The Death podcast: Liese Groot-Alberts

  • 10/06/2019

Death: A podcast about love, grief and hope is available on  RovaiTunesSpotifyOmnyStitcher and all major podcast platforms.

Liese Groot-Alberts is a counsellor and palliative care educator, who speaks internationally on loss and bereavement. Her daughter Nana died when she was almost three years old.

"Our eldest daughter Nana died two days after our son Aiko was born. She had a very acute respiratory illness which started when my labour started and then she died two days later. So there was hope and passion and joy and sorrow.

"Having Aiko in my arms, this little newborn baby, it was medicine because he was there. However it did not take anything away the pain of the loss of my daughter. You hear the platitudes like, 'You have another daughter, you should focus on her.' But one child can never and should never replace it another, because they're so unique.

"When something like this happens, do we turn our life into a prison of pain or can we turn it into a school? How do we turn shit into fertilizer. I always say whatever works, don't let anybody tell you how to do it, or any textbooks tell you how you have to do this or that you have to do that to get over it. You get over the measles. You don't get over a broken heart.

"After Nana died, people stayed away. They didn't know what to do or say. What do you do? Do you bring a present for the birth and and and condolences for the death? It was tough.

"I thought, if I become a super duper therapist, I'll fix everybody else and I'll feel much better myself. That's bull of course, it doesn't work. So I did burn out and that was the best thing that happened to me. It brought me back to myself. It wore me down completely, and forced me to look on the inside of myself, and not try to heal my pain by fixing you and everybody else. It was a masking of my grief, a bit of running away.

"I slowly faced my pain more and more, by being with it and finding a place for it. When I leaned in to face my grief and my loss and my pain and my despair, what happened is I realised that I could grow stronger and continue to grow.

"One of the people who really were there when I was my grandmother. She didn't tell me how she did it or what happened to her or anything like that. She was just there. It's one of the hardest things but also one of the simplest things to do - to stay. You don't need to give advice, or to fix it, because you can't. But it takes courage to stay present and bear that which is at times quite unbearable.

"Why is death such a conversation killer? Because you don't know what to say. You have to have the courage to come and be clumsy. Death and dying are clumsy. There is nothing elegant about it, there is nothing romantic about it, there is nothing scripted about it - it is just all clumsy because it's new every time. And so I think that a challenge for people to to dare to be clumsy. Getting some understanding of why some people stayed away helped me, because otherwise the resentment does come in.

"I think 'closure' is a swear word. People talk about closure because it's too uncomfortable for them that you are not well yet, or fixed yet. But for any significant loss, we can never go back to before. We have to find what we can do with what is now.

"When a grandparent dies, it can be a balm that there was an abundance of time. And that's harder with children because although there can have been abundance of quality, there hasn't been quantity. Nana died too young. It wasn't her time yet, thank you very much, and nothing will change that.

"To me, she's always a little blond nearly three-year-old who skipped most of her life. "The sense and the essence of her is huge. The only thing little about a child is their body. But they are big in their being and in their heart and soul.

"It's 45 years ago, and when I think of her, it is mostly not with grief. It is mostly that she is part of my life. It's the same for my husband too. She is part of us. And so when I think of her, it is not with a rawness or a pain. Every once in a while it might get triggered, but mostly I think of her because she belongs with us."