‘You need to welcome first, before you can say goodbye.’ These wise and reassuring words we heard from the undertaker who came to visit us for the very first time in our lives. A mortician specialized in funerals for babies.
It was the ‘Silent In Between Day’. The day after the ‘Day of Horror’, when we found out that our daughter had died and we had to share that news with our children and parents while we ourselves could not grasp what this meant. And it was the day before the ‘Day of Wonder’, when we met her for the first and almost last time and found out that you could be so grateful and joyful in such deep grief.
On this Silent In Between Day we were nauseously wondering how this would be: giving birth to dead baby. Fortunately this undertaker knew what she was talking about. She herself gave birth to a deceased child and, though it sounded lugubrious, she knew how to prepare us in plain language on what we had to do. She told us how her tiny body might look, where we needed to pay attention to and how we could take care of her body.
What a reassurance that was: We could take care of her body. We could do something else besides giving birth. We could welcome her and we could treat her body with care. I was still terrified and very nervous. The thought that I was a walking grave kept coming back to me. And that I would not give life but still had to go into labor. But for that the undertaker also had words: ‘You cannot give her life anymore’, she said, ‘but you still can deliver her into the world.’
These words gave me perspective. And mother power: Welcoming. Taking care. Delivering into the world. That sounds way better then: Giving birth to a dead baby. Suffering pain for nothing. Preparing a funeral.
How powerful words are. How important words are. A well-chosen word can do so much good, can give hope and even strength when everything seems hopeless. A poorly chosen word (with well intentions, I am sure of that), that we also had to deal with, can do so much harm, throw you back on yourself and make you sink away in loneliness.
The nights between the Day of Horror and the Day of wonder I almost didn’t sleep. However good and clarifying the words were, in the meantime I still felt like being a walking grave. The child inside of me did not live anymore. I still had to give birth to a deceased baby. She needed to be born and I was not looking forward to that. I wanted to run away from it. I prayed for strength, peace, everything I needed to do what she said: welcome here first. Saying goodbye will come soon enough after that.
And we did it. Had to do it. She was born. Our third daughter, our fifth child. Susan Amanda Marsman, little lily longed for. She had already died. But still we welcomed her. We showed her to our children, parents, brothers and sisters and best friends: Here she is. Our daughter. We got maternity visits, we really became father and mother again. It was a week that I remember almost every minute of. We experienced, lived, thought about everything so intensely. Again and again we set next to her crib, took her in our hands, looked at her, welcomed her and gave her back to God in prayer.
Welcoming soon became saying goodbye. It was clear that we could not keep her here. And after five days the definite moment came. We closed the basked and did the hardest thing we ever did.
I sometimes wished that I had been raised in an Eastern country, where people are allowed to wail and whine until it gets annoying and you are still allowed to go on. Now we stood there, (quite) reasonable Dutchies with quiet tears falling down and silently sniffling, standing awfully still. At the grave of our child. When welcoming became a final saying goodbye and we had to live on forever changed after we had welcomed her for a very short time.
I also wrote a song about this time in our life. You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7e25SAcxElc&t=14s
This blog was published in Dutch first on September 21, 2018