Moving Towards Death

Last Tuesday, after a recommendation from my eldest sister, Marjolein, we watched April, May, June, a Dutch film about a mother who is dying of cancer and decides to pass away via euthanasia. By the end of the movie I had a steady stream flowing down my cheeks while I was snuggled in between my dad and Rowie, my other sister. The realisation sunk in that within a month, this cinematic scene will be taking place in our living room. We will be saying goodbye to my dad as he leaves this lifetime.

Lying on the couch while our dad reads us Dutch proverbs.

I know that my dad is dying. I know the estimated nine months are almost up. I know that the way he’s leaving this life is the way he wants to. He will chose to die when the life he is living no longer feels like his own. When he cannot be intensely and extremely alive. We’ll be able to say our goodbyes after a tasty meal and some good wine, surrounded by family; the room will be filled with love.

But as beautiful as this goodbye sounds, and as comforting and honest as the process has been, sometimes it hurts. It aches. Sometimes I just want to scream. Not out of anger, but out of sadness. Maybe out of fear too. I am worried for what will come when he’s no longer here. I’m sure that I’ll eventually be okay and go on with life, but sometimes I worry for those first few days. Will I manage to get through the days? Will I be able to function normally or will I lie in bed for a week straight? I know there’s really no point in worrying about this because I won’t know until I experience it, but it’s a thought that keeps me busy.

I am a big hugger, and have been that way since I was a little girl! And everyone knows… dad’s hugs are the best hugs!

I don’t always feel sad. Honestly a part of me also feels very much at ease; peaceful with the whole situation. I know that my dad is choosing what he wants to do with his life. He gets to choose how, when (kind of), and where he gets to die. He is going out in his own way. I find that beautiful, soothing.

It’s not just choosing his own death that is feels beautiful to me; it’s how he, throughout the past months, has moved towards this moment. Taking us, his family, on this journey with him. Every step, thought, idea, action, we’ve known about it and we know how he truly feels about everything. His honesty and openness has allowed for understanding on my part. I’m quite sure it is similar for my siblings, but I don’t want to speak for them.

My dad has never hidden his intentions. Even when he wasn’t sure what they were. Life and death became regular conversation topics in our household. We talked about what death means – that it doesn’t have to be an end to something, but rather could be a start for whatever comes after this lifetime. We talked about life, and the importance of living it the way that is best for you. We talked about the self, and how each individual has sunny and shadow sides – a sentence my dad often uses. He refrains from using the word negative because our shadow sides don’t have to be negative. Our shadow side can hold some of our thoughts and beliefs closest to our heart, to our being, that we might be afraid to share. Being ready to die was one that resided in the shadows of my dad. But he brought it to light, both in the sense that he chose to share it with us, as well as that he chose to discover what this meant for himself – rather than leaving this part of himself in the dark, he decided to face this truth from within his deepest self. He has done this with (I think) almost all of his shadow sides. He’s brought his darkest and most abstract thoughts to light throughout my whole life – sharing with his kids every aspect of who is and how life and his experiences have shaped him along the way.

Actively enjoying life because we are ALIVE! Any moment can be a beautiful, love-filled experience.

I’m sure that these current experiences of mine will be shaping me and my life – that kind of feels like a given. Since arriving in The Netherlands three weeks ago, life has been spinning and spinning. It feels like I’ve been here much longer than three weeks – they have been filled with so much life, conversation, work, love, sadness, laughter. These ups and downs have felt like rollercoaster.

The current most intense aspect of this rollercoaster has been my dad. Not just the part of knowing he is going to die soon and the whole process leading up to it, but the part of being here and seeing it. In the past month or so, he has become symptomatic, and while this is technically no surprise, there is a big difference between knowing someone is sick and seeing someone actually be sick. He is still himself, but he is tired. Things like going grocery shopping, meeting up with people (at a safe 1.5m distance), or going for a walk with Rowie and I tire him out. He doesn’t finish his plate, even when there’s a tasty steak, and sometimes doesn’t even finish his first glass of wine. And even though none of this is unusual or unexpected, it still feels strange and unnatural.

A happy moment during a walk on the Hei.

We talk about the upcoming moment probably every day. Not in a way that is burdensome, but in a way that helps us deal with the idea and our current reality. Sometimes its basic questions on how certain things will go and what we need to organise. Other times it’s more emotional; we talk about what we want to do, or what the day-of will be like. And while all this talking helps with processing the facts and new reality, it isn’t always easy.

I wanted to share what I’m feeling and experiencing. Not just because this blog includes details of my life’s adventures and events, but because maybe it can help others. Death has always felt like a heavy topic but I want to invite people to talk about it, to open up and maybe make the process of it a bit less intense or emotional. It is not an easy thing to deal with and writing about it helps. And while this has been a good outlet for me, I hope that it sparks some inspiration or intriguing thoughts for you.

My dad’s tattoo of six swallows – initially there were four, one for each of his kids: Marjolein, Christiaan, Rowena, and I. After Marjolein had her first child, Dex, who asked my dad where his bird was, my dad got a fifth one, and once we knew that Marjolein’s second child was going to be a girl, my dad added a swallow for her as well.

Having this outlet and being able to write about these experiences and moments feels so sublime. From all of my conversations with my family and from writing my thoughts down I’ve been able to think a lot about life and death. Something like this tends to put everything in perspective. And even though I have a heavy heart knowing my dad won’t be around much longer, I try to let the circumstances inspire me. Death is not the opposite of life, rather, a part of it. There is no need to be afraid or to fear death, as it is the only natural thing to come after life. What it will bring we don’t really know. All we have are small glimpses of people who were temporarily on the “other side”. I hope it’ll be a grand adventure. I also hope that death can bring adventure to those that remain. For myself I hope it brings inspiration for me to live my life to the fullest, to fill it with love and excitement, to continuously chose to be alive.

Jumping with joy in Egypt.

*Note: all the photos I have chosen represent happy moments filled with life. This is how I want people to see and know my dad, in the same way I do: happy and alive.