Present in Absence

I want to write a book. To prepare for that I lend loads of books from the library about mourning and death. It is not a convivial topic and reading all this does a lot to me. It mainly makes me feel angry. But I am not sure yet what it is I am so angry at precisely. At death? At how people respond? At the fact that my kids have to live with this while I would rather take all sorrow away from them? About my empty arms and empty belly? At God?

It is all there I think. Reading these books brings out a lot. So why am I doing it? Well, I do not only get angry about it, I also find out what I want to talk about myself and I find recognition. It is very nice to read things that give words to what is dormant beneath the surface. Like the feeling that Amanda is there in her absence.

Marinus van de Berg uses the term ‘life cycle long’ in his book (here translated from Dutch): Sadness that doesn’t disappear[1]. He says: ‘By this I want to indicate that you carry the death of a child – or of children – with you for the rest of your life as an event not to be forgotten. Philip Freriks has written in his book Jantje about his brother who was shot at the end of the war. Those who, like he, have lost a brother very young, have more and more moments when they grow older when that brother could have been there, but is not there. He is there in the absence: lifelong. That affects your life more than you think.’

Inwardly I swore when I read this. This is what I see in my living children. Their sister’s death affect them more than I think and especially: than people around them think. In every stage of their development new thoughts, questions and emotions emerge and then they, in a way, have to learn to live with the loss again. They are not constantly aware of it or thinking about it, but it is part of their life and development. Sometimes that pops up and at those times I find it hard to see my child wrestling, especially now that it is something I cannot change at all.

One of the first thoughts I had when we found out our daughter had died, was: how do I tell my children? How can I help them live with this? I was furious. That I had to go through this, okay. But my children? No! You want to protect your children at all costs from suffering, sadness, misery. But I could not and there was no way back. Still I can’t change anything about it. They have to learn to live with their sister being there in absence.

So, I hope to learn how to do that, so I’m glad that books have been written about it, including this one. As my children get older, they realize more and more what they are missing. They wonder what it would have been like with her there and so Amanda is indeed there in her absence.

First published in Dutch on April 12, 2019

[1] Verdriet dat niet verdwijnt

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