Taking Space

I walk into her room to say goodnight. The room of my third, then my first and now my second daughter. Although I never saw my third daughter sleeping the way I saw my other daughters sleeping.

So I walk in, with my full attention focused on my second daughter. Suddenly there is that smell again. A familiar scent that brings up expectant joy, a deep longing. I feel tears in my eyes and I am momentarily overwhelmed by all kinds of feelings that demand attention at the same time. I want to inhale this scent deeply, absorb it completely. Proof that she existed. Exists. Susan Amanda.

But I stand there in front of my beloved second daughter. I want to give her attention and wish her a good night and just be together with her. I pull myself together and sit with her, hug her and pray for her and then I walk downstairs and tell my Love that I smelled her again. He looks with understanding. He recognizes the feeling. “Will you take some space for it?” he asks and I look at him as my thoughts spin.

I wrote a book about this. In the interview I gave about it, I emphasized it: you have to take space for it. You just have to feel the feelings you have every now and then, so that you can do something with them. But still I don’t really know how to do that, it makes me feel uncomfortable and unwilling and I’m tempted to go to my usual ways of dealing with it: Watch a movie. Add a glass of wine. But because it’s Lent, we don’t drink, which more or less forces me to better make room for it.

I want to smell the scent, dive into my memories, experience again what it was like with her.
At the same time I want to ignore, no more pondering, the time of crying is over.
Or should be over, It’s not there that often anymore, but now it is.

Grieving continues to be complex, I think. I wrote a book about it and somehow hoped that that would be the end of it. My sorrow is over. But now that I have written the book in Dutch and then also in English, there still is that sadness that no longer reappears constantly but sometimes violently. The girl who is no longer here is still missed. I miss her.

This month it’s been four years since we found out that she had died and we were full of love we couldn’t get rid of. We had to learn to live with loss. I now understand better how that works for me and what I need. But you have to make room for that (in my case that means writing).

First published in Dutch on March 12, 2021

Receiving Favor

It was the end of October when someone asked me to write a devotional for Advent. I liked the idea and asked what Bible verses she had in mind. It was Luke 1: 30-31: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. (NKJV)

Oh no, I thought. That is definitely not the easiest passage to ponder with an open mind when your youngest child died and no pregnancy followed, though longed for. It took me a quite some time before I had the courage to sit down and prayerfully consider what these verses really where about. In the end I wrote this. It is not Christmas soon, but I think this message is worth sharing still.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. (Luke 1: 30-31 NKJV)

Dear Mary,

Lively girl of about fifteen years old. You could have been my daughter. You were full expectation of what life would bring your way. Your future was clear, your perspectives hopeful. You were preparing your wedding with your carpenter who was building a house for the two of you. Probably you were busy making gear for your new household, preparing yourself to start a good Jewish family.

Then the angel came, turning your life upside down. ‘Do not be afraid, Mary’, he said, knowing what an impact he had on people. ‘No need to be scared.’ He acknowledged how you felt but right after that he came to the point: ‘Listen, God is happy with you, you will become pregnant and deliver a son into the world who you have to name Jesus.’ You knew the meaning of that name: ‘God saves’ and realized this would be a special child.

The words he spoke after that: ‘You have found favor with God’, they keep coming back to me and I look them up in different Bible translations. In the Amplified Bible I read a description of what these words mean: “you have found grace (free, spontaneous, absolute favor and loving-kindness) with God.”

How did that feel, Mary? I can imagine that you would love to have this kind of favor with God, but you must have known what road lay ahead of you. You would become pregnant, without being married, unplanned. That meant abandonment, scorn, gossip and humiliation.

You accepted it. You took this as Gods will for you and went the indistinct, uncertain, perhaps also intense lonely way, totally different from what you thought your life would be an hour ago. You said that God could do whatever He wanted to do in your life.

You became pregnant.

It brought you humiliating libel when people began to see it, heart warming grace when Joseph stood next to you, deep wonder when shepherds and wise men came, terrible hardships when you had to flee in the middle of the night and build up a new home in a foreign land, beaming pride when Jesus appeared worthy of his name: God saves! And it brought you deep, intense, heartbroken pain when the son for whom you laid down your life and went through all of this, died. Because that too was Gods will.

