Tag: Death

Ten Years

Yesterday it was exactly ten years ago that my mother died. She died in a hospital in Imperia, Italy at 15:00. We went to the park where we spread her ashes, and remembered her by enjoying the warm weather, strong winds, each other’s company and all the excited dogs that were being walked in the park. Jody had made delicious sandwiches, I had brought ginger beer and vodka, and Robin had squeezed a bunch of limes, so we could make our own Moscow Mules. Ruurd and Moulsari were there as well. When the weather turned bad, we decided to have dinner at an Italian restaurant in Hoorn, ate food, had wine, drank limoncello until we were all drunk and happy. It was a good day.

(I think it’s really appropriate that yesterday was such a windy day. There was so much energy in the air. Wild is the Wind, after all.)

I realised that I haven’t been sad about her death for a long while now. Sure I’m sad, but not in a way that it momentarily stops my heart when I suddenly realise. Nowadays the first thought of the day after waking up is no longer the crushing realisation of her departure. She pushed me in the right direction and for a while the momentum was gone, but I feel like her death has now galvanised me and I have regained momentum in life. I can only hope that my brother and sister feel the same way.

Funeral Music

When I die, I want the piano version of Max Richter’s Departure to play on a loop until everyone cries. Those who aren’t crying after the second minute are clearly my enemies who came to celebrate my demise. Feel free to murder them once the two minute marker is reached.


Last week my father’s best friend, Rien Bonte — or Bonte, as my father always referred to him as — passed away. They met as teenagers and became close friends, bonding over art and their love of psychedelics. They lost touch when Bonte married, supposedly because his wife didn’t approve of the influence my father had on him. Luckily, they rekindled their friendship years later when Bonte divorced his wife.

When my father passed away, Bonte spoke at his cremation. He recalled how they met as teenagers on a hot summer’s day. He immediately thought my father was cool, and edgy and daring. At the end of the day, as the sun went down, my father spontaneously jumped into a canal. He remained underwater for a very long time. Bonte waited for my father to reemerge, and he remembered feeling panicked when moments had passed. He couldn’t see any movement in the dark water, and he knew he’d have to jump in after my father.

He thought that was a fitting metaphor for my father’s death. My father had disappeared in the dark water and he felt like he wouldn’t see him again until he had made the plunge into that same dark water.

I’m not doing his words justice at all. He was a poet, and I can only recall so much from that emotionally taxing time. I remember right after he said those beautiful words, my mother called out from the audience, saying that she hoped it would be a long time before he took that plunge. Eight-and-a-bit years later, and he took that plunge.

Besides writing novels, writing poetry, sculpting and painting, Bonte was a teacher of Dutch language at a high school. For two years, he was my teacher. He was considered an unusual teacher and a bit of a contrarian. He was considered cool and funny, and his teaching style appealed to a lot of teenagers. Because he was such a well-loved teacher, the turn out for his cremation was big. A lot of alumni showed up. I got to talk to my French teacher, who also spoke a few words at the ceremony, and I got to see my English teacher again, whom I was very fond of.

Because it was so busy, I wasn’t too keen on standing in line to offer my condolences to the family. I wanted to, but I felt like I’d be intruding and bothering people. When I noticed the line of what must have been many strangers shaking the hands of Bonte’s family, I decided to go and say something.

The first person I offered my condolences to was his son. I introduced myself, gave him my condolences and was ready to move on. He hesitated and then asked me if I was related to Ben. I told him he was my father. He smiled and said he had gotten to know my father well before he died. That was really nice to hear. I moved down the line, and got to Bonte’s sisters. I again introduced myself and gave my condolences. They immediately recognised me as the my father’s son and were delighted I had come and entertained me with a quick story how they had played with me as a young boy.

The last in the line was Bonte’s father. Old and frail, sitting in a chair. I waited patiently and got annoyed at other people talking down at him (literally). It seemed so… unpleasant. When the old man was free, I shook his hands, squatted down so that we could look each other in the eye. I introduced myself, said that I was my father’s son, and the man’s face lit up. I told the old man that Bonte had been incredibly important to my father, and in turn to me. The man started to cry and said that he wasn’t long for this world, and that he would tell that to Bonte soon.


I’ve been to several funerals and cremations in the past few years. Most of them were friends of my father. A group of people who lived hard and died early as a result. I was unusually emotional at this one. I think there was some simmering sadness to do with my father, but it was also the realisation that the group was getting smaller and smaller, and that my step-father, Ruurd, was one of this ever-shrinking group of people.

When I got back to the table where Robin, Jody and Ruurd were sitting together with some of the usual suspects, I explained it to Ruurd, who in an uncharacteristic move of affection, pulled me in close for a hug and a kiss.

There is still so much sadness that I still haven’t really processed.

Eight Years

It’s been eight years since the hardest day of my life. Eight years since my mother died in a hospital in northern Italy, sedated and lonely, with only myself and a nun present, who had just happened to walk in to see how I was doing. My siblings were still in the Netherlands, but were on their way to the airport when I called them. I was so happy to hear that they would come anyway.

