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.

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.

The New Me

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The baby loss community is an especially beautiful and supportive one.  When a new member joins this terrible little club, they are extended love and understanding.  When I joined this group that no-one would ever want to be a part of,  that support was invaluable.

In the wake of Xavier’s death, I found comfort online but I needed to see someone who had lost their child and was still living and breathing.  I met with a gorgeous lady who had lost her baby son many years ago.    At the time,  I was in a strange robotic stage of grief.  Not entirely sure what I should be doing or feeling but fearing the future.  I was acting from a script I had to re-write myself from day to day.  In so many ways feeling liking a passive observer – watching myself from a distance and fascinated that this was the way I was handling things.   I felt like I was edging along the huge abyss of time that separated me from Xavier and any mis-step would see me fall right in.  Was this my life from now on?  Was it even possible to sustain?  How would my life look in the months and years to come?  So, I looked to this lovely stranger who shared my devastation and she told me how her son had changed her – how her grief had reshaped her into a very different person. A better person.

I didn’t want to hear it.  I didn’t want Xavier’s loss to make me into a better person. I was entirely fine with the person I was before he left.  I needed no extreme makeover administered by the hand of fate.    And this empty vessel, clinging to life, battered on the shores of grief?  I didn’t want to be her.   I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t recognise myself.  I had become a stranger.    This was not some better version of myself.  This was a shadow, an echo.  A leaf on the wind, without substance or purpose.   I didn’t want to get out of bed and be strong each day.  I didn’t want to be looked at with pitying admiration.   I had no interest in being an inspirational story.   All I ached for was my son.  I would think “this grief thing has been interesting, I have learned a lot but I will have my son back now please”.   Hoping against hope that someone would come to the door, Xavier in their arms, and apologise for a dreadful mix up.

In that early time, I  was convinced that Xavier had been taken from me to teach me a lesson.  To show me that life couldn’t be perfect.  Until that point, my life had remained untouched by tragedy and was rich with blessings.   I thought I had been spared fate’s cruelty.   And then it was as though fate noticed me, said “Ah yes, she’s had it easy for far too long, now, what’s the worst thing I could do to her?”  And this conspiracy by fate to teach me a lesson – I wanted no part in it.  I would not be taught – I would not allow a reason for Xavier’s death.   If grief had gifts to give, I didn’t want them.  Accepting them felt too close to accepting Xavier’s death.

Could I not simply go back to who I was after a period of grieving?  Did I have to lose who I was as well as my son?  Where did the losses end?

But grief becomes a gentler companion with time and it was inevitable I would change.   Perspectives alter when your world shifts.  What is important becomes crystal clear and you begin to see that it is possible to gain in the midst of loss.  I began to realise that the person I was becoming was a way of honouring Xavier’s life rather than giving some sort of credence to his death.   Began to appreciate that treasuring every moment was a gift he had given me.    In the early months after Xavier died I struggled with the idea that the happiest moments of my life were behind me.  That no beautiful moment could ever be perfect.  Whereas I may have had plenty of those perfect moments prior to Xavier’s death – did I realise them? Did I treasure them?  Did I truly realise the full precious weight of those moments?  And so now, even though the moments are dulled by sadness, I appreciate them in way I never could before.  There is more beauty in my life because I pause to notice it.  I invest more in friendships because I know how valuable they are.  I love more because I have seen just how much I am loved.  I take each moment as a gift.   Each of those moments, strung together and stitched into time.  Those moments that rather than separate me further from Xavier,  will eventually bring me back to my son.  And that is something to treasure.

1, 2, 3 – Loving all my children

When I was pregnant with Xavier I worried that I would not be able to love him as much as I did Isaac.   How could I love anyone with the same intensity as my firstborn, my little buddy, my constant companion?  We had been each other’s world for so long.

What I had not been prepared for is that the all-encompassing love you feel when your first is born hits you all over again when your second enters the world.   I had thought this love bomb had already been ignited when Isaac was born, but here was this intensity once again.  The love you feel right to your bones and takes a hold of your soul.  A thousand loves impacting you all at once. The only thing vaguely comparable is the obsessive love you feel in the first throes of a relationship when every thought is occupied by your crush.   Take that feeling, deepen it and multiply it by a thousand and you still won’t come close.  This is the all-consuming love that is born with your baby. Your first, your second, third, fourth – it doesn’t matter, that love remains just as powerful.