Dear Mary, you were so brave and you are such an example and inspiration for me. Thank you for your obedience. Every year I become more and more impressed by it.

Reflection: Receiving Gods favor and grace can mean something totally different than you thought and can bring apart from joy, also much suffering and sorrow. How are these words from Luke an encouragement for you?

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, thank You that Mary’s story is in the Bible and that she is an example of how I can humbly go Your way, even if sorrow and pain is involved. I want to be willing Lord. Please confirm I am on the right way. If I have gone astray somewhere, will You show that to me and help me to go Your way again? Thank you for looking after me and having my life in Your hands and leading me. In Jesus’ name, amen.

This painting by Johanneke Folkers really touched me when I saw it (Mirjam van der Vegt posted this photo on Facebook).

First published in Dutch on December 20, 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

Only I cried

‘That makes sense’, my Love said when I share how I couldn’t stop thinking about it. ‘If she had been alive, you would have bought presents and baked cake and hung garlands. You do it in honor of Amanda.’

I wrote a song. It started three years ago when I was sitting with our little deceased daughter in my hands in the days before she was buried. But I never found the peace and courage to finish it. Until last Christmas, when I could sit in my sister’s house for a few days to write my book. There I decided to first finish the song and to publish it on her birthday. I didn’t understand why it was so important for me to publish it on precisely that day. But now my Love helped me to understand and suddenly it makes sense.

I see myself sitting there. In her room, by the crib. I look at her and take her in my hands. I look at her more closely and wonder about how small she is, but so finished and having everything a person normally has. I thank God He didn’t do half the work and made an effort to make her beautiful.

I see myself sitting there. In my pain and sorrow I try to focus on God. I raise my hands with my daughter in them and dedicate her to the One Who made her. I keep repeating, ‘She is Yours, Lord’, ‘I give her back to you, Lord’. In my imagination I keep doing this, also after her funeral. The pain does not diminish. It gets a lot worse at first. I didn’t expect that.

I see myself sitting there. Always with her in my hands. I’m trying to surrender her to the God who created her and me. Nevertheless, I regularly withdraw my arms. Do I not want it? If I let her go completely, I will lose her even more. Still, I keep trying. Over time grief does not disappear. It changes. It becomes more woven into my life. I can better leave her where she is now, because I realize more and more that she has a better life in those Eternal arms than she ever would have here.

I see myself sitting there. That image sticks with me. I want to do justice to God who made her so beautiful. And to the pain that is there and testifies of Love that does not end with death. Even though I know she is safe and secure and I don’t want it any other way for her, the hole in my heart is still there. And the love. The love that was born at the same time as she was born.

In honor of our little girl and to do justice to Love and to God, I wrote a song. You can find it here. I published it on March 22, 2020, three years after her birth.

Only I cried

I held her tiny body in my hand
Admired her with awe and love
Amazed by how she looked and lay asleep
Reflecting life while she was gone

Only I moved,
Only I cried,
Only I was watching her
She did not look,
Made no sound at all
She could not receive my care

I held her tiny body in my hand
Hoping her heart would beat again
But she just lay there still and beautiful
Declaring wonders to my woe

Only I moved,
Only I cried,
Only I felt crushed inside
She did not feel,
Wasn’t there at all.
Still she showed me there’s a God

She was wonderfully made
She was crafted by an artist
A masterpiece of God
She called to worship Him
In all my ache and grief
She testified of God

Only I move,
Only I cry,
Only I can feel the void
She has no need,
She is safe with Him,
She just taught me He is God

I hold her tiny imprint in my heart
And honor Him who knows my pain

First published in Dutch on March 21 and March 22, 2020

Do I Still Believe?

My friend texted me: ‘I see daffodils everywhere (Easter lilies in her native language), so I think about Lily-Amanda almost every day.’ It blesses me that she thinks of her and shares that with me. I see the daffodils too, but I try to not think too much about three years ago when we were so worried about our little girl Susan (lily) Amanda. I postpone it. I do notice it, but then push away the feelings that come with it. Soon it will be three years since our lives were shipwrecked and we came ashore as drowning people. Penniless. Disaffected. Looking for solid ground.

