Lies, Damn Lies and Karma

Life was very simple when I was teenager. Things followed a linear path. Whilst  I was riddled with teenaged angst, unsure of myself and my place in the world, I was at least sure of cause and effect. If you worked hard, you would achieve your dreams. If you were kind, kindness would be bestowed on you. If you did the right thing and made the right choices, then things would turn out just fine. Good things happened to good people. I believed in karma.


I don’t believe in karma anymore.


As a group, the girls I went to school with have been beset by more tragedy than seems fair. They are not my stories to tell, so I will not list the challenges and tragedies here, but there have been enormous losses sustained amongst a concentrated group.

When I think back to the fresh faces of my senior year, I wonder what we would have thought had we known the future. In what now seems like cruel irony, we had nicknamed ourselves “immortalised”.  Time has taught us we are neither immortal nor immune.

When we first lost Xavier, I was sure I was being punished for something. I searched my heart and my soul for answers. What had I done to deserve this? And when my friends experienced their own personal hells, my first thought was “they don’t deserve this”. Despite life continually teaching us differently, it is hard not to assume cause and effect. That tragedy would somehow be fairer if it was only dealt to those who lived carelessly. That some cosmic system of checks and balances exists. It doesn’t. Sometimes terrible things happen to good people. Sometimes terrible things happen to people who appear to have had their fair share of tragedy. As you get older, it seems the terrible things mount up.

It is an eternal question – why bad things happen to good people? The theoretical and theological answers to that question are cold comfort when you are the person. When that question is not asked in some esoteric context, but wailed, pleading for answers. It is hard to accept that bad things happen so that others can be grateful for their blessings, or to give us an opportunity to lean on God, or because the world is imperfect. It easier to believe in chaos when you are in the midst of it. That there is no sense, no rhyme and no reason. That fate is random and cruel. When we lost Xavier, the inelegant words “it’s so unfair and it sucks” brought so much more comfort than pretty stories about God working in mysterious ways and things happening for a reason. Life does not owe any of us fairness. And quite often, she does not grant it.

We live in our world that believes in justice and blame. That seeks to attribute a terrible occurrence to someone’s misdeeds and punish them for it. But when there is no one to blame, what can you do? Shake your fist at God? Invite blame into places it does not belong? When we lost Xavier and they told us there were no answers, I blamed myself.  There was no-one and nothing left to blame. But some-one had to be responsible and I took up the mantle. Like so many before me, laying under blankets of guilt. We are so sure of this karmic circle – that one thing leads to another that it is difficult to accept there is no link. That some terrible things happen without there being anyone to blame.

I don’t believe in karma.  But I still believe in kindness. Not because it will be returned, but because it is a better way to live and it makes the hard things easier to bear. I still believe in hard work. Not because it will necessarily be rewarded, but because it is satisfying in and of itself. I still believe that there is good in the world – but it is not bestowed on the good people all of the time. The most we can do is hold fast to the love that surrounds us and give it away freely. In the midst of tragedy, it is kindness that offers some sweet relief and it is often tragedy that opens the flood gates to love. Karma may not exist, but kindness abounds.

 

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Poetry in Grief Thursday – The Broken People

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Every Thursday I am sharing a poem I have written for Xavier.

Today I wanted to share a poem that was published in the beautiful book Three Minus One.

I was thrilled and humbled to be a part of this collection of stories, essays and poems about the loss of a child.  You can buy the book here.

This poem is about the change that occurs when you lose a child.  The person you become. The fragility and the strength that co-exist.


The Broken People

I am one of the broken people

The people who are hollow

The people made of glass

The people made of sorrow

 

You might not know it

Think me the same as you

But look a little closer

You’ll see straight through

 

I am weightless, groundless

I am battered, I am broken

I am bruised, I am tired

I am words left unspoken

 

 I am acting when I’m smiling

I am pretending even now

Appearing to be living

When I have forgotten how

 

I go through the motions

I wake up every day

Do the things that need doing

Say what I am supposed to say

 

But this vessel is broken, empty

It is cracked beyond repair

And sometimes when you see me

I have vanished into air

 

I am living on the outer

Each breath hangs by a thread

I am half way between the living

I am half way to the dead

 

One day I’ll find my feet

Feel the earth and remain

But even when I make it there

I’ll never be the same

 

Because now I am so fragile

Heart shattered on the floor

And ‘though I am made of glass now

I am somehow stronger than before

The Most Terrible Decision: Cremation or Burial

Image Credit Robyna MayWarning: This article talks about the cremation and burial of infants. It is intended for those that are either faced with this terrible decision or are wondering whether the decision they have made is the right one. It is not my intention to offend anybody, but I realise these are sensitive subjects.

After Xavier died it felt like I had fallen down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. Everything was wrong and out of place and I was faced with one horrific decision after another. Would we consent to an autopsy on our baby? What colour should his coffin be? Would I speak at his funeral? But of all the decisions, the one that I found the most vexed was whether to bury or cremate our darling child.

In the wake of his death, I was given information from SIDS and Kids. Numerous booklets with information on grieving, on support and on infant funerals. These little booklets offered advice and quotes from parents who had been through what we were living. One of those parents revealed that they had decided to bury their child because they wanted a place to visit. That resonated with me and we decided to bury Xavier. It is a decision that I have revisited, wondered about and never been entirely sure whether I made the right one. I wanted a place that was his, but then I didn’t want him alone at night. After all his little body went through, I could not commit him to the fire but I now wonder if the earth is any kinder.

