glass words

I am so honored to welcome this month's guest writer. Merry's support and love permeates all the nooks and crannies of this community.  Merry describes herself as a "38 year old mother of four girls who came before and then Freddie who was born and didn't breathe but then did and lived for eleven days in SCBU before dying of pneumonia. In January this year we had Ben, our rainbow baby born 21 months after Freddie died." Merry writes at Patch of Puddles.


When I say the words, they remind me of the twinkling, polished nuggets of pretty glass that surround his memorial tree. Smooth, splendid, finished, perfect.

"He's their second brother. We had another little boy but he died when he was very young."

"They did have another brother but we didn't get to bring him home."

"We had another one who spent some time in SCBU. No, he didn't come home unfortunately."

"I've had six children... I have five children."

"He is number six. I have four girls at home."

Sometimes I phrase it so I don't have to say the words. Their brother died. My baby died. Our son died.

I've perfected the words so they skitter around like handfuls of decorative glass pebbles held high and dropped, bouncing in the sunlight.

photo by dalvenjah.

I'm guilty of an art of careful word architecture that parcels up our family pain and speaks it in a way that acknowledges but protects. I sometimes worry I phrase it in a way that make people think we weren't allowed to keep him rather than had him brutally taken. By the time I spit those artfully shaped words out they have been shaped to make them glisten and slide from my lips, not rip . I'm guilty of trying to make it palatable. I worry people think it means I have got over it.

I worry he hears.


The world at large says words back at me that my world in miniature says politely.

"At least you have the others."

"The girls must have helped you get through."

"Thank goodness you didn't have to bring him home for a while. At least you never got to know him before he died."

As if the eleven days bent over his cot, praying to every god I don't believe in to grant a miracle didn't count. As if having four healthy children makes a difference to the pain of losing one. As if, at the birth of a good to go child, someone could say "Do you mind if we keep him and you just pop off home?" and the answer would be "Well of course, it's not like I know him yet!" As if, knowing his sisters, loving them deeply, makes his loss more bearable and not the yawning, gripping pain of knowing exactly how wonderful and beautiful a person we lost.

"It must be so much easier to cope with losing Freddie now that you have Ben."

Out pops a pebble, a shiny glass pebble.

"Yes, it helps. Of course it helps." Treading a path neatly between the socially acceptable and my listening daughters hearing and thinking he became expendable and forgotten. I break my teeth on another palatable pebble.


It's because of my daughters that I had to give up fighting for Freddie. With disability and long term care looming hard and fast, I vomited up the words that we had to let him go. Losing him was not better because we had living children, it was made bitter and bile filled by the knowledge that I could ruin six lives by fighting for him or let him go and save us all.

"It's time to stop."

There was nothing polished about those words, they were molten and then jagged and my cheeks and tongue and throat are throbbing and scarring still.

Don't let anyone tell you that having other children makes it better. Different, but not better.


Just 30 minutes holding the body of my son without wire or tubes.

With the image of my frightened and barely whole children waiting for news burned into my head, I watched my son die, packed my bag and went home to comfort them, to break the news, thank the people who cared for them - and have lunch.

Home to an eleven year old standing at the top of the stairs and sobbing "Is he dead? It's not fair."

Home to a ten year old who took one look at our faces and turned and walked away, the brother she had longed for gone before she ever held him. She never let herself cry.

Home to a seven year old who screamed "You shouldn't have had him! You had too many children already! Have other one now!"

Home to a five year old already shattered to pieces by her parents having been absent for eleven days, who had kissed the bump every night and made him a space in her heart and loved him as only a five year old can and who sat in our arms and seemed to understand and two hours later asked when we would go to get him and bring him home.

Who asked repeatedly, "Is he still alive really?"

All our grief, laid out and raw in the faces of the children we loved. Our children dragged through the splintering, wounding carnage alongside us.

My children, crumpled and bewildered and somehow supposed to filled the gaping hole in my heart, who listened and watched my every move, weighed up my love, weighed up my grief, looked to see if I would last. Looked to see if I could still be mummy.

Home to gymnastics sessions and maths that needed doing and laundry and presents waiting to be given to a new baby brother. I spent the first night after his death not in my bed and my husbands arms, but on a mattress on the floor of a pink bedroom, each of us with shell shocked girl lying either side of us. There was no hiding in a darkened room for me. There was no going to pieces. The greatest betrayal was that we had to put Freddie neatly away ourselves and carry on - go forward - to keep our living children safe.

Life goes on.

Don't let anyone tell you it makes it okay if the babylost have other children.

Sometimes what hurts most of all is accepting I was one of the luckiest of the unlucky people. That my pain is a little more bearable because of my children. But that my pain is magnified ten thousandfold by seeing them hurt.


When I think I can't be any more sad, I hear them speaking pebbles. Polished, perfect pebbles that drop and scatter as they dance the linguistic dance of having two brothers but only one that anyone can see.

That is a special kind of heartbreak.

Look what I did to my children. I wanted another baby, who died, and I made my children learn to speak the language of the grief stricken. I daren't look inside their mouths. I am too frightened to see if there are scars from the glass. I'm horrified, but happier, to see the pebbles.


How do you use word architecture when speaking to others about your child's (or children's) death? Is there one phrase you use consistently? Do you use different words or phrases depending on if you are talking to a stranger, the casual acquaintance, close friend or family member? If you have older children, how to teach them to talk of their sibling's death? Do you overhear them mirroring your words?  What kinds of things do you overhear them saying about death and grief and their family since the death of their sibling?