This week it was time to choose a gravestone. We had postponed to do this for quite some time. And now that we started to search for one, this appears to be a process too. At this moment, there is a temporary wooden plank on the grave, lovingly and beautifully made by our eldest daughter. But wind and rain are affecting it, making it less readable. Something permanent needs to replace it. Something final. What a horrible word that is.

The last couple of days, before we went to the stonemason, I was restless. Busy, busy, busy, alternated with Netflix. As long as I did not have to dwell by what I was feeling. But in the meantime I was restless, petulant, not really myself. That does not add well to the atmosphere at home, but only that morning, the morning that we were about to go, I could finally sat myself down and quietly write and by that find out what is really going on.

It is the last thing we can do. It is the last thing that needs to be done for her. And maybe that is the reason why this weighs so heavy on me. I don’t want to do this.

I don’t want to do this.

I don’t want to do this. While I allow the feelings to come up. The feelings this awareness brings to the surface, again that feeling of huge resistance comes up. Resistance against that what is so obvious but what I apparently still cannot and do not want to accept. She is not here anymore and she will never come back. We buried her body knowing that we will see her again when Jesus returns or when we ourselves die. But here we will not see each other anymore and realizing this again hurts so much that I can barely breathe. This is breath taking in a very negative way and what can I do about it? I want to scream, kick, curse, punch, but I know of course that it won’t help in any way. It won’t solve, change or take away the pain.

We need to do this and again I speak firmly to myself, trying to bring my emotions and brains at the same level by writing, giving words, reasoning. It doesn’t really ease the pain. But by writing about it, it gets more clear and that what is unreachable comes more within reach so I can deal with it better.

Words are really essential in this process of accepting what has happened. When I give words to what I feel, unravel by describing it, I find out what’s really going on inside. And when I read it again, I can cry over it, I can begin to accept that this is a part of the big ball of grief that needs to be taken in. I can process, I can weave it into my life. Allowing others to read it, means I acknowledging that this exists and of course I also hope that others can benefit from it in their own journey through grief or supporting others in their journey.

I didn’t expect this choosing of a gravestone would be so challenging. That it would be this painful. But now that I think about it, it makes so much sense. Putting a stone on the grave is like putting a lid on something or like closing the book. It reminds me of putting a dot after a sentence or press send when you signed your email. It symbolizes closing, finishing off. You put a stone (something that can endure the weather and the wind) on a grave and you try to put words on it that describe who the person was to you to mark where she has been laid down to rest. And then you walk away. You’re shutting it down, make it final. The grave. The chapter. But not your heart. That would be too final.

First published in Dutch on February 1, 2018

Going On

Six months ago she was born. Perfectly formed with big feet like her father, tall thighs like her brothers and sisters. Really our child. So loved, precious and wanted. Amanda Marsman, born on March 22 2017, but before she was born, she had already passed away.

This road of grief is heavy and lonely and hard. I often find it hard to write too, because I can’t find the words to describe it, and also because what I think is too dark. But I started this blog. I decided to write and I to be honest and real, also about my brokenness. So that is why I write anyway right now. Also because I need some attention. Maybe misery loves company indeed, because lately I feel the urge again to say when I meet someone: ‘Do you know my child has died?’ ‘Do you know that if that hadn’t happen, I would have walked here with a pram too?’ It is almost as if the pressure in my head has become so big these last days that it is time to allow it to st(r)eam out.

Sharing helps. She was so beautiful. I so much want to hold her, hear her voice, see her smile. I want to grumble about sleepless nights and about brothers and sisters who are too wild. I want to sing songs for her, feed and bathe her. But I only have an empty crib in an empty nursery, some photographs and a small piece of paper with the imprint of her little feet.

What I learned from the books I read in the weeks after her birth, is that these imprints are very important, because that piece of paper has been really in touch with her body. When I first read that, it seemed overboard to me. But the last few weeks, I find myself drawn to that piece of paper with the imprint of her little feet. I cherish it and it became very precious to me indeed.

This road, this process, this deep dark valley, stirs up new things in me again and again. I can’t say: ‘I would never do this or that’ or: ‘I would never overreact like that’ anymore. I have to admit – to my shame – that in the past I have judged the way other people were mourning. But now I have found that the loss of a child really feels as if something has been ripped away, smashed a hole in my life, got the soil under me and that I have to find out everything again. I have no clue how to do this. How to ‘give this a place’ in your life. How to involve God in it.

