Primal Cry

I like watching detectives because of the mystery and the psychology. What happened exactly and why do people act the way they do? In a film I saw the other day I saw an actor performing a mother who finally heard that her missing daughter was dead. Her screaming touched me deeply.

I hear a cry
Recognizable, penetrating
It’s just an actor
And yet
It chills to the bone
sounds as it is
this primal scream
Animal, childish
Pure
A part of her died
She lives on amputated
not yet knowing how

I hear a cry
Recognizable, penetrating
It’s just an actor
But she empathized
Expressed the cry of those who experienced it
Primal sound as a terrified, immensely sad little child
without learned inhibitions
This is how pure despair and inconsolability sound

I hear a primal cry
Recognizable, penetrating and sharp
It’s what Simeon said to Mary in the Christmas story:
‘A sword will pierce your heart’:
The moment Mary saw her son suffer and die
The moment I saw that my daughter was no longer moving
The moment he learned that his child had not won the battle

I hear a cry
Recognizable, penetrating
and remember the days such sound came from me
When it dawned death is irreversible
my child won’t come back
Sometimes one more cry escapes

But this cry
recognizable, piercing
doesn’t have the last word
The Jesus Mary saw dying promises He will turn mourning into dancing
One day
Sometimes I sense that when I think of her perfect state
at its closest to the source of its existence
I like it when I look at what she did
in me

Yet that raw uninhibited cry,
recognizable, penetrating,
is necessary
Don’t dare to stop it when she makes herself heard
for not only do you suppress the pain
the sadness
the despair
but also the call for justice and harmony
and the expression of love
which no longer has an address

This cry
recognizable, piercing
is heard through the ages
all creation express it’s sound (in Paul’s words)
I take part in that cry
and find myself in good company
(in reference to Romans 8: 18-30)

huilende vrouw
This painting is made by Christa Rosier. I first saw it on a post card someone send me after Amanda’s passing. I had it within reach for months and it helped me to acknowledge the despair and sorrow and to realize that God’s light was still on me.

First published in Dutch on January 9, 2020

Mother’s Heart

Today it is Mother’s Day. Last year I wrote a song to word what I’ve learned about love in my life as a mother. I am happy to share it here with you. For audio, click here.

This mother heart, created to cherish
To care and to comfort, those who are near her.
This mother heart, broken and fractured
In life’s circumstances, through loss and hurt

This mother love, strong as a lion
Fights like a tiger to shield what’s hers
This mother love, scattered, expanded
To lavish the ones that love her loved ones

Night and night, kneeling down
Bringing all before the Lord
Surrendering dreams and fears
Acknowledging He’s in control

This mother heart was never abandoned
But tender reflecting the love of God
This mother heart, damaged and injured
Pictures the hurt of God wanting us

This mother love, always renewing
Through all the serving deepened and sure
This mother love, painful and glorious
Mirrors the deepness of Gods love for us

Music & Lyrics by Ineke Marsman-Polhuijs ©2020

Do I Still Believe?

My friend texted me: ‘I see daffodils everywhere (Easter lilies in her native language), so I think about Lily-Amanda almost every day.’ It blesses me that she thinks of her and shares that with me. I see the daffodils too, but I try to not think too much about three years ago when we were so worried about our little girl Susan (lily) Amanda. I postpone it. I do notice it, but then push away the feelings that come with it. Soon it will be three years since our lives were shipwrecked and we came ashore as drowning people. Penniless. Disaffected. Looking for solid ground.

We became beachcombers, as someone described it. Looking for what is still useful of what we used to believe. Do I still believe at all? I remember how I told my Love I did not know anymore. He said, ‘I focus on what happened in the past. You were in a wheelchair and got healed. We have witnessed other miracles. We often noticed God was there. So now I just choose to believe and when we’re past the first three years, I’ll see where I stand then.’

