Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.

How becoming orphaned in 5 months taught me what matters.

Hello cancer

Early in life I learnt what mattered. I learnt it the hard way. My mother was diagnosed with cancer. The first time was in the year 1997. After almost 10 years of treatments, spring 2007, she passed away. Not without a fight though, she had 6 relapses and she fought until she nothing else left. I was there when she lost.

In a way I was privileged. Privileged as she allowed me to see her journey, her vulnerability and her suffering. In these years I saw the hope she cherished, the determination she had to conquer the disease and the despair when nothing else worked. She learnt me to never give up, to respect others and to stay true to myself.

I also realised I was “lucky”: if I would have lived in a different country which didn’t have this level of social support, we would have had to sell our house to pay for treatments. I would have been homeless.

“See you next week…”

Later that year, 5 months later, it was a Sunday, I said goodbye to my dad, quite casually. He just brought me to the train station to go to Leuven, the city where I lived.

On Friday, 2 days before I was going to leave on a holiday to try to recover from the blow I experienced losing my mother, I received a phone call. It was the undertaker. My father had died in his sleep. The idea I never would had the chance any more to say what mattered was almost unbearable. Just as many men of my generation, the relationship with my father was far from optimal.

Since my mother passed away, things improved though. He was ill, was struggling with his restaurant, but it was the first time in his life he allowed me in. All that was gone.


As an only child I was lost.

A friend of mine said I lost the roof and the foundations of my life. He couldn’t have been more right. I didn’t have time though to mourn. I had a start up to manage, a restaurant to close down and a whole lot of practical stuff to arrange. I still remember selling kitchen apparel on ebay, waiting at a Brussels parking lot for the buyer to come and pick it up.

The restaurant was in trouble but I considered it a token of respect to my parents to close it down properly, not letting it go bankrupt. This was the legacy of both my parents. I did.

They say every crisis produces something good. In my case, it was the bonds my family and my friends. Without them, I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep my head up and move forward.

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