Making a podcast about losing a parent when you’re young is ‘intense’

Journalism student Weike van Koolwijk wanted to make something that would stop others from feeling so alone. Something she felt was missing when she lost her mother when she was twenty-three. She started podcast Erna (Afterwards), about what it’s like to lose your parent at a young age, and what comes after. The last episode will be part of a bigger podcast series on NPORadio1.

What started as an assignment for the journalism master turned into a difficult and time-consuming job. She started out by interviewing three people a week, but that soon turned out to be too much. ‘These interviews are mentally exhausting’, says Weike. ‘They’re sad and intense stories.’ 

She met with many people, both acquaintances and complete strangers, interviewing about their loved ones’ death and how they experienced the first few weeks after their passing. Their words painted a familiar picture and left quite an impression on her, she says. ‘Driving away, I would realise what an amazing conversation I’d just had.’

Important

The weekly interviews also meant that Weike was able to put her experiences of her mother’s death in a new context. ‘It was a source of comfort for me. It showed me I wasn’t crazy.’ 

I kept going because I know how nice it is to be able to talk about it

It taught her how to keep her own emotions at a distance, which meant she didn’t have to end a conversation as soon as it became painful. ‘It was a great lesson in processing it’, she says, rolling her eyes at how corny she sounds. ‘But I kept going because I know how important it is and how nice it is to be able to talk about it.’

The interviews left not just her, but also her subjects, feeling grateful, says Weike. ‘Some people really needed to talk to me, because people stop talking about what happened after a month or so.’ 

Not melancholy

She was reminded of how intense the work had been when she was editing the podcast. ‘Talking is one thing but hearing it all back is pretty difficult as well. All the feelings came flooding back. It’s not something you can treat lightly.’ 

Nevertheless, the podcast isn’t melancholy at all. It’s shining a practical light on a painful story. As such, the podcast is quite popular. Broadcaster NTR is even broadcasting final four episodes on NPO Radio 1. Weike is now done with the podcast. ‘I feel like what I’ve done is enough. It’s time for something new.’

Erna is in Dutch. It is available on Apple and Spotify. The final episode will be part of the NPO Radio 1 podcast series on documentaries called DOCS. It will be online on Wednesday, January 19.

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