Category: <span>death</span>

Living and dying, bucket list, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

Living and dying – my bucket list

Living and dying – my bucket list

Here is a poem about living and dying, that really is quite inspirational.


You know the lucky thing about my hip replacement?

she asked, not waiting for the answer.

It made me think about advance directives,

my living will, how I’d like to die.


Yeah, he said, her colleague

who chatted amiably with death

each day, like two old men

playing checkers in the park.

I know what you mean.


This is how it is

with the nurses, doctors, therapists

who walk down the halls of dying

as through the home of a relative,

pausing to leaf through the Geographic,

or straighten a family photograph on the wall.


They have earned their ease

the hard way,

learned to reach through the bramble

to find the fruit, add weight

to the rusty pail.


They have not so much grown inured

to pain as they have learned to savor it,

taste the sweetness of the grapefruit’s bite,

feel the glow of a day’s hard toil.


In the end, we need them

as we need seasoned travelers

met in an unfamiliar land.

They greet us on the steep trail,

in the twisting streets, point the way

to a good taverna, trace the path home.

Most of all, they help us

parse the dark syllables in our hearts,

bare them,


and seek cleansing

in the gathering storm.

– Robert A. Neimeyer, (Earl Rogers 2007: xix)


As an educational psychologist who specializes in trauma therapy from the ages of two to 92+, I am confronted with death on a daily basis. In my previous article about death and dying, I’ve discussed death as a taboo subject for most of us. People feel uncomfortable when “death” comes to the surface and they will rather change the subject. Life and death are two sides of one coin, and what we don’t always realize is that the one can’t go without the other one. Life and death, living and dying are intertwined.

Living and dying, bucket list, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

How do I want to be remembered after my death

Take five minutes and write down a few words about how you want your family, loved ones and friends to remember you. It can be words like fun, patience, always looking at the bright side of life, reading them a story or taking turns to read a book (even when they are in high school) and more. Now write down at least five things that you have achieved in life that you are proud of. (This may be a challenge for many people, as it is much easier to focus on things that we haven’t achieved). Achievements will differ from person to person. For one it might be to be a patient person, for somebody else it might be a diploma or a degree, for another person it might be to encourage others, to be an entrepreneur, to be able to live in the moment, to have a loving family, etcetera.

Living and dying, bucket list, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

Living and dying: My bucket list

Now it’s time to write down five things that you still would like to achieve – a bucket list. This bucket list will add to the things about how your family and loved ones will remember you. You are still alive and you still have a chance. Do you only want people to remember you for having the cleanest house, being a very strict parent (without having time to sit down and listen to your kids), having many degrees (but spent most time in your office, because you are too busy to have fun with your family) or will your choice be to just set aside your responsibilities and chores for a while and play in the sand with your kids, having a lot of laughter and jumping on the trampoline, having a tea break in your beautiful garden, playing in the mud, reading story books, walking around the block, having a picnic in your garden, listening to your teenager’s music without making negative remarks and share your music with them, go cycling and your list can go on and on.

Living and dying, creating memories, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria


I still have a chance for a bucket list

It is in your hands to be and still become the person you want to be remembered after your death. Live your life as if there will be no tomorrow, no next chance to have more patience, to say sorry, to put down your responsibilities for a while to have fun. By making the choice to live life, to teach yourself and your children how to live life, how to see the blue sky, the flowers, how to be on the lookout for and to appreciate the small blessings of every day (birds in the garden, the value of a smile, friendliness with the people around us, patience, being a fun person to live with, being blessed with good health, having warm water, enough food, a beautiful house, a caring family and more) you will also learn how to die. You can only face death if you have learned to live life to its fullest. Life is too short to allow daily chores, work, responsibilities, to keep you away from living (as you are dying if you aren’t living). Teach yourself and your children how to life life to the fullest, in spite of COVID-19, in spite of many uncertainties, in spite of not having enough, in spite of not having a perfect life. Take what you have and make your life a living life and not a dying life.

