It’s been a while – and you are still here.

photo (20)

I haven’t written in this space for a very long time. But last night a poem came and I started thinking of you in ways I hadn’t before.

In the first depths of grief I felt charged with keeping your memory. That only I could keep you safe. That my role as your mother was to wrap the precious memories you left in tenderness and share them oh so very carefully. That my tears were proof of your life and what would be left if I stopped crying?

Now, I’m not sure that you are quite as fragile as I first thought. I talk to you and you are always there. I feel you, even when days have passed without turning my thoughts to you. Your presence hasn’t faded. It’s grown more constant.  Not so steeped in sadness.

Perhaps we both grew stronger.

The 3am poem……

It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since we talked.
A while since you prayed.
Been a while between fervent wishes,
That I could have stayed.

I know that you’ve been busy.
Life has carried you along.
And you only really cry now,
When the radio plays our song.

Sometimes you stop, you pause,
And then you look for me.
And oh the guilt you feel,
That life feels as it should be.

You thought you’d never get there,
You thought there’d always be an ache.
Because in the absence of hard grief
What shape do I take?

I am not made of your tears.
I am no distant memory.
I am real and I am solid.
There is a separate me.

Your sadness isn’t all of me.
Your grief is not my whole.
We have a deep connection.
But I’m an independent soul.

 

 

Advertisements

The season of grief – Mother’s Day and beyond.

My beautiful Dad created this image of all three of my boys.

My beautiful Dad created this image of all three of my boys.

My annual season of grief has begun. It starts with the memories of two little boys whom I never met, but hold dear. March & April saw their respective anniversaries. I remember those two little boys always. But on the days belonging to them, I spent some time thinking about them and their dear mothers.

Since I lost Xavier, ANZAC day has gained a different kind of meaning. I remember the first ANZAC day after I lost Xavier. For the first time in my life, I did not think of the diggers and their sacrifices during the minute silence. I thought instead of their mothers, their children and the memories that would never be made. I thought about grandchildren who would never been born and worlds shattered that had to continue turning. I have no experience of a battle field. I don’t know what horrors lie there. I don’t pretend my grief is the same as the mother who loses her adult son to the bloody futility of war, but I know a little of that pain. I know how life cracks when a parent buries their child.

May holds Mother’s Day and duality of emotions. Elation that I get to celebrate my two boys on earth and an aching sadness for the one not here. Doubt as I receive presents heralding me as “World’s Best Mum”. For clearly, I am not. The World’s Best Mum would have saved her child. The happiest days can be the hardest. Pressure to be jovial for the children in your arms and pressure to grieve harder for the one not there. Always trying to make space for all three of them, and not always succeeding – they live on such different planes. Mother’s Day will see a six year old attempt breakfast, a nearly two year old smother me in kisses and a nearly three year old visited at a gravesite. Joy and hope and love and sadness all intermingled with an intensified poignancy that only occurs on certain days during the year.

June will see Xavier’s birthday and July will see his anniversary. Three years. How can that be? My tiny little baby, three years old. Three year olds are joy personified. They are full of verve and life. They are the antithesis of sadness. Three seems to have very little to do with my Xavier.  My forever newborn son.

In Australia, Mother’s Day is the second Sunday of May. It can be one of the hardest days in the year for a bereaved mother.

Here is what I have found helpful to get through it:

  1. If it’s important to you that your partner get you something on behalf of your child, let them know. I know you don’t want to have to do that, but it’s better than seething all day if it doesn’t happen. They may not realise how very important it is to you.
  2. Let another bereaved mother know that you are thinking of them. Carly Marie does a range of beautiful cards specifically for bereaved mothers.
  3. Set aside some time to spend with your child. Let your loved ones know that you need that time.
  4. Be prepared for the day to be hard. I am always surprised by how difficult Mother’s Day is.
  5. Step away from social media if seeing pictures of perfect families is all too much. You don’t have to torture yourself.

Be gentle with yourself this Mother’s Day.

 

The true things that people don’t see

Here are some things that are true:

  • I was pregnant for nearly nine months with Xavier. It was a happy and uneventful pregnancy.
  • I gave birth to Xavier. I birthed him and I held him and I cried as he was placed against me for the first time.
  • He lived for two little weeks. He fussed and he cried and he made me laugh.  He was held by a proud big brother.  He met family and friends.
  • I am a mother to three sons.

I felt like I had to write these things down. To make them feel concrete. Because so often, those facts seem unsubstantiated and unsubstantial. Paper thin. A mirage.

When people meet me for the first time, they presume I am a mother of two. People ask whether I will have a third child. There are only two little beds in our house. Two carseats. Two little heads that snuggle against me when I hold them. I hold two boys in my arms and three in my heart. I am a mother of three, appearing as a mother of two. And very often that appearance feels more real than the truth.

In the wake of Xavier’s death, I wanted to scream about his existence. I would tell anyone who would dare ask. He was so real to me. My life was so full of him. I felt I had to advocate doubly hard for the child no-one could see. He was the largest thing in my life for a long time and he could not be seen by anyone else. There was a large and painful hole in my life where my baby boy should have been. A gaping black hole that could swallow a person. But that hole started to close. I learned to experience him in different ways and that allowed me to miss him less. I think it was the missing that made the hole so large and angry and empty.

