Today

 

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Xavier’s birthday prayer flag

Of all the days, he chose today.  Today to wake in his own bed. It’s something to be celebrated. Something we’ve been encouraging. But this morning, of all mornings, I wanted him beside me. To breathe in his still faintly baby smell and to have his pudgy little hands grasp my cheeks.

His older brother didn’t come in either.  Deeply asleep in his room. There was no bounce to greet the day. If their middle brother had lived, there would be bounce. There would be presents and laughter and wrapping paper strewn every which way.

Instead, I go into the boys rooms. Hand softly on hearts. Checking that they are still breathing. Because today, of all days, I don’t presume a thing.

I have a shower and my thoughts unravel for the day. The cleaners are coming and my white, middle class guilt about that kicks in. Today I won’t tidy. Today they will have to manage around discarded train tracks. I think about the cost and then the cost of daycare that ostensibly allows me to work.  And whether any of it is worth it. I stop short of calculating my hourly wage. Fallen so far from corporate high flying. It’s dangerous territory when I’m feeling useless. When my thoughts are skating around the inevitable. I haven’t bought him a present yet. What sort of mother leaves it until her son’s birthday to buy a present? I try to tell myself to stop but my heart isn’t in it. There is a strong part of me that welcomes self destruction. Today, of all days.

I choose my clothes carefully. Which would seem odd to most people. But clothes have always been armour. I wear jewellery laden with meaning.  A necklace with his initial and foot print.  A butterfly brooch. I look in the mirror and I am old.  Tired and sallow.

My phone sits on the counter and I reach for it out of habit.  Today the tide of routine is what will keep me going.  There are so many messages. So many people remembering him. Tears fall. Not drought breaking but enough to give some relief. This day that has all the grief rolled onto it. So far from my everyday reality. There are only a handful of days I let myself cry. Birthday, Anniversary, Mother’s Day. I let the grief build and build and build and then the calendar demands its release. Today of all days.

This day. His birthday. Four years old and forever newborn.

It’s been a while – and you are still here.

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I haven’t written in this space for a very long time. But last night a poem came and I started thinking of you in ways I hadn’t before.

In the first depths of grief I felt charged with keeping your memory. That only I could keep you safe. That my role as your mother was to wrap the precious memories you left in tenderness and share them oh so very carefully. That my tears were proof of your life and what would be left if I stopped crying?

Now, I’m not sure that you are quite as fragile as I first thought. I talk to you and you are always there. I feel you, even when days have passed without turning my thoughts to you. Your presence hasn’t faded. It’s grown more constant.  Not so steeped in sadness.

Perhaps we both grew stronger.

The 3am poem……

It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since we talked.
A while since you prayed.
Been a while between fervent wishes,
That I could have stayed.

I know that you’ve been busy.
Life has carried you along.
And you only really cry now,
When the radio plays our song.

Sometimes you stop, you pause,
And then you look for me.
And oh the guilt you feel,
That life feels as it should be.

You thought you’d never get there,
You thought there’d always be an ache.
Because in the absence of hard grief
What shape do I take?

I am not made of your tears.
I am no distant memory.
I am real and I am solid.
There is a separate me.

Your sadness isn’t all of me.
Your grief is not my whole.
We have a deep connection.
But I’m an independent soul.

 

 

Forgive Me…

Sunflower-01Today is the hardest day of my year. The anniversary of my Xavier’s death. I have not done anything in particular to mark the occasion. But I feel sluggish and everything is weighted with difficulty. I sat in the sun with a dear friend. She was foggy with a bad cold, and I was foggy with grief. Just sitting was nice. Soaking up the sunshine that makes me think of my son.

I feel badly that I haven’t staged any grand gestures in his name. That there is only this heavy feeling. And so I wrote this poem. About how I feel on his anniversary. My every day is distanced from grief now. Most days would not guess me to be a parent of a child who died. But if you met me on the street today, you might guess something was wrong. I am not myself today. But, in other ways, I am my true self today.

