Rowing with two oars

Rowing with two oars

Maybe you asked yourself: “what does this photo have to do with grief?”
This is a photo of a corner house in Amsterdam that I regularly cycle past.
When someone experiences loss, they might feel something like waves; sometimes processing the loss & and sometimes working on recovery; like the metaphor: “Grief is rowing with two oars.” This is taken from Stroebe en Schut’s dual process model.

It takes a lot of effort to keep a boat afloat, and balanced in order to move forwards . Sometimes you go round in circles, depending on which side demands more attention. The two oars each represent an aspect of the grief process.

If someone focuses only on the loss there is a chance that they will get stuck there. However if someone is only focused on recovery there is a risk that the grief is being suppressed. It is important to be able to ride the waves of grief. When grief is not experienced and is pushed to the background it can be triggered later on and re-appear.
This is the case for any kind of loss or change; death, divorce, illness or loss of a job.

If you are in a grieving process I hope that you’ll recognize something in this blog that gives you some insight into how you are steering your boat. This varies from person to person and from moment to moment.
If you recognise that you might feel stranded don’t forget that you can reach out for help.

Reflecting on the loss of a loved one

Reflecting on the loss of a loved one

Clients often tell me that it is hard to talk with family and friends about the loss of a loved one; maybe a parent, partner or child. Somehow people want to avoid the subject, or don’t know what to say, unless they too have had a similar experience, then they have a better understanding.

Wouldn’t it be great if this wasn’t the case, if they could just go ahead & talk about it. However, if you have the courage to just go ahead and talk about it, then they often feel more comfortable and the conversation just happens.

I have personal experience of this; A few weeks after Paul, my partner died, a colleague called me. He shared that he hadn’t dared to before as he didn’t know what to say. This was so endearing and nice to hear that we immediately had a long conversation.

Shortly after the passing, there’s room for compassion and sharing. Still, the lives of others continue while yours seems to have halted. For the bereaved the loss remains prominent , especially on anniversaries, birthdays and bank holidays and any other ‘firsts’ that come along. On days like these it is comforting to receive attention, being it a visit, a card or a call.

This poem from Stephen Levine from Meeting at the Edge, Healing into Life and Death, appealed to me, because it reflects the experience of loss.


This is the great confusion of a lifetime

To lose a child, to lose a parent,

to lose a lover

To break that mirror,

which has so ofte

reflected your beaut

and made you feel so safe

Dealing with Grief and Loss

Dealing with Grief and Loss

Every day we all have to deal with a range of emotions. Many of these emotions and feelings are the stresses and strains of our modern lifestyles. There are work pressures, family issues, money problems and so many other elements that can cause us all to feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. In life, there are also some very intense feelings. One of these is certainly the birth of a baby and all the joy that comes with such a life event. Another is a death of a family member, a loved one or even a pet. That brings a whole different set of emotions: grief, bereavement and loss. That is always a big shock to the system – a massive change. That is what we want to address here with an expert on the subject, Palmyra Bakker. She is an expert on dealing with grief and loss and helping people to cope with it.

If the last 2 years have taught us anything, it is that anything can happen at any time and often does. We have been through the worst of the Covid era and it seems we can now resume some semblance of normality. Life has changed for everyone in a considerable way. How we handled that change is different for everyone. Sadly, many people also lost their lives.
In this Q+A, that is what we want to look at and thank you Palmyra for answering our questions on the notion of dealing with grief and loss

q1. In your experience, what are the main issues/aspects people have to deal with on the death of a loved one?

In my practice, the question I regularly get is: “How do I grieve”. People think that one should behave in a certain way. Grieving someone’s death takes time and imposing a timetable on their grief is for many an issue. Withdrawal and trying to deal with it on their own often results in isolation and loneliness.
Something else is not wanting to feel the emotions as they can be overwhelming, especially in the beginning. Many of my clients do not function very well due to concentration problems and being emotionally out of balance, also they have difficulties with sleeping.

q2. What is grief and how can we better understand it?

Grief is a process of adapting to changed circumstances, dealing with missing a dear person. It is also dealing with the unpredictable timing and combination of emotions that can leave someone confused and despairing. It affects everything and can disrupt every aspect of life in ways they might not expect. Grief might result in not being able to enjoy life for a while and if the person was very close, they might even be unsure of their own identity.
Part of grief is also physical symptoms like tiredness and bodily aches and emotional feelings, like sadness, anger and guilt.

q3. Why does it seem that some people work through grief better than others?

Each person’s response to grief is unique and you can’t compare. A lot depends on the closeness of the relationship, the cause of death and the cultural background.
E.g. Were they able to say goodbye or was it a sudden death, accident or maybe suicide. There might also be complications with practical and legal aspects.
Independent of how long your grieving process takes, most people eventually come to terms with a new reality. If you are struggling don’t hesitate to seek help.

q4. What about children and dealing with grief and loss? How can we help them to deal with the death of a grandparent, for example?

For children, losing a grandparent can be their first experience with losing a person close to them. Younger children may not understand that the person isn’t coming back, or why.
Whatever the age of a child, it’s important to pay attention to what grief means to them. Spend time with them, find out what they are emotionally going through so they can get the support they need. Let them know that whatever feelings they are experiencing are normal.
On a separate note: make sure the children can say goodbye to the grandparent and can attend the funeral.

You are no longer there where you were, but you are everywhere where I am

q5. Please tell us more about the different ways you help people.

To start with, it is often not an easy decision to consult a grief counsellor, but after a while, they might feel they need help to cope with coming to terms with the loss when the support of family and friends is not enough anymore.
I offer the grieving person a safe place to talk and experience their emotions without judgement. In order to develop strategies for coping with their loss, I work with models. I help them to express emotions and feelings, like anger, sadness, guilt, fear, anxiety or stress.
You can either choose individual counselling or join a support group. The next English support group starts in September in Amsterdam.

