Are You OK?

Today is Are You OK? day.  A day that reminds us of the importance of reaching out to those around us.  A day where we should go beyond a casual, throw-away  “How are you?”    

That question has become an empty courtesy – like “Hello” and “Good-bye” but how often do we expect or want a real answer?  We are taught to reply “well” or “fine” when we may be anything but.   When we first lost Xavier I learned to distinguish between the sincere “How are you?” and the concessions to politeness.   Indeed, there were many who avoided asking all together, I can only imagine for fear of the answer.  It’s a brave thing – to ask “Are you okay?” or “How are you?” and be willing to truly accept the responsibility of a honest answer.  In our time poor, meme rich lives, how often do we engage in real conversation that reveals the heart?  We have become used to a few words on a Facebook status to describe “How are you feeling?”  But our hearts and souls need more than that.  We need time and conversation and nourishment.  How often are we willing to invest that time in one another?  

In the first few weeks after Xavier died, when strangers asked “How are you?”, there were times I responded with a completely honest answer.  The poor clerks at the check out saddled with an answer that they did not expect.  But I needed to tell someone.   I needed to say “Not so well – I am hurting today”.  And sometimes, the only person that asked was a stranger who was paid to be polite.  Most times, however, my beautiful family and friends asked that question in a genuine way.  I have two very close girlfriends who are lights in my life.   When I would reply “okay” they would respond “no, really – I want to know how you are going today.”  And it gave me permission to go beyond our societally regulated responses to the question “How are you?”  We need to give people around us that permission – we need to let them know that we genuinely care.  When my lovely boss asked me how I was a few weeks after Xavier died, I replied with my standard “okay”.  She shook her head and said “You aren’t – you’re not okay, but you will be and right now it’s okay that you’re not okay”.   Sometimes we just need to hear that too – sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.   I value every time someone genuinely gave me the opportunity to talk about my feelings, particularly in the days, weeks and months following Xavier’s death.   

I think that’s what “Are you OK?” day is about – it’s about creating the time and space and love around someone to allow them to talk about what they need to talk about.  It’s being completely unselfish and completely genuine when asking the question “Are you OK?” or “How are you?”

So today, ask someone “Are you okay?” and be truly engaged in the answer. You never know the impact it will have on someone’s life.

 

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Grieving Fathers – a Poem

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As Father’s Day approaches I wanted to share a poem I wrote about men in grief.  The strong and silent grief that bears the weight of supporting a fractured family.  The grief that rarely speaks, but is just as important, just as real and just as painful as the grief of a mother.

 

 

A Baby and His Daddy

It’s very early morning,
The clock is nearing one,
And the tears are finally falling,
For himself and for his son.

The girl beside him sleeps,
He doesn’t want to wake her,
For when the morning breaks,
The grief may overtake her.

In these still and silent hours,
He can let himself feel,
He can let himself be broken,
He can start to heal.

For those still and silent hours,
Before the sun lights up the sky,
Belong to a baby and his daddy,
The time that he can finally cry.

Ladders in Loss

There is an unwritten ladder of grief that bereaved parents seem expected to adhere to.  An expectation by society that a miscarriage hurts less than a still birth, a still birth less than a neonatal loss,  a younger child less than an older one.   And the length of time allowed for grieving contracts the younger your child was at the time of loss.

The truth is, that ladder is a lie.  There is no “more than” or “less than” in grief – each story holds its own tragic weight.  A weight that defies categorisation or comparison.  For as much as there is no “less than” there is also no “the same as”.  My grief over Xavier is different from the mother who lost her baby at birth, different from the father who lost his son to an accident at three years old,  different from the parents who learned at their thirteen week scan that their baby had no heartbeat, indeed, different from another  family who lost their son at two weeks old to SIDS.    But it is not “more than” and it is not “less than”.  We are different but bound by the common devastation of holding a child in our heart, rather than in our arms.

There is no finite amount of grief that needs to be shared amongst the bereaved.    Each journey is different and each journey is valid.   How someone else grieves their child is their business – the intensity of their sadness does not somehow invalidate my grief over Xavier.  There is no competition. There are definitely no prizes.

When we first lost Xavier at just two weeks old to SIDS, I wondered whether it would have been easier if  he had born still.  Would that have hurt less?  It is an impossible question.  I am so grateful for the two weeks we spent with our middle son.  I would never wish it away.  I would rather have loved and lost him, than to have never had him at all.   Every parent treasures the time they get to spend with their child.  And yet those that didn’t get to spend any time with their living baby outside the womb are expected to hurt less.  It defies logic. A baby is a baby to their parents the happy moment they find out they are pregnant.  Hopes and dreams for that child often formed before that.  Every baby is a miracle.  Whether you grieve the memories you made or the memories you never got to make, that grief is real and cannot be contained within imaginary boundaries.   Parents need to grieve, without judgement and without ladders.

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.