Balloon

My Dutch publisher texted me a photo. I see an open box with… my books in it! My book finally is published! He will bring them on Saturday afternoon and in the evening I will also celebrate it online with my family and friends and whoever else wants to be there. Then I will start signing and packing more than a hundred copies. I feel proud, busy, happy and every now and then something else pops up, like the balloon on the front of my book. Then something whispers inside me:

Amanda

After going through my book for the umpteenth time, my publisher wrote to me: ‘I am once again impressed by your honesty and also your quality of writing. And I also really feel a connection with Amanda, like I met her a little bit. What an impact she has had. She has left an indelible impression on earth, even though she has never seen this earth with her own eyes. Yet you have given Amanda a ‘life’ here with a precious message of how much love she has given and will give for years to come through the pages of your book. Wonderful…’

Amanda

Someone else wrote: ‘We remember Amanda. She passed here briefly after all.’ And another person told me how special it is how her life has touched so many other lives.

Amanda

Slowly it dawns on me that I need to stop and think about what this whisper means, in the midst of everything else going on in our family and around my book. Not only is it very cool that my book is finally there, it is also very special and delicate and vulnerable and painful. My book is about grief, faith, doubt, despair and, ultimately, hope. But my book mainly is about Amanda, our long-awaited daughter, who died. Celebrating my book also commemorates our daughter’s life and now I’m realizing that I don’t really know how to do that.

Earlier, if I didn’t know “how to do that”, I already discovered that it helps to just name it and so I thought I should write it down. That my (Dutch) book is published now means a smile and a tear. A smile, because the book came out, because the result is beautiful, because this story had to be told. A tear, because this book came because she is no longer there:

Amanda

Sidenote: I have written an English version of the book. We have send it to publishers in the English speaking world an are currently waiting for someone willing to publish it. Whenever we’ve found someone and I have info as to how to order this book, I will definitely share that here on my website. For now, the Dutch book is available via your local bookstore or by sending me an email: ineke.marsman@gmail.com.

First written in Dutch on December 31, 2020

Really Never Alone

“How are you?” the reporter asked me. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I said, “Yeah, I’m good!” and share how hard it was and how I found my way. They interviewed me for a Dutch Television program called ‘I miss you’ I couldn’t see it when it aired because I was serving as a worship leader in my church at that time. But when the service was over, I cycled to the cemetery, sat on a bench near Amanda’s grave, and watched the broadcast.

A year ago I was asked for this interview, but it was postponed a few times. Now, a day before my birthday, the time had come. One of the things I feared beforehand was that it would be so cold as we had to stand near the grave for hours, but the weather was beautiful and sunny, and despite all the distance due to corona, we had a beautiful, intimate conversation. It was so good for me to get the chance to tell in detail what had happened and how I learned to live with my loss through trial and error. After this conversation, it was out of my hands. I had been talking in front of the camera for two hours and told all kinds of things about my way through the land of grief. Now the program maker would make six to seven minutes of television out of it. I so hoped that he would be able to extract the essence of what I shared and that he would do justice to my story, to Amanda, to our situation, to God.

There on that bench by my daughter’s grave I quietly watched the program. I was moved and I cried. What a great job they had done. I saw myself as I am and even though I had said so much more, what had been broadcasted contained the core of what I wanted to say, also concerning my faith. I heard myself saying with conviction that God never leaves us alone and indeed I am more convinced of that now than ever before. Even though I had also known that before, for instance, in my childhood when I was hospitalized and totally alone, I had often noticed that God was there. Even if you don’t see it. Even if circumstances don’t change.

But someone said after seeing the program: “I didn’t experience it that way at all in a very difficult time in my life. I didn’t notice that God was near at all.” When I heard that, I realized that a (long) part of my journey wasn’t mentioned in the interview. While giving birth to Amanda I noticed God’s nearness. In my niece’s card, I had a very strong feeling that God was answering an important question I had: Who cares about Amanda now? But after that, it was dark for months. I was full of sorrow, sometimes full of despair: What do I still believe? What is left of what I used to think and considered to be true?

