I shudder, breaking the spell. It's all back—the room, the kid, the celebration. He was born, and lived. And the guests, all of us, are richer, better for it. I'm wrung out and sad. I wonder, again, what we missed out on because A did not live. Hey, world! You've missed out too.Read More
It's hard to write about grief at four years out. Hard to know what to write here.
I want to tell you that you will never forget your baby.
I want to tell you that you will find a way to move on, grow about the pain.
I want to be the beacon of hope ahead of you, the woman with the life that has not collapsed around the dark matter of the dying star; that I was not sucked in and lost, heavy as the universe and destroyed in a hopeless inward swirling soup of moulten grief.
I want to tell you that you won't forget, that cosmic clutter and home grown atoms seared themselves into your soul and cannot be unwritten.
It feels wrong to write of present grief here. It feels wrong to write of recovery. It feels wrong to be either - healed or unhealed.
I missed my slot here last month. Almost missed it this month.
Grief hauled at me, made me unreliable. I chose to fail to prove that grief had me in its grip and prove that I had outrun it. But the truth is I couldn't feel it. I was numb. No words came. To write badly is the ultimate betrayal of my boy.
I'm held back and pushed forward by grief, by loss, by the bundle of boy in the paper flat pictures, the boy I grew quite perfectly who couldn't live without tube and wire.
You might imagine that pulled in all directions is unfathomable pain but it seems to bring nothing but inertia and dulled senses.
You don't need me, I told myself, because I am both then and now and neither is helpful. At four years out grief absorbed is of no more use than grief worn smeared upon my person and slathered, unwelcome, on every interaction.
Do you want to know that grief is just as painful 4 years on? Do you want to know that 4 years on I cry most often because his loss is so familiar that somedays I do not think of him at all?
Do you want to know you will forget? Do you want to know you never will?
That is my apology. Grief is endless and full of ends. Grief is circular, linear, long and short, impossible and easy, ever present and constantly receeding.
I'm sorry I wasn't here.
This morning my living son, born after, brought me Freddie's picture. We don't speak of him here. We are not a family of vivid gesture and outward remembrance. His photos live in my room and nowhere else. I have not wanted to make this youngest child one growing in the shadow of loss. I've never spoke of Freddie to him.
He asked us who the baby was, seemed to know that this was a baby who had not become a person he could place. And then, with uncanny understanding, he gestured to my candle shelf, to the collection of trinkets and gifts I have bought his brother.
"Baby Freddie all gone," he said.
He's all gone.
No fine words can alter that.
4 years or not, it feels a giant of a thing to understand.
I don't think it is ever going to change.
What do you hope for as the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to years? Do you have a sense of the resting place you grief should have? Or, how do you accommodate your lost baby or babies in your family? And how do you cope when others from inside or outside your immediate family, step outside your coping parameters?
This post is a reflection on my sense of self before baby loss and after and the effect that Freddie's death has had on that. I was a stay at home parent of young children before I had him and my life therefore revolved around the trappings of that life. There is some mention of how I was shaped by ordinary pregnancy and birth as well as infant loss. Please bear that in mind before reading if you are in a sensitive phase of loss.
Once it defined me, my knowledge, my experience, my hoard of stories, grim and detailed.
Once I huddled in gaggles of mothers and gossiped - heartless midwives, empty threats of dead babies. I thrashed through birth trauma, postnatal depression, botched, unsatisfactory deliveries. My ill-used body, caught in the nets of a harried medical system that sucked me in, processed my heaving body, signed me out alive, with scant regard for my soul or sanity.
Those things, the worst that could happen, consumed the centre of my wounded being. All encompassing, damaging, poisoned.
All talked out, gradually growing around and through the pain, I became something new.
Once it defined me, my knowledge, my experience, my hoard of stories, gritted teeth and battles won.
Once I huddled in flocks of mothers engrossed in motherhood - failed breastfeeding, sleepless nights, babies born with challenges (I will not call them small, not even now) to be overcome. We loaded laundry and knew not the value of the little people in our care. The minutae of the tedium was our currency of connection.
I had no idea how lucky I was. I do not hold myself responsible for that.
And, all talked out, we grew, moved on. Stories rolled and rubbed and took on the sheen of a well fumbled pebble, soft, smooth, snag-less.
I became something new; lacking nonchalant patter, I formed an armoury of parenthood, my tales the scales of my skin. A persona grew, I became the mother people love or hate, who fought the battles, won and lost and emerged confident, skilled and with all the answers I needed. I believed in me.
I do not begrudge myself that confidence. It was good while it lasted.
And it all came tumbling down. In the screaming silence of the birthing room without a cry, I lost every opinion I had ever had about birth and babies. In the humming heat of SCBU, I lost everything I knew about parenting. I couldn't help him. I didn't know the language, couldn't do the procedures, couldn't choose when to hold him, might hurt him if I did.
No time to learn.
My outer shell smashed and washed away, all my conversation, all my wrath and passion, all my innocence and ignorance. I didn't know I had that.
When I lost my son, when I crumbled him to dust, consigned him to a memory, I also lost myself, my role, my place in society. A core was left, naked and bruised.
No one wants the baby lost mother. We are not welcome. We are the spectre - festering and infectious. Who would want my knowledge? It is tainted by Freddie's death, despite the four before him. I would run a mile from me. Who would chat to me about birth and babies, fearing to see me cry, hoping that "please god, she doesn't mention HIM again!"? Who would believe my nappy choice might be right when I let my baby die? Who would believe I had knowledge about breastfeeding when I couldn't even tell he was sick before he lived.
I see the recoil even if it never comes. I see the blank weariness as they wait for me to find a reason to mention him. I see myself, hovering in their joy and deserved naivety, spoiling the thrill of the moment. I imagine myself tainting their hope, excitement. I imagine them making the opposite choice to mine, hoping to ward off the devil.
I cannot ever re-enter that world. I will distance myself even from my daughters when their time comes, hoping - irrationally - to not remind them of the brother who died.
So, crone like, my gift is to the girl I once was, to all mothers who never walk a harder path than tired out drudgery.
I will try not curl my lip at those with no reason to know better. I will not belittle them because their path has not been strewn with ashes and they know not that ashes can arrive in a tiny box with an etched brass plate. I will not deride them for a merry life with smaller hurts and smaller mountains to climb.
I envy them. I'm glad for them. With gritted teeth I will smile for them and the rose-tinted life they lead. I do not want them to know this pain. And I will barter my forgiveness of their lack of understanding for the gift of no future grief in this family.
If I could. If only I could.
How do you feel about the person you were before loss arrived in your life? Do you miss that person? Would you have that person back? How do you feel about people who have not experienced loss and their world view? Has it changed over time, have you become more or less tolerant about ignorance of loss?
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?
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?