“I still don’t know what to say when someone asks me how many children I have,” says Bjorn Visser (33, pastor). “When I say three, I don’t feel right, with five it’s actually the same. Whatever the answer is, Anna and Lynn will still be part of our family. His book Mourning Ali Baba was also published this year.”
“We had a miscarriage when we lived in England for a year in 2017. My wife Angie was devastated, and I basically saw her in a scientific way: something was in the making and the body had rejected it. We talked a lot about loss with friends and family, which made me understand that parents They grieve differently than mothers. A few months later, we were pregnant again and it turned out we were twins, two girls. That in itself was quite a thing, two kids at a time, next to our son Dan. But I thought: Yeah, then we can get a new, bigger car. .
The twins turn out to be identical; They shared one placenta together. This often leads to an uneven distribution of blood, and so they have to share it together; One always gets more than the other. It was the same with our twins – Anna was taller than Lynn. They were closely monitored, and we had to go to the hospital every week for a check-up. At thirty weeks pregnant, we had just purchased a double stroller, and stopped by for a check-up. It turned out to be completely wrong. They had to be delivered urgently by caesarean section. After giving birth, Lyn obviously had more problems than Anna. Around her bed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), she felt twenty nurses working on her. I pushed away. They kept saying “sit down”, but I just couldn’t. I saw both girls fighting for their lives, and nothing in me could “sit quietly” at that moment. I called my parents and relatives in a panic and crying, it was all overwhelming. Angie was taken to foster care in her crib, but it didn’t last long. She was still nauseous from the anesthesia.
It seemed to be going well at first, but the next day news came that Anna had suffered a brain hemorrhage, which could make her a multiple handicap. That was a big hit. I asked the doctor if she would survive. He said I would bring my children home alive. That night Angie and I woke up. Things went very badly with Anna and we still had to say goodbye. Anna was placed on Inge’s chest – this was the first time we were allowed to hold her. She broke up, and then died after that. We didn’t know what to do so we sang to it. We told her how proud we were of her, how well she did and how much we loved her. After she died, we dressed her up, made our hands and footprints, and cut some hair. I took her to the morgue myself, I wanted to do it for her. Then you take your baby to cold storage…my heart has broken a hundred times.
The second farewell
The next day I was on my way to town hall to file a report, when Angie called that Lynn was getting worse. I rocketed back to the hospital. I think I committed a hundred traffic violations on the way. We also had to say goodbye to Lin. Later that day, I took Dan with me and he saw an empty incubator on the left side of the room. “where am I?” Asked. We explain that she went to Heaven and that Lynn will soon go there too. “Can I bring her?” Asked. Once again, my heart broke into a million pieces. Lin’s farewell was quieter than Anna’s, but again with songs and words. We also took her foot and hand prints. Then we went home in the new big car. But instead of two Maxi-Cosi, there were two baskets in the back. Everything was empty. Angie’s belly and our hands.
That week we took pictures as a family, with the twins there, so cute. It was also nice to get Daan tested – we pick up kids regularly. But we also had to arrange a funeral. It was appalling having to close the baskets on the day of the funeral. The idea of never being able to see them again is counterintuitive. We had a small, short party, at which we basically talked about everything we were looking forward to but that would never come again: the first day of school, small things like getting their nails painted, but also bigger things like taking them to the altar. With Dan, Angie and I stayed at the grave. Then Dan was allowed to “deliver them to heaven.”
Sadness had a very negative connotation for me, but that really changed. Sadness exists because love exists. Don’t miss anyone if you don’t care about them. Missing Anna and Lynn now is my love language for them. still. I do not expel them from my heart, I do not give them a place, but I associate mourning with my life. Mourning does not mean giving up something, but keeping something in a different way. We cannot hold them physically, but we can hold them in our hearts. We keep them constantly. It doesn’t diminish the loss and the pain, but now I’ve been able to discover it is more of a beautiful, almost sacred thing. Don’t try to cut corners – I tried that too, but it didn’t work. We need to mourn. If you don’t go through it, it will come back into your life at other times. Research has shown that tears of sadness are also a different kind of tears of sadness. They roll down your cheeks slower than tears of pain. This has something beautiful about it, even if it hurts. This insight means I don’t quit so quickly once I’m emotional.
After Anna and Lynn died, we had to grieve, to process the events. I found it very difficult to draw attention to my pain. I tend to move on with my life and skip the grief; Angie wanted to talk about it – it bothered me sometimes. People often ask me how my wife was. She was of course pregnant. Miss me once. how are you? It helped me get back to work after a while, put my mind elsewhere and have some fun again. Angie needed more time. I really wanted to know how other parents grieve. There seems to be a lot more material available to mothers, perhaps because women speak more easily and engage faster. Almost nothing for parents. This is how my mourning book, Ali Baba, came about.
to get to know
When I put a message on LinkedIn that I was looking for parents who had grieved for their child for my book, I got a lot of responses. One evening, some parents who wanted to contribute to the book and I gathered together in a room in Venendal. We didn’t know each other, but at the end of the night we felt like we were the best of friends. All stories are different, but the feelings are the same. It can be helpful and healing to talk to men and women when you know what the other person is feeling. It was and still is very special. You ask questions that others don’t often, like: “How did it feel when you put your child in the grave?” Some parents had to, literally, step into the grave to drop off their child.
I rented a house in Beckbergen for a week, where parents came for interviews. The father said that he had to choose which daughter could live and which one could not. Isn’t that inhumane? Another father felt like a father, but there was no child to father. You feel paralyzed. Not only have you lost your child, but you have also lost your future. The loss of the fathers I met ranged from a seventh-week miscarriage to the loss of an eighteen-year-old girl. Some did not dare to become pregnant anymore, and the fear of a new loss was too great. During the conversations I saw the fathers return to the lost time. If you dare, it will be very useful in the end. I also still hear the beeps in the NICU, as do a number of other parents. My wife was using a different day cream at the time, and the smell was bothering me; Reminds me of girls and everything that happened. This was not the case for her, but luckily she switched to a different cream for me.
“Grief makes you deal with the loss, but also with yourself and with the person you have become through the loss. I was a doer and I wanted to start, Inge wanted to talk and share. It made me feel like I had to get over her grief. I started working with a coach, because I actually didn’t I no longer know what I felt and wanted. Talking to other parents, I found out that I wasn’t the only one who bought a new, bigger car, but I didn’t have enough kids to fill that car. They also grumbled more quickly at their wives, for example because they were dirty, like Angie.I wasn’t worried about it before, but now my feeling was on the surface.
We are four years old now, and we have a two-year-old son and a three-month-old daughter. Seeing twins walking down the street still hits me. Last year we moved in, Dan said to the new neighbors, “Hi, I’m Dan and I have two sisters who died.” When people ask how many kids I have, and sometimes I say “three” for convenience, he says, “No, five.” When I say three I don’t feel right, with five it’s actually the same. The situation determines what I answer. But whatever the answer, Anna and Lynn will still be part of our family. We celebrate their presence – and life itself.
Order Bjorn’s book Papa’s Grief Too here for €24.95.
This story previously appeared in JAN’s Winterboek 2022.