Forgive Me

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
I don’t mean to be unpleasant,
Forgive me if I seem far away,
I’m not all together present.

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
If my smile and eyes seemed pained,
If I don’t know what to say,
and our conversation’s strained.

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
if I’m hesitant to smile,
It means a great deal that you stay,
And just sit with me for a while.

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
if I seem a little slow or dim,
most times I keep the grief at bay,
but today belongs to him.

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
You know it’s not an easy one,
Three years ago, to the day,
is when last I held my son.

****

His third birthday and an unwelcome guest: Anger

Tomorrow is Xavier’s birthday. He would be three. It’s hard not to think of the things I should be doing. Buying balloons, baking a cake, wrapping presents.

Instead, I stole a few moments to make him a prayer flag. I make him one ever year.

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I chose three hearts and three butterflies. Signifying the age he would he. Representing my three sons. It hangs, pure and white, against the aged flags that have fluttered on the balcony for so long now. They are yellowing and starting to become brittle. I like these changes. The way the flags evolve and change. The way Xavier never will.

I want to write him a poem, but the words that used to flow so easily are stilted now. Once upon a time he whispered poetry into my ear and I caught the words. He was so close. He feels bewilderingly far away.

The pain has eased. Because he does not occupy my every waking thought, life has returned to the safe harbours of normal. But birthdays are birthdays and anniversaries are anniversaries. They are tough. There is no opting out.

Every year is slightly different. This year I am angry. A new kind of angry. Not just angry that he died – that came to be the moment he left. Not just angry at myself for not protecting him – that anger was born when he took his last breath. But angry that I have to think about celebrating the life of a dead child at all. Angry that no matter how far I row away from grief, these dates will always draw me back. Angry that I am snapping at friends and parenting in absentia, as my mind wanders elsewhere. Angry that I apparently have no control over that. Angry that I want to spend time with him and on his memory, but that my busy life has robbed me of that time. Angry that I don’t just say NO to those other things and spent the precious time I can with my son. Angry that I am angry.

Angry that I am the mother of a dead child.

I don’t want to be angry. I want to be the best mother I can for all my sons. I want to remember my Xavier with love and devotion. I want to be tender and bereft, not angry and thrashing. I find conflict difficult. Even internal conflict.

My dearest boy, I love you still. Even when you feel far away, even when life seems to move away from you, even when there are days when my thoughts don’t wander to your side, even when the years place distance between us that I cannot bridge. I love you still.

The first funeral since Xavier’s

Order or Service_A5Friday I went to a funeral. The last funeral I attended was my son’s. My dear friend’s mother died recently. Stolen away much too quickly by lung cancer. I wanted to be there, to say good-bye to someone I had known since primary school and to comfort my friend. I had avoided funerals up to that point. Afraid that they would be too painful to bear. There were tears. For my friend. For her Mum. And, although I tried to avoid it, for Xavier.

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When grief comes unbidden

I was upset yesterday. As much as I tired, I could not keep the tears from falling. As much as I tried, I could not bring myself back from the brink. The tears were a disproportionate response to someone else’s actions.  I was with friends and embarrassed at the emotion I could not hold onto. The emotion that was unfairly spilling over into their afternoon.

In the objective light of the next morning, I understand the combination of factors that led to those tears.  Four hours of sleep the previous night. Four or five glasses of bubbles. A whole day dedicated to mother’s day, and in particular mothering boys. Hearing the heart break of another mother who has two boys with her and one in heaven. I was standing on an emotional ledge and it would have taken very little provocation to push me into tears.

The dark stain of grief no longer touches my every day.  In the early days after Xavier died, there would be good minutes amongst the bad. Then good hours amongst the bad. Eventually, good days between the bad. And that continued to stretch, until the good days outnumbered the bad. Nowadays, the bad days are far and few between. But they still hit. And the ferocity with which they hit does has not reduced exponentially in the same way that their frequency has. It’s one of the strange things about grief – you imagine that it continues to reduce, but it doesn’t – it flares.