At that time, God did not feel close at all and I often wondered if I still believed. At that time I was searching for a book that honestly told how on earth you hold on to your faith when you really only feel sadness and despair. I couldn’t find it. So later on I started writing a book about this myself. It is only afterwards, a year or two later, that I could look back and see: Yes, He did not leave me alone. There were people who pointed me in the right direction, there were little things wherein I later saw that I was not alone.

So you hear me say in an interview, three years after my daughter’s death, that He really never leaves us alone. But that is not how I always experienced it, especially not in the first year after she died. It is what I can say now, looking back: He really never leaves us alone. He really never leaves you alone, even though you may not feel it at all right now.

First published in Dutch on October 1, 2020

Primal Cry

I like watching detectives because of the mystery and the psychology. What happened exactly and why do people act the way they do? In a film I saw the other day I saw an actor performing a mother who finally heard that her missing daughter was dead. Her screaming touched me deeply.

I hear a cry
Recognizable, penetrating
It’s just an actor
And yet
It chills to the bone
sounds as it is
this primal scream
Animal, childish
Pure
A part of her died
She lives on amputated
not yet knowing how

I hear a cry
Recognizable, penetrating
It’s just an actor
But she empathized
Expressed the cry of those who experienced it
Primal sound as a terrified, immensely sad little child
without learned inhibitions
This is how pure despair and inconsolability sound

I hear a primal cry
Recognizable, penetrating and sharp
It’s what Simeon said to Mary in the Christmas story:
‘A sword will pierce your heart’:
The moment Mary saw her son suffer and die
The moment I saw that my daughter was no longer moving
The moment he learned that his child had not won the battle

I hear a cry
Recognizable, penetrating
and remember the days such sound came from me
When it dawned death is irreversible
my child won’t come back
Sometimes one more cry escapes

But this cry
recognizable, piercing
doesn’t have the last word
The Jesus Mary saw dying promises He will turn mourning into dancing
One day
Sometimes I sense that when I think of her perfect state
at its closest to the source of its existence
I like it when I look at what she did
in me

Yet that raw uninhibited cry,
recognizable, penetrating,
is necessary
Don’t dare to stop it when she makes herself heard
for not only do you suppress the pain
the sadness
the despair
but also the call for justice and harmony
and the expression of love
which no longer has an address

This cry
recognizable, piercing
is heard through the ages
all creation express it’s sound (in Paul’s words)
I take part in that cry
and find myself in good company
(in reference to Romans 8: 18-30)

huilende vrouw
This painting is made by Christa Rosier. I first saw it on a post card someone send me after Amanda’s passing. I had it within reach for months and it helped me to acknowledge the despair and sorrow and to realize that God’s light was still on me.

First published in Dutch on January 9, 2020

Waves

Suddenly it is there again. Grotesque, importunate and incredibly painful. A silent scream inside of me wants to come out, but stays stuck somewhere. A sob that wants to be cried, but stays inside.

For some days I walked around feeling this way. I felt pressure behind my eyes and a grumpiness coming over me where no prayer seemed to help against. Until yesterday it finally became too much. I cried and couldn’t stop. Again and again, tears stream down. I realized that I miss her so much. It comes over me like a very big wave.

I miss little arms around me. Whimpering of another kid behind me this morning, awoke a longing for my whimpering Amanda, who never whimpered, because she didn’t live long enough to be able to whimper. I miss her face against my legs while talking to someone. That she runs towards me because she is happy to see me again. The dull pain of missing her is hard to grasp and at this moment also impossible to suppress.

It’s so weird. How can you miss what you did not have? How can I miss her as the toddler she would have been, while I only knew her as a tiny baby? Words my Love said resound in my head: ‘she just grows up together with our family. She just somehow grows up too’.

So, now I miss the toddler that makes noises and keeps me alert all the time. When I hear other mothers say that they are so glad that their children are a bit older now and don’t need 24/7 attention, I only think: I would give the world to have that right now. To be able to watch her and to not leave her alone for one second.