Xavier became the centre of my world, just as surely as I was his.  Everyone else just orbited the peripheral edges.  Including my darling Isaac.   He came to see us in the hospital.  His three-year old body ridiculously large.  His hands and feet preposterously enormous.   For a split second, as he shifted in my mind from baby to big brother, he seemed a stranger.  I had not expected this.   My heart expanded and swelled and there was more love for both of my boys.   But my focus had shifted to the child who needed me more.

When Elijah came into our lives I was prepared and I knew that my relationship with Isaac would change again.  I also knew that my relationship with Xavier would change.  Early in grief I had decided not to relate to Xavier as a newborn – he had a different role in our lives.   I disassociated pictures of infants from Xavier – I tried to avoid imagining what he would be doing as a baby and instead focused on the more abstract ways we experienced him.  The sunshine, butterflies, nature’s beauty and the kindness of  others.  It was a way of protecting my heart.

But when Elijah lay on my chest for the first time it was impossible not to think of Xavier. To remember what was and what might have been.  But in that moment, I didn’t feel an aching sadness, I felt gratitude for this new life and Xavier’s part in protecting his little brother.   My relationship with Xavier continues to shift and grow.  My need for a baby in my arms has been soothed by Elijah.  This portion of my grief – the fact a newborn was ripped from my arms like the severing of a limb, has been begun to be healed by littlest boy. But my need to still love and mother my middle child has not eased.  The fact I miss just him remains – that has not lessened.  My relationship with Xavier has become more uniquely about who he is and what he means to me, and less about regret for what we will have never have with him.   The way I mother him will change accordingly.  Each of my boys with their special place in my expanded heart.

DSC00267Isaac with Eljah

IMG_2118Isaac with Xavier

August 19th – Day of Hope

Day of HopeToday is August 19th – a day of Hope.  A day to talk about children gone too soon, whether they lived outside the womb or only within it.   A day to remember those with hearts of mothers, but have not yet been able to conceive.  A day to shatter the silence that surrounds child loss and infertility and to remember all those little footprints that have left a large imprint on our hearts.

Like many bereaved parents, I found my way to Carly Marie’s beautiful blog in the weeks following Xavier’s death.  At the time (July 2012), Carly had just introduced her new project – an opportunity for the bereaved to make their babies prayer flags which would be strung and photographed on Christian’s beach.  Being a crafty kind of person, this project seemed perfect.

Xaviers Flag by Carly Marie DudleyMaking things for people is one of the ways that I show love and this seemed such a beautiful way to express my love for Xavier.   As I selected lace and ribbon and beads, I felt moments of calm that had previously eluded me.   When I sat making the flag up for darling boy, I felt closer her to him than I had in some time.    I had thought that preparing his funeral service (which I did meticulously) would be the last public act I would be able to do for my son.   To realise that I could create and share that creation with others was a joyful discovery.   In the quiet moments I spent sewing, embroidering, planning I felt like I was nurturing my son – it was a feeling akin to the sleepy, beautiful bubble that surrounds nursing your child.    It helped me realise that my need to mother was not extinguished when Xavier’s life was.  That there were still ways to connect with him that did not centre around sadness.   I made two flags initially – copies of each other – one to send to Carly and the other to hang in our home.   Last year, I was lucky enough to meet the gorgeous Carly and she told me that Xavier’s flag was amongst the first she received.   When she posted a picture of it, amongst others, as inspiration to others I was so happy – not just because I was beyond flattered that Carly thought it beautiful but that so many more people would see Xavier’s name.

Prayer Flags

I was not ready to give up the healing that crafting the flags had given me, so I made several more, each with words that felt inspired by Xavier.   Those flags now hang on our verandah, with fairy lights strung around them.

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I made Xavier another flag on his first birthday this year and strung more ribbons.  I have made flags for close friends on special occasions – another way to share Xavier’s love with those around me.

This year Carly is again hosting a Prayer Flag Project– this time each of us will photograph and share our flags to celebrate August 19th – Day of Hope.   I decided to make a slightly different flag this time – my previous flags have all been ribbons, lace and ethereal beauty.  This time I wanted to make something more earthy and representative of his presence on earth, rather than heaven.    His sunshine is the most important symbol to us, so I chose to reflect that.  Once again, creating for my son allowed me feel his presence and his peace.

2013 Xavier flagI photographed this as the morning light came up
and lit the candles we gave out a Elijah’s mother blessing.