The New Year

Last year I felt conflicted as the year changed. I had not expected it. I knew Christmas was going to be difficult and prepared myself but I was surprised by the gamut of emotions the change of year would bring. To say goodbye to 2012 was to say goodbye to the only year Xavier had ever known. The step into a new year felt like leaving him behind – a huge gulf of time ellipsed in a single moment. Throughout my grief I have been impatient for the next phase to start, for the pain to lessen and for healing – in that regard I was glad to leave the hurt of 2012 behind. Yet I could not bid the year “good riddance”. As much as it was the year that stole my son, it was also the year that gave him to me. It was a year that saw friends engaged and married. A year where other little ones with kinder futures were welcomed. There was still so much joy in that year. Newly pregnant, I was eager for the months to pass and the safe delivery of Xavier’s younger sibling. I was keen for the making of happier memories.
But even all of that felt like leaving Xavier behind and placing trust in an uncertain future. Last year, I stood on a precipice, took a deep breath and leapt.
One of the things I struggled with after Xavier’s death was that my happiest memories were behind me. That true joy would never visit me again. A dear and wise friend has said this about grief – the heart is the only vessel where the capacity for fullness is not diminished by its brokenness. And so it is. A broken heart can hold untold joy and love. I fact, a broken heart is an expanded heart. So if I feel utter joy, it is not because my heart is mended but rather its broken form holds more than it ever did before.
Now we stand on the precipice of another new year. A year I look forward to with hope in my heart and love in my soul. A year that will bring joy, and no doubt some tears. A year to laugh with my family, to kiss my boys and to hold them close. A year to learn, to embrace life and to spend time with those I treasure. Another year on this blessed earth. How wonderful. What a gift.


The power of “Me Too”

ImageWhen Isaac was only a few months old I joined my first mothers group.  I still remember the first meeting.  Each of us warily trying to gauge where we sat in this group of other first-time mums.  I was sure that they were all doing a better job than I was.   My little man, born a month too early, seemed behind in all of his milestones compared to the other babies.  In turn, each of them thought every other person in the room was confident – sailing breezily through motherhood.  It took a few catch ups, but eventually one of us was honest enough to admit it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.  A collective breath was let out and we all rejoiced in the universal mummy cry of “me too!”

For some reason, just knowing that you are not alone in what you are experiencing halves the anxiety.  Just knowing that there is a sister out there feeling exactly as you do lessens the isolation.  Comfort is drawn from the fact that the strange and terrifying things happening in your own life are nothing new.  That mothers before have walked the same path and mothers will surely follow your footsteps in the future.

When Xavier died, I craved “me too.”  People would say “I can’t imagine what you are going through.”  They were being kind, respectful – acknowledging the magnitude of the pain.  But part of me would think “Try – please try to imagine what I am going through –  I am so very lonely.”   Gradually, I met those that said “me too”.  Those who had also lost their precious children.   Our own little mother’s club brought together by a common pain and bound together by a common strength.  So often we say to each other “me too”.   Sometimes it takes bravery to articulate our current struggles.  In a group of fractured hearts, no-one wants to inflict further pain.  So we are cautious and tender with our words.  Stories will start “I don’t want to offend anyone.”  And yet whenever someone is brave enough to launch themselves off that particular cliff, the echoes come back.  “Me too!”  And there is another collective sigh of relief.

There are times, within our circles of mothers, that we might reveal something.  Something that took bravery to share.  And silence may greet our courage.  It does not make that struggle unique.  It just means that particular group hasn’t met that particular challenge yet.  Isaac is about to start school and he is nervous about it.   It took a little while before I found out that another friend’s little boy, similar in temperament to Isaac, was experiencing the same thing.   I had talked to other friends, who were sympathetic, but it was not something they were going through.   And it can feel like a mistake to be vulnerable when the “me too” you were hoping for becomes the chirping of crickets.  Suddenly, you feel on the outer.  The cosy camaraderie found with other mothers feels forced and faked.  The very thing you were hoping for – validation of your motherhood, assurance that you are doing okay – veers into the opposite direction.   But that vulnerability remains important.  Because we the power of “Me Too” only works when someone is brave enough to be vulnerable first.

So, mothers, let us continue to be honest and bare and brave with our hearts.  And if our hearts are not reflected back in the experience of our closest friends, let us not take that as failure but as diversity.   If our friend reveals something we cannot relate to at that moment, let us be gentle and understanding.  Support comes through collective experience, but it also comes through a kind word, an attentive ear and a non-judgemental heart.

When the hurting eases

There have been times in my grief that I have been jealous of the way others are grieving.  People who could forget for that split second before they fully woke that their lives had been shattered.  That little tiny window of innocent bliss.  That has never been my experience.  I would wake, every morning, fully aware of Xavier’s absence.  My dreams bereft of his presence.  There was no sharp blow each morning, there was a dull and continuing ache.   And then one morning I awoke, maybe two or three months after his death, and I felt nothing.   I probed at memories, like a child wiggling a tooth, coaxing the tears and the emotion back.  Nothing.  Not even an emptiness.  Just a complete absence of emotion.  I was perplexed.  Was this it?  Was I “over” my grief?  Was I “better”?   It was not until a few weeks later, after the tide of grief had pulled me back in, that I realised this was my mind giving my heart a rest.  Grief is incredibly exhausting, hard, tiring work.  It leaves little energy for other things and eventually, my body claimed the rest it so craved.  At the time, I couldn’t conceive how my intense grief had simply disappeared.  And it made me uncomfortable.  The tie to my son severed.  Yet another thing taken from me – another silent thief in the night. I found myself jealous of those who were clearly in the dark depths of pain.  I knew how bitterly that hurt, but at least it kept my son close.   I was not okay with this version of okay.