We became beachcombers, as someone described it. Looking for what is still useful of what we used to believe. Do I still believe at all? I remember how I told my Love I did not know anymore. He said, ‘I focus on what happened in the past. You were in a wheelchair and got healed. We have witnessed other miracles. We often noticed God was there. So now I just choose to believe and when we’re past the first three years, I’ll see where I stand then.’

I was surprised, but very reassured by his words. He doesn’t know how to move on either, but he makes a choice. Since I couldn’t think of anything better, I decided to do the same. In this state of upheaval, you should not make life-changing decisions, also not in what you believe. You have to survive, carry on, walk through the shadowy valley of her death.

Now the time has come. Almost three years have passed by. What do I believe? I’m writing a book about it with the tentative title: ‘God Is With Us? About Faith in the Valley’. He is God, greater than you can imagine. He sees the whole picture where I can only see 0.001% of it and yet He is nearby, around me, under me. Those arms we wrote about on the birth- and mourning card, they do carry us forever. These eternal arms are around me. Around you.

Yesterday at church we sang a song I avoided for the past three years: Oceans. This song made me realize shortly after Amanda’s death that I no longer wanted to entrust myself to God. I struggled with unbelief and stubbornness for months. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me? No! I shouted silently. No! Not if that means another child dies. I refuse that. I never want to go through this hell again.

In a special way I found out that Jesus continued to invite me to come to Him. I wrote a song about it and sang it over and over again. I found out that I trusted God for life, for my future here on earth. But gradually I realized that it is about trusting God no matter what. I learned to entrust myself, my Love and each one of my children to Him. Amanda is safe with Him. My other family members are also safe with Him, although I don’t know if that means they will live here for a long time.

Yesterday we sang Oceans again. I realized that, now more deeply than before, I believe that I and we are safe no matter what. Even if the worst things happen, like your child dying (and I still don’t want to go through that again). Still, in the presence of my savior, I am walking on the water again, so to speak. I believe that God guides, loves, is present. Not to stop every storm or break down every valley, although He can and does. But to walk through the valley, in the storm. He is with us.

Now that the Easter lilies are blooming again and remind me of the period of fearful expectation three years ago, I realize my Love was right. In three years we will see again and discover that we still believe. God is with us.

First published in Dutch on March 9, 2020

Smell

I’m in the car. I’m on my way to the music store. A string on my new guitar snapped when I was tuning it a little too thoughtlessly and because this is a special guitar, I need a special new string. The next day I have to play on it and for too long I postponed this car ride. I turn off the radio. A moment of silence on this hectic day.

I don’t really enjoy driving, but I do today. Finally I do what I had been putting off for so long. Soon I will be able to play on my new guitar again. The weather is nice, it is not too busy on the road and actually this is a moment of just clearing the head. How I needed that.

Suddenly I smell something and I am alarmed. All the sudden I am back in time two and a half years. Amanda. I can smell the scent associated with my little one and suddenly I can’t think of anyone else. Memories and feelings flood me. I see myself in her room, sitting next to the cradle again, wondering, feeling love, expressing sorrow. I take her in my hands and dedicate her again to Him who gave her her short life.

I am quite surprised and want to cry like a small child. Self-pity and determination compete for precedence. It would be good to cry again, I think. But it is not convenient right now. I am on my way to the music store full of creative men and I often feel a fool there who is just plucking strings and pounding keys. A tearful face and red eyes aren’t helpful.

This is another wave the mourning books described. A wave of grief that unexpectedly washes over you with great force and causes you to completely lose your balance and orientation. But it’s not all bad and sad. I also feel deep joy. This fragrance makes me happy because she made me happy. I feel like a new mother of my little one again and for a moment she is very close.

