The days belonging to him

Late June in Brisbane and the days are brilliant. Chilly mornings giving way to bright sunshine skies. The air and the wind and the way the grass smells unlocking memories of him. These days when he shared the earth.

Come the 6th July the other memories will come. Unwelcome and unbidden. The moments that stole him away replayed in my mind. But for now, I am not thinking on that. I am remembering those two weeks he was here.

Recalling the smell of him and the soft peach fuzz of his hair. Memories I thought I had lost but that are carried in the air late June. I remember the cosy fog of the first few days. Sleep deprived and elated. That excited, bewildered, other-worldly place that belongs only to parents of the very newly born.

I remember proudly showing him off, so new and tiny. I remember friends holding him and drinking in his freshly bloomed loveliness. I remember fighting through a fog of sleepiness and taking him to meet his cousins one evening despite a day full of activity. Oh, I am so glad I did.

I remember feeling content and whole.

I remember gazing at him in adoration and asking my husband the most rhetorical of parental questions – isn’t he beautiful?

I remember the way he breathed a little too heavily and the midwife who worried and the doctor who did not.

I remember nursing him and thinking I’d give him the world. I remember calling him “my little love, my turtle dove”. I remember him curled up, cuddled into Ns chest, oblivious to the world as he slept. I remember singing him silly little songs and tracing his features as he slept.

Not so long ago, I was unable to recall these simple things. They would have been a dagger in my broken heart. But today, as the sun reached out and touched the grass, offering respite from the wind’s chill, the memories came flooding back. And I could accept them with open arms and be thankful for the 14 days he graced the earth.

A different kind of Birthday

How do you celebrate a birthday for a person that you can no longer see?

Invitations
There will be no carefully curated list of people who will share in your birthday.  No beautiful invitations to send to friends and family.  But there are those that will accept the unwritten invitation to share in your birthday and remember you.  Those that miss you too. Those that grieve with us.

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Decorations
There will be no balloons and streamers hung.  No theme will define your day.  But I have made this hanger. It reminds me of you and it decorates your brother’s room.

 

 

 

PresentsImage
You won’t unwrap a train set, or open your eyes to find your first bicycle.  You won’t be spoiled by those that love you with earthly gifts. But I made you this prayer flag, as I have done in the past and will do each year.  It is my gift to you and yours to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Songs
I won’t sing you happy birthday.  There will be no chorus of hip, hip, hooray.  But I wrote you this poem.

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Candles
There won’t be two candles atop a cake.  You won’t try to blow them out with your baby breath.  But I will light a candle for you and others might too.

Birthday
There won’t be a birthday party tomorrow as others might know it.  But I feel your birthday to the very depths of my bones.  A birthday is for letting someone know how much you love them.  And I love you forever, my baby boy still.

The Changing Tides of June – grief coming up to the second birthday of my son

Imagine learning a new language.  Struggling to wrap your mind and tongue around strange combinations of sounds.  Frustrated when you cannot make yourself understood in your adopted language.  Elated when you finally manage to string a sentence together.  And then, almost without realising, you are fluent in this language.  It has become an intrinsic part of you and sometimes you even find yourself forming thoughts in this once foreign tongue.  Then imagine waking one day, finding you can barely remember more than a few words.  Your mind grasps for the sentences that once flowed easily and comes up with …. nothing.  

Lately, this is how grief has felt.  June is here and some days bite with more ferocity that others.   I find myself back in places I thought I had left far behind.  Grief is not a linear journey.  It does not follow neat and logical stages.  It is circular and that is frustrating.   I have worked hard to get to a comfortable place in my grief.  I have tried to integrate Xavier into my life in a positive way.  I have deliberately pulled myself away from wallowing. I have strived to be in the best place I can be.  And here I am, despite all that work, feeling very much like I did after we first said Goodbye.  I have lost my fluency.  
 
The other day, as I was preparing dinner, I had to mentally cheer myself on.  Cut the carrots.  Good.  Now put the water onto boil.  Great – see you can do this.  This was a tactic I have not had to employ since the very early stages of grief.   The need to take things very slowly and deal with every second as it comes and on its own terms.  The need to exert an enormous degree of energy on seemingly simple tasks.  I was reminded of why grief can be so very draining.
 
