An excerpt from Anjee Gitte Carlsen’s recently published book, ‘To Live and to Die’.

Gunnar's birthday

On March 2nd, 2008, Gunnar is fifty years old. It has always been easy for me to remember his birthday, as it is the same date as my mother’s. Gunnar has never made much of his birthday, but this year we are going all out. It is two weeks after he has finished his radiation and chemotherapy. He is on good form, and yet, at the same time, this may be his last birthday, so it is important to celebrate the day.

I awake early in the morning and lie listening to the wind outside. It has been storming heavily since yesterday. It looks as if this will continue all day. The storm gives me a slightly uneasy feeling inside, but at the same time I am really looking forward to this day. Gunnar is still asleep, so I get out of bed quietly and go downstairs. I fetch wood, light the wood burning stove and feed Kiki, who is ready at her feeding bowl. I enjoy these everyday activities.

The birthday present from me is a smart shirt and a gift card for a trip to the thermal baths at Vejle Fjord. The morning tray is prepared. Coffee, tea, the Danish flag and then the presents. I can hear that Gunnar has begun to wake upstairs, so I need to get up there quickly to surprise him.

Family and friends are invited for afternoon coffee and home-baked cakes. Gunnar’s mother, his two sisters and his brother. Old and new friends from far and near. Everyone turns up plus a few extra we had not thought to invite, thinking about the available space. There are around forty people in our house, which although large, is by now packed to the rafters. Gunnar is fresh after a midday nap and happily greets everyone out in the entrance. We sit around on chairs, sofas, mattresses, cushions and wherever there is room. Kiki makes off upstairs. This is too much contact for her.

I will never forget the atmosphere of this afternoon. Such an intensity and joy because of the life that still is. When everyone has arrived, we go into my therapy room, where Christo will facilitate a healing ritual. Christo, my exhusband and our common friend, works with healing.

Gunnar is placed on a chair in the middle of the room. The rest of us stand around him in a circle. Christo puts on a powerful piece of music, by the composer Deuter, and then we all send healing and love to Gunnar, each in our own way. Forty people, who all send their love at the same time to their son, friend, work-buddy, brother and husband. Forty people who wish all the best for the wonderful soul sitting in the middle.

At this point Gunnar is completely dissolved in tears and bright red in the face from receiving all this energy. I actually worry slightly that it may be a bit much for his system.

After the healing, we dance. Gunnar’s eighty-year-old mother leads the dance and the rest of us are not holding back either. Then there is coffee and presents, of which a brown leather jacket from his sisters is the clear winner.

In between, I cry a little. I wonder how things will be next year. Will there be a Gunnar to celebrate? Good friends cry with me. Gunnar seems less worried and enjoys the party. During this time, I am often more sorrowful than Gunnar, who is the one of us who is going to die. Many times, he is the one who comforts me and says that I am going to make it. Often, he insists that it is important that I find a new man after he has died and not spend the rest of my life mourning him. When at one point he cleans out his collection of tools, he casually says that he has kept some special tools, which can be used “if someone turns up who knows how to use them.” The birthday ends in that nice way, where some of the closest friends stay behind. Everything is messy and relaxed, and the conversation flows freely and without reservation.

Outside, the storm has calmed down. Gunnar is tired and rests.

Excerpt from Anjee Gitte Carlsen’s recently published book

Review by Kaiyum: ‘To Live and to Die’

Available from amazon.co.ukKindleUSKindleDE – and Visdoms Bøgerne.

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