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Beatrix, Queen of Heartbreak

When Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands officially abdicates on April 30, she will end a 33-year reign that is viewed as one of the most successful in Dutch history. But it is also marred with personal tragedy.

In 2002, Beatrix lost her companion and consort, Prince Claus, whom she had married 38 years earlier. Claus had been battling Parkinson’s Disease and had previously dealt with cancer and depression.

Less than two years later, Beatrix was forced to face the death of not one, but both, of her parents within just months of each other. Queen Juliana, titled Princess Juliana post-abdication, passed away in March 2004 after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease (a severe form of dementia) since the 1990’s. At the time of her death, the 94-year-old former monarch was no longer able to recognize family members. Just eight months after Juliana’s passing, Beatrix’s father Prince Bernhard was diagnosed with an untreatable form of cancer. He had survived several health complications in the previous decade, but once his wife was gone, Bernhard had lost his will to fight. He died in December 2004 leaving Beatrix with only her three sons for support.

Heartache again targeted the royal family in 2009, when an assassin aimed his automobile at the bus carrying the royals in a parade. No members of the family were harmed, but they did witness the deaths of five people in the car’s path. The assailant also later died in the hospital, along with two more parade attendees. Queen Beatrix, Prince Willem-Alexander, and Princess Maxima later attended a memorial service for the victims of the attack.

Most recently, Queen Beatrix faced a mother’s worst nightmare when tragedy befell her son in February 2012. Prince Johan Friso, middle son of Beatrix and Claus, was trapped under an avalanche while skiing in Austria with his wife. Friso was buried under the snow for 25 minutes causing significant brain damage. Tests indicated that Friso had very little brain activity and, although he showed signs of improvement in November, it is unlikely that he will regain his former capabilities.

On Tuesday, Beatrix will be “retiring” from the job she has performed for over three decades. The country will reflect on her tenure with pride and nostalgia. There will be parties, toasts, and congratulatory wishes. Friends from all over the world are flying in to celebrate with her. But this is all bound to be bittersweet for Beatrix. She will undoubtedly be reminiscing about those who are not there to join in celebrating her “job well done”.

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