In his letter to Plus Magazine, Karel writes: “It is not given to everyone, but I would like to share that after some misery, a more sunny life is possible.” We meet at Museum Schokland. The joy of life that Karel radiates rhymes with the content of his letter. Together we will explore the former island of Schokland in the Noordoostpolder, which became the first Dutch piece on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.
Karel was born and raised in Amsterdam. Because he likes to drive so much, he became a sales rep. His work led him all over Holland and eventually to Flevopolder. Charles was a late flowering in love. He met his first love at the age of 27 on the beach in Riccione, Italy. “I was playing chess with a friend when a sweet girl from Geneva asked me if I wanted to play a game with her. Many jars followed. Soon we were completely lost, we were so in love.” Also for Elisabeth it was her first courtship. Back from holiday the writing started back and forth. Stacks of letters. Six months later Elisabeth had already bought plane tickets to get to Holland for Christmas. But suddenly Karel got the message that her mother did not leave. her coming.After a time of heartache, the contact faded in. But the pile of love letters would survive all of Charles’ traits.
A little later, he met Lies, whom he married and had two children with. They had 33 wonderful years until the kids left home. The empty nest worried his wife; Charles was often worried. When she announced that she was going to live with a woman, his world collapsed, but it did not come as much of a surprise. “In fact, I was relieved. Finally I got peace. ”
When strolling through the bog and meadow bird area, reed warblers and shorebirds are most likely to be heard. It’s hard to imagine that Schokland once lay in the middle of the sometimes wild Zuiderzee. With the capture of the Noordoostpolder in 1942, it became an ‘island on dry land’, where old and new meet in a special way.
After the divorce, it was hard for Karel to be alone. So when he saw an ad in the newspaper for singles, he signed up. This is how he got to know Evelien, whom he married for practical reasons not much later. “It was awkward to travel back and forth between two houses.”
Again the letters of his first love Elisabeth went with him to the next house. At one point, he decided to look for her on the internet. “I thought: he must be married and have another name, I’ll never find it again.” But Elisabeth, now divorced, still lived in Geneva under her own name. After 42 years, the contact was restored, now by email. There was a lot to discuss about their lives. Elisabeth invited Karel and Evelien to Geneva. “It was such a warm and pleasant weekend. As if we had seen each other yesterday.” Evelien and Elisabeth also became good friends.
With a view of the former lighthouse, the reconstructed lighthouse and the foghorn building, we pause while enjoying the grass.
After ten quiet and stable years, Evelien suddenly got violent stomach pains. It turned out to be metastatic cancer of the pancreas and a cure was impossible. Suddenly, Charles became a caregiver. “It was quite difficult. One minute I was in tears with my wife and the next I had to be happy for a customer on the phone.” Karel cared for his wife day and night for four months until she died in 2014.
“And again I was alone.” Of course, Charles shared his grief with his childhood sweetheart Elisabeth. When she came to Holland a few months later, Karel prepared the extra room for her. “But she never slept there,” he laughs. “We were immediately hotel guests again. And when you feel a woman’s warmth and love again after so much misery, it’s so special. The fire always smoldered. “Special years followed, where the two visited each other every month. They did not want to live together; both had their own lives.” With butterflies in my stomach, I picked her up from the airport and brought her back in tears. “They made up with the years without each other – until Elisabeth was diagnosed with metastatic stomach cancer. Karel immediately traveled to Switzerland to start worrying again. But then Karel was also diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, his colon cancer had not spread and the tumor could be removed. Instead for chemotherapy, he chose the less effective chemo pills so he could continue to travel. “I still do not understand how I did all that back then. Love gives wings, does not one say?
Speaking of love: when we walk on the narrow wooden bridges that they used to walk from one hill to the other over the swampy land, Karel suddenly grabs me by the waist. He shows how Schokkers passed each other by spinning around each other. “They also call it Shock Dance, it has resulted in many relationships!”
At one point, Elisabeth was told she only had a few months left to live. She wanted to go to Holland because Karel had such a nice house. He made a bed in the conservatory overlooking the birds. Like Evelien, she did not talk about the impending death. Karel received a note with the text: ‘I love you. Here with you I will die. ‘ It was an intense time that Karel can not tell without tears. “After two months, she died in my arms.”
And again, Charles was alone. “The walls came towards me. I really could not stay like this alone, I had nothing left to take care of.” But again, there was an opportunity to get to know new people: through a walk for singles in the Dronten. Where Schokland symbolizes the struggle against the water, one can say that Charles symbolizes to continue after adversity. “On that trip, Amy came to me and you already understand … Thanks to her, I overcame my grief.” According to Karel, no one was wondering if it was going too fast. Even Elisabeth’s family gave him new happiness. “Like a late flower, you have something to catch up on. I do not mind the fear that something will go wrong again. I want to enjoy life and that life now smiles at me again.”
Karel Seet (78) has two children from his first marriage. The two women he had a relationship with afterwards both died of cancer. He’s got a new girlfriend for a few years now.
Hella van der Wijst (57) is the presenter and author of the books Troost – if you miss someone and The power of together. She likes walks and good talk.
Island on dry land
A walk around the former island of Schokland is extraordinary. The remnants of thousands of years of history are hidden in the ground. During the extraction of the Noordoostpolder, all sorts of things appeared, including skeletons of mammoths and woolly rhinos. The tour goes through polderland and forest and passes various historic buildings, including a church from 1834. Museum Schokland also arranges guided tours for groups upon request. You can find the trip at www.wandelzoekpagina.nl (search for ‘schoklandroute’). A lot of information can be found at www.schokland.nl.
Starting point and catering: Museum Schokland, Middelbuurt 3, Schokland.
Length: 13 kilometers.
Transport: there is no public transport connection with Schokland. You can call Regiotaxien from Ens.