welcome

Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged, understood.

Many thanks to artist Stephanie Sicore for allowing us to feature her little bird in our banner.

subscribe
categories
search
Powered by Squarespace
Tuesday
Apr082014

gone

Four years. On Sunday it will be four years since I held Freddie in my arms while he breathed slower and slower until I could gently feel his wrist, that tiny, purple-cold hand already turning white and know that I could feel no pulse, that he was gone. That eleven days of fraught love, fierce hope, fluttering joy and brutal instinct had subsided into a quiet room, still bed, arms that held.

I've tried to remember how to summon the tearing pain I felt back then, honour him in some way with eleven days of memories, quiet time, thoughtful words. Tried to find some way to make meaningful the loss of him, the hole of him, the whole sorry mess of death and destruction and all the ribbons of grief that have tied themselves around the feet and limbs of our family.

I could find gratitude. Friends have surrounded me in community this year, making daffodils for him, posting pictures of them from all around the world as they dance and shine and call a little baby boy to memory. Gratitude I can do. I can be grateful for finding gratitude.

I could find rage. Rage that when one of my children changes school next month I will have to find the words to explain that yes, it was four years ago, but she is still affected by her brother's death and that everything they learn about her must be tempered with the understanding that she has this loss in her soul. Rage that when people can't find their way into the mind of my youngest daughter, they have to remember that she locked up sadness and hid it inside herself and learned to be impassive when she was just five years old. Rage to see my false jollity hurting my biggest girls, old enough to know I'm faking, not worldly wise enough to understand why. And wondering if it means I'm okay in there, behind the jolly. I don't want that for them. Rage that all I can do on his birthday is try to smile for as long as the girls are looking at me, that we go the day without saying his name, that we laugh and make the best of it - so British are we - and then I look back at the photos in the evening and there is sorrow written across the face of the man I love. And he probably didn't even know it was there. Would probably say it wasn't there. But I know his face and I know it was.

I could find regret. Regret and resentment for a boy who had dark eyebrows and who never got to hold my face and utter the words his brother does - 'More! No! Here! Go! Again!' - that Freddie looked for me in need just once, when he crashed and they jerked him back and I saw him eyes wide and alarmed at the fuss and I was behind the mess of nurses and thoughtless registrar and couldn't ease him. Wasn't the person for the moment. I can find regret that four years have passed and family life is busy and sometimes the candles for each of his eleven days are not lit till late at night, resentment that his brother broke my thoughts of him by getting ill during those days and I had to wrestle my focus, look at now - not then - and I was angry at that. Angry at them both. At both my boys. Together.

I should be angry at them both for colluding to eat all the biscuits or for drawing on the wall, not because one is dead and stopping me from dealing with the others asthma and the other has asthma and is stopping me concentrating on the other being dead.

That's not how it should be.

But I couldn't quite find the babylost mother in all of that. She was missing.

Then the news arrived. A beautiful young woman lost. A daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife. Someone with it all before her, a family who had already suffered enough, a family broken to pieces from out of the blue.

And it all came back. I left the house one day and when I came back our world had shattered. A parent should not have to tell the world a child has died. Sisters should not sit, shell-shocked, asking again if this is true - how can it be true? How can life become death? No one who loved should have to pick up the pieces, carry on, make the best of it, fill the gaps, learn to smile again. Keep going because there is no choice and you cannot simply die along with them.

I can see them, in my mind's eye, just like I see every family who pitches into grief. The sofa still feels the same when sat on. Meals must still be cooked for hungry children. Deeds must be done, from the extra-ordinary horror of arranging a funeral, to the mundane of putting out the bin. Life stops and carries on and your head feels a million miles wide, light as air, deranged by the ordinariness of the bizarre.

One minute you are just a family and the next minute nothing will ever be the same again. Beyond pain, that other father said. And yes, I see the sense and madness in that. Losing a child is a place beyond pain and you learn to live there.
Four years. My boy should be four years old on Sunday. I've had long enough to know this happened to us, long enough to be back to happy days and a healed(ish) heart.

But he's gone - and I still do not really believe in it. Do not believe these four years have happened, that we've lived them and survived them.

Just... gone... just like that. Gone.

 

People talk about the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Is it a lineal experience for you or a cycle that repeats? How do you cope with your changing emotions? How do you cope with hearing about loss in the wider world since losing your child? Does it affect your emotions in anyway?

Monday
Mar312014

Letting Go

The water covers me on all sides. It is warm and clear in the afternoon sunlight. I am somewhere between the surface and the floor of the sea. Above me, I can see the soft tossing of waves, the sun poking and prodding around every crest. The sand below is perfectly white, and the sea floor takes on shapes and patterns among the rises and dips of the sand, on the rocks scattered about. The vastness and purity of it makes me feel like the sand must keep traveling farther down into the center of the earth, as if there were nothing else.