 
What terrifies and fascinates me is how little control I have over the way my mind works.  It has tucked away these dates like land mines and as the months tred upon June and July, they explode.  They blow me back.   They take me into the darker places.  Where rage simmers and the emotions that I believe I can control threaten to consume me.   I find myself balanced on a knife’s edge.
 
I berate myself for being like this.  I have a beautiful family who need me, no matter what month it happens to be.  Xavier’s death left a hole, but at times it feels like I am the only one who sees it.  My life was changed by his leaving, and my life stayed exactly the same after he left.  In many ways, I feel that I do not have permission to still grieve violently.  That I should put away a portion of Xavier’s birthday to be sad and get on with every thing else.  Seize control and beat grief back into its Pandora’s box.  But grief defies this quaraintine – it does not stay neatly in one aspect of my life.  It bleeds into others.  Grief does not care that I need to make school lunches or attend a birthday party.  It marches stridently across my heart and demands my attention.
 
And I will have to deal with it.  I know enough of grief and her relentless tide that she will not be beaten back.  The waves will gain and gain until they crash.  But even as I do, I know that gentler days and a calmer ocean will come again. As much as grief is a circuitous and messy business, I think I know my way back to gentleness.   I might find myself back in places I had left behind, but the hard work has not, cannot, be for nought.  I have toiled to lay the tracks I need to get myself back.   My hard-won language has not been lost and I have only been temporarily rendered mute.

Everything I need to know I learned from my kids

Most parents agree that they learn more from their kids than they ever teach. Today I was reflecting on the lessons my kids are currently teaching me.

From my dear five year old Isaac:
The world is full of friends you haven’t met yet I think every parent has marvelled at the ability of children to instantly make friends in the playground. Isaac never worries whether he will be accepted. He assumes that everyone wants to play with him. He doesn’t analyse the situation and if someone doesn’t want his friendship, it’s accepted with a shrug and viewed as their loss. He doesn’t ask much of these friends. Just to have a good time within the moment shared. There is no sting, no anguish and a world of possibility. He does not complicate things that are not complicated.

My dear little Elijah: Celebrate your wins and don’t compare yourself to others Elijah has an adorable, completely non-conventional crawl. One leg remains curled underneath him whilst the other extends out, acting as a sort of rudder as he manoeuvres himself around. It is effective but it doesn’t look like everyone else’s crawl. When he gets from point A to B, a broad smile of pure joy and pride beams across his face. He doesn’t compare himself to others. He doesn’t fret about being different. He doesn’t frustrate himself by wondering why he can’t crawl like someone else. He doesn’t need to restrain petty jealousy as he watches another baby his age crawl or walk. He just loves what he has achieved. He celebrates his successes with conviction and without comparison.

My dearest Xavier has probably taught me the most. But of all his lessons, one of the largest is about our incredible resilience as human beings. We can survive the impossible. We can rise above what tries to drag us down. The only limits we have are those we build ourselves. Xavier, as a baby, was fragile. A hidden fragility that meant he slipped away during sleep. But he too is resilient. His name has not been forgotten and love for him still abounds. If we choose, we do not need to be limited. The human spirit is far more powerful than we ever dare dream. And sometimes, it takes a human spirit to remind us.

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The incomplete, complete family

Before my world shattered and my beliefs were turned on their axis, I was a firm believer in two children.  I never thought I would have to specify two living children.  I felt two children was socially, economically, logistically and environmentally responsible.  Replace yourselves. Mimimise your footprint.   In the same idealist and naive manner, I assumed that when I did have children, I would fall pregnant easily, carry blissfully, have empowering births and enjoy the baby years as the best of my life.  And that all my friends and family would enjoy the same experience.  Sometimes it seems like everyone pays a price on this journey called motherhood, and my price was an exceptionally high one.  As though the good fortune I had experienced with pregnancy, birth and babyhood stacked so high that it was destined to topple.

