Combing the Beach

Yesterday, it was nine months ago that our little Amanda was born. A lot has happened since. ‘The death of a baby is like a heavy storm that wrecks the ship of life. The woeparents are drowning persons who are dazed and surprised to see that they are still alive. Their ships are stranded. And from drowning men they become ‘jutters’ (a Dutch word for ‘those who comb the beach’ for brevity I’ll use the Dutch word hereafter). They are searching for what is still useful. They look for ways to balance their ship again.’ These words from Kathy Beckers-Mansell describe painfully accurate the process we’re in.

When Amanda died, we lost all orientation. It was indeed as if we were shipwrecked and subsequently realized we survived and floated around on a debris. Bewildered we wondered how to move on, what we should feel, how to deal with this. We started to do this: ‘jutten’: what is still useful of all we learned, collected, build up, believed and done in our lives? Now it came down to it. And at the same time: now we need to survive. We clinged to what seemed important to us at that moment. How we have changed. Or perhaps we didn’t. Maybe we actually became ourselves more.

For here I am. Sat down and writing. Finally I am writing. I have always been a writer, but I was too afraid to say what I think and that fear kept me from publishing. But some months ago, I could not withhold myself anymore. I had to share the words I tried to find for what is going on inside of me. Maybe because misery loves company indeed. And writing gets some pressure off of me.

I am in the process of making the baby-album of Amanda. To add the right words to it, I have been reading some of my diaries. It is quite bizarre to read that what I thought when I was pregnant, and the things I did at that time, helped me with ‘jutten’ afterwards.

While I was pregnant, I read The Shack of Paul W. Young, wherein a man looses his fifth(!) child through a gruesome crime. Since her death he is wrestling with ‘The Great Sadness’ (what a great description of the feeling that numbs me when another wave of grief has come over me) and his faith is all but personal and intimate. Young brings in a masterly manner deep questions about life to the table and describes surprisingly well how your image of God can be coloured by your experiences. Young also shows that God in fact is much bigger and that in this life there is no answer to: Why? But there is an answer to: Are You there?

I reread The Shack in a Dutch translation after Amanda’s death. And last week my Love and I watched the movie together. Again and again, and not only through this story of Young, I am convinced that it is okay what we feel, what we think, where we are. And it is good to pour out your heart with God. He can handle it and He is with us.

We are ‘Jutters’ indeed and we need to find our way again. We are actually walking a road. Grief does not stay the same. It changes. There are new aspects coming to surface. Sometimes very raw, sometimes bittersweet. But there is also growing new trust. There is development. It is not the same as it was in the past, but it is also not the same as shortly after Amanda’s death.

If you ask me know how I am doing, I still find it hard to give an answer. In a way I am fine. We are alive, we do the right things. We cry if we have to, we laugh about things that are pretty and good or funny. Amanda is a part of our life, she is part of our family. And we ‘just’ live on. Changed. We try to hold onto the word that in the coming Christmas season will be repeated all over the world: Immanuel: God is with us. And we go on. Combing the beach.

First published in Dutch on December 23, 2017

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