The hair on my arms sways in unison under the gentle currents. I am motionless underneath the surface, arms and legs floating listlessly. My eyes are open, staring out through the clear water without actually looking at anything at all. I am completely alone. There are no fish or creatures or reefs with life springing from them. It is beautiful, and desolate.

This is where I go to meet my lost daughter, the one who didn’t make it. This is where I go to sit with my sadness, where I allow the anguish and longing to settle on me, without judgement or care or distraction or hope. It’s here where everything is quiet, where all of the noise dissipates into the nurturing sounds of being submerged. I’m present down here, under the waves, in a way I can’t be above the surface. I feel half dead and relieved.

It’s here in this state of floating that I find her.

She appears before me just as I am, floating with her arms and legs outstretched in the clear warm water. The dark hair that covers her head waves from side to side. I stare at her perfect little eight pound body, the rolls in her thighs, the way her Momma’s cheeks swallow up her Daddy’s nose. I marvel at the size of her hands and peek around every nook and cranny of her body that I failed to look at it in the fourteen hours that I had her in my arms.

She is still dead before me, but she is here.

After three years of wrestling with the tragedy that took her life, there it very little in the way between us now. The anger is gone. The missing has eased. The preoccupation with my own fragile state no longer rules my waking hours. The fucked up ness of how she died has been analyzed and regretted with enough energy that I no longer have any left for it. I have thoroughly changed from losing her, slowly and completely, but even the changing seems to have run its course.  It is just us now.

I grab her naked body and pull her into my chest. With my hands and elbows and arms I pull as much of her flesh into contact with mine. Her head rests against the beating of my heart, her toes and feet push against my stomach. Her hands are clasped together under my chin and I kiss them.

I used to tell her in this moment that I loved her. That I missed her. I would sing her songs. I would say a thousand times over that I was sorry. But there are no words anymore, nothing left that needs to be said.

The two of us float together, embraced, a father and his daughter, under the surface of the vast sea, drifting aimlessly.

+++

For three years now, I have sat with my anguish. I have allowed grief to consume me in the way that grief requires us, without agenda or timeline or a set of rules. I have shaken my fists and thrown myself at the world and I have knelt down on my knees in brokenness and defeat. I have felt brave and wickedly vulnerable, the two feelings coming and going as easily as the wind. I have learned to live with that strange duality of feeling happy and sad in the exact same moment. I have felt the crushing blow of missing my daughter who can never return, how it makes you physically sick and short of breath. In the slow, arduous task of healing, my emotional, mental and spiritual state have taken on new forms and new meaning. I am not who I used to be.

I can feel the grip of grief letting go of me, like slowly pulling away from someone you may never see again. It comes with a certain level of fear and trembling, knowing how much my grief has tethered me to my missing daughter. In all these years of wishing the pain away, the irony now is realizing how much I will miss the pain.

I can feel the joy returning. There is a space in my brain again for new dreams and pursuits and adventures. There is a steadfastness in the present, a contentment that I never thought would be possible to feel again. I, too, am letting go.

+++

The sound of music tugs at me to come up for air. Our sacred moment is coming to an end and I close my eyes and hold on to her for as long as I can stay under.

It’s easier to stay with her, to forget about the future, to leave the world behind. There is fear up there, and chaos, and worse yet, the possibility of more tragedy. And yet.

I loosen my hold on her until she is before me again. I kiss her forehead. And then I let go and swim up to the sounds coming from above.

Life, awaits.

 

 

If you're in a similar place, how have you coped with letting go? Or perhaps this idea isn't even something to be considered? Is there a space where you go to meet your missing children?

In this being my last post for Glow, I want to thank you for abiding with me over the past three years, first as a place of refuge and now as a place of community. Peace and gentleness to all of you, wherever you find yourself these days.

 

Monday
Mar242014

the fourteenth again

Jen’s second daughter Anja was stillborn in January 2012. Anja has an older sister, E, and a baby brother, M. Jen wrote this on the 22-month anniversary of Anja’s death. She blogs at March is for Daffodils, where this post first appeared. We are so grateful Jen is here at Glow today as a guest writer.

 

This morning on the walk to kindergarten, E and I talked about how we would buy flowers after school, flowers for Anja on the 14th.

‘Anja is an angel, Mommy,’ E said, full of the authority of a nearly-five-year-old going-to-schooler.

‘Do you think so, sweetie?’ I asked, non-committally.

‘I think so. But, actually, Mommy what is an angel exactly?’

‘Well, some people believe that there is a place called Heaven, which is where you live after you die, and when you are there, you are an angel,’ I explained.

‘Do you believe that Mommy?' 

