Working through it – a forever journey

This past weekend has been charged with emotion.  I was given the very great privilege of speaking at a grief conference about Xavier.  As someone who has always enjoyed public speaking, I relish those opportunities.  They mean I can talk about my son with people who truly want to listen.  They mean that Xavier’s name is known by more people.  They give me an opportunity to mother my son in a very public way.  Not only did I speak about Xavier, his death and the wake of it, but my mother and a dear friend spoke.  I knew that their words would affect me much more than speaking my own truth.  And they did.  The cumulative effect of three different perspectives on one loss was very powerful and there certainly wasn’t a dry eye in the room.   Yet, I still found it cathartic.  The tears that flowed were healing ones and the gifts that both my friend and mother gave me through their words and their grief, profound.   Those in attendance thanked me for my words and called me “brave” and “amazing”.   I didn’t really feel I was either of those things – but rather just mothering my baby in the best way I know how.

The following day at the same conference I was part of a panel talking about first responses and responders to child death.  There were paramedics, policemen, counsellors and myself, representing parents.  I didn’t really prepare myself for this panel – I thought I would be fine.  Talking about Xavier brings me more joy than tears, even when talking about the hard stuff.  So I was surprised to find myself feeling flat and confused when that session ended.   The paramedics were beautiful souls, world weary and the kinds of eyes you could immediately tell had seen too much.  Even when they used their clinical terms, that medical mask, you could sense a sadness.  The police officers were kind and spoke measured words.  They talked about the heart breaking balance between being an advocate for the child, assisting the parents, assisting the coroner and doing it all within limited resources.  They too had a certain heaviness about them.   I had painted them in my mind as professionals that donned hardened hearts to protect them against the realities of their jobs, but the horror of child loss is sharp enough to pierce even that armour.  They were human and raw and real.  And I wasn’t quite prepared for that.

I was able to ask the paramedics are few questions.  I have always wondered about those that were able to help us.  Whether they went home knowing what Xavier’s fate would be.  Or whether they clung to the chance of a miracle.  Whether they shook off that early morning or whether it stayed with them.  The paramedics at the conference explained that they rarely find out what happens after they attend a scene – that they rarely get that closure.  That all too often one critical situation rolls into another, before they barely have time to process it.  I gave each of the men a hug, a thank you in lieu of being able to pass that gratitude to those present that morning.

The paramedics also said that they didn’t trade in false hope.  They only attempted resuscitation if they thought there was a chance of life returning.  To know that Xavier was that close, that the gap between him staying and leaving so very narrow startled me anew.  I know how SIDS works.  I know that there have been babies that have died by SIDS literally in their mother’s arms.  That the mechanism that stops working in SIDS babies cannot be revived through resuscitation.  Yet at the same time, it had me wondering yet again, what if I had woken just ten minutes earlier.  For the most part I have given up on what ifs, they are not helpful on this journey.  But with this new bit of information, they snuck back in again.

When I find myself in the darker places of grief, the places I thought I had left long ago, I set time aside and I do something creative for Xavier.  I remind myself that he has his story, I have mine and we have our relationship.  And I do something to nurture that relationship.  I created a text butterfly for him, and I will share how I did that in separate post.

Xavier

Grief can take us by surprise, but as with all things within this journey, we can choose what we do when she does so.  Love and Light.

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The things that stay the same – Mothering after loss

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Motherhood is a strong bond.  Not even death can sever it.   And there are certain things about mothering a child no longer here that are exactly the same as mothering a living child.  I wanted to write a list of them.  To provide comfort to those also missing their children.  To let those that surround the grieving know how important this most invisible of motherhood remains.

1. You love them a little more each day
The first moment I held Isaac, I could not imagine my heart could accommodate any more love.  I was bursting with it.  But each day went on and each day I woke up surprised to find I loved him a little more.  It was the same with Xavier and now with Elijah.  But loving them a little more daily does not cease with death.  Every morning after Xavier left, I loved him more than the day before.  In particularly that first year, where the mounting love seems exponential is its growth.  That love that begins when you learn you are pregnant, expands with each scan, each kick, swells when you hold them for the first time, grows each time you even think of them.  It does not go away.  I do not miss him less each day, I miss him more.  I do not love him less each day, I love him more.  And this is perhaps the crux of why it takes a very long time to arrive in a place of peace after losing a child. The passing days do not take away the hurt.  For the first few months, they only added to it.  Just as I do his brothers, every day I love Xavier a little more.

