XpBonaire IslandLIfe Feature Story December 2023
In the quiet town of Twentse Nijverdal, Wilco Harbers entered the world in 1964. Twenty-two years working within the youth care system laid the foundation for his career, focusing on day treatment and foster care. Love and work propelled him across the Netherlands, from Breda to Middelburg, and eventually to the Caribbean Island of Bonaire in 2007. There, amidst azure waters and balmy breezes, he found a new home with his great love, Arno. Wilco dedicated himself to helping school-aged children and worked for years in secondary vocational education.
The turning point in his career came in 2014, when Wilco made a radical choice, heeding an inner call to fully immerse himself in the creative field of design. The result was Harbers Interior Design Bonaire, his own interior design company. Here, he could fully harness his creativity, and to this day, he continues to be successful as the director and designer.
However, in December 2021, his life was overshadowed by sorrow. Arno, his beloved, chose consciously, and with much thought, to end his life. In the face of pain, grief, fear and loss, Wilco found the inspiration to write. This inspiration culminated in his first poetry collection, "Dance Towards the Dawn," published in January 2023 by Publisher House Palmslag. The collection on grief weaves love through a river of words, culminating in a sea of poetry.
Rik Felderhof, a well-known Dutch television personality and writer, describes the collection as "A true ode to love."
A Poetic Performance
On Thursday, November 2, the premiere of the poetry performance, “Dance Towards The Dawn”, took place at the Terramar Museum on Bonaire. With the direction and advice of Sander van Egmond, known for the TV documentary, “De OE van vroeger” (2022), Wilco Harbers presented an intimate performance based on poems from his collection. This performance takes the audience on his journey from grief and fear to love, comfort, and happiness, spanning a duration of up to 30 minutes. The performance is not only suitable for a broad audience, but can also be adapted for conferences, training sessions, lectures, and more.
Following the successful premiere, Wilco continued to perform. On November 23, he shone again at Terramar, and on December 3 at Sobremesa – Kas di Arte.
English Translation in Progress
On August 1, 2023, Wilco announced that the translation of his collection, “Dance Towards The Dawn”, from Dutch to English had officially begun. He emphasized that this is not just about translating words literally, but translating the feeling into words and sentence structures that reflect the essence of the poem. Two excellent translators, Matty Stutterheim-Smid and Michiel Van Bokhorst, are dedicated to this demanding process.
An Intimate Glimpse into Grief
The poetry collection, “Dance Towards The Dawn”, emerged from his deepest sorrow and the loss of Arno in 2021. Together, Wilco and Arno chose a final journey, hand in hand and surrounded by loved ones. Wilco describes this poetic “reporting” of the first months after this loss as a journey from grief, fear and loss to love, comfort, and happiness. The moment of dance towards the dawn, where the absence and love hit hardest, is the central theme of the poems.
The reviewers describe the extraordinary way in which Wilco invites the reader not only to be passive witnesses, but to actually join him in his emotions. The chosen words make the reader dance to the rhythm of Wilco's experiences, from memories of love and happiness to farewell, sorrow, and the void that remains.
Wilco shares his personal grieving process with admirable openness. The collection is described as a profound and vulnerable debut, with the special feature of framing the poems with those written by Arno, adding an even deeper emotional layer to the collection.
Wilco's Life after Arno
The deep absence of Arno led Wilco to a point of deep reflection and creativity. He shares how writing both drained him and gave him strength and how the grieving process, despite its intense weight, became more bearable. His personal process was shared on social media, where he received positive responses. After the positive feedback, Wilco began the process of finding a publisher. Poetry is a challenging genre for publishers, but with determination, and the selection and polishing of poems, his debut saw the light in January 2023.
Many friends have been involved in the creative process, Esther van Bokhorst created a professional cover illustrating a Bodhi tree. In one of his last days, Arno planted a Bodhi tree. The tree has heart-shaped leaves and is a symbol of spiritual awakening. An illustrator friend, Alie Nicolay, created the drawings. “Dance Towards the Dawn” will not be limited to a Dutch-speaking audience. In 2024, Wilco, who is working on translations in English and an audiobook, will expand the reach of his poetry to a broader audience.
A Deep Personal Loss
Arno's life was marked by depression, treatments, and ultimately, he chose the end of the road in 2021. In consultation with Wilco, Arno chose his own end. This intimate farewell, hand in hand and surrounded by loved ones, was described by Wilco as a final journey where they did not lose sight of each other, even after the last breath. Arno's death was as he wished it, and Wilco considers it "to death and beyond."
The dying process was intense, but Arno asked Wilco to help him. They shared the farewell, from stopping eating and drinking to the last moments in the hospice, Arno's determination and calm approach made it possible for Wilco to assist and cope with the inevitable.
Arno had made his own plan and no longer wanted to live. In the last four weeks, they stayed together in the hospice, where Arno spent his last days peacefully and in harmony. His death occurred on December 20, 2021, with the full moon, as Arno had decided.
The process was tough for Wilco, but with the support of the medical team, conversations with doctors, and sharing Arno's wish made it more bearable. In the hospice, the process was not seen as the road to death, but rather as a celebration of life.
A New Beginning through Creativity
After Arno's death, Wilco felt a deep void, but instead of sinking, he chose to put his emotions on paper. Writing became his salvation, a way to give his feelings space. His creative process often began in the middle of the night, when panic woke him up, and it resulted in poems that he could put on paper the following day.
His experience with reflection during his study years, combined with his sensitivity to language, led to the discovery that writing was his link to expressing ideas and emotions. Sharing his personal process on social media brought support and positive responses, ultimately leading to the creation of his poetry collection.
A Hopeful Future
More than a year after Arno's death, Wilco is open to new experiences. He often says “yes” to opportunities and invitations and is working on a second collection, exploring his journey from grief to more love. He tries not to fill the void Arno left, but to live around it. Happiness and sorrow coexist, and he realizes that missing someone does not mean you can't enjoy life anymore.
While the sorrow and loss persist, Wilco seeks ways to move forward with positive elements around him. Life after Arno is a continuous journey of grief and loving memories. The future looks hopeful, and Wilco remains open to new opportunities, enjoying life, knowing that death and life are inseparably connected.
In the quiet town of Twentse Nijverdal, Wilco Harbers began his journey through life. A journey filled with career successes, love, profound grief, and creative rebirth. His poetry collection, “Dancing Towards The Dawn”, reflects not only his personal loss and grief but also invites others to join the dance of life.
Wilco's artistic expression transcends the personal boundaries of his loss and offers comfort and recognition to those experiencing his poems. The performances and poems bear witness to a universal message of love, loss, and resilience.
With an open heart and a hopeful look to the future, Wilco Harbers continues to find his way, dancing towards the dawn, where love and memories blend into a poetic celebration of life.
Dance Towards The Dawn
Out of step
you hold my
And in a
we dance towards
Wilco Harbers, Bonaire 2023
Bonaire Bookstore Bruna Bonaire
Bookstore Del Mar B.V.