I was surprised, but very reassured by his words. He doesn’t know how to move on either, but he makes a choice. Since I couldn’t think of anything better, I decided to do the same. In this state of upheaval, you should not make life-changing decisions, also not in what you believe. You have to survive, carry on, walk through the shadowy valley of her death.

Now the time has come. Almost three years have passed by. What do I believe? I’m writing a book about it with the tentative title: ‘God Is With Us? About Faith in the Valley’. He is God, greater than you can imagine. He sees the whole picture where I can only see 0.001% of it and yet He is nearby, around me, under me. Those arms we wrote about on the birth- and mourning card, they do carry us forever. These eternal arms are around me. Around you.

Yesterday at church we sang a song I avoided for the past three years: Oceans. This song made me realize shortly after Amanda’s death that I no longer wanted to entrust myself to God. I struggled with unbelief and stubbornness for months. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me? No! I shouted silently. No! Not if that means another child dies. I refuse that. I never want to go through this hell again.

In a special way I found out that Jesus continued to invite me to come to Him. I wrote a song about it and sang it over and over again. I found out that I trusted God for life, for my future here on earth. But gradually I realized that it is about trusting God no matter what. I learned to entrust myself, my Love and each one of my children to Him. Amanda is safe with Him. My other family members are also safe with Him, although I don’t know if that means they will live here for a long time.

Yesterday we sang Oceans again. I realized that, now more deeply than before, I believe that I and we are safe no matter what. Even if the worst things happen, like your child dying (and I still don’t want to go through that again). Still, in the presence of my savior, I am walking on the water again, so to speak. I believe that God guides, loves, is present. Not to stop every storm or break down every valley, although He can and does. But to walk through the valley, in the storm. He is with us.

Now that the Easter lilies are blooming again and remind me of the period of fearful expectation three years ago, I realize my Love was right. In three years we will see again and discover that we still believe. God is with us.

First published in Dutch on March 9, 2020

Final 2

Tomorrow the tombstone will be placed on the grave of our little girl. The time has finally come. At this moment nothing on her grave is readable anymore. Even the letters on the temporary stone can no longer be distinguished. We put off choosing a stone for a long time and then we was a delay in the process. In the end we had to sort out everything all over again. But now it is done. We selected a stone type and color, chose the way in which the soil has to be divided, a text, a font and finally a font color.

The message that the stone has been made and will be placed does a lot to me. I hate the idea that tough workers are going to pour concrete on my child’s grave. Because that has to be done first. Concrete is covering the place where she lies. Our precious girl.

It makes her even more inaccessible.

The lady who helped us choose everything concerning the gravestone asked if we would like to be there when the stone will be laid. I thought back to when we buried her and how I had to keep myself from doing irrational things, like wanting to climb back into the hole to get my child out and take her home with me. I fought that urge for weeks. I kept thinking: ‘How can I leave her alone in that cold?’

I don’t like to think about the fact that my daughter is laying there. So I decided to not be there when the stone is placed. Still, I have the feeling that I should be there. It’s like when my other kids go through something important or bad. In those times you pack yourself back together and just come along to assist your child in what it has to undergo, whether you can take it or not. You don’t leave your child alone.

But this child does not need this. She is safe in the arms of her Heavenly Father, as we wrote on her stone. She doesn’t need her mother to come over. She doesn’t need her mother to be there when her place is made beautiful. She doesn’t need anything from me.

A sob wells up. The craving for my little girl is still there. The desire to be there for her, to care for her, to stand up for her remains. Tomorrow the gravestone will be placed and she finally has a beautiful place with her name written on it legibly. With words that remind me and everyone who comes there that there are eternal arms around us.

It was the last thing we could do, I wrote almost two years ago. And now the time has come. Tomorrow the stone will be placed and the grave will be closed for good.

First published in Dutch on November 21, 2019

This is how it looked after the stone was placed. The text means: ‘From mommy’s belly straight into the arms of her heavenly Father.’ And then: ‘From old God is a hiding place. His arms carry you forever.’

