Nearly twelve hundred photos I received after I completing the order. I wanted to update the photo albums I make for my living children. This week, for the third time, I pasted in the photo of when they heard they were having a brother or sister. The joy and enthusiasm splash off next to plates with rusk with mice (This is a tradition in the Netherlands. When a baby is born, all visitors who come to welcome the baby, will receive a rusk with ‘mice’: a sprinkle with aniseed, coloured pink for a girl, or blue for a boy). My Love and I had put one on each plate for lunch to announce that we’re having a baby. Knowing know how wrong this would all turn out, I write down how the child for whom this album is reacted and wonder why I am doing this again.
I feel anger rising up inside of me. This was so not what we were going for. Look how enthusiastic they are. They get other rooms to make space. They are preparing to welcome this baby. How we look forward to meeting this baby. But three years have passed now, I already know what will happen: a difficult holiday in Germany where the diagnosis of Sister not growing well hangs over us like the sword of Damocles and shortly afterwards the devastating news that our daughter died quietly in my supposedly safe belly.
2017 is just a bad year. I prefer to skip that year in the albums. We took fewer photos, but in those photos I feel and see how grief covers all that’s going on like a heavy veil. It almost feels fake to write happy stories, because I feel nauseated with anger, pain and sadness. Still, we tried to make the most of it and to give them a carefree childhood, while in the meantime we also know what I am saying in the name of this blog: we are totally broken and try to be real. But no matter what we try, the children sense something is wrong anyway.
As I paste in the pictures I realize again that this was not what we had in mind for our children. This was not what we hoped for when we opened up to another child. Instead of learning them to deal with a baby and a stubborn toddler, we had to teach them to grieve and live with missing someone. This is part of our family life, of their childhood and I hear a song of Boudewijn de Groot in my head about the bland talk (‘zouteloze praatjes’) and I intend to write a loving but honest story, no matter how hard it is for me to do that. This is part of it. She belongs to us.
A friend told me last week that she grew up with her children getting older and finding their way more and more. Although I agree and also really enjoy how my children are growing up, there is also a big gap within me. It’s great that my youngest living is going to seventh grade and I certainly don’t want to stop that. But I find it quite difficult that primary school seems to have ended for good. Fortunately, she noticed that the process is not natural at all and asked how old Amanda would have been. She acknowledged the loss and sorrow that she left, her empty space, and also mentioned what her death had provoked, as I had just told her my book would be published. I started blogging because of Amanda and became a writer. Instead of bringing a child to primary school this Spring, my new book came out.
Although in the course of time I calmed my soul, as the bible says so beautifully and although I see the beauty that came from, or despite of, all the misery, now that anger is slumbering again and I need to find a way to deal with that. It is just so bad having to write down that a baby is coming, knowing that baby died and then on the next page paste pictures of the beach where the children wrote “Amanda” in the sand because she is laid out at home in waiting of the funeral.
Today is Father’s Day again. I wrote to my Love: ‘I am so proud of you. You are a very good father to… (names of our living children) and of Amanda and a fatherly man to the boyfriend of our eldest and to the girl who comes here so often, and to so many others.’ Again I felt the anger bubbling up. You are her father, but you cannot be a father to her.
‘I’m going to visit the grave’ he said a few hours later. And as I sit in the garden reading, suddenly I realize he might feel the same as I do and that it is time for me to write. He is her father forever. She is my daughter forever. Soon the oldest children will come and we will have a barbecue. I think I will first be broken but real with the Father of all fathers, because sometimes you have to think about what is missing first, in order to enjoy what you have.
First published in Dutch on June 21, 2020