Now, I find myself in an entirely different phase of my relationship with Xavier.  And, surprisingly, it is okay.  It’s never going to be what I want it to be – but that goes without saying.  But, I can genuinely smile and laugh, without guilt.  Increasingly, I feel Xavier in the love and laughter of my family.  He has become one with that love – woven tightly into its fabric.   Christmas Day, my husband and I visited Xavier’s grave.  I waited for the inevitable rush of emotion.  Being thrown back to the day we buried him.  Wanting to hurl myself into the earth to be with my son.  That emotion didn’t come.  And as I stood, tinsel around tiny graves glistening in the sunshine, relentless heat searing the little christmas trees, I realised, Xavier was no longer there.   Xavier was back with my family.  He was around the Christmas tree.  He was the joy in the season. He was the hope in shiny, little eyes.  He was the promise in chubby little hands tearing at wrapping paper.

Is this healing?  Is this the resolution of grief?  Can I close a chapter or wrap everything up with a big, shiny bow?  I think it is healing – I think it is a changing relationship with my son and I think that’s a positive thing.  But I worry – how is that perceived?  Do people think I am okay with the fact my son died?  Do people think that I am stoic and brave?  I am okay.  But I am not sure if I am okay with being okay.  I am not okay with how being okay might be perceived.

We wade through grief, waiting desperately for the day when peace will be restored to our hearts.  But are we ever prepared to give up what might lead to that peace?

Little Xavier, as I think of you this Christmas season, I feel your comfort around our family.  I try not to think of you, eighteen months old, tumbling around the Christmas tree.  For that is not you.  That memory belongs to someone else’s child and motherhood.  To think of you that way is to invite pain.  Instead, I catch glimpses of you in the twinkling lights, in the shining eyes of your brothers, in the embraces of family and friends and the very essence of Christmas that I once thought was lost forever.  Merry Christmas little one.

And so this is Christmas….

Against all odds, it is December.  Mid-December at that.  The post that I had wanted to write since December first has been sitting on a shelf in my mind – perhaps accompanied by that ubiquitous little elf – whilst the world has spun around me.  The season of festivity.  The season of good will.  The season of busy, busy, busy.

Last year Christmas felt quiet.  There were things that we had previously done each and every year that were left undone.   Things were done that will probably only belong to Christmas 2012.  Each day, I did some small thing for Xavier.  An advent calendar in his memory.  Each day of December I spent time with memories, time with my cherished son.  I dedicated myself to him, to keeping his memory alive.  It seemed the only way I would live through Christmas.

This year is so different.  As if trying to make up for the traditions lost last year, we have immersed ourselves in Christmas.  There has been carolling and Christmas lights.   Decoration and present making.  There has been Christmas shopping at the actual shops (last year it was mostly done online).  There have been Santa photos taken.  Our house is full of singing.  The christmas tree seems more joyful.  Even the place in our house dedicated to Xavier seems a little brighter than last year.

And Xavier himself seems a little further away.   I do not want to repeat the latter months of 2012 – sometimes it is only in reflection that I can appreciate how truly dark those months were.  But, that pain did serve as a connection to Xavier.   The wound was open and weeping and he was there in such a visceral way.  He is still here, but his presence is quieter.  Perhaps overshadowed by the hustle and bustle.  He is in no way forgotten, but at times it feels like in leaving my pain behind, I have left him also.   There are times I imagine a tiny “mummy, what about me?” as I laugh with Elijah on my lap at Isaac singing carols at the top of his lungs.    And I have to remind myself, that Xavier is there – in Elijah’s smiles and Isaac’s giggles.

This Christmas I think of those facing their first December after loss.  It is truly one of the hardest times of the year.  The world around you so seemingly happy and you so sad and lonely.  Those that put on a brave face and continue in Christmas traditions for the sake of their living children – when all they want to do is hide and wake up in January.  Those that said good-bye to their only baby, confused and hurt, looking at “My First Christmas” onesies with tears in their eyes.  Those that have years of memories of Christmases with their child taken too soon – who feel their world shatter once again with each toy ad, every Christmas card, every department store Santa.

My first Christmas without Xavier was tear-stained but connected to him in a way that no other Christmas will be.  Even without him physically here, it truly was Xavier’s first Christmas.   It perhaps belonged to Xavier more than any of us.   If last year was almost exclusively about Xavier, this year is about our family.  Our three boys and each of their places in Christmas traditions.

For Christmas is a time of year when we can reflect on our loved ones – here and far away.   Each Christmas card I have received has acknowledged Xavier and the ones I (eventually!) write in return will also bear his name.  There are three stockings hung in our house – one for each son.  There are baubles and decorations for each of my babies hanging on the tree.  It is not a dedication to Xavier this year, but rather a family Christmas.  And Xavier is and always will be a part of our family.

Some of the ways I remembered Xavier last year.

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