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I Grieve For a Family I Didn't Really Know

The impact a person has on you often has I more to do with when they entered your life and less with how long they stayed in it.

My now-husband and I were not entirely prepared for my first pregnancy. We were happy about it—that is something different—but we had, let's say, some things to arrange.

We had been what I've dubbed as "middle-aged dating" for many months: we went for walks. We perused cookbooks and markets and experimented with cooking. We binge-watched HBO's "Rome."

He was 50 at the time, a life-long bachelor. I was 37, separated but not yet officially divorced.

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I took the pregnancy test on a Friday afternoon. It's a common cinematic technique to drag this process out—pacing couples shaking the stick, holding it up to the light, the excruciating what if, what if not?

In reality, a positive pregnancy test makes itself immediately known. The bright glowing blue lines on mine could have only been made more obvious if accompanied by a small hammer whacking me between the eyes.

I never questioned having the baby, but I admit I felt unprepared, overwhelmed and pretty freaked out.

It was a happy but stressful time.

A couple years earlier, I would have appeared to be what one would call ready: I was gainfully employed, married, the owner of a large four-bedroom house on a corner lot in Iowa. We even had two dogs and a station wagon.

But when I took that test I was mid-divorce, recently laid off and living alone in a foreign country. People say there is no "right" time to have a baby, but I had a pretty good case for an inconvenient one.

My relatively new boyfriend and I were happy, but we also had a lot of details to organize. Luckily, he is a logistics expert. When I told him about the baby, he just said, "We need to learn Dutch, and we need to buy a house."

We celebrated by making our first pizza crust.

The usual fatigue, worry, sickness and fear of the unknown that accompanies any pregnancy was exacerbated by several other factors, such as buying house and having to renovate it quite drastically.

I was also a bit concerned that we had skipped too many steps: could a relatively new relationship still develop in a natural course, or would the weight of everything be too much?

It was a happy but stressful time. During my pregnancy, I worked various freelance jobs at all kinds of hours from a tiny glass table in a corner of his furnished rental—the only spot in the place that had a strong Wi-Fi signal. It was uncomfortable and isolating, especially in the last trimester when, without ample stimulation, I was liable to fall asleep on the spot.

I was inspired by his relaxed and enthusiastic manner of waiting for his child to arrive...

I saw an ad for a web editor job at a local site for expats and thought an on-site job with actual colleagues might be just what I needed. I needed a purpose aside from growing a baby and preparing for his arrival. But, at six months pregnant, I wasn't feeling like I had many options.

I applied and was invited to work there for the summer, big bump and all. It was an energetic, international, social and family-friendly office, and I met several people who became good friends.

And I met Antoine, the managing partner. Antoine's wife was also pregnant, just about as far along as I was. She was expecting a boy—just like I was.

It was a complicated time for me, and most of the conversations I had relating to the baby veered toward to-do lists and appointments with builders, plumbers, lawyers and my midwife. I didn't take a lot of time to consider what it would be like to actually become a mother.

But Antoine talked to me about how happy he was to be having another baby—he had one son already—and how wonderful it is to have a boy in particular. I felt like he could read my fear and uncertainty about my readiness for having a baby, and he told me I would never have an experience to match it, and that I'd be great.

I was inspired by his relaxed and enthusiastic manner of waiting for his child to arrive, and it helped me to focus more on what a wonderful thing was happening to me and what a gift my baby actually was.

After our sons were born—and later my middle and third child—I'd run into Antoine in the regular parenting hangouts of our city. He was always very interested in how my son was doing and in telling me about his.

His wife was from Malaysia, and last summer the family planned a holiday there. It was the one-year anniversary of his father in law's death, and they were returning, together with his mother-in-law, to have a memorial service. On July 17, they boarded Flight MH17.

Reading about a plane crash is always a terrible thing, but when I heard the plane had been deliberately shot down for flying in Ukraine airspace, I was sickened and outraged. Soon after, when I learned Antoine and his family had been on the plane, I was devastated.

Do I have a right to mourn them as much as those who were closer to them?

I'm one of many people to be affected this way by the loss of Antoine and his family. Recently, there was a memorial for them in our small city of Haarlem, and I'm sorry to say I didn't attend.

There's something in our culture—or maybe it's just me—that feels the need to justify grief. In truth, I didn't know Antoine that well. I never met his wife and only briefly met his sons. Do I have a right to mourn them as much as those who were closer to them?

But I do grieve for them. My meeting Antoine when I did—in a very specific and, in many ways, complicated time in my life—was a blessing. He gave me a job when I needed a focused and uncomplicated task and through which I've met many wonderful people. He helped me get into the right mindset about my first baby.

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He reminded me how lucky I am.

And I'm reminded of the same when I think about the fate of Antoine and his family—in particular his youngest son, the same age as mine, whose life was so needlessly cut short.

I don't need to have known him well for that to break my heart.

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Photo RTV/NH Doron Sajet

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