As I mentioned previously, it will be the tenth anniversary of my Dad’s death this year and I wanted to do something. So, to honour him, I began something I should have started 10 years ago; the story of his life. Below is the prologue and first part of Chapter 1. Never will I forget how important an inspiration he is to me. The Hendrik before me was a Dutch man who lived through WWII in work camps, made a life in England and ran a successful advertising business. I could go on, but then what would be the point in his story. I hope you enjoy the beginning.
Loss. It’s something every single one of us has to deal with at some point in our lives. It is utterly universal and in a way it connects us all. The moment we have loss in common with someone, we seem instantly develop the ability to understand them.
However, that shared emptiness is where the universality ends because what accompanies loss is predominantly grief. Now, grief is an unusual concept, as every person deals with loss in different ways.
There have been many people who have studied grief and tried to break it down; one of the most popular theories is the Kübler-Ross model, which states that grief is split into five stages.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
On a personal level, I do not believe that grief can be so easily analysed. I have experienced and seen others experience devastating losses throughout my life and not once have I ever seen a shared way of grieving. There are those who act outwards and those who retreat inwards, those who seem fine and those that are fine. Some people draw, do charitable deeds, write or wallow.
Grief has no set rules. I have seen people reach the stage of acceptance and others who never will.
And like all good segues, that brings me to the purpose of this story. As, I write this at the arguably still tender age of twenty-six, I enter the tenth year of being without my Dad. I have no remaining grandparents and a family that seems to dwindle with each passing year, but do I grieve?
No, for some fortunate reason I seem to be capable of dealing with death very easily. I often hazard guesses at why that is, but often draw unsubstantiated theories and conclusions. A reigning one for me is due to my father being a lot older than most, living healthily into his eighties. From a young age I always knew he wouldn’t be around for a great portion of my life, so maybe that early knowledge prepared me for the rest of my life. Who knows.
Now, do not mistake my lack of grief for a lack of caring. I feel the loss like everyone else, but I do not feel sad. The man I am today is a direct result of my upbringing, and I am proud to be that man. I may have lost my Dad before I turned eighteen, but his nurturing fatherhood continues to this day.
The reason I labour this point is so I can be clear. I do not write this book as a way to deal with my grief; I write it because all around me I see the disguised pain of the people I care about.
It would be impossible for me to write their loved ones’ stories, so I write mine, for them. It is a tribute to let everyone know that a person is never truly gone as long as you still tell stories of them, because that is all we are in the end.
This is the legacy of my father and although embellished, tweaked and fictionalised into novelisation form, there is truth to many of the events.
“Remember you are never really alone. Although it may feel like it for very long stretches of time.”
― Steven L. Peck, A Short Stay in Hell
Dordrecht, Holland 1935
It has always been a misconception that the country of the Netherlands is called Holland. Holland is actually a region in the west of the country and Dordrecht is the oldest city in that region.
This medieval city has always been known as a place with swathes of history and culture. Its beautiful architecture only rivalled by its stunning scenery, like the Merwepark.
In the centre of this park sits a large white building with the air of a mansion, but the feel of a secluded cabin. The reflection of this building is mirrored perfectly by the lake that is adjacent to it.
Suddenly, the water’s flawless recreation is disturbed by a single stone skipping across its glassy surface.
Mikael eagerly watched from the banks of the lake, as his stone bounced across the water as if by magic. Once it had sank, he bent over, frantically looking for another stone. He wiped sweat away from his glistening forehead as the summer sun, unrelentingly, beat down on him.
He checked his watch, knowing full well that his best friend Willem was late. With a sigh he walked up to the water’s edge and stared in. The ripples from his stone were still causing a skewed reality to be shown back to him and even though all his features seemed oddly distorted it was possible to make out his strong jaw line, straight brown hair and Roman nose. The caricature of himself staring back at him made a slight smile touch his lips.
From out of no where a hand appeared on Mikael’s back and his whole body tensed ready for the push; a gasp of surprised anticipation escaped his mouth. That’s when he heard the laugh, which caused him to spin around with his brow furrowed in annoyance.
Mikael’s friend has obviously not been prepared for such a quick motion and held his hands up in faux surrender. Seeing this gesture and Willem’s smile, calmed Mikael’s temper.
“Hallo vriend”. Mikael greeted, before moving away from the lake’s edge to safer ground. “Je bent laat! Ik was bijna zonder je naar huist gegaan!”
Willem seemed to understand his friend’s frustration with his tardiness and tried to explain his side:
“Ik weet het, sorry. Mijn moe-<ther kept talking and talking. You know what she is like.>”