Decisiveness wins. I can’t afford to sit down and moan now. I thank for the moment because smelling her means experiencing her and I miss her so much and feel it again. But my list has to be completed and there is a lot on it today. I have my guitar repaired and feel at home again in the big musician world. Then I drive home. To my living children who each need my guidance and encouragement and care. I cherish this memory-moment and I’m happy with her fragrance. Fragrance full of memories. Smell of my child.

Some time later I wrote a song about my stillborn daughter and this memory of sitting next to her crib. You can find it here.

First published in Dutch on October 22, 2019

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

Little Lily

First published in Dutch on June 12, 2018

Consider the lilies of the field, I read. These well-known words keep coming back to me. I think of my own small lily and instead of ‘consider the lilies’ I think: ‘consider Amanda’. Though it doesn’t really speak about her, but about flowers, I think it is a striking comparison.

These are words of Jesus. He said you should not worry, because God takes care of you. Don’t worry about food, about what you need to wear, He says. And then: Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. And again, while typing this, I think of Amanda right away.

Amanda’s full name is Susan Amanda. Susan means ‘lily’, Amanda means ‘wanted’. Susan was the name both my husband and I thought of while we were praying about what name would suit this child. It was very special to find out that separately, we both came up with the same name. But when we found out the meaning is lily, we actually didn’t think much about it anymore. We had time, the baby would not be born soon.

That is, until we found out that our daughter wasn’t growing well in my belly and might have to come into the world much sooner. The pregnancy became worrisome and we shared that news with our family and friends. After that, one of my best friend told me she had given our child a name, to make praying for her easier. She said: ‘as long as she is in your belly, I will call her Lily. It means ‘little one’ in my mother tongue and it is also a very beautiful flower.’ I was deeply moved.

Little Lily, Susan Amanda, indeed came too soon. Not because she was in danger in my belly, but because she already died before she could be born. She is called Lily and Wanted. And now I hear Jesus saying here: Look at the lilies. Look how beautiful they are. They only bloom a short time, but God gave attention to them and even if no one is looking, these flowers are blooming gloriously in pure and simple beauty.

My own tiny Lily was also here for just a short time. When we met her, we were surprised by what she did to us. Our hearts were filled with love, joy and wonder. There she was, our daughter, and just as you accept a child just as he or she is, when it comes, so we embraced this little baby full of love and tenderness. It was as if my heart was enlarged in one second. There suddenly was room for mother’s love for five children. When looked into the eyes of my husband, I saw the same had happened to him. We became daddy and mommy again, and met our daughter.

How beautiful she was. So amazingly perfectly made. As tiny as she was – not a full term baby – she showed that a Master had been at work. For hours, I sat next to her crib. I held her in my hands and looked at her, His work, with admiration and gratitude. Despite the deep pain about her death, I felt grateful that clearly He had made effort in creating her. He had really fearfully and wonderfully knitted her, as the Psalm says that I read so many times while I was pregnant.

Consider the lilies in the field. It is as if God Himself is saying: look at Amanda, how I made her. So small, too small to live here on earth, but still made with so much care. Little hands, little feet, little nose, little eyes and even some hairs and nails on her fingers and toes.

My tiny lily, when I think of you, look at you, I see how great God is. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Ever since her birth, I had a song in my head about exactly this. In January 2020 I was finally able to finish writing it and on Amanda’s third birthday, I released it. You can find it here.

What If You Just Let It Be?

There are times I just don’t know what to do anymore. The great sadness is so in front of me that I can’t see anything else. It takes my breath away. I want to run from it or become very angry or do addictive stuff. I don’t know what to do with this and most of all I want to push it away from me. Far, far away.

This sadness pops up at the strangest moments. I walk upstairs, smell something and bam! I am one year back in time. It is as if it all just happened yesterday and Amanda is still in her room. In her crib. Silent. Then I realize: Yes! I have another child! Where is she?

At moments like these it is so real for me that I am amazed. Because at other moments I just enjoy life and also I do not think of her every second of the day. Although, when I am really honest, it is always slumbering present. Like a thread woven through everything. You cannot pull it out.

‘What if you just allow it to be there? That you just tell God how you feel, how sad you are and how hard it all is. And that you just sit quietly and that God comes sitting next to you and He puts His arm around you?’