She seems to disappear. To be forgotten. She is no visible part of our family. From the outside our family seems complete. We are six people together. For many people that is already busy enough. But I lack a child and panic keeps coming back to me. I do not want to feel it. I do not want to admit that the missing is still there and that nothing seems to help to ease the pain. It should stop. We buried her a year and seven months ago. We experienced how terrible it is to leave your child behind.

We had to go on with our lives immediately an now I want to do that too. I manage quite well to do that. I take care, I sing, play music, try to be there for those around me. But meanwhile beneath it all it continues to gnaw. I understand a bit more why people say that ‘mourning is hard work’. It is in a way indeed work, working through, processing, let it sink in, continue to work with it. And there is progression and there is development.

I am translating my blogs into English and by doing that I am confronted with what I wrote a while back. I reread how I wrestled with God. How I tried to figure out how to live with this deep grief inside of me. And I’ve learned that I have more peace now, that I trust God a bit more and that I am indeed learning to weave the missing into my existence as someone described it. I even thought that the missing became less and more doable. Up till now.

Now it is very much in my face again and I feel the despair, the intense mourning, the very sharp pain all over again. And how and why that happens, I don’t know. I am not searching for it. I just live, work, do the things I should do. But apparently it is like they say about mourning: it comes in waves. And you need to keep space in your life to deal with that. So that you can cry when you need to. Or so that you have time and space to write, like I am doing right now. Because when you write, you give words, you acknowledge and give space to just let it be there.

I will keep missing her. She is my daughter and she should be here right now. Realizing that she isn’t, is like a wave coming over me, taking away my breath and smashing me off balance. I can only say, like I did many times before, that God is my anchor and the rock on which I stand. I try to remain standing and allow the waves to bash at me. And I wait until the sea calms and the waves stop bashing – for now.

First published in Dutch on October 28, 2018

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

You Have to Decide to Let Go

I know it is true. That God is always there. That He will lead me through the valley of death. That there will be a moment in my life that I will be able to say: He turned my mourning into dancing. If it is not now, then surely it will be later when I am in heaven. I know that in times I don’t feel Him near and grief is coming over me like a misty cloud that you just can’t avoid, He still is there. And that He is even carrying me as the great poem about footprints in the sand tries to convey.

But I am not there yet. I am coming closer I think. I can see that I am not as much overwhelmed with sorrow as I was shortly after we had to bury our daughter. But deciding to let go seems to be an ongoing process of little by little, step by step.

This process started when the ultrasound showed that our little girl wasn’t growing as could have been expected. We prayed and we prayed and surrendered her to God, hoping that she would grow and thrive. But a couple of weeks later another ultrasound showed complete silence. Feelings that we’ve never had before began to wash over us and we cried out: no, no, no, God, no!

God was there. We turned to Him in despair and disbelief. Realizing the ugly truth, while not able to accept it as being true at the same time. We prayed: God, how do we tell our children their sister died? God, did she suffer? God, why? And also we kept repeating: she is Yours Lord. From the beginning she was, and now she is already with You. Where she belongs. With You. No safer place. I let her go.

Two days later I had to deliver her into the world. She didn’t see the light. Her eyes didn’t see. We did not hear her voice. We did not see her move. I cried. She did not. Holding her tiny body, I knew I had to let her go. I lifted her up towards heaven, I dedicated her to the Lord over and over again. I give her to you Lord. I decide to let go. I surrender. God this is so hard. I want to hold her, cherish her, feed her, love on her, lavish her with kisses and give her everything, but she is not there to receive it. She’s already with You.

After a couple of days of welcoming her into the world and into our family, holding her, taking pictures, showing her to some relatives and friends, we finally had to bury her. We put her in a babypink basket, carried her to a hole in the ground, covered it with rose petals. It’s just horrific. Every cell in my body screamed: No! How can I leave my child behind? It left me completely bewildered. Purely on ratio I was able to stand up and walk away while fighting against the desire to go back and dig her up again. My child. My child. I have to let you go.