2. You worry about them
I worry about Xavier.  Worry if he is happy.  Worry where he is.  In the early days of grief I felt that if I just knew where he was, just knew he was okay, the pain would be so much more bearable.  I worried about burying him.  That he would be alone at nights.  I worried about leaving him in the hands of the funeral home.  Worried that they would treat him tenderly.  I worry that others won’t treat his memory as gently as I do.  As he has grown, and my understanding of him has changed, I worry less.  But, just as I do with his brothers, I will always worry about him.

3. Sibling rivalry and jealousy still exist
Whenever I make Xavier something, Isaac wants me to make him one too.  The Christmas after Xavier died, I made him a stocking and Isaac immediately wanted one.  If I buy a toy or ornament for Xavier’s grave, Isaac wants one for himself.  There are some things that bind brothers, no matter how far apart they reside.  They will always be brothers, and they will always demand the fair share of my attention.

4. You get mother guilt
I often feel that I am not a perfect mother to Isaac and Elijah.  I sometimes watch other parents and I am concerned that I am not measuring up.  I have guilt about certain decisions.  I watch other bereaved parents and they way they honour their children.  Through amazing creativity.  Through inspirational fund-raising.  Through words and deeds.  And I wonder if I am doing enough.  But how can we ever feel we are enough for our children?  I will never reach it for Isaac or Elijah.  And I won’t for Xavier.  Because I want to be perfect for them, and I am imperfect.

5. You are proud of them
Every parent is proud of their children.  I so love watching new parents with their firstborn.  The absolute pride is tangible.  They are walking a well-trod path but they act like the first people to discover how amazing starting a family is.  I know we did.  Parents want to share photos, tell stories about their children.  It is no different when your child lives somewhere you cannot go.  I share photos of a beautiful, living Xavier.  But there are those whose only photos of their precious ones are after they had passed.  How privileged I feel when I get to see those photos and share not in that parent’s grief, but in that parent’s pride.  I feel proud of what Xavier has accomplished through his journey.  Each of my boys will do amazing things that will make my heart soar with pride – the two on earth and the one in heaven.

I parent each of my boys according to who they are and what they need.  But I will always be mother to each and love them to eternity.

A little bit of a light (sabers)

My dear friends who read this blog often tell me they need to seek out a quiet corner and a box of tissues before reading my posts.  Whilst I want to write my heart and stay true, I also want to let some light in occasionally.  Light as in sunshine and light as in not quite so heavy.  So this post will need neither tissues nor a quiet corner.   This post is about Isaac’s first weeks at school.

We have chosen to send Isaac to a Catholic school but we are those kinds of Catholics.  The only services Isaac has attended are weddings, baptisms, and yes, a funeral.   In attempt to cover up our deficiencies, I thought I’d get Isaac to learn the school prayer.  My dear friend and co-school mum gently suggested that starting at the sign of the cross might be more appropriate.  At our first assembly half the prep class signed themselves proficiently and the other half had absolutely no clue (Isaac included).  I realised she was right.  Isaac has made up for his signage deficiencies by learning an extraordinary amount of songs about God in a short time.  These songs can only be sung at the top of ones lungs.  Apparently.   But our need to attend church more regularly was spectacularly highlighted this morning.   Isaac looked at me quite seriously and said “Mum, at school we say ‘peace be with you’ to the teacher when we say good morning,  but in Star Wars they say ‘may the force be with you’.  Can I say ‘may the force be with you’ instead?”  Ummm, no Isaac, probably not.

Isaac seems to have decided that school is a chance to hatch cunning schemes.   This week they are learning about kindness and getting rewarded for kind behaviour by earning jelly beans.  Isaac is very close with another little boy in his class, whom I will call J.  He tells me that he and J have devised a scheme where they pretend they don’t have a friend, the other then comes over to be a friend and voilà – a jelly bean.  I tell Isaac, “but you are still being kind to one another.”  Isaac replies, with a knowing smile, “Yes, that’s what the teacher thinks too.”

