I am making a baby-album in memory of Amanda. I come across the notes people wrote by means of a condolence-register. I glue them in between the photos. There are such sweet things written on it. Encouraging words. Words for us. Words for Amanda. Words of compassion. Words of adults and of children.
It was so good that there were also children at the funeral. We invited a close friend of each of our children and also some nephews and nieces where there. These children wrote – where we would use more fluffy language – just down what they thought: ‘It’s a bummer that I could not get to know you and that I will never see you’. ‘It is too bad that she is dead.’ ‘Be happy for she is in heaven’. I also found a graphic drawing of a little human in the ground with six crying puppets next to it. Lurid and endearing at the same time.
I need all emotional strength I have to finish this project. To give a place to the only pictures we have of her. Tears are running down my cheeks while I go through the moments again showed by the photos. How it was when she came to the world. How we met her for the first time. How we came home and showed her to her brothers and sisters and to our parents, sisters and my best friends. How we again and again sat next to her crib. And then how we laid her in the basket, closed the lid and took her to the graveyard. The one occasion that we traveled with the seven of us.
Then we walked to the grave. My Love went down the stairs into the grave, took over the basket with our daughter in it and carefully placed it on the floor of that deep hole. His eyes full of grief and resentment. I see on the pictures how he climbed out of it and fell into my arms. I see the despair, the sharp pain, the immense sadness. Now that I type this I become nauseous again and I remember how weeks from then I had to fight the desire to dig her up again. So bizarre. My brain knows of course that that is not something you should do, should not want to do.
But it is my child that is lying there. A part of me, a part of us. And you can’t just leave your child behind! I still can’t get my head around it and in these weeks we remember all that has happened as if it was just some weeks ago. It seems all so clear to me.
When I shared with a friend that it all comes back to me so vividly again, she said: ‘that makes sense. If one of your other children has their birthday, you also think back to the beginning, the delivery, to how everything was. It is so normal to do the same with Amanda now that she will have her birthday soon.
And it is. It will soon be her birthday and we think back. We are still trying to find a way how we can make this a good a time for all of us. One of my children suggested that we could buy a fake-birthday cake and place that on her grave. And then every year a new one so that you can see exactly how old she is. I like this idea and it makes me think of what someone told me about what Jews do. Every time they visit a grave, they place a little stone on it. Over the years, there will be a pile of stones. It shows that that person is not forgotten.
Rituals become important. It is more important than I thought. It gives support. Rituals say things you cannot say with words, someone said to me last week. Burning a candle isn’t that weird, I found out on All Saints Day and World Wide Candle Light Day. So maybe we will do that too when she is having her birthday. And I think we will have a birthday cake, just as we have on other birthdays. Because it is really sad that she is dead, but we are surely very happy that she has existed.
First published in Dutch on March 14, 2018