“That’s the art; to dare to admit the pain of parting”

Just before Janneke goes to the hospice, she receives a message that Mr. V. has died, and it makes an impression.

Hi H.!
Next Friday I’ll be back and then I’ll make Thai carrot soup and lamb pita’s. I need this:
Cilantro
Lemon
Sweet potato
Carrot (also for the lamb pitas) 😉
coconut milk
peanut butter
Garlic, onion, ginger
Curry paste (can I bring my own, just let me know)
tzatziki
(lamb) minced meat
pita bread

Thanks in advance! Janneke

Every Monday I send my shopping list to colleague H., who then orders everything. I’ll check my email on Friday morning to make sure. Sometimes something is not available and I bring it myself. Among all the work emails, I do not find a message from H., but from P.:

On 19-08-2022, Mr. V. died at K442 at 02:00.
Expected death.
s.,

Nursing home

I put my phone down, wipe away tears with my finger and look out the window at the big world that remains intact despite the daily loss. How will Mr. R. (86) cope without taking care of his partner? The dog… I grab my phone, read the email again, ponder the words ‘expected death’. Of course, even in a hospice, death can still be unexpected, depending on the body, the will of the mind, and the prognosis. Even if, in the end, that is what awaits us all. Then I see that I have pondered too long; it’s ten o’clock, I should have been there already. I’m on my way, leaving, sorry I notify H. in the app group.

Thai

There are whispers and at the same time there is a wonderful, tense atmosphere when I enter the kitchen. It is messier than I am used to from H. who always works cleanly, efficiently and quickly.

“Have you read my message yet?” asks H., breaking out of an embrace with another colleague. “We must have put the Thai in the soup, then you only have to add carrot. I wrote that. Stupid joke. That’s because…” She clears her throat, puts her hair back in a ponytail. “Sorry. It’s because two people died. Right now, this morning and tonight. Mrs. F., but she was only here for a short time, I don’t think you saw her? And you know Mr. V. (76, skull fracture). It’s always sad. Even if it’s expected, a matter of time, it remains unreal. Some make a big impression. They stay with you.” She has worked here for years, has seen so many people come and go, and yet it never leaves her untouched. All those years have not shut her off from sadness, from feeling. That is the art; dared to admit the pain. Otherwise, it will curse, deep inside, and the accumulated grief will inevitably explode at an unexpected moment.

“I read it just before I left,” I say. “Has he been hurt?”

“No, he went peacefully in his sleep. His husband was there. He will be taken out in a moment, will you be there?”

Final

The doors to the kitchen and living room as well as the doors to the residents’ rooms are closed to dampen any noise. We are lined up on both sides. One looks down, the other up. I see the body under a dark blanket rolling past us on a hospital bed. 76 years of life. A child rolls past me, a student, a teenager, a worker, a loved one, a human being, a complete life. Sir. R. shuffles after her husband in Adidas slippers, the dachshund wags its tail. His paws stumble rhythmically on the linoleum.

H. and I exchange a look. I can see she’s crying, but she’s holding it in and wants to be great for the one to whom it’s hardest to say goodbye. Sir. R. nods at us, says “thank you for taking good care of us” and stands next to her husband in the elevator. The doors close, H. sighs.

“Yeah… saw that. And now I have to get him out of the system, out of the transfer. I think that’s the hardest part. One push of a button and he’s gone forever.” We are silent. The clapping still seems to echo in the hallway, which seems endlessly long. Below us, five stories down, Mr. V. and R. drive through the city streets. Their last ride together. But some make a big impression .They never really go away.


Janneke Siebelink (47) cooks one day a week as a volunteer at a hospice. For Libelle, she writes about the residents of hospices, who are often in their last phase of life. And she learns: in the presence of death, life is fantastic. She recently published her debut novel Sometimes it snows in April.

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