Smell

I’m in the car. I’m on my way to the music store. A string on my new guitar snapped when I was tuning it a little too thoughtlessly and because this is a special guitar, I need a special new string. The next day I have to play on it and for too long I postponed this car ride. I turn off the radio. A moment of silence on this hectic day.

I don’t really enjoy driving, but I do today. Finally I do what I had been putting off for so long. Soon I will be able to play on my new guitar again. The weather is nice, it is not too busy on the road and actually this is a moment of just clearing the head. How I needed that.

Suddenly I smell something and I am alarmed. All the sudden I am back in time two and a half years. Amanda. I can smell the scent associated with my little one and suddenly I can’t think of anyone else. Memories and feelings flood me. I see myself in her room, sitting next to the cradle again, wondering, feeling love, expressing sorrow. I take her in my hands and dedicate her again to Him who gave her her short life.

I am quite surprised and want to cry like a small child. Self-pity and determination compete for precedence. It would be good to cry again, I think. But it is not convenient right now. I am on my way to the music store full of creative men and I often feel a fool there who is just plucking strings and pounding keys. A tearful face and red eyes aren’t helpful.

This is another wave the mourning books described. A wave of grief that unexpectedly washes over you with great force and causes you to completely lose your balance and orientation. But it’s not all bad and sad. I also feel deep joy. This fragrance makes me happy because she made me happy. I feel like a new mother of my little one again and for a moment she is very close.

Decisiveness wins. I can’t afford to sit down and moan now. I thank for the moment because smelling her means experiencing her and I miss her so much and feel it again. But my list has to be completed and there is a lot on it today. I have my guitar repaired and feel at home again in the big musician world. Then I drive home. To my living children who each need my guidance and encouragement and care. I cherish this memory-moment and I’m happy with her fragrance. Fragrance full of memories. Smell of my child.

Some time later I wrote a song about my stillborn daughter and this memory of sitting next to her crib. You can find it here.

First published in Dutch on October 22, 2019

1 of 773

In 2017, in the Netherlands, 773 children were born still after a pregnancy of 22 weeks or more.

That’s what I read in the newspaper. Amanda is one of them. I read the article. My child is one of seven hundred and seventy-three. She was born after she passed away, just as seven hundred seventy-two other children.

Of course it makes no sense at all to think about that. But it still haunts my mind today. All over the world babies die. In the Netherlands in the year of Amanda’s death 773 babies died before their birth. And of those who were born alive, another 502 died. I know the names and parents of some of these babies, because we got to know each other via a bereaved parent’s group.

I read the numbers in the newspaper. They are too big to really grasp. But I carry Amanda in my heart. A small individual who was so clearly one of us. Part of me, part of our family – which became so movingly clear when I asked one of my children what she thought about me buying lilies to express the feeling of Amanda being there on a birthday. Her answer: ‘I don’t care, because Amanda is always there for me anyway.’ I was so glad she said that and bought a bunch of flowers with lilies in it, but without the feeling that I have to do it.

She’s one of us. Not one of many. She is one. The one child who is always missing. Of who we don’t know if she would have just as dark hair and blue eyes as her siblings. Invisibly present, as I wrote before.

But she is also one of seven hundred seventy-three children who went from Mummy’s belly directly to their Heavenly Father.

I am speechless.

First published in Dutch on September 10, 2019

Visible

My first book is published. When I received my own copies, my Love filmed how I opened the package. What a special feeling to have your own book in your hands: tangible result of many days studying, describing and interpreting. I was so proud and enthusiastic that I not only shared the video via WhatsApp, but also via Facebook and LinkedIn. It was viewed over two and a half thousand times.

I didn’t see that coming.

When I shared my embarrassment about this with someone, she laughingly pointed to the cover of my booklet where it says: ‘While writing, the author prayed that this book will help you spend time with God and with the Bible. That you grow in faith, in prayer and in the courage to take your place in this world. Visible and fair. With complete certainty that you are never alone.’ She said: ‘Visible and honest, Ineke. Yeah, well, you are now!’ She’s right. I better get used to it.