Sometimes it feels like my life has been cut into thirds. The girl before Xavier’s death. The girl in the wake of it.  The girl who emerged from the darkest of grief.  And it’s hard to grasp onto the girl before. It’s hard to think of those people as linear. They feel more like tangents.

My life now is full – it is not without pain – but for the most part I have no complaints. There are days when I miss him dreadfully – his birthday or anniversary – and there are days that I miss him for no other reason than he is gone. But I do not feel the pull of that dark hole anymore. And here I stand, a bereaved mother but no longer a heavily grieving one. A mother of three boys in a world that only sees two. And a fading memory of a tiny boy with peach fuzz hair and eyes like his great grandfather’s. His essence, who he is now, is alive and vibrant in my life but it is getting harder to recollect the tiny baby. And so it is with time. And so it is with grief.

Christmas and Regret: Did I give him enough?

Christmas WreathThe Christmas tree has been packed away. The lights have been stowed. Stockings no longer hang and wreaths have been taken down for another year. Christmas is well and truly over and I am a little sad. Not the usual Yuletide  hangover, but regret that Christmas wasn’t as magical as I could have made it. We had sickness and birthday parties, beach holidays and projects that all encroached upon the season. Christmas cookies were hurriedly baked on Christmas Eve. The school carols were rained out and we didn’t get a chance to go to another. I didn’t go to a Christmas Eve mass, as I was so very tired and unwell. Hand made Christmas presents went unmade. We didn’t take the train one evening to see the big Christmas tree in town.

I didn’t make Xavier a decoration this year and I didn’t place a Christmas tree beside his grave. His little Christmas area was necessarily condensed due to the reach of a curious toddler.  I didn’t get a chance to write Xavier a letter. Out of everything, these things sadden me the most. Sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans. And I feel like he was forgotten – not by family and friends, but by me. That he didn’t have the Christmas he deserved.  Continue reading

What New Year means when your child has died

Missing your Baby with you this NewAs 2012 passed into 2013, there were many that assumed I would feel a sense of relief.  That I would be glad to turn my back on a horrific year and say good riddance to it. Like so many things in grief, it wasn’t that simple.

I was pregnant New Years Eve with Elijah and so 2013 held the promise of a new baby and healing. It also felt like leaving my son behind. As the only year he ever knew faded into history I felt another pang of loss. 2012 would forever be his. It would hold the two weeks of his life. It would hold the joy of his birth. It would hold the lovely, easy days of his pregnancy.  It would hold the devastation of his death. It would hold the day we said good-bye. It would hold my last days of naivety and innocence.

On the cusp of another New Year, my memories of him are fading a little. Still there, but yellowed around the edges, a little fuzzy. The sharpness has faded, the pain has dulled, but he feels further away. And that’s the thing about time. People will tell you that time will heal – and it will. But it also adds distance from your loved one. I might not hurt quite as much, but I don’t feel as close to him either. I do not miss the darkest days in grief – I have no desire to return to them. Yet, I do miss the intense closeness I felt to Xavier. That closeness was inextricably linked to the depth of pain I was feeling. I do not think it is healthy to cling to pain as way of connecting to your child who left too soon. I do think it’s important to find other connections – but for me those connections are associated with how I view Xavier now – a soul, a spirit, a presence. They are not connected with him as a tiny baby, beautiful and helpless in my arms. That connection belonged to 2012 and it is difficult to let go.

If you are moving into a new year without your darling baby in your arms, be gentle with yourself. It is yet another milestone on a long list of milestones. I was surprised that my first New Year without Xavier brought with it the same depth of emotion and confusion as Christmas. I had not expected it to affect me so deeply. That first Christmas felt empty without him. The first New Years felt like moving on without him.

If you are supporting a friend who has lost a loved one in 2014, please don’t assume that they are happy to move into a New Year with all its promise of new life and healing. When you have lost someone dear, you hold to all that reminds you of them.  You hold to things that surprise you. And no matter how devastating the events of the year may appear to you, it will also hold precious, precious memories that will be desperately clung to forever.

Time is a great healer, but it is also a thief – it dulls the pains and the memories in equal measure. There is grief in that too.

Be gentle with yourself this New Year.

The Gift of Time

The Precious Gift of TimeI remember holding Xavier’s tiny hand in my own. Willing his little fingers to curl around mine.  Of course, they didn’t. The rise and fall of his chest was the only testament to life and it was artifice. A mirage. But he was there – his tiny little body – being kept alive by machines. I could touch him. I could let tears fall over him. I could kiss him. And as we said our final goodbyes, I could hold him. I sang to him as his last breath left his body. I kissed him softly as I said “he’s gone.”

Our time together had contracted suddenly and violently.  I thought we would have a lifetime to share, but in the end we had 13 perfectly normal days and one deeply sad, deeply profound, deeply beautiful one. I am so grateful for that last day.

A day when friends and family gathered around our son and bid him farewell as he passed from this world into the next.

