Lessons on grief after I lost my dad.

This December it will be twenty years ago since I lost my dad to leukemia. Snowflakes fell down from heaven the day we buried him. For a second the white world looked serene and pure; harmless even.

I still remember how unreal it felt and how overwhelmed and lost I was. I couldn’t speak when I tried to recite a poem on his funeral; there were only tears and raw grief. Two days later it would have been his birthday. For months I thought I saw my dad at places where he could not be. I saw him walking, but it wasn’t him. I saw life was vulnerable.

Finding my way through grief has made me a compassionate human being. I have experienced what it means to grieve, how it feels to wake up in the morning and it seems impossible to wash away the aftertaste of the nightmare I’m in. I have learned to understand grief, but it doesn’t mean that I always know how to react in the right way, if there were such a thing as a “right way”. I can be speechless when someone tells me about the loss of a beloved person. Sometimes mourning can only be answered by a silent embrace as it is too deep to fathom and too heavy to carry.

Yet, we will be able to carry a heavy loss, something we never could have imagined before. We will go through the sorrow by taking three steps forward and two steps back. We will see through the sadness the appearance of a sudden smile. We will walk through the messy battlefield of life and death, maybe not fearlessly, but more accepting than before.

Grief will lose its sharp edges until it becomes softer and a part of us, where it finds a home to stay. I feel the pain has found a home within me as it has turned into a place of comfort, warmth and gratefulness. It’s no longer a place of panic and chaos.

It has taken me twenty years to feel peaceful about my father’s death. His face appears at moments when the world around me looks shiny and without a single worry. When I cycle through the green fields, the sun shines on my back and I’m all by myself. When I’m mesmerizing while I try to write. When I’m with my mom, sister and brother, drinking glasses of wine and having conversations about who did what, where and when, and each of us has a different story to tell.

I see his smiling face.

Twenty years passed by and still so close, regardless the country’s borders I have crossed so far. I guess my dad travels with me wherever I go.

We are stronger than we think we are. We are resilient beings, capable of so many things. In uncertain times we need to remember this as it helps us to keep our sanity. We must not be afraid to ask for support when we feel there’s nobody to share our sorrow with. We must lift the taboo on grief and death. In this human existence where living a slow life is the exception, we should take our time to mourn and we shouldn’t be ashamed for taking that time. Don’t be afraid to ask your parent or friend how they’re feeling after a major loss, even after much time has passed. Yes, death is part of life, but it shouldn’t be the end of the conversation as it usually is when someone tells us these words.

In western cultures we are assumed to get over our grief quickly. The sooner we go back to normal life, the better. And nobody asks us about our loss anymore.

Death is death. The way we are dealing with something so important as death could do with more compassion and understanding, also with regard to ourselves. We can’t heal our wounds when we are rushed and without caring for ourselves. It needs time and patience and compassion. This we should wish each other and ourselves. It’s nothing to be ashamed for. Of course, the way how we’re dealing with death is personal and also depends on our traditions and cultures, but no one will be saved from death and therefore it’s deeply universal. Similar to death, does compassion go beyond borders, cultures and traditions.

In times of mourning it’s more important than ever to be open about grief and to care for each other with compassion. It makes us, as human beings, more complete and more beautiful. In a world where countries are burning and we don’t seem to understand how to save them from destruction, we shouldn’t forget this.

Earlier published on Elephant Journal:

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2019/10/lessons-on-grief-after-i-lost-my-dad-eva-de-vor/

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Con Amor,

Eva

Image by Laura Makabresku

Game Over! Why I Play My Own Game Now.

Seeing us back then, I realize not any of us, including myself, had aspirations to make the world a better place or were supporting a cause beyond ourselves. We were so busy with our own lives and what we wanted for the future: well paid jobs, a nice house and a fat car, preferably with an attractive dude with a great sense of humor.

The other day I was looking at a picture of myself when I was in my early twenties still wearing baby fat.