My first book has nothing to do with Amanda. It is not about mourning, but about a Bible book: Daniel. But for me, it has everything to do with Amanda, because if it hadn’t been for her, I probably would not have written this book.

When we found out that our daughter had passed away, I was overwhelmed with feelings and thoughts I didn’t have before. Suddenly I realized that people who had experienced this before me were right: if you haven’t experienced it yourself, you can’t understand it. I always found it very difficult when someone said that. I really want to understand people and find it hard when someone brushes me off. I thought: ‘Please, tell me then! Help me understand you!’

So when Amanda had died, I made a choice. If a friend of me had to go through this, I would appreciate her telling me what is happening, what she feels, what she needs. So, I thought, if I want others to understand me, I have to tell them precisely what is happening, and what I think and feel.

So that is what I did. At first in a WhatsApp group, a little later on Facebook and then in my own blog, because I heard it also gave words to others or understanding for grief. Writing helped me to unravel and articulate more precisely what I thought and felt. As Jonathan Franzen states it: ‘Writing is organizing your thoughts. As you write, you discover what you previously only suspected.’ (I translated this quote our of Dutch). That’s it! By writing I discover what I really think and feel and giving words to that, helps me to cry about it.

After a while I was asked to write blogposts for another website. There I write (mostly) about subjects other than mourning. That was good for me. In the meantime, more and more people found my own website and I received great response. I decided I wanted to write a book about what it is like to mourn as a believer. While emailing about this with a publisher I trusted, I received a call from someone else: ‘Hi Ineke, have you ever thought of writing a book?’ I was surprised and told I would love to do that. We shared our ideas and a few weeks later, I started a process that was completely new to me: I wrote a Bible study book.

My first book is not about Amanda and has nothing to do with my grief journey. But I probably would not have become a writer if I hadn’t lost her. I was very aware of that when I wrote the book. For me, this book has everything to do with my daughter and it took quite a while before I could accept that. Now that struggle is over and I am really happy that this book is out there. I started writing the book that I initially wanted to write. And continue trying to remain honest and visible.

I gave an interview about becoming an author. It is in English and you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3824208410984062

First published in Dutch on September 4, 2019

boek

She Is There

‘With a smile and a tear. She is there.’ My Love sent me these words in a forwarded email he received from the municipality. Our daughter is now registered in the Personal Records Database. Our fifth child is recognized as an existing person. She is just as dead as before, but she is still our child, and now that has been made official. She is a daughter and a sister.

Recognition. How important that is. I don’t know exactly why, except that it is important and ensures that there is room for emotions other than sadness. And in this case, recognition is nice because it is just painful if one of your children is not mentioned when they somewhere explicitly list who our children are.

Do my children determine my identity? No, I don’t think that’s the case anymore. But they are a part of who I am. The pain of losing Amanda has made that clear to me. That pain rgoes much deeper than I thought possible and is regularly physically present.

When we sit down for a meal and I check if everyone is there I still often feel a sudden panic flaring up: Something is wrong. I calm myself down, count again and realize that I have included her again. I am so surprised by that. My body knows better who belongs to me than my mind.

So she belongs to us, is a part of me. She is my daughter and now that’s finally officially registered. What a wonderful and sad feeling that gives.

With a smile and a tear. She’s there.

First published in Dutch on July 31, 3019

Keeping Silent

Two years ago I was due, so I went to the grave today to put something there by means of a birthday present as I did last year and the year before. Today it feels different from these last two times, although I had to withhold myself from crying when I paid for the lilies at the florist, and felt too bright as I walked across the cemetery in my brightly colored coat.