Her dying was rather peaceful compared to much of the morning and night, where she was upset and confused, likely due to a delirium. The doctor in charge had gone home for the night, and I couldn’t speak to the nurses properly because they only spoke Italian. When my aunt, who worked as a senior nurse at the hospital, came to check up on my mother after her shift, she was visibly upset that the doctor hadn’t been called by the other nurses. Within an hour the doctor was present and told me he would make sure she wasn’t going to feel any more pain.

He knew my mother had documented wishes on how she wanted to have her life ended, but couldn’t oblige her. Italy doesn’t allow euthanasia, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have options to help her. When he told me that he would take away her pain, he gave me a look that said, “do you understand what I’m saying?” He couldn’t say it, but I knew what he was doing, and when she started to calm down, stopped moaning in pain, and fell asleep, her breathing rhythmic, I immediately felt better. I sometimes wonder if I was happy for her or happy for me.

Hours later, her breathing had become weak, but still rhythmic. The machine that helped her breathe was equally rhythmic, but strong, giving the impression that nothing had changed with her. But when I checked her pulse, it was barely noticeable. I also saw that blood was pooling around her joints, unable to push towards her extremities because her blood pressure had plummeted.

She died at 15:00, exactly, while I was talking to the nun. The nun gave me a hug. When she embraced me, I was a child. When she let go, I had to learn how to be a man.

I think about that nun quite often. See, because when I asked the staff at the hospital about her, because I wanted to thank her, they weren’t sure who I was talking about. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting anything spooky, spiritual or religious. It just makes her presence at the moment of my mother’s death even more special.

Seven Years

IMG_3894Today just before 15:00, it will be seven years since I saw my mother alive. I must have told this story to you a hundred times in a hundred different ways. I tell the story to myself over and over so as not to forget anything. Somehow, the last few hours became very important.

She died in Imperia, Italy at exactly 15:00 after a hellish 24 hours, where she was taken to the hospital by an ambulance that was driving so fast I couldn’t keep up with it. Especially considering I had little experience driving in Italy, using toll roads, or even knowing how to get to the hospital they were taking her to. I remember calling Ruurd, asking him for directions. Eventually I got to the hospital and found her in the ER.

It took a long time before I was allowed to see her. It was only until they found a staff member who spoke Dutch that I could explain everything and explain her situation. It was so frustrating that even highly educated hospital staff didn’t speak English.

We sat in the ER for a long while. She was still conscious then, but not much. Eventually, without explaining anything, they took her to the women’s ward. Wards were segregated and I was afraid they wouldn’t let me be with her. Luckily, they realised I wasn’t going anywhere and put her in a separate room.

She was put on oxygen, fluids and sedatives. She slept for a bit and I started calling everyone I could think of to get her back home. I was hoping they could patch her up enough for her to be admitted onto an aeroplane. Her situation never improved enough — at all — for that to become a serious option.

They told me she’d be out until the next day and advised me to go home and get some sleep. I still regret going. I was woken up at 1 in the morning and was told that my mother had awoken and was confused and panicked. I went back to the hospital and found her just like that; in a panic, crying and in pain.

For several hours I took care of her, trying to calm her down and comfort her, which worked to a certain extent. She was delirious, I suspect, but I found that the one thing she could focus on was childhood songs and lullabies. We sang In de Manneschijn together until she finally succumbed to her exhaustion. She never woke up.

As the night slowly turned to day, the only sound I focused on was the sound of the oxygen machine she was on, rhythmically following her laboured breath. It became hypnotic.

Eventually, the doctor was brought in to asses her situation and I tried to explain to him that wanted her in the Netherlands so she could die. He told me that it was not an option to discharge her, nor was it an option to let her die. There was something in his eyes that told me he understood she had to die. He sedated her even more and assured me that she’d feel nothing.

When we reached this point with me father a year before, he died after four hours. My mother held on much, much longer.

The morning came and went. The afternoon wore on. My mother’s breathing continued but the rest of her body was deteriorating quickly. Blood started pooling underneath the skin around her knees, indicating her blood pressure was dropping.

And suddenly, out of nowhere, a nun walks into the room. The only people I had seen on the ward were nurses and doctors, who occasionally peeked in to see if everything was alright. The nun spoke English, which was a pleasant surprise. She asked me how I was doing. I told her I was tired. She asked me how my mother was doing. I told her she was too strong for her own good.

Just I had said that, I noticed that the rhythmic mantra of the oxygen machine had turned monotone. I looked at my mother told the nun I believed she had just passed away. I was really surprised for some reason even though I knew it was going to happen. The nun came up to me and hugged me very tightly. Then she left. I followed her out into the hallway to see where she was going. The nun walked down the hall and exited the women’s ward.

I went back inside my mother’s room and sat with her for a while, making sure she was dead. I walked into the hallway and stopped the first person on the hospital staff that came by. She checked on my mother and then calmly got several other nurses. I was asked to leave her room as they prepared her body to be taken away.

I was so sad, and so relieved at the same time.

By this point my brother and sister were on their way to Nice from Amsterdam in the hope of still being there as my mother died. I picked them up from the airport and we went to see my mother’s body. They were very strong. Jody was in a bit of a daze. Robin cried. We hugged.