Femke van der Laan used to be a writer of columns for several Dutch magazines. Usually those pieces of writing had a fun, light feel to them, they were easy reads. However, all that changed in 2017 when her husband, Eberhard van der Laan, the mayor of Amsterdam, died. Cancer got the best of him, and she was left with 3 young children and the collective grief of the city. It was a tough time, they had to find a new home but more importantly a new way of living after the loss of her partner and the father of their children. He also had 2 grown children from his first marriage.
The entire city of Amsterdam was in mourning. The rest of the Netherlands also got to know him quite well through a very memorable interview at Zomergasten where he, already quite sick, shared his thoughts, opinions and passions. He left the people of Amsterdam a very touching letter in which he told its citizens to be, above all else, kind to each other.
After the death of her husband, Femke van der Laan experienced a deep kind of sorrow she had never experienced before. She wrote columns about it in Amsterdam’s daily newspaper, Het Parool, and came to the conclusion that there is not enough room in our society for grief and pain. Especially when trying to put your grief and sorrow into words. Her mission is now to spread the message: for God’s sake, just be sad.
Her columns about grief were compiled in a recent book called: ‘Stad vol ballonnen’, (a city filled with balloons), referring to her way of seeing the dead. As she explains, your deceased loved ones are attached to you like a balloon on a string tied to your wrist. They are floating with you wherever you go.
After a year of writing about her life without her life-partner and the father of their children and the grief, she decided that it was time to be light again in her writing. But even though she is ready to move to more light subjects in her work, she wants to share her experiences with sorrow with us at TEDxAmsterdam.