‘I believe that Anja’s spirit has gone into all the living things,’ I said. ‘I believe that she is in all the beautiful things we see around us.’ (Do I? Do I?)

E thinks about this for a while, smiling. Then she looks up at me and says, ‘Mommy, I really hope Anja is not a zombie.’

Christ, kid, what are they teaching you at school?

‘She’s not a zombie, love. I know that for sure.’

‘How do you know?’ E is genuinely worried.

‘Because zombies are just a story. Some grownups like to tell stories about things that scare them, but they’re not real.’

‘OK, Mommy.’ We hold hands and walk down the tree-lined block. At the corner, we run into a little boy from her class and his mother and baby sister. E and Z start talking excitedly to each other. For some reason, the topic of zombies comes up again, and it turns out there is some movie character(?) zombie who is funny(??) and can talk to dead people(???). E and Z start chanting, ‘I can talk to dead people. I can talk to dead people.’ Z’s mom smiles at the zaniness of children; I try not to grimace. My poor kid. She wishes she could talk to dead people; she knows death in a way that it is obvious very few of her peers do. ‘I know, Z,’ she says, ‘let’s go to a place where people get dead and we can talk to them.’ I wonder what she would say? I wonder where she thinks that place is? I wonder how her nearly-five-year-old mind reconciles the real death she has experienced and this fascination with death that so many of her friends are exploring.

We go into her classroom, hang up her coat and switch her rubber boots for indoor shoes. The classroom is cheerful and noisy; her teacher is happy to see her. Every morning, for the first fifteen minutes of the day, families are welcome to stay and participate in what the teacher calls ‘Noisy Reading.’ I love this time of day. We find a cozy spot and E picks out a book called ‘Chestnut Dreams.’ I open the book and start reading… Anya. The little girl in the book’s name is Anya and she has curly chestnut hair and green eyes and E looks at me in wonder. ‘Her name is Anya. Maybe that is my baby sister. That is what she looked like if she didn’t get dead.’ We read the story. I say the name Anya over and over and over again and it feels good. To have an excuse. To use the name without worrying that I will make someone uncomfortable, without being made to feel morbid or strange.

The special helper rings the book bell and it is time to put the books away and say goodbye. E says ‘hi’ to her friend, I, who is absorbed in saying goodbye to her mother and doesn’t respond. There is a flash of hurt in E’s eyes, but she runs over to another friend, D, and says, ‘D, do you want to sit next to me?’ D crosses her arms over her chest, her face furious, and yells in E’s face, ‘No!’ That is it for E; she comes back to me, her face crumpling and reddening. She buries her head in my lap and sobs.

And I wonder, as I always do, how much of it is what we see on the surface – rejection by friends; the start of a busy day – and how much of it is what she knows and keeps secret when she is out in her world – the death of her sister, the sadness in her family?

I offer to take her outside, for a hug and a chat, but she rallies, wants to stay and finds someone else to sit beside. She waves and smiles as M and I go.

M falls asleep in his carrier on the walk home, so I veer away toward the water, get a coffee and walk under the red and yellow trees by the seawall. The ocean is glassy, grey, still. It is a beautiful morning. I turn back up the park path toward our building. I look into the red leaves of the Japanese maple trees. I think about how I told E that her sister is in all the living things. I try to believe it. I practice: I say, tentatively, quietly, yearningly, ‘Hello, sweet girl, my love, my baby.’ I whisper it to the tree, to the sky, and finally, the tears come.

 

Where do you believe your baby is now? What do you want to believe?

If you have living children, how do you explain death and afterlife to your children?

Tuesday
Mar182014

lost boy

"I carry you in my heart."

It's not a poem I enjoy hearing. I cannot find love or joy or hope or romance in it.

I find a dead baby, not in my arms, breathing slower, not breathing, carried away by gentle arms and leaving a torn and bloodied hole through my chest.

I don't know what it means, anyway, this platitude. I don't carry anything, not even love, in a pumping mass of artery and muscle.

My baby died and he took my romantic side with him. I can say that and twist my mouth bitterly.

"I carry you in my brain," perhaps?

Less romantic, far less palatable and hardly picturesque. I carry him in my seething mass of mysterious grey tissue, the very stuff that in him, sweet boy of the dark eyebrows and chubby limbs, was so apparently ineffectual.

Brains equal memories and memories are few and far between. Eleven days is not enough at best to make a pitcher full of memories and the pictures... oh the pictures... they stole all the others, superimposing themselves on the feel and smell and joy of you. My precious, blessed pictures, the handful I took, treasured, adored, that robbed me of everything else I might recall.

"I carry you in my stomach," might work?

Perhaps. I did carry him there, in my belly; there he was safe, mine, loved. There he moved, swished, grew, kicked, hiccuped and dwelt neither poked nor pinched nor jabbed or stabbed.