This morning, I could only cry, and yesterday and the day before it was the same. I am surprised that there are still so many tears coming. I am bewildered about what to do. What can I do about this? I wanted something tangible and after searching for a long time I ordered a bracelet with her name. It is beautiful and it suits me – better than the tattoo I considered for the first time in my life. But it doesn’t solve anything. I looked forward to wear this bracelet, but now that I have it, I realize even more that there is nothing that can replace her.

I am constantly facing the fact that I can’t do anything. I work hard, try to be there for the children and I keep myself busy, try to distract myself. But again and again I bump unto it: a deep sorrow, an intense longing, an elusive missing. The only thing that helps a little, is knowing that she is totally fine. She is perfect and completely happy. No pain, no grief. She went to her destination immediately. But I am still wrestling, searching for God, searching for His comfort and security. And I don’t know how to receive that. I sometimes feel inconsolable.

This morning I eventually sat down again to read the bible. Psalm 84 this time, where, translated out of my Dutch bible, it says: ‘My heart and my body cry out to the living God.’ Yes, I can relate to that. And: ‘Blessed are those who live in Your house, they are continually praising You.’ This brought a smile on my face because it gave me a glimpse of what Amanda is doing right now and how happy she is. And then verse 5: ‘Blessed (happy) is the one whose strength is in You – in their heart are the smooth roads. If they go through the barren valley of the mulberry trees, then they make God their spring and also the rain will cover them abundantly (in my footnotes it says: blessing). They go forth from strength to strength’.

There is more in this Psalm, but I decided to allow these words to sink in first. To thank God for the smooth roads in my heart and that I apparently can make Him my spring, my source. And that I can always go forth in His strength.

Later that day, a letter came in from one of our foster children[i]. She responded to the news about Amanda’s death and wrote: “I want to encourage you to keep going because in life we sometimes go up and sometimes we go down, but the important thing is to move forward.” I smile because it fits so perfectly with what I had read in that Psalm. I go on from strength to strength. And I trust that God will show me how to do that exactly.

First published in Dutch on September 22, 2017

[i] We sponsor four children via Compassion, each of the same gender and age as our own children. This is a great blessing for them and for us as well. With giving financial support, Compassion can give a child that otherwise would have no opportunities, food, education and healthcare. Also you can write with the child to encourage it.

Live Forever

Today I went to the grave of my little daughter again. When biking to the cemetery I realized again the bizarre reality that she really is my child, my baby. And that she is laying there, in the ground.

Last week someone send me a picture of her little baby, who has the same age my daughter would have. Suddenly my loss became much more real and concrete. First, I was living towards my due date. Now that date has passed and I don’t have another thing to live forward to. I can’t say: if only this date has passed, then…

First there was me missing the baby in my belly, now it is me missing the baby that should have been in my arms, the arms of my husband and my other children. And in the arms of her grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces. This is a new kind of pain and I don’t know how to cope with it. I need to find my way in this too, to learn to live with it.

‘Cemetery closes at 5 pm’ says the sign at the entrance. I think back at that time that I went to her grave, but the cemetery was closed. I had felt panic: I can not go to my daughter! ‘How can it be that you can’t visit your own child’, I thought, and when cycling back I corrected my way of thinking. It is only her body that is laying there. Amanda herself is not there anymore. Not here in anymore.

I kneel down at her grave, get rid of weeds, make her little place neat again. For a short time, I allow my tears to rain down and I realize that this is a new layer. I didn’t cry this way before. Quietly I pray to my God: Please help me. Help me to carry this loss and to really go through it. And show me that there is an end to this deep valley of shadow of death.

The sun bursts through the clouds and warms my back. It feels as if it’s a wink of the eye. Words of a song I loved to sing when growing up, and suddenly heard again last week pop up in my head: ‘Death has been annuled, Jesus has risen. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, conquered death.’’

And I suddenly remember words someone texted me that morning: ‘God is your Lord! He will not let go and He will not allow that you will be overcome by this. With Him you will go through this and you, together with Amanda will live forever!!!’

I am encouraged to go on.

First published in Dutch on July 28, 2017