Tot Zover

Here I Exist. Dying alone

In The Netherlands and Belgium several dozens of people die in utter solitude. Homeless people, illegal migrants and tourists, sometimes abandoned new-born infants or simply people who for one reason or another cut off all social contacts.


A group of poets dedicate their work especially towards these lonely – sometimes unidentified - deceased and their funerals. Poetry as mourning ritual. Carefully chosen words to enforce the existence of someone who would otherwise disappear unnoticed. Each year in Amsterdam around fifteen people die alone, without a single person to bid them farewell.

Each solitary funeral contains a story, of which often only the ending is known: the location of death. Sometimes there is a name, a home or a neighbor to provide vital clues of the life lived. The information provided by the council forms the first point of reference to the poet and his eulogy. Often the poet will conduct his own research. The location of death, the house of the deceased or the bend in the river where the lifeless body was dragged up: they provide inspiration for composing the final words. During several days the poet will put all aside to gather his thoughts. In conclusion the poem will be read out at the service. 


Photographer Bianca Sistermans and writer Hester van Kasselt share a passion for language and poetry and work together on long-running projects. Struck by the humane character of the lonely funeral and out of interest into matters concerning death they have worked on the project Hier besta ik / Here I Exist for the past five years. Van Hasselt interviewed the poets on death in their lives, in their work and especially on writing for solitary funerals. Sistermans made portraits of the poets, photographed solitary funeral ceremonies and abstract images concerning this monument of compassionate humanity.

The solitary funeral reveals the vulnerability of our current ‘connected’ society: these deaths make painfully clear how much loneliness and social isolation are an issue. In the end its how we as a society care for each other. Here I Exist not only reveals loneliness, but also shows how art in general – and poetry and photography especially – can touch the painful spots in our existence.