The story of how Lowie van Gorp lost his daughter Guusje to cancer is incredibly touching. The story is special, because Guusje was special. Through her death, and her father’s blogging, she became a token of hope for many, an anchor, and an example. She was something born purely out of love for a smart and creative, but very sick girl. And in a world that is really conquered by beasts. At least, sometimes it seems that way. Especially when we hear a North Korean newscaster, with a voice more powerful than the actual nuclear missile, threatening the death of many people. There we have it, on two sides of the spectrum, hate and love. Everyone knows hate, and everyone knows love. Somehow, they live symbiotically in our minds.
It was heart-warming to hear Lowie speak and to see love prevail. Guusje’s story has valuable meaning to everyone, regardless of the degree to which you can personally relate – a sentiment of which caregivers should definitely get reminded sometimes. Caregivers unavoidably experience tendencies to see a patient merely as a number, a casus, a diagnosis, a treatment, and a vessel of disease to cure. Doctors have to work that way to keep from emotional attachment. Therefore they might find themselves floating somewhere in the middle of the hate-love spectrum, in a state of emotional unavailability or flatness – a state in which the love is there, but cannot reach the surface. Lowie has the answer.
His message is very simple and easily implementable: caregivers must realise that a patient’s life belongs to the patient. He clearly felt on multiple occasions during Guusje’s hospitalization, that his life did not belong to him and Guusje’s life did not belong to her. Just as important as the helplessness felt from being sick is the helplessness felt when not being able to make your own decisions. Just like being in prison, I imagine. Caregivers can help to keep patients out of this emotional imprisonment, simply by giving them control over their lives. Be aware of this at every stage of the hospitalization. Even though a patient is medically a helpless case, she does not have to feel helpless. Even the smallest thing, like giving her parents a diploma for their injection-exam, can help them feel empowered and independent.
What got to me is when Lowie said the following, talking about Guusje’s passing: “we loved her so much we could let her go”. And really, caregivers should have a similar kind of love for their patients. Because in a world of heartache, they can make a patient feel empowered, independent and free.
A live-blog by Anke Murillo-Oosterwijk