Today it’s been exactly eleven months that she was born.

Some weeks ago I asked another bereaved parent: ‘Sometimes the pain is so overwhelmingly deep that it seems I can’t breathe. Do you recognize that?’ He said: ‘I do but you have to decide to let it go.’ And he went on and quoted Matthew 11: 28-30. He pointed me to Jesus to find rest for my soul.

At first, I felt condemned by his words. I interpreted it as if I should just leave it behind, ignore it, and go on. But in the last weeks, I came to see that every time grief kicks in, I have a choice. What do I do when grief comes washing over me again like a wave that is just too big to avoid? Do I become passive and let sorrow take me over, or do I actively cry before the Lord, express my grief and handle it over to Him again?

Sometimes I am not there yet. Sometimes I am just not able to let go and hold on to my sorrow by doing something else, trying not to think about it, numbing myself. But other times I am there. Sometimes, in my mind, I lift her body towards heaven all over again and say the same words: Lord, I give her to you. She was Yours from the beginning, I am glad she will not suffer anymore, I am grateful she is in complete wholeness with You.

I came to realize that this is not a one-time-thing. This is something I very well might have to do over and over again as over time, we’ll miss her in different ways, our grief will change. Today it is the baby we miss. In a year, she would have been a toddler and then we will probably miss our toddler. And every time that I am aware of missing her, and I feel that deep pain pop up again, taking my breath away, I can decide to let it go. And if I am not there yet, I’ll hope I will be there soon. Because I want to decide to let it go.

First published in Dutch on February 22 2018

Love With No Place to Go

You have to face it. At some point you need to cry hard, instead of running away from your emotions. I am so aware of this and at the same time so not capable of doing it. So here I am. I sit down, try to write, try to let you know how I feel so I can feel as well.

Where I am right now really is a valley and it seems darker then it was before. I miss my baby girl like crazy. My body still longs to hold her, feed her, protect her, cherish her. It is a very soft and tender feeling and so very painful at the same time. I have this special love for my other children as well and I came to realize how wonderful it is to give it to them. But there also is this love towards Amanda and she isn’t here to receive it.

I’ve never been aware of this before she was born. I discovered that as a mother you need your child just as much as she needs you. I mean, I was aware of a baby desperately needing his or her mum and dad. And when you have a child, you know you are happy to give yourself to him or her – most of the time. But when my baby was born still, I discovered I needed her just as much. At that very moment, new love was born, especially for her and only hers to receive.

I remember that when I was expecting my fourth child, I was so afraid that I couldn’t love him as much as I loved my other children. Who is capable of loving four children the same with deep and sacrificial love? However, I found out when giving birth to that precious boy that my heart grew larger, and new love was born, especially for him. Apparently you can love four children with real parental love.

When I gave birth to my fifth child that happened again. Though we knew she had died before she was born, that moment she came into the world, both our hearts flooded with love, compassion, a willingness to sacrifice, nourish, cherish and protect this precious child.

And then reality kicked in. We found ourselves having this love and feelings, but no place, no soul, to give it to. She didn’t need it. She didn’t need us.

The last few days words from a song came to my mind over and over again. I listened to it a hundred times the last few months. It’s comforting to know that I am not the only one feeling this way right now:

There were photographs I wanted to take
Things I wanted to show you
Sing sweet lullabies,
wipe your teary eyes
Who could love you like this?

People say that I am brave but I’m not
Truth is I’m barely hanging on
But there’s a greater story
Written long before me
Because He loves you like this

So I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years

I will carry you
All my life
And I will praise the One
Who’s chosen me
To carry you

Such a short time
Such a long road
All this madness
But I know
That the silence
Has brought me to His voice
And He says

I’ve shown her photographs of time beginning
Walked her through the parted seas
Angel lullabies,
no more teary eyes
Who could love her like this?