When the pain comes, it is my midriff I pull in; it swoops and clenches and cramps with grief that has nowhere else to go. I wrap my arms across it, fists clenched, tense, fuming. Grief lies leaden there, taking all the space that once was yours.

I do not carry him in my arms. This I know. I do not keep him in my sight, running ahead with sisters' laughing, I do not carry him on my back, save when I feel bent beneath the weight of another year without him. I do not carry him forward.

I carry him in my silence. I carry him in the construction of a sentence that leaves a space for the unspoken child. I carry him in my grammar. I carry him in my tolerance as other people expect babies and do not fear death. I carry him in my wordless hiding of the spectre I am, not speaking the caveats that scream in my head at others careless surety. I carry him in my being, this woman who watches herself from corners, bemused - still bemused - at the person she has become. I carry him in my flat expression as song lyrics twinge my mind and recall my loss. I carry him in a brittle smile and tearless eyes.

I carry him in the sudden silence, the choked lost words that catch me unawares when I tell someone, unexpectedly, that I lost a child. 4 years on and still I can find myself blindsided that there are people in my world who do not know. That I carry him - my son - so hidden, that he is not written on my face.

So this now, is grief, 4 years on. Living with it. Still mystified by it. Bitter, accepting, tolerating, adept.

There are days when I think Freddie dug depths in my soul and mined me so deep that I found a shining beautiful part of myself I might never have met without him. And there are other days when I think the loss of him made me so shallow, so brittle, that it is almost as if I do not feel at all.

 

What has grief done to you? Would you be without the pieces of you that have been unearthed by it? What feelings are you experiencing now, as you journey on without your child? Are you bitter, accepting, angry, blank? Do you have a sense of carrying your child in some part of you or in a place? Are there words, songs or music that hold you to your child or repel you?

 

Tuesday
Mar112014

playing with fire

Lu had a miscarriage recently.  We were shocked and amazed that she was pregnant, but the glow didn't last. Within days of seeing that second line it became clear this pregnancy would not be continuing.  

I don't know how much more heartache this family can take.  

We are trying for life and siblings and family.  We are striving against time, against history, against death, against memory.  I want Zeph to have a brother, but he already didn't have one before he was born.  I want our family to be a crew, but we are missing our Silas and we don't know if we will ever have more.

I love my two brothers and I loved growing up in our family of five.  It was crazy, beautiful, loving chaos.  It was always an event, every single day.  Somehow my parents spread their deep and abiding love all over our tiny, growing souls.  Despite illness and anger and sadness for my mother's MS, they imparted a profound love for laughter, for friendship, for family and for fun.  I always envisioned having a two or three kids, but that is looking less and less likely and I'm not sure how much harder we should push.  We have Zeph and he is amazing.

Zeph is my pure joy.  Despite poops and crazy baby toddler behaviors and utter two-year-old defiance, I can only see and think and feel how lucky I am that this being is in our life.  He should have an older brother.  I wish he had a younger sibling of any kind at all.  I want all of that, but I am terrified to try.  We are old.  The odds are not in our favor.  We barely handled a miscarriage at 7 weeks.  What happens at 20, at 30, at 40?  We have traveled the dark path of death and I can never go back.  I want to have everything for my son, but I know too much to have any illusions about what can happen.

And lastly, of course, are the 'positive outlook' people that would call me out for not thinking positively and not hoping for the best.  But I just don't give a fuck about any of that anymore.  Haven't for a while. What I think, what I hope for, what I want, it has absolutely no bearing on what biologically happens in my wife's uterus. Some may believe otherwise, and if it helps them that's fantastic but it just doesn't work for me.

I can't go back to the vortex ever again.  I can't touch that deep dark deathness where Silas went.  And yet I will. We all will.  The only path forward is to try everything and to know that only nothing awaits.  My parents will die. People I know and love will die.  But I can't lose another child, not ever again.  So to keep trying is to play with fire, and I know I can't handle the pain if we fail.

The spring is sneaking into the afternoon sun.  The daylight has been saved.  We get to collect a little more of that light late in the day when it's time to walk off work's sour funk and I wandered slowly with my son to the park today.  I didn't hear Silas then.  I didn't think about what Zeph is missing, who should have been leading the way.  I was so fully engaged in the beautiful moments of his experience that I didn't imagine anything else.  

Yet, when we check every month to see if he'll have a sibling I am suddenly pulled back into that terrible world of hope that resolves into failure.  The deep well of sadness that always lives in my heart flows again, to all my limbs and heart and mind, drowning me anew.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Have you suffered subsequent losses after losing your child?  How difficult or easy was it to try to have more children after your loss?  Did both partners share the same outlook or was one more or less adamant, hopeful, afraid, etc?  How does your family compare to the one you grew up in?