Living and dying, bucket list, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria


Do you like a challenge? This one is not for the faint of heart, but maybe also for them

Write a memorial letter about yourself, which contains how you want to be remembered. What inspiring music you want to be played on your funeral, maybe you have a special saying that people will always remember. What photo’s would you like to be shown of you on a slide show? Certainly not photo’s of cleaning the house with a grumpy face, of sitting behind your desk, of preparing food with a silence around you that could be cut with a knife. Yes, of course we all have our chores (read why children need to have chores on my Facebook page) and responsibilities – it’s part of life. But do you have photos for your slide show where you are having fun, laugh a lot, play a lot lot, dance like no one is watching! If you don’t have these kind of photo’s, then today is the time to start collecting them, to print it out, to put it on your refrigerator or a special memory clip board, where you and your family can add new photo’s, at least once a month. Life and death, two inseparable sides of the same coin. Only by living life to the fullest, you will be able to learn about peaceful dying. Take up the challenge and make your bucket list today.

Living and dying, creating memories, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

Photo credits:
Thanks to the following photographers for their amazing images used in this post!
List: Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Mom and kid: Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash
Dad and kids at beach: Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash
Photo memories: Photo by sarandy westfall on Unsplash
Campfire: Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash
Miles of memories: Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash
death and dying therapy dr. marisa van niekerk educational psychologist midstream centurion pretoria

Death and dying therapy

Death and dying therapy

Death and dying therapy is something that people need, but most tend to avoid.

Death and life – two parts of the same coin. The one can’t go with the other one

(Have another look at the picture above. What word do you see? Now rotate the picture 180 degrees. Now what word do you see?)

 “The world breaks everyone and afterward, some grow strong at the broken places”.

As an educational psychologist, who specializes in trauma, including death and dying therapy and who completed both my masters and doctorate degrees in trauma (with both teenagers and adults), I’m confronted on a daily basis with “broken people” and / or hurt people. Examples of what I’m dealing with are divorce, abuse, suicide, death, housebreaking, hijacks, bullying, retrenchments and natural disasters. But one of these traumas remains a taboo subject, an absolutely no, to talk about…DEATH.

death and dying therapy dr. marisa van niekerk educational psychologist midstream centurion pretoria
Picture above: No! No! Don’t talk about death


Through the ages and generations death has been a taboo and a ‘no no’ subject and until today most people refuse to think and talk about death. Thinking and talking, as well as reading about death, threaten most people and make them feel uncomfortable. Thus death = silent ignorance (to most people).

The reality is that death and life are two parts of the same “coin”. The one part of this “coin” which is “life” can’t be understand, without understanding something about the second part which is “death”. Our parents teach us how to live (if they themselves knew how, and if we are lucky), but teaching us to die doesn’t even exist in their vocabulary. We don’t want to think and talk about death, because we don’t want to die, at least not for now. The fact is that we all will die and it can happen with you or one of your family members or friends today. Every day, since we can remember, we see, hear and read of people who died, but we think “thank goodness it’s not us”. Then life goes on, until the day arrives when someone close to you die or when you are confronted with death by means of an unexpected diagnosis…and suddenly your life is shattered and falls apart.

Death and dying therapy: A different view

In his book ‘The Alchemist’, Paulo Coelho describes death as a beautiful woman. Coelho says that this beautiful woman (death) is always by his side in life. She had been there since his birth. A friend of Coelho asked him whether the beautiful woman says something. Coelho’s answer to his friend was: The beautiful woman is saying:

“I’m going to kiss you,” and I say to her, “not now, please.” But she says, “OK, not now – but pay attention and try to get the best of every moment because I am going to take you”. And I say, “OK, thank you for giving me the most important advice in life – to live your moment fully.”

death and dying therapy dr. marisa van niekerk educational psychologist midstream centurion pretoria

To be able to really learn to live and to understand life, it’s impossible not to learn and understand more about death. Look at the picture of death again. Life and death are intertwined, they can’t be separated and the one can’t exist without the other. People ask: “Where do I start with death?”

The first thing is to face death. Yes, to face death. Facing death means to be able to stand still and say: I am confronted with death and I need to face it. Research indicated that “facing” your fear, panic and insecurities, is the first step to go on and pursue hope. But what is facing death exactly? Facing death is about getting up in the morning, although you do not feel like doing it, and facing the day, facing your fear, facing your challenges and most of all, facing yourself.