A friend of mine recently became a mother.  She gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.  She imagined a lifetime with him. Her time with her son contracted when he was born without breath. She didn’t have years with her son. To kiss him. To hold him. To tell him all the things a mother tells her child. Instead, her and her partner had to try and convey the love of a lifetime within a few short, raw hours.

It is hard to describe how precious that time with your child is. Knowing that this beautiful, perfect little being will not be a physical part of your life going forward. Knowing that this time is all the time that you will get. Wondering how you will survive. Willing yourself to remember each fingernail. Inhaling your baby’s scent. Trying to fight through the fog and shock of grief so that the memories will be indelible. Wanting your friends and family to see your little one – for them to understand his perfection, his importance, his profound impact on your life.

There was a time when a baby born without breath would be whisked away, never laid in their mother’s arms. A time when women were urged to forget and have another baby. Time has taught us that this approach does not heal, that it has left deep wounds and that a mother never, ever, ever forgets. Mothers and fathers need time with their babies. Babies are just as precious when they are born still. And it perhaps it is even more important to spend that time, to form that bond, when there will be no future opportunity to do so.

Many hospitals have invested in cuddle cots – a specialised cooing system which allows the parents to spend more time with their precious child.  The system allows babies who have passed way to remain with their families so that they are not required to be cooled in mortuary environment. Cuddle cots enable family members to travel to visit and meet the baby, siblings to meet one another and even gives parents the option of taking their baby home to lay in their own cot, in their own room or travel in their own car seat. It’s about giving parents choices, and reassuring them that they can spend as much time as they like with their child, without the fear of the baby needing to be cooled in a traditional mortuary.

Not all hospitals have them, or enough of them. In honour of her son, my friend is raising funds to buy such a cot for the Greenslopes hospital. It will give other families the gift of time, when time has been cruelly shortened.


 Please consider donating to her cause here:
PLA Cuddle Cot for Gabriel


***

Christmas when one is missing: Ideas to get through it

IMG_8571As we come into the Christmas season, my thoughts turn to those who are navigating their first Christmas after loss.

The first Christmas with out Xavier was a challenge. I spent a great deal of time making things for him, thinking about him and desperately, desperately missing him. I put on a brave face and tried to make Christmas as magical as I could for my living son, but a large part of me spent Christmas in a different place. The second Christmas was different, and whilst the ache was still there, it was no longer raw and weeping. I had Xavier’s little brother in my arms and a new sense of hope and purpose.

IMG_8577This year, with baby Elijah old enough to join in a little more, I am really looking forward to Christmas.  Life has taken off again for us.  I still think of Xavier all the time, but no longer with a deep sense of yearning. He is simply a part of our lives in the form we know him best now: a soul, a guiding light, the sunshine’s rays, the one we thank when little things go our way, the butterflies that fly too close to be anyone else.

I wanted to put together a list of Christmas ideas both for bereaved families, and those that support them. I hope that they may offer some comfort.

Christmas ideas for the bereaved:

  • Every year I either make or create (or both) a christmas ornament for Xavier.  It is a beautiful way to keep him close and to remember him at Christmas time.
  • I hang a stocking for Xavier each year.IMG_3761
  • When the boys write their lists to Santa, I write a letter to Xavier and place it in his stocking.
  • I have baubles with each of my boys names on them.  It is one of the only places I can see them all together and it makes me smile.
  • Whether it’s your first or fifteenth Christmas, be gentle with yourself. I think as bereaved parents we expect so much from ourselves. Just be gentle with your expectations – it is a difficult time of year.
  • Every year I attend a service dedicated to child loss – it is a beautiful Christmas tradition.
  • Each year I have bought a gift for a child the same age as Xavier and placed it underneath the Kmart wishing tree.
  • I haven’t as of yet, but one year I intend to make a special memory box in Xavier’s name to give to another bereaved family who are just starting their journey.
  • The simple act of going into a church, lighting a candle and saying a prayer allows me to centre myself and find some peace in a season that can be anything but.
  • You might find yourself smiling at a department store santa or humming along to a carol.   Equally, those things could leave you in devastated tears. Either reaction is okay. Allow yourself happiness and allow yourself  sadness. Be kind to yourself.

IMG_8587

Christmas ideas for the friends and family supporting the bereaved:

  • Both sides of our family remember Xavier at Christmas time.  There are baubles for him on my parent’s tree and my sister in law’s tree.  It means so much to see him remembered and treasured.IMG_4176
  • If you want to, buy a little present for or in the name of the child no longer here. A donation to their favourite charity would be a lovely gesture.
  • Be sensitive and be forgiving – it is a really hard time of year.
  • Particularly, if it’s their first Christmas, give them space. It may feel like they aren’t really engaging in Christmas. They may not want to participate in family traditions. They may not want to celebrate Christmas at all. Allow them the time and space they need and try not feel hurt.
  • Attend a service with them
  • Visit their child’s grave or special place and leave something – not out of obligation to your family member or friend but because you miss their baby too.
  • Address Christmas cards to the whole family, including the ones gone too soon.

Wishing you peace this season.