAfter the loss of a dear one your life can be devastating, like it is hit by a hurricane. The impact can be so immense that you decide to do completely different things in life then at the time your dear one was still with you. I have seen people flourishing in the end after a huge loss. They seemed to have got a completely different personality, as if they are really alive now. As if the path of life they walked on, had changed its course.

The loss of a dearest is not the only event that can change your life. To name but a few examples: meeting your first love or your new love, your marriage, or the birth of your child or your grandchild. But it does not have to be about others though. It can also about yourself like: the successful completion of your training, or your resignation from a job, or a bankruptcy of your employer or perhaps your own, or just a casual event. Events that may result in getting new friends, or maybe losing friends. Events that give you understanding in who your real friends actually are, or what is of real importance in your life. Although you may realize this afterwards, it is about events that change your life (sometimes dramatically).

What matters in my opinion is that as a result of these events, you make totally different choices or decisions then you used to do.

Didn’t we used to be happy in those days and do we think we are happy today because we make totally different choices in life? I don’t think so! People used to be happy too and at present people can also be unhappy. Yet, I wonder the choices they earlier made were based upon.

Often the answer is given that today’s opportunities are quite different or more advanced than they used to be, or that values and norms changed. In my opinion that’s a cliché. When I used to travel around the world for my job, I sometimes felt like being a time traveler. Sometimes I ended up in places that felt to me as if I traveled back in history. At other times I visited companies, and saw products and processes that were so advanced that it felt as if you arrived in the future. In my opinion the rate of change of the world and the culture in which we live is determined by the degree of acceptance of the people living within that culture. It even can be the case that forces are at work that a culture becomes less advanced than it used to be. However, cultures cannot be compared one-to-one on all aspects. What we think is important in our culture does not necessarily mean that others living in a different culture than ours have the same opinion. That is OK though, as long as we accept each other!

No, the reason that people, especially after an immense personal loss, make totally different choices lies within themselves. In my line of thinking (almost) nothing happens by chance. Those people needed to learn several lessons. Lessons that at the time were important to them and maybe even still today. Lessons they needed to learn first, and above all gave them insight before they could continue on their path of life. These people literally start anew, as if they are again at the beginning of their life, only this time with a lot of knowledge and experience. These people live, as it were several lives in one human lifetime.

These people know better what they want to do today and with much more passion than before. They better assess the consequences of their choices today. Yes, they still make mistakes and they will continue to do so, but the difference is they are now better able in dealing with these. Moreover, risks that may occur to them are assessed at a lower level than they used to do. In the old days they were responsible for their family. In particular the financial responsibility and / or severe and prolonged illness of family member(s) could sometimes be a limiting factor in what you and your loved one wanted to achieve together. And especially when your children are self-supporting, you have to account to no-one anymore and you can do as you chose.

I have learned that you should seize the opportunities that you are offered. It is not so easy as that, obviously you have to see the opportunities first. It usually feels like a gift and afterwards it feels sometime as if a miracle has happened. The thing is that you should not only be aware of the things that are happening around you, but you should also be aware of your emotions, your thoughts, your feelings and the interactions between all of this. That is asking a lot of yourself.

When you have a busy job or you have a family or a relation, then many things happen concurrently. To say it gently, you are not always in a position to assess the interaction of your environment and yourself. You have rather the feeling that you are firefighting then living consciously. Let alone that you see opportunities that are occasionally offered to you. And even then it is questionable that you accept the consequences or the changes thereof. The consequences of those decisions are of a totally different order when you are in a relation then when you are on yourself. After the loss of a dearest your “environment” totally changes which actually forces you to think anew how to proceed with your life. Maybe that is the reason people start doing completely different things in their life than they used to do, especially when children are self-supporting.

What I have learned also is that as soon as you start looking ahead in your life the harsh side of your loss and your mourning goes off, everything becomes softer, and you can handle it much better. It also makes it easier to see your real personality.

Dear Reader, a ready-made recipe for everyone that leads to immediate results after the loss of a dearest, does not exist. But the light at the end of the tunnel is when you become receptive and that only happens when you are well on your way with processing your grief. And added to that, you should also be aware of what happens around you as well as the interactions with your emotions, thoughts and your feelings. When you are able to do so, you are able to look forward, and to work on your future… it is a way of living.

(51) Wish

(UK-51) Post ImageI wish…
that everybody…
and everything that lives…
here on Earth…
as well as in all Universes that exist…
apart from any faith you may have…
will know peace and happiness…
and have the wisdom to see the good things in life.

I also wish,
That everyone who mourns, can take comfort from the understanding that grief cannot exist when there was no love.

(50) True Peace

Let’s start at the beginning; “We can never have peace if you don’t find peace within yourself”.

“Peace can only become true peace when every individual makes peace within him or herself”.
Translated from;  ‘Het verstoorde leven’ van Etty Hillesum, June 20, 1942

Etty Hillesum was Jewish and 27 years old when she wrote the above in her diary. She lived in a room in Amsterdam and experienced all that a Jewish woman under the German occupation had to suffer.

Actually, everyone should read her journals. The courage and the peace that radiate from her journals put everything I have experienced in my life in perspective. About the occupying forces she only writes with understanding and that while she hardly had anything to eat, had to carry out hard labour, had to carry a Jewish star and her friends were deported one by one to the concentration camps.

“We can never have true peace if you have no peace within yourself.”

Another example is the 16 year old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai. Two years ago she was shot in the head by the Talban because she was – despite her young age – a supporter for the right of education for girls. In the UK, Malala recovered from her severe injuries and has now become an international figurehead for the right to education for women. In 2013 she spoke to the United Nations. “Books and pens are our most powerful weapons,” she said,

These beautiful women have peace within themselves and the courage to defy the biggest dramas you can imagine. They give me hope, because if they can do this we all can do this.

But how many people do experience peace within themselves and in particular after the loss of a loved one? Wouldn’t it be fantastic when we all, after a loss, can find peace within ourselves and be able to extend this peace to others. Wouldn’t it be great when we do not condemn each other anymore; because we understand each other. Wouldn’t it be beautiful when we all, just like the above women, can carry our destiny proudly and have the courage to stand up for the weaker members of our society.

But let’s start at the beginning; “We can never have peace if you don’t find peace within yourself”.

(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