What are you grateful for?

What are you grateful for?

2021 is almost over. It was a challenging year and after re-evaluating on several fronts, I now step confidently into the new year. How has the past year been for you and how will you go into the New Year?
For me it was the year where I finished my Dutch booklet ’11 Gouden tips bij verlies en rouw’, where I started walking with clients and expanded online counseling. The year where I facilitated my fourth Dutch bereavement support group and the year where I commenced the specialization ‘Frozen Grief’. I have also completed the 9 months Psychosocial Fundamentals (PSBK) training course, which means that from the 1st January, clients who have additional insurance can now claim a refund from their insurance provider. Writing all of this, I can say that I have achieved a lot and I am grateful for it. It feels good.
What do I want more of through my practice? 
I am grateful that I may listen to your story and be able to stand next to you in difficult times. On top of that there are also the added complications of the various lockdowns. Through my practice, I have heard many stories this year, some sad and even desperate, others full of loneliness and thrown back on yourself, but also stories of hope, confidence and full of love for the deceased. Clearly grief is the opposite of love, that’s why losing a loved one hurts so much.
What do I want different?
Less administration. Although I am good at it, it does take up too much time, which I prefer to spent in connection with others. Also during Corona times, I want to receive clients face to face again where possible and of course with all necessary precautions.
I hope that I can listen to many more personal stories in 2022, despite how heartbreaking some may be. That I can live by my own norms and values and that we keep searching to what connects us, even when our beliefs/positions are different. King Willem Alexander verbalized this very well in his Christmas speech.
Together with a colleague, we will run two English speaking bereavement peer groups in Amsterdam this year. We are very proud to supervise these groups and are looking forward with anticipation to the participants we are going to meet. We are grateful that we may be part of their process of recognition and acknowledgement and to laugh and cry together.
The new year starts again with a lockdown. Through your stories I know how much impact this has on interconnections and inner resilience. No matter what kind of circumstances you may find yourself in and whatever you believe, I wish that 2022 will bring days of gratitude, self-love and above all connection with one another again.
ArtZuid – Which one of the three?

ArtZuid – Which one of the three?

Hans van de Bovenkamp – vlnr Spire 2008, Menhir Tower 2010, Ode to Mingus 2006

There used to be a Dutch television program, called: ’Which one of the three’. This program was about a son or daughter, and 3 mothers or fathers. Through the questions to the 3 mothers or fathers and the answer of the son or daughter, you had to guess which one of the three was the real parent. In my blog I make the reference to this program, as I saw three similar sculptures, which reminded me as well of the story of the three trees. Each tree deals with loss in their own individual way. How do you deal with your loss?

This is the story.
There were once three trees, who got badly damaged in a heavy storm and all of them lost a big branch. Each one of the trees dealt differently with the loss of the branch. Years later I searched for the trees again and yesterday I found them and spoke to them.

The first tree was still grieving over the loss of his branch and every time the sun invited him to grow, he said: ‘No, I can’t as I am missing an important branch.’ I noticed that the tree had remained small and was standing in the shadow of other trees. The sun couldn’t reach him anymore. The scar was clearly visible and looked sore. It was the highest point of the tree and he hadn’t grown further.

The second tree was so shocked by the pain that he quickly decided to forget all about the loss. It was difficult to find the tree as he was laying on the ground. A spring storm had blown him over, his roots were not deep and strong enough, he had lost his grip on the earth. The place where the lost branch used to be was difficult to find. It was hidden at the back of the fallen tree.

The third tree was also shocked by the pain and the emptiness in his bark and he mourned for his loss. The first time the sun invited him to grow, he said: ‘Not yet’. After a few invitations from the sun, he finally said:’ Yes sun, warm me so my wound can heat up, so I know that the branch is still part of me. After a while, when the sun came back again, the tree said: ‘Yes, sun, warm my scar and let me grow as well. I know there is so much to grow for. The third tree was also difficult to find, as I hadn’t expected it to be standing so strong. Luckily I recognized him by the scar, that was standing proudly in the sunlight.

This story of the three trees tells us how somebody can deal with their grief and loss. Do you recognize something of yourself in one of these three trees? If you would like to talk about it or need support, don’t hesitate to contact me.

ArtZuid – Burdened by….

ArtZuid – Burdened by….

Erwin Wurm – Big Psycho X 2010

When I saw this sculpture I had to think of the saying: ‘burdened by or suffering from …’. As a bereavement counselor, what came to mind was somebody suffering from grief or burdened by guilt, shame or regret. And these latter feelings are very heavy, something I know all too well. Do you recognize this as well?

‘If only….”, is a question that keeps running through your head. It did with me after my boyfriend died. For sure in the beginning you often think, if I had done this or that, then it would have played out differently or it would not have happened at all. I called Paul (my boyfriend), from the office and the phone was already ringing as a colleague approached my desk with a question for me. I hung up the phone and thought I’ll call back later, not knowing that there would be no later! In hindsight Paul died around that time, so I always wonder whether I would have been just in time or just too late. I will never know…

You can feel guilty that you could have done something differently or have omitted to do something to prevent the loved one from dying. We may unrealistically blame ourselves for things over which we had no control. Know that feeling guilty doesn’t mean that you are guilty.

Those feelings may need some attention, and it is important to acknowledge them, but remember to look at the big picture. They are a part of a larger picture that may capture more aspects of the relationship. In case you have these feelings and you would like to talk about it, feel free to contact me directly or leave a message under this post.