That age when you felt the whole world lies at your feet. When life was about taking exams at law school and having fun with friends between hours of studying in the library. When the future felt thousands of miles away. When it was cool to have a big mouth on student association’s nights while meeting peers and drinking beer. When most of the law students wanted to have internships with big corporate law firms. And when the highest goal of friends who studied Business Administration were jobs at Nestlé, Coca Cola, Shell Oil and Philip Morris.

Busy with ourselves

Seeing us back then, I realize not any of us, including myself, had aspirations to make the world a better place or were supporting a cause beyond ourselves. We were so busy with our own lives and what we wanted for the future: well paid jobs, a nice house and a fat car, preferably with an attractive dude with a great sense of humor. We all desperately wanted to succeed in life so besides the studying and partying we were tiring ourselves with extra curricular-activities to put on our résumés to increase our chances for that coveted job.

We sound like the perfect potential slaves of modern society, don’t we?

It was also the age when I believed humility, modesty and calm were undesirable qualities, equivalent to dullness and weakness. Confident extroverts was what we wanted to be, certainly not unpretending introverts exploring our inner-lives finding out what life was about.

Confident extroverts

That we tend to judge traits like modesty and humility as undesired isn’t so strange. After all, it’s propagated at school, our social environment, university and later in the corporate industry where we possibly start working: be assertive and stand with firm feet. That’s how we must be to succeed in life. It’s true, our society encourages living as extroverts, because if we don’t we could possibly end up meditating under a tree in Thailand. Not particularly an example of a productive life which teaches us to chase the newest iPhone, is it? We value this differently when we leave these expectations and start doing our own thing, mostly as a result of being on the inner-journey.

A bunch of caring

I went on this journey and I still am, I always will be. It’s ironic to notice how much has changed for me over time; how I discovered there is so much more than this life which I imagined for myself twenty years ago. How I have explored other paths which don’t necessarily lead to material wealth and the achievement of success, but to meaning and especially to a bunch of caring on subjects such as environmental issues and animal welfare. I have become a conscious consumer supporting veganism who writes about these topics.

I have learned it’s not all about me, my needs and being ambitious and goal-orientated all the time. And now I love those who calmly walk their path of life, who appreciate being humble and put their egos aside. I adore those who are thoughtful and silent when they know it’s time to shut up and who see herein strength instead of weakness.

Moulded and folded

It’s way easier to be moulded and folded into the standards of others, especially of employers, when we are in our twenties. In fact, we see this as completely normal, because we want to develop ourselves in our careers and being moulded and folded is just the way it goes if we want to play the game.

Feedback

When I worked as a legal consultant on a project for a Dutch bank the head of Legal Affairs provided me with some feedback as the project came to an end. One “tip” he gave me was that I should lower the tone of my voice. It would make me more respectable. I wasn’t sure if I’d heard the man right. What was he telling me? I had to speak in a man’s voice as that would benefit my career? Not me.

Game over.

Ethical nerd

A few years later when I started working as a freelance legal consultant and I went for a job interview at — again — a bank I was told I was “too ethical” for the job. It would have caused me troubles to follow the bank’s policies, they said. These guys were right. I’m an ethical nerd, so I didn’t get the project and I wasn’t sorry.

Game over.

Lessons

I was wondering why I had agreed on that interview in the first place. I could have saved my precious time and theirs. But I did learn some lessons and an outstanding one was this:

When we need to fold ourselves to the expectations of others; when we need to act in a certain way to fit in, we need to be alert and be true to ourselves. It means we aren’t at the right place. Instead of judging ourselves as not good enough or not respected enough we need to start seeing it as an awakening that looks us straight in the eye telling us we shouldn’t waste our valuable time and talents on that job. We shouldn’t give away our precious life to fit in a certain image which isn’t even ours. Better we start listening and asking ourselves:

Do we really want to be in a job where we need to act in a way which isn’t true to ourselves?

Do we really want to work for companies which are doing more harm than good to the world?

Do we really wish to fold ourselves into a person, into a job, which we know is not us?

These answers depend on the answer to that one essential question: are we willing to play the game? 

Con Amor,

Eva

This article was also published on Elephant Journal.

Monday, November 26

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