This is what a sweet lady said to me some weeks ago when I told her that I did not know how to deal with this deep pain inside, while I just want to be there for the children, do my job, live my life. Her answer freed me somehow. It made me think of the song ‘Just be held’, a song I listened to a lot in the first weeks after Amanda’s birth.

Yes. What if I just let it be there? Then I feel the brokenness. The brokenness of my own heart, my life. Then I feel how vulnerable I am. Then I realize that I have so many questions: Why? How would she have been now? How can I go on? How do I help my children? God, are You really there?

If I just let it be there, if I become honest and if I allow God in it, then I realize that God is indeed standing next to me. He is listening. I only need to be who I am wíth my pain and questions, ín my brokenness and vulnerability. Actually, that is why I called this website ‘broken but real’.

I don’t know what God will do then. That is why I find this so hard, even scary. But the times that I tried to ‘just let everything be’, I noticed that He was there. That He really wants to carry me through, even though it is not clear to me why things worked out the way they did and why there is still so much going on today in our lives.

Not long ago I found a little book in the bookstore, with this title (translated out of Dutch): ‘Even if the hardest sorrow hits you’. It is a translation of the book written in 1674: ‘A token for mourners’ by John Flavel. He had to bury more than one loved one, also children. He tries to encourage, out of his faith: ‘do not try to hastily shake off the yoke that God has put on your shoulders. You should not want to be freed of your sadness before Gods time. Persevere with endurance. When God gives you comfort, in His time and mannner, this comfort will be lasting and wholesome.’

I cried when I read this and saw the connection with what the woman said to me before. I try to shake off my grief again and again. I try to live as if nothing happened. But it is better to allow the pain and the sorrow to just be there and allowing God to sit next to me. Even though I might not receive answers to my questions. Even when situations don’t change and even though illness, death, bullying, divorces and all kind of misery keep on occurring.

Because we are broken people. Allowed to just be there. 

First published in Dutch on April 18, 2018

Remembering

So there we were again. Not to bury this time, but to remember. After the kids came home from school and we finished our tea, we went to the cemetery and walked to her grave again. With a fake-birthday cake made of stone, just as one of our children had proposed. And a babypink candle in the shape of a ‘1’. The cake was actually a thrift-box so we used the slot for a candle stand. We lightened the candle and all of us hold a sparkler while I read the poem I wrote earlier that day out loud:

A year ago she was born
We didn’t hear her voice
Today we remember her life so short
Mostly hidden from our sight
We are glad she existed
Grateful for what God did in our hearts

Her life was not in vain
She means something to us, and to God
Amanda: wanted and loved
switched earth for heaven

She went before us,
she is where she has to be
and when we die later,
she too will welcome us.

One of children cried. Another started to throw some little stones around. And then another came with arms full of daffodils and cried out proudly: ‘Look mum! These still have their roots!’ hoping these would last while planting them on Amanda’s grave. Scoop and rake where brought along and two of our children started digging and planting fervently. My Swedish friend told me that in Swedish daffodils were called ‘Easter lilies’ so daffodils are now also related to Amanda as her name is fully Susan Amanda and Susan means ‘lily’.

After everyone did what her or she wanted to do, we walked back to our car and drove to a restaurant. To celebrate the day of birth of our third daughter. Without her being present. Very strange. But also very good to do. And also very strange.

Tomorrow it will be a year ago that she was buried: the closing of a very intense week of welcoming and saying goodbye and the deep hole after that. Literally and as a matter of speaking. ‘We are still combing the beach’, my Love said while we took a long walk on her birthday, a year after. And that’s it, all though I’ve found out that faith, hope and love will be there always, even though we don’t feel that all the time.

These words in my poem: ‘and when we die later, she too will welcome us’, I really mean them. I always looked forward to meeting Jesus, my savior who is risen from the dead. But now there is an extra dimension to that. We will see each other again. It took a while before I was convinced of that. The weeks after her death I was so confused. But now I am sure of it. Death does not have the final word. Remembering is more than looking back to how things were. I am also looking ahead. To what is to come.

First published in Dutch on March 26, 2018