Those flares can be dis-orienting. I find myself confused, searching for why my emotions are suddenly askew after a period of gentleness.  It always takes time for my head to catch my heart. And even as it dawns on me, it concerns me. I don’t want to use my grief as an excuse. I don’t believe that my grief over my son becomes a blanket excuse for bad behaviour.  I don’t want to use it as a cop-out. And I don’t want my friends and family to immediately assume that whenever I am emotional that it is tied to Xavier.

Grief is a double edged sword. On the one hand, I feel that I can survive anything after living through the death of my son. That nothing can touch me after that. That every other potentially upsetting thing fades into insignificance. On the other hand, when grief has left me raw, then I am emotionally vulnerable, unable to access the resilience that his death gave me.  It’s as though that heart scar has been pulled away, red and raw again, sensitive to the slightest touch.  At other times, that scar tissue has hardened to a point that I don’t even feel pressure against it.  But I don’t always know which emotional state I am in – sometimes the scar test is what reveals it to me. When mother’s day approaches, and with it birthdays and anniversaries soon after, I can presume a level of emotional tenderness.

And hope those around me understand.

The season of grief – Mother’s Day and beyond.

My beautiful Dad created this image of all three of my boys.

My beautiful Dad created this image of all three of my boys.

My annual season of grief has begun. It starts with the memories of two little boys whom I never met, but hold dear. March & April saw their respective anniversaries. I remember those two little boys always. But on the days belonging to them, I spent some time thinking about them and their dear mothers.

Since I lost Xavier, ANZAC day has gained a different kind of meaning. I remember the first ANZAC day after I lost Xavier. For the first time in my life, I did not think of the diggers and their sacrifices during the minute silence. I thought instead of their mothers, their children and the memories that would never be made. I thought about grandchildren who would never been born and worlds shattered that had to continue turning. I have no experience of a battle field. I don’t know what horrors lie there. I don’t pretend my grief is the same as the mother who loses her adult son to the bloody futility of war, but I know a little of that pain. I know how life cracks when a parent buries their child.

May holds Mother’s Day and duality of emotions. Elation that I get to celebrate my two boys on earth and an aching sadness for the one not here. Doubt as I receive presents heralding me as “World’s Best Mum”. For clearly, I am not. The World’s Best Mum would have saved her child. The happiest days can be the hardest. Pressure to be jovial for the children in your arms and pressure to grieve harder for the one not there. Always trying to make space for all three of them, and not always succeeding – they live on such different planes. Mother’s Day will see a six year old attempt breakfast, a nearly two year old smother me in kisses and a nearly three year old visited at a gravesite. Joy and hope and love and sadness all intermingled with an intensified poignancy that only occurs on certain days during the year.

June will see Xavier’s birthday and July will see his anniversary. Three years. How can that be? My tiny little baby, three years old. Three year olds are joy personified. They are full of verve and life. They are the antithesis of sadness. Three seems to have very little to do with my Xavier.  My forever newborn son.

In Australia, Mother’s Day is the second Sunday of May. It can be one of the hardest days in the year for a bereaved mother.

Here is what I have found helpful to get through it:

  1. If it’s important to you that your partner get you something on behalf of your child, let them know. I know you don’t want to have to do that, but it’s better than seething all day if it doesn’t happen. They may not realise how very important it is to you.
  2. Let another bereaved mother know that you are thinking of them. Carly Marie does a range of beautiful cards specifically for bereaved mothers.
  3. Set aside some time to spend with your child. Let your loved ones know that you need that time.
  4. Be prepared for the day to be hard. I am always surprised by how difficult Mother’s Day is.
  5. Step away from social media if seeing pictures of perfect families is all too much. You don’t have to torture yourself.

Be gentle with yourself this Mother’s Day.