Photo’s/Father’s Day

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

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

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

Perfect Ways

gebroken hart beeld
The picture is a statue of artist Albert György, located in Switserland, at Lake Geneva. It has been posted a lot on Facebook, in light of bereaved parents month. It touched me deeply.

Yesterday I sang and played guitar in church. I really enjoy doing that, but some songs are hard for me to sing. One of them is Good, good Father. It is a beautiful song, but also very painful for me, especially since Amanda died. We sang: You are perfect in all of Your ways. You are perfect in all of your ways. You are perfect in all of your ways to us.

I woke up that morning to first have some time alone with God. It is what I am used to do: get up early and go downstairs. The children are still sleeping or playing in their bedrooms. I make coffee and sit down to read the bible, thinking and praying. I just finished reading Job and it stood out to me that it comes different to me than in the past. I used to read this book as a story of someone who was very ill, like I was when I was younger. The groaning of pain I heard through the verses was familiar to me. But now I see the father who mourns his children. I feel and see the pain that I now know myself. The deep pain of loosing a child. A pain that is still indescribable.

I continued reading the Psalms and I am so grateful that in there are so many exclamations of despair in this book. So, that’s allowed: your pain, your raw complaints: ‘God! where are You?’ Throwing all your misery at the feet of your creator. He can handle it. He doesn’t feel threatened or insulted by my emotions. I once wrote a small song about this. It is in Dutch and means something like: I am safe with You, can quietly breath in and out, I can be who I am, with You.

I got the melody in my head while reading the Psalms. It is so important to know that you can come to God with all your pain, anger, bitterness and misery. I am very grateful for that. The anger in me  seems to go deep. I am so angry about what happened: First I had to wait years before I was pregnant, then we found out our baby wasn’t doing well and some weeks after that we learned she had died. In the months following I found some peace. Amanda is doing well and that is what I want. But there also has been torn something from me. It seems that my heart partly is damaged beyond repair.

They say that time heals all wounds, but that is not my experience yet. It still seems as if my grief grows bigger instead of diminishes. A little bit desperate I asked a sweet lady from church who buried her newborn son ten years ago: ‘Will this ever become less? This deep, sharp pain?’ I point to a place near my heart and she points to the exact same place on her own body and says: ‘No, it still hurts só much. Maybe God doesn’t take away the pain, but He does go His way with it.’

I said to my Love on a day that I cried a lot (fortunately, I don’t do that daily anymore): ‘I thought this would be like when you break your arm. It hurts a lot, but when it is set correctly, it will hurt less and then heals and grows even stronger than before. It doesn’t feel that way at all. I actually always miss her. She is so present absent.’ ‘Yes’, my Love said, ‘you should not compare it with breaking an arm, but with amputation.’

I did not experience physical amputation, so I need to be careful here. If you did experience this: please come back to me if I am making a wrong equation. I imagine that if your arm has been amputated, you learn to live with that but also have lots of times that you bump into missing your arm. You can function, you are creative, you find ways to compensate, but you also feel the lack, you see other people having two well-functioning arms and that sometimes make you feel jealous. You would also like to play piano, to cook, to play tennis, or whatever you see other people doing. And sometimes, when the weather changes, when you suddenly remember things or when you hurt what’s left of your arm, you feel the pain even physically, as bad as it was in the beginning.

If this is what it is like, then the loss of our baby indeed feels like amputation. I learn to live with it. I do what I have to do. I enjoy life intently intense because I know how vulnerable it is. But this deep sharp pain does not go away and pops up, unwanted and unexpected. I think I need to do the same as the Psalm writers did: call out to God, honestly share what I feel and meanwhile – even when still grumbling and feeling resentment – proclaim what I know deep down inside: You are perfect in all of your ways.

Or, as I had to sing on a wedding lately: ‘Lord, I want to praise your love, although my soul doesn’t understand. Blessed he, who dares to believe, even when the eye doesn’t see. When Your ways seem dark to me, I do not ask: Why. One day I will see your glory, when entering your heaven.’

With this side note though: I do ask why, because I read that Job did that and David did that and this question is in my heart and I want to be honest. But this surrendering to God, even though you don’t understand a thing, is only possible if you believe that Gods way eventually is the best way.

Life may be far from perfect and my life bumped, broken and crooked. If His ways are perfect, they lead somewhere. And then it this is really true: I am safe with You, I can quietly breath in and out, I can be who I am, with You. So I read another Psalm and feel the pain and the joy and find that this is what makes me human. Broken but real. With my anchor in the God who is perfect in His ways with me, even though it doesn’t feel that way.

This blog was first posted in Dutch on July 23 2018