Over Mijn Lijk (‘Over My Dead Body’, Dutch tv-series that follows young people with terminal diseases for several weeks of their lives) has won the Gouden Televizier-Ring 2020 (Annual Dutch Public-Awards for tv-shows). Editor Eline Vreugdenhil and Producer Marc Dik tell about how the series came into existance. “Over Mijn Lijk is more about life than death.”
Hi, I’m Ester. I’m 22 and I know that I’ll die soon. But from the moment people in my surroundings know that fact, it seems I’m already dead.”
Those are the first lines of a hand-written letter Marc Dik received in February 2002. The presenter and producer was filming Jong (‘Young’) at the time, an EO-program in which teens tell special stories. The letter becomes the seed that will grow into Over Mijn Lijk. Dik states that Ester has a very clear message. “Even when people die, they’ll still want to talk about normal things, make plans, and dream about what they cán do.” Treat them like regular people. People no longer dared to speak with her. She’d say: I’m Ester and there’s more to me than just cancer, you know.” Back then it was fairly new that such a young person talked about it so openly. A very fearless girl. Ester died shortly after the broadcast, but Marc Dik never forgot her. The producer of Skyhigh TV – responsible for De Slimste Mens (‘The Smartest Human’ – Dutch program that tests the knowledge of Dutch celebrities in a game-style tv-show) – saw a new series come to life in front of his own eyes. “There’d been programs about death before, but never to the extend in which these young people make it so debatable. It made for raw and confronting tv, because those young people weren’t supposed to die, it just simply isn’t right. At the same time the process was very intriguing. It just isn’t guaranteed that we’ll all reach 80. The story hadn’t been told yet. Slowly we started thinking about a series in which we’d follow terminally ill youngsters for several weeks.” Dik still remembers the moment the ambiguous title ‘hit’ him. On the island of Terschelling we were waiting for the ferry when I suddenly thought “Over My Dead Body”. It really suits a brave young adult who wants to look death in the eyes and challenge it.
Over Mijn Lijk started on tv in April 2006 and is currently in its ninth season. “Over Mijn Lijk is so much more than work. You’re in it with everything you’ve got,” Eline Vreugdenhil, the editor who’s closest to the family and guests, says. She guides the process from the start – the selection of which people to follow – until the very end. She remains in contact with the friends and family constantly. “Everyone is so dedicated. The minute something happens, whether personal or medical, a wish or result, there’s contact between us and the family/friends. Together we decide if we’re going to film or not. It’s a journey you make together.” Marc Dik: “On the one hand there’s their vulnerability, but on the other there’s their joy in life. That you, like Fabienne during a party in the Arena, want to dance until you, almost literally, drop.”
Life is now
Eline Vreugdenhil, only 26 herself, has started looking at life differently. “I was 24, Fabienne 22. She was dying, I was watching it happen. It made me loose my lack of inhibition rather quickly. But they also taught me that life is now. You don’t know whether there’s another morning waiting for you.” Over Mijn Lijk is more about life than death because of that. “Fabienne had 3 to 6 months left according to doctors, but lived for 1.5 years,” editor Eline Vreugdenhil states.
“We really debate a lot of different topics,” Dik says. He, too, was rather hesitant after the first season. “The question we asked ourselves was: wouldn’t it be disrespectful to make another season each year? On the one hand maybe we ourselves needed to get used to the fact that we talked about death so openly. There were so many stories we’d yet to tell.”