Today being Valentines day, Isaac wanted to make a valentine for a little girl in his class with whom he has struck up a friendship.  I asked her name.  “I’m not sure,” said Isaac, “but it’s not Jasmine.  She’s very tall.”   So we set about making a Valentine for Not-Jasmine (who is very tall).  It was delivered this morning and Isaac was rewarded with a very big smile from Not-Jasmine.

Isaac also made me my very first bead and straw necklace the other day.  I was overcome with pride as I wore it and nearly burst when he told me, “I found the biggest heart I could because that’s how much I love you.”

Our start to school has been funny and fun.  There have been some tears but more laughs and I am looking forward to many more.

When the family tree has fallen leaves

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This week Isaac’s prep class is discussing family.  It makes perfect sense.  It’s accessible and universal for four to five year olds.  It lends itself to numeracy and literacy concepts whilst  paving the way for discussions about diversity.   It allows children to learn that families come in different shapes and sizes.  It makes perfect sense.  Unless the shape of your family includes a large heart-shaped hole.

When the prep newsletter came home, stating that the coming week would include discussions about family, I talked to Isaac.  I told him it was up to him if he wanted to share Xavier with his class.   For me personally, sharing Xavier has became an issue with varying shades of grey.  There are times I choose to remain silent about him.  Not to deny his existence, but to protect his memory.  I have become more select regarding who has the privilege of knowing my son.

But when I told Isaac he had a choice, he looked at me in that way only five year olds can and said, “Of course I will include Xavier.  He’s my brother.”    And I was reminded of the black and white world children live in. There was never any question in his mind.  My concerns are not his concerns.

I worry about him having something in his life that sets him apart from the other kids. I worry about him being ostracised or people not believing him.  I worry that he will be perceived in a certain light due to his history.  I am angry that he even has to deal with something most adults would struggle with.  I am concerned that Xavier’s story will be taken home by a child and it will become sensationalistic talk over a stranger’s dinner table.  From a selfish point of view, I am worried about people I do not know learning about Xavier and making inevitable judgements before they even have a chance to meet our family.

Yet Isaac takes it all in his stride.

And I am quietly confident the children in his class will too.  Children have a beautiful and amazing way of bringing things into their simplest and purest form.  Isaac will simply say that he has a brother in heaven.

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When Isaac came home the other day, he said used a wonderful turn of phrase – that the class were “celebrating” each other’s families.   That he chose to celebrate Xavier.  And that’s a beautiful thing, because Xavier is worth celebrating.

The endless pursuit of Happiness

I am not sure when it happened, but somehow we have arrived at a place in time where happiness has become our birth right and everyone else’s expectation.  Joy is the perceived equilibrium.  Happiness is not a high on a scale of human emotions, happiness is apparently where our feelings should sit the majority of the time.  Countries are measured by the happiness of their inhabitants, we are constantly admonished try to be happy and if we aren’t wearing our gleeful faces, someone is likely to ask you what’s wrong.

I am a positive person.  I would say that I am genuinely happy for a good percentage of the time.  But through grief, my own and watching others, I have learned how violently this particular society reacts against emotions other than happiness.   No matter what has occurred, not matter how tragically a life has been turned on it’s head, happiness remains the goal to aspire to.  You are allowed a brief pause in sadness but dwelling there is self-pitying behaviour.  The expectation is to “buck up”, “count your blessings” and “try to be happy”.  

Trying to “jolly” some-one when they are in grief is not helpful.  Some-one very close to a person who is grieving died.  It’s okay for them to be completely devastated by that.  It’s okay for that devastation to reach into weeks, months and years.  It’s okay for them not to be happy.  We seem terrified that “not happy” is a quick and slippery slide into the realms of deep depression and even suicide.   We seem so very scared of emotions that we are taught are not positive.  Yet we are all human.  We are all capable of huge ranges of emotion.  Our hearts have great reach, perhaps even more so when they are broken.  

We need to be as comfortable with tears as we are with laughter.  We need to accept there are situations that we cannot “fix” but that company and silence would go some way to mending.   Sometimes we need to be okay with not okay.  It goes against the grain of our modern world, but we need to make room for sadness.