My white-picket fence dreams have been smashed to smithereens.  My logical approach defeated.  Because families are not logical.  They are messy and wonderful and frustrating and beautiful and they defy reason.  We go back and have more children.  Even when the baby is still crying, when the toddler is still tantrum-ing and the mother is wondering when she last had two minutes to herself.  We go back.  It defies all reason.  There is the biological imperative and there is something else.  Even when we doubt the car or the house, our hearts that will always, always accommodate more children. And once opened, they never contract.  Our babies can leave us, but the expanded heart remains.

After we said goodbye to Xavier, I came across a number of bereaved families that had gone on to have numerous children after loss.  At the time I wondered whether they were trying to mend broken hearts with babies.  After having Elijah, I no longer think that.  I think tragedy changes your priorities.  I think the importance of family grows.  I think things that seemed scarily impossible no longer seem so.  I think that in the face of surviving the death of your child, anything is possible.  I think the noise and the joy of children is the most healing of all music.

Our family feels complete and incomplete.  I do not think there are any more children.  There will always be an aching void, but it is an Xavier-shaped hole that cannot be filled by anyone else.   And with that realisation, comes a little grief of its own.   I think every woman probably feels a pang when the realisation hits that there will be no more babies.  No more pregnant bellies and pushing kicks.  No more euphoric, inexplicable, indescribable moments of joy as a newborn babe is first put to your breast.  That the intense intimacy of caring for a newborn will never occur again.  

But I know that there are even more wonderful adventures to look forward to.  That the priceless moments all three of my children give me are abundant.  That my future will be full of them.   And that is a bright future.

The Weight of June

My heart knows the dates are coming.  Before I turn my mind to them, my heart is already aching.   The unbearable weight of June.  Suddenly, I am carrying a heaviness I thought I had banished.   In the very thick of grief, I felt like I was surrounded by a viscose tide.  Everything was an effort.   Every little thing met with resistance.  I pushed through it, hoping that the other side would be easier.  I pushed against the heaviness that weighed against my heart.  And I remember being so very tired from the effort of it all.  

It eventually lifted – that thick fog of grief.  But I can feel it, insidiously and un-beckoned, sliding itself back into my life.   The 24th June will mark two years since Xavier came into this world.  The 7th July, two years since he left it.  

My life is in a happy place right now.  I am blessed and continue to be blessed, but it is not enough to guard against the dates.  The violent grief comes unbidden.   That is the thing about grief – it is not a choice.   You can choose, to a degree, how you deal with it.  But the grief itself – that has a life of its own.   I have come to know it now – I can recognise it and I can feel the pull.  Yet, being forewarned is not enough to banish it.   It is at this juncture that I am faced with a choice – do I try desperately to turn the grief away, to turn my back on the tide, or do I accept it – let it wash over me and hope there is catharsis in doing so?  To be honest, I am fearful of either option.   I am not sure I want to sit with my grief – in all honesty, I want to be done with grief.  But, it seems, grief is not done with me.  

There is confusion and fear in the thick of grief.  I have sought solace and peace in a whirlwind life and when I finally eek out that time, I feel lost and alone without my boys nearby.  I want to push out at those who love me most, and I want to embrace them and never let them go.  I want to un-know what I have learned and I want to make the most of lessons hard-earned.   I want to go back to the innocent girl I was, I want to embrace the better woman I have become.  I want Xavier back in my arms, but not at the expense of his youngest brother.   I want to feel Xavier near and real, but I do not want the hurt that inevitably brings.  I want two years to mean that I can experience his birthday without pain.  I want to still feel close to him, even though it has been two years.

Xavier’s first birthday was peaceful – I was so very sad, but the tension was less.  I was filled with the hope pregnancy brings and I had the time, inclination and inspiration to do beautiful things for him.   This year, it feels like the tide of my life washes me further away from Xavier.  Which wave do I ride?  The grief, dark and insistent, lapping at my feet but with the promise of bringing Xavier nearer?  Or the current of a life that continues to take me further away from a much loved little boy?