Innocuous comments, injustice and the heart of judgement

The kids are back at school after holidays. Inevitably parents comment either on the relief they feel when their darlings head back to school or they lament that the holidays just aren’t long enough.  And nobody is happy about making school lunches.

Little comments: meaning nothing to most, a knowing laugh to some and heartache to a minority.  It’s hard to explain how throw away comments can hurt a bereaved mother’s heart.  How it can take hold as an aching wish.  I wish that was what I had to complain about.

I remember hearing complaints of rough nights from newly minted mothers after losing Xavier.  I didn’t begrudge them the complaint.  I knew how hard it could be.  I just wished that it was my complaint.   I would be up at 3am, searching Facebook and online forums for some comfort, and there would be the mothers of little babies online, passing the time as they fed or rocked their safe little ones to sleep.  And it would be so hard not to resent it, even when I understood it.  And there would always be the creeping judgement.  If my Xavier were still here, I would not complain.

These little comments fray away at the heart but  the truth is there is more jealousy than judgement. At the end of the day, you know that your friends love their children.  Comments might lead you to believe that things are taken for granted.  But that is the beauty and naivety of life before loss.  And the beauty of life after loss is knowing the precise, precious weight of every breath your child takes.

If throw-away comments can fray the heart, news articles about child abuse and neglect can drive a dagger through it.   The complete unfairness of horrific parenting being rewarded with more children whilst loving parents have their babies ripped away.  The inner judge roars with the injustice of it all.  And yet I cannot tear myself away from those terrible stories.  I know I am not the only bereaved mother cursed with this macabre curiosity – many of the horrific stories I read, I have been led to by other mothers missing their children.   And as I read those terrible, terrible stories, the tears I cry for the little ones hurt are as much for Xavier and I as they are for the lost.   If that child were to die at the hands of their parents anyway, why weren’t they taken by SIDS?   If a child was to suffer torture and murder at their hands of their parents in any case, why not take them as a tiny baby?  Sacrifice them to the statistics of SIDS and spare them the pain.  Spare my family the pain.

As much as we like to talk about karma and what comes around goes around, the world doesn’t work like that.  Losing a child is not a punishment for a crime.  Keeping a child is not a reward for outstanding parenting.  Some little ones suffer through out their whole childhood, against all odds they survive and some even thrive.  Some little ones are given nothing but love and comfort and they cannot survive a nap.  Each of us has a journey and a story.  Some stories seem to be shorter than others, but they are no less powerful.

There is little fairness and at the same time I cannot complain about fairness.  In the space of time I have carried and borne two children, I know those that have yet to fall pregnant.  I know those that have lost a child and have been told that they will not have another.  I know those that yearn desperately with their mother hearts to hold their own baby, but never will. I know that despite saying a premature goodbye to Xavier, my family and I have been incredibly blessed.

So where does it all lead to?  I suppose, it’s about letting go.  I accept the world is unfair but that does not mean I should be blinded to its beauty.  I do not understand why some things happen, but I can stop trying to unravel the unfathomable.  I can try to let go of a judging heart and remember the words of a wise prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Easter – when love triumphs

Easter is approaching. The time of the year we celebrate love and life triumphing over death. Even in it’s pagan incarnation Easter is about welcoming the spring, a time of growth and newness. A time for birth and rebirth. The tender shoots of hope finally peeking through the cover of desolate winter.

After Xavier died, I wished for resurrection. When people would describe Mary as a grieving mother my heart would harden a little. For she had her son returned to her. She was given the miracle every bereaved parent begs for. Xavier was never returned to me in a physical sense, but the lasting relationship we share is a form of love triumphing over death.

In the yoga class I attend with Elijah, our instructor will often tell us to take a moment to nourish the bond between mother and child – the most un-breakable of all bonds. Whenever she says that, my mind wanders to Xavier. The bond between baby and mother cannot be severed. Not even by death. I was robbed of the physical relationship I had with Xavier by SIDS. But I could choose how much was stolen. The heavy burden of grief and the constant longing for what could have been threatened our continuing relationship. It took time to nurture and navigate a different kind of parenting but I am learning. I feel him close.

There are beautiful people and purposes in my life that would not have come to me if it wasn’t for Xavier. For a while I would question my attitude towards them. That I could not feel gratitude for things that existed due to Xaviers death. I feel differently now – a slight change of perspective. The positive things in my life that have come about because of Xavier are part of my relationship with him. They are not causally linked to his death, but rather his life, lived in the short span granted to us. There are so many beautiful things in my life because of him – not because he died, but because he was here. I do not believe that as a parent you can every truly accept the death of your child. Acceptance is popularly heralded as the last hurdle of grief. I do not think it is true. I think you reach a stage when you integrate the death of your child within your heart and your life. Where you can come to a point of resolution. For me, it was when the magnitude of love I hold for my son finally over-shadowed the magnitude of my pain. That took time and it took hope and it took faith.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is Love.

I hope Easter brings you all three and the last in copious amounts.

The Photos

The other night I was trawling through photographs on my computer for a little project. Finding snapshots of each of the boys at various ages. Little Isaac, so tiny as a newborn. Xavier, the few I have him, treasured and precious. The literally thousands I have of Elijah, as though I could preserve his life through capturing each moment.

Looking at your older children’s baby photos is always bitter-sweet, no matter what your experience. Gazing back with misty eyes on a baby-hood that will never repeat itself. Isaac’s sweet curls at 2 years old, his beaming smile at 1 year, his look of utter pride as he held both Xavier and Elijah for the first time. And as I looked through those photos, I could see Elijah in the photos of Isaac at eight months. Both boys full of cheek and joy. Sometimes I see echoes of the boys in each other, but nothing as poignant as a photo of Isaac with the same smile as Elijah. And I will never have that with Xavier. I will never know who he would have looked like at eight months, at one year, at two. I will never get to look back with misty eyes at once was – a joyful kind of melancholy.

Photos of Xavier are precious and suspended in time. They speak of what was, but never what will be. There is no nostalgic reverie attached to them. There is only longing. What kind of little boy would Xavier have been? Active and quick thinking like Isaac? Would he have spread joy the way Elijah does? I will never know that version of Xavier.

There is a folder within a folder within a folder on my computer labelled, “Xaviers last day”. No one aside from me has seen those photographs. I find myself looking at them from time to time. The most poignant are of each of our family and dearest friends giving Xavier goodbye kisses. At the conclusion of his hurried and cobbled-together baptism, each person silently bent over his hospital cot and bade him farewell. His little body, supported by machines, unresponsive as the last rites of love were bestowed on him. His baptism was one of holy water and tears. I look at the faces in those photos, drawn and pale. Everyone looks ten years older than they are. Grief and devastation bearing down on each of us. I look at Xavier. His tiny body intubated, hovering between life and death. But mostly I am drawn to the huddles that are inevitably in the out-of-focus background of each picture. Arms and hands entwined and each of us helping the other to stand.
These photos aren’t easy to look at yet I am glad I have them. They are powerful and true. They will never hang on a wall or grace a photo album but they will remain, a testament to strength and love and family.

In a world awash with images, in the share-happy culture of Instagram, these kinds of photos don’t really have a place. But they are precious and important. A photo doesn’t gain value by the number of people who see it. It’s value lies in how deeply it touches you. No photographs will ever touch me in quite the same way as the ones taken of Xavier. And photos of my living boys will always touch me in a different way because of Xavier. Forever remembered.