“Is he your first?” “How many children do you have?” “Does he have any brothers or sisters?”. Innocuous questions. Until you are grieving mother. Then they become the questions you dread. The questions that can leave you gasping, even when you have a well rehearsed answer.
“He is my third son,” I answer with confidence and hope and pray no more questions follow. But of course they do. Because the natural thing to ask is how old. To comment on the chaos three little boys would inevitably bring. And then I have to share Xavier’s story. And suddenly a superficial exchange has been thrown somewhere entirely different. Somewhere uncomfortable. They make apologies. I make apologies. I have shifted in their eyes. I have exposed a tender wound. I have become to object of pity.
Before losing Xavier and learning a great deal about myself, I used to think I had come to a place in my life where I was no longer jealous. In my early twenties, as I watched friend after friend get engaged, jealousy consumed me in an entirely unhealthy way. I believed that by the time I was thirty, I had let that go. I watched dear friends build the houses of their dreams and I was so happy for them and surprised at my own lack of envy. After Xavier’s death I learned some things about who I truly was. I was not jealous, until they had something that I truly wanted and didn’t have – two living sons. I did not tend towards jealousy, but I didn’t mind one bit if people were jealous of me. In fact, I believe I courted it. And to be object of the flip-side of that – to have people pity me. To have people think “Thank God that wasn’t me”, was foreign and uncomfortable. I am still not comfortable with it. And, at least in my mind, it is a natural reaction to Xavier’s story.
When someone learns for the first time that we lost a son to SIDS, I am thrown right back to the beginning again. As they absorb what I have said, I watch their face change. They have not accompanied me in the past year’s journey. They don’t know where I am in this grief. It has hit them anew, and I am taken back there with them.
I am proud to be Xavier’s mother. I always will be. I am happy to be defined as his mother. I sometimes struggle to be defined as his grieving mother. It feels like a terrible betrayal, but I am yearning for spaces in my life where I am not recognised as a grieving mother. Spaces where I can pretend, even for a short while, that I am just as everyone else is. People ask me how many children, and I find I am now being more evasive – “I have a four year old at home”.
But this presents me with a challenge. Am I betraying a greater truth by not always proudly owning the mourning mamma persona? Do I add to the taboo around talking about child loss? Am I blindly perpetuating the myth that we are all happy, shiny people? So often when I do open up about Xavier, people tell me something they are struggling with. That window of opportunity would not exist without my first revealing my greatest hurt.
What is my responsibility to Xavier? To the community of grieving hearts? To the wider community? To my own soul and what I need? How much do I always need to reveal? I am still working through these questions.
But this I know – even as mother to living children, I need spaces aside from the mummy persona. Spaces to create, to think, to be. Recuperative space where I am nothing more or less than the bare bones version of myself. And perhaps, this is what I yearn for when I say I need space away from being a grieving mother.