Facing yourself and facing the fear of death is about going forward although with trembling legs and maybe sweating hands, and a shattered heart that pounds in your body, even you do not feel like it. Facing death is about going on, like the metaphor of a river which describes trauma:

“The river flows relentlessly to the sea. When it reaches a point where it is blocked by rocks and debris it struggles to find ways to continue its path. Would the alternative be to flow backwards? That is what a person in trauma craves, to go back in time. But life doesn’t provide a reverse gear and the struggle must go forward, like the river, with occasional pauses to tread water and check where we are heading”….water adapts itself to the configuration of the land.

death and dying therapy dr. marisa van niekerk educational psychologist midstream centurion pretoria


Facing death and facing yourself takes a tremendous amount of energy. Don’t face this on your own. There is help. Often during trauma and death, negative experiences of the past, which wasn’t properly faced and addressed, tend to come to the surface again. Feelings of guilt, sleeplessness, anxiety, feelings of depression and more can bother you and make your shattered life even more confusing and unbearable. The intense and overwhelming feelings and emotions which is caused by death infiltrates every cell in your body.

Your brain’s main aim is to protect you. In experiencing trauma your logical and rational thinking process will be put on pause for a while, because your brain will automatically put you in fight, freeze or flight “mode”. That is one of the reasons why you can’t think clearly. Through psychotherapy and counselling you will be supported to face your unresolved issues of the past during your mourning process of death and make it “dealt with” issues.  By sitting with an experienced trauma psychologist, will help you to start to gather the shattered pieces of your life. It will be an intense journey, but by doing this for yourself, will support you to be better equipped for the journey that still lies ahead – as you are alive which means there is still a road to travel.

Should you just need to talk to someone who can listen and walk the journey with you, you can contact me here, or visit my Facebook or Twitter pages.

For more information about death and trauma therapy click here.

Photo credits:

Photo by Zach Lezniewicz on Unsplash

Photo by Mattia Ascenzo on Unsplash

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash (Stop)

Photo by Suzy Turbenson on Unsplash (Cemetery)


Paulo Coelho – The Alchamist

Diagram: The grief Centre of Texas. Corr, CA, Nabe, Corr,DM. 2006. Death and dying, life and living. 5thedition. United States of America:Thompson Wadsworth.

Van Niekerk, AMS. 2011. Opvoedkundig-Sielkundige riglyne vir die hantering van die verlies- en treurproses (Unpublished M.Ed Dissertation).

Trauma therapy after death

Trauma therapy after death and loss

Trauma therapy after death and loss: Introduction

Death is well known as one of the top three traumas that a person can experience. When a person close to you dies, the impact of the shock affects you as a “person in total”. “Person in total” means that it can affect every part of your life (or at least some parts).  For this reason, it is recommended that a person seeks trauma therapy after death, or a loss.

Trauma therapy after death and loss: Person as a whole

Examples of the various parts of a person are:

Emotional being
– anxiousness / aggressiveness / having a bad feeling in your stomach / dry mouth / hypersensitive for noises.

Physical state
– without any feelings / alone / shocked / guilty.

Social state
– irritated between people (even between friends) / withdraw into yourself / want to be left alone.

– confused / forgetful / problems to concentrate / dreaming / feels the presence of your loved one.

– sleeping problems / restless / change in eating patterns / tearful / avoid memories of your loved one.

Trauma therapy after death and loss: Do and Don’t

How to handle a grieving person:

– talk too much (to hide your own uncertainties);
– say things like: * God has picked the most beautiful flower in the garden; *
– your’e parent was old, it’s not so bad;
– things will get better;
– pull yourself together;
– handle your friend different from what you did in the past (he has a need to be treated as normal).
– Just be there: give a hug (don’t say anything, because you are probably as stunned as the grieving person himself;
– visit the grieving person again in future (he’ll need you even more than now);
– let him know on special days, for example his loved one’s birthday / Christmas, that you think of him (not just a once off);
– invite your friend for a coffee / nice outing (keep on asking – even if he refuses to go; tell him that you really want to have coffee with him);

Trauma therapy after death and loss: what’s next

In my next post, I will talk about 7 ways to deal with your own grieving process.

Keep well!

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