I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years

I will carry you
All your life
And I will praise the One
Who’s chosen Me
To carry you

First published in Dutch on August 31, 2017

Later I wrote a song myself about my stillborn daughter. You can find it here.

Grief or Self-Pity

No carseat needed. Tomorrow we will go to a birthday party and I suddenly realize that this is part of it too. That you go to a party and that you can’t take your newborn with you.

I’ve dicovered that I had ideas and expectations about how it would have been with her. Memories popped up of how things were when my other children were little: proud granddad and grandma, uncles and aunts and today there are also cousins, who weren’t there yet when my other babies were born. It is so sweet to see how kids try to make contact with a small baby.

And you know, just feeding, cuddling, cherishing. I just miss it so much. I miss her so much.

For a few weeks, I was doing so well! Last Sunday a pastor in a church we visited said to me that I should thank God that she is with Him and that she doesn’t have to suffer, doesn’t have to make a choice and that she is doing so great now. I did what he said. I thanked God and meant it. I came out of that church a lot lighter then I came in.

I had made a bracelet with her name and wore it every day, until it broke last week. When that happened, I wanted to cry and felt so childish. I started to browse the internet to find a real, silver bracelet with her name on it. But after that Sunday I didn’t feel the need anymore. I found peace and could accept that she is with Him and that in the eyes of the world I have four children and not five.

Until today. Now the urge is back, the longing for something I can touch, something that is visible, something that helps me to not having to feel that I should ignore or neglect her. Something that helps me to accept that I have five-minus-one children.

Is this self-pity or grief? I am not sure. There is always a danger of being wrapped up in self-pity. I am not immune to that. Grief is love you can’t give away. That is normal, good, maybe even beautiful in a way. So, I go to her room again and cry my heart out. No, let me be honest. First, I texted my husband, than I ate chocolate and only after that I remembered that I could go to God with this and went to a place to be alone. I allowed my tears to come and went to God with this confusion; with my grief and also with my self-pity.

I realize again that what I feel is okay. That I miss her. That she was so wanted and precious and unique. And while I am telling all this to God, I find I receive new rest. Although I don’t need the maxi cosi anymore.

First published in Dutch on 18 August 2017

You Never Cry Alone

You never cry alone. These words touched me deeply. ‘Our broken heart always break Gods heart in two. You never cry alone’. As usual with Ann Voskamps blogs and books, I let these words sink in deeply.

I struggle with things happening around me, again and again: ‘They split up’, ‘He’s been hospitalized and it will not get any better’, ‘Cancer came back’. And not that long ago: ‘I am so very sorry, but you’re baby passed away.’

My heart shrinks, I am feeling nauseous. Total apathy combats with total despair and because I can’t decide in which on of these states I will sink, I freeze. How do I get over this. What is the solution now. Tell me what to do. But there is nothing that I or anyone can do. This is too big. So I am just sitting there, feeling defeated. Searching for words, for a solution, a strategy to cope with this.

When I was young and needed surgery again (I had quite a lot of surgeries between the age of 3 months and 12 years), I pretended to be somewhere else until things went better. I went into a mental state of: ‘I am not here, please tell me when you’re done and I can be ‘normal’ again.’ And at some certain point, it was over. After that you were better, or not, got surgery again, but there was a certain progression. It does not always work that way. A divorce is forever. Death is forever. From some diseases you can’t heal and some situations don’t change.

And then you have to accept, mourn, find a new way to live. But you never cry alone. ‘Who knows why God allows that your heart breaks. But still the answer must be important enough, because God allowed His heart to break as well.’ This is beyond comprehension and I still don’t get it. In the past months quite some people said: God is crying with you. I often think about that, but it doesn’t really help yet.

And still, I believe that it is true. I do not understand what happens. That people have to go through such terrible losses, treatments, processes. That we lost our child. But I don’t cry alone. A peculiar kind of comfort that is. You would wish the situation changes. That relationships restore, that illnesses or behavioral disorders disappear, that the child comes alive. But a lot of times, that doesn’t happen.