Maybe I have already learned to live with the loss of our youngest. My heart still feels a bit heavy. Actually since three weeks ago when it was two years ago that I was 37 weeks pregnant (how I prayed that would be her date of birth). I keep finding it strange how my memory works. It is not the date per se, but it is the smells, the temperature and the colors around me that remind me of this time two years ago, when I walked around so vulnerable, dazed looking for the child who is no longer here.

I didn’t know losing a child would feel like this. That pain can go so deep nothing is the same anymore. At least in my perception, because most of the appearance has remained the same. I still live in the same house, in the same neighborhood, have the same family, but I experience it all differently and that continues to regularly surprise me. I really can’t go back to who I used to be. There is a life before and a life after Amanda.

Lately I noticed that things have shifted in my attitude towards other people as well. It matters whether Amanda can be mentioned or not. For people who keep silent about her, opening my heart takes a lot of effort. I heard from other mourners that they eventually ended some relationships. When I heard that, I decided I wanted to avoid that. I wanted to keep opening my heart to people. But now, more than two years later, I sometimes notice that I am not that flexible anymore and that I close my heart more often. I find that difficult, as it evokes new grief.

I always wanted to be there for everyone, no matter how they behave towards me. By God’s grace, I was often able to do that. But now I sometimes can’t bring myself to that anymore. If I have to keep silent about her, who is so real to me as if she was here and now celebrating her second birthday, why would I listen to their story?

Again I need grace. More grace, more comprehension, more space in my heart. Because I believe we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. Not the way we are treated ourselves. An important and essential difference, I now notice again and you can never know why people act the way they do. Often they have good intentions, though good intentions can hurt as well.

So I bow my head again, pour out my grief and anger to the God who already knows, to receive more grace and more love to be there again for the other, however he or she treats me. And then I go to the grave of my daughter, who should have turned two and place a fresh bunch of lilies. Congratulations dear little daughter of mine. And: Give her my regards, Lord.

Again I wonder where grief ends and self-pity begins. Or do you have to go through self-pity before you can grieve? In any case, keeping silent about her and about grief doesn’t help, as that suffocates even more. So here I am again, broken but real and willing to again go that way of treating others with grace and words. Even if they keep silent about my beloved child, who should have turned two by today.

First published in Dutch on July 8, 2019

Comparing

Would you be rather deaf or blind? I don’t know exactly how many times children asked me this question when I was a child. I usually stammered that being blind probably was worse, used as I was to my hearing impaired ears. Still I wouldn’t wish hearing impairment on anyone. And I think that someone who is blind wouldn’t want to be deaf and at the same time wishes he could see again.

Comparing. How easy we fall into doing that. Sometimes someone said to me that it is good my daughter died so young, that I didn’t have the chance to get to know her and attach myself to her. One of my children sometimes cries because classmates say that it isn’t that bad Sister died, because she wasn’t born yet. But to my child Sister is Amanda and the grief of not knowing her, not knowing how she would have been now, and not being able to teach her skills, doing her hair, taking her somewhere. That grief is just grief.

Sometimes I wrestle with ugly jealousy when another mourning mother tells me her child lived for a couple of hours, weeks or even years. But of course her grief is not less deep because of the memories she could make and hold dear, the love she could give for a while. Just as much as my grief isn’t less deep because I could not do just that.

Grief is just grief. Each of us has to learn to live with the grief we have. Comparing is killing. It isolates you from me, while when your grief is allowed to be there and mine as well, connection can happen. If it is true that misery loves company, than misery that doesn’t have company could make it more miserable.

Acknowledging grief for what it is, without comparison or judgment, is incredibly important and can even be healing. Because if sadness is allowed and recognized for what it is: grief, then there is also room for other feelings. If you have to push away your sadness, all emotions have to be pushed away and having compassion can also become difficult then.

So, I stop comparing your grief to mine. I want to listen to you and accept the similarities and differences. Because your grief exists as much as mine. It cannot be ruled out against each other. It cannot be compared. It both exists.

First published in Dutch on June 21, 2019