Maybe He did not came to make our lives easier. Maybe He came to live with us, to help us carry the load. He Himself suffered tremendously. God lost His only Son in death. He understands us. He knows us. Somewhere it says in the Bible, that He catches our tears. No tear is cried unnoticed by Him. I must say that that is comforting to me. And in that sense it is true: you never cry alone.

Quotes are my translation out of Ann Voskamp: Gebroken leven. Franeker, 2016, p. 52, which is a translation of: The Broken way.

First published in Dutch on August 15, 2017

Twenty Weeks

Twenty weeks agon we went with worried thoughts and feelings to the hospital for the ultrasound I had to have every other week from now on. We already knew our daughter wasn’t growing well and that that was most likely due to a placenta that didn’t work optimally. As soon as we had heard that, I started taking aspirin, totally slowed down and consciously enjoyed every little movement I felt in my belly. On Friday I had felt her quite strongly.

On Saturday we attended a funeral. A friend from the past had died and I felt quite unsettled. I met other friends there and told them I was pregnant again. One said: ‘wow, death and new life’. And that was how I felt. I was so happy with new life inside of me and so full of grief about the death of this dear father of young children. But meanwhile I felt insecure. That week I had had a strong strange urge to prepare. I bought clothes in premature sizes, made sure that the crib was ready and its lining washed.

Monday, exactly twenty weeks ago today. I hadn’t slept much because I was so nervous. We had prayed so hard for her to grow, to stay safely in my belly until she was strong and big enough to be born. My husband was also very nervous. ‘I feel as if I have to do a very important exam’, he said. I was relieved that we were feeling the same way, but it also made me feel even more nervous.

And then the ultrasound. Dead silence. Litterally. Shock. Disbelief and knowing at the same time. No! God, no! Lord, this can’t be! And at the same time knowing that this is really happening. Lord, help! What should we do? How do I tell my children? Will my marriage be strong enough? We already have been through so much and wonderfully overcame, will we make it through this? And how on earth should I give birth to a dead baby? What is going happen?

And now, twenty weeks have gone by. We had to go through it. We made choices. We deliberately allowed each other to mourn in our own way, to give each other space to talk or stay silent, to cry or not. We said to each other that we would be ourselves and that we would be honest. And no, we did not feel God was near. We had no idea how this could have happened and how to live on. And we still sometimes respond in ways we never thought we would. We discovered things we didn’t know about ourselves and each other. And now and then waves of grief come washing over each of us, but seldom at the same time.

But, looking back, seeing that every week was different, seeing how I was wrestling with God and His promises that did not seem to apply to Amanda, I can surprisingly surely say that He did not leave me alone for one second. I did not feel Him. My grief was too big to feel anything but grief. But I didn’t fall to pieces. I am still here. I am still walking, although often stumbling on my journey. Every time I fell, I stood up again and decided to think about the times that I did know for sure. Again and again I prayed: God, show me that you are here. You know me, right? You know that I want to find You, but I just can’t. I can not find the rest to sit and wait.

And He did! In numerous ways. Through a whatsapp message, a postcard, an email, a song, a bible verse, a thought, something I read or heard somewhere, something I suddenly remembered. All those things together give me a clear sense now of: no, I was not abandoned. He did not let me go.

Last week I heard a song from a Dutch band called Lev and after realizing what I wrote above, I can now sing it along:
Als er niets meer klopt, klopt het hart van God. God die overwint, Hij is met ons. Dus laat de hoop niet los. Los van wat er komt, komt er redding, want God is met ons. It is actually not possible to litterally translate this, because in Dutch we say: ‘When nothing beats anymore’, meaning that nothing makes sense anymore. And we use that word ‘klopt’ (beat) also for the beating of a heart. So this line would in English mean something like this:

‘If nothing makes sense anymore, God heart still beats. God who overcame, He is with us. So don’t let go of hope. Despite of what may come, there’s salvation, for God is with us.’

First published in Dutch on August 7, 2017