If you have come to this place because this is a decision that you are facing: how to say goodbye to your precious child, then I extend my love and my deep-felt sadness. I wish I could take away your pain. I wish I could deliver your child back into your arms. But all I can offer is my experience and the hope it may help you.

If this is a decision you are making or a decision you are regretting, then know this:  There is no right decision. When the choice is between fire and earth rather than holding your baby close, there is no decision that will feel right.

These are the reasons I chose to bury Xavier:

  • I wanted a place to visit that was separate and his alone.
  • I could not face the thought of cremation.
  • I wanted a place that would be his forever – a small patch of earth that would bear his name for all eternity.
  • Others in my family have been buried in the same cemetery as Xavier.
  • I wanted a place where others could visit Xavier.

Often when I visit Xavier’s grave, there will be small ornaments, toys or cards left by his tombstone. Evidence that he is still a part of the lives of my family and friends.  It is a joy to see these small things.  There is a sense of tradition and ritual that accompanies visiting his grave on his birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s day. On the flip-side, I often feel guilty that I do not visit him as often as I used to. There is a sense of duty to that small patch of earth that I feel I don’t always live up to.

These are the reasons that others I know chose cremation:

  • They want their baby in their home.
  • It is important to them to hold ashes in a special urn, or piece of jewellery.
  • They wanted to scatter ashes in places sacred and special.
  • They could not face the thought of their baby alone in the earth.
  • They wanted to be able to take their baby with them, should they move house or overseas.

If you choose burial, here are some ways to honour your baby in your home:

  • You can request some of the sand used at the burial and place this in a special urn or piece of jewellery. If you buried your child some time ago and crave this, you can use some of the soil that covers their gravesite.
  • I personally believe that the essence of Xavier does not reside in his remains. His love, his warmth and his presence is felt in the sunshine, heard in the sound of his brothers’ laughter and seen in the love our family shows each other. There are places in our home that are dedicated to him. I feel him in those places more-so than his gravesite. You can create spaces in your home where you feel your baby.

If you choose cremation, here are some ways to honour your baby outside your home:

  • You can request to have a plaque erected at a cemetery in honour of your baby.
  • You can choose any sacred space that allows you to feel your child’s spirit and dedicate it as “their place”.  Perhaps a beach or forest. You might visit that place on special dates.
  • You can talk to your local council about building a public garden, special seat or some other wonderful thing in your child’s memory.

Explaining cremation and burial to young children is difficult.  Carly Marie has a beautiful way to describe cremation to children.   My eldest son struggles to understand why Xavier’s body is buried deep within the ground when we talk about him being in heaven and all around us.  This is what I tell him:

Each of us has both a body and a soul.  Our bodies provide a home for our souls.  Our soul is who we are, what makes you YOU – every soul is unique. Our bodies are not made to last forever.  Sometimes they get sick.  They get old.  Some people have to lose their bodies earlier than others.  This is what happened to Xavier. But our souls do not get sick and they last forever. It is harder to understand a soul without a body, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Xavier’s body went into the ground, but his soul is all around us and a part of our family for always.

Poetry in Grief – his Grave

Photo Credit Robyna MayI used to visit Xavier’s grave weekly.  I don’t go so often anymore, but it’s still a part of my life.  It always seems so strange to stand there, knowing that a part of my son resides in this saddest of gardens.  I wrote this a week or so after Xavier had been buried.

Your Grave

There is a place I go to,
Even though it makes me cry.
There is a place I go to,
Though it makes me wonder why.

Why so many little lives,
Were tragically cut short.
There is a little garden,
Which holds more children than it ought.

My little son is amongst them,
Amongst the graves and flowers,
Amongst butterflies and windmills,
Amongst sad and silent hours.

He has a little grave,
Where the mound is still high.
He’s next to another boy,
Who shouldn’t have had to die.

I wonder if he watches  me,
Crying over his tiny grave.
I wonder if he whispers,
“oh mummy, please be brave”

I wonder if he plays with,
The other children who are here.
Is he now best friends,
With the baby who is near?

I will never meet his little mates,
Never know who’s his favourite one.
But I like to think of them,
together, playing in the sun.

I hope that he is happy,
That he’s surround by love and light.
I hope he know his mummy,
Keeps his memory bright.

So I’ll keep on coming,
And every time I’ll shed a tear.
You are so very far away,
But it’s the place you feel most near.

Poetry in Grief – How to be a Mother?

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After losing Xavier, I knew that I would need to figure out how to mother him still.   But it seemed an impossible task.   I had lost confidence in myself as a mother and the things I prided myself on.  I wrote this poem, trying to articulate and search for my new kind of motherhood.

 Mummy

I know how to be a mother
to a child of flesh and bone.
But how to be a mother
when his world is not my own?

I know how to change a nappy,
I know how to give a feed,
but how can I be your mother
when I don’t know your every need?

I know how to give comfort,
I know how to dry tears,
but how can I make it better
when I never learned your fears?

I know how to play peek-a-boo
and I can do it for quite a while.
But how can I make you laugh
when I never saw your smile?

I know how to plan a birthday
what presents please a son
But how can I give you a party
When your birth day was your only one?

How can I be your mummy?
What’s the best thing I can do?
For I am still your mummy
And I love and cherish you

I will light a candle to remember
I will leave butterflies at your grave
I will talk about you often
Honour you and be brave

One day we might meet again,
I’d tickle your little tummy,
you’d laugh and squeal with delight
and I’d hear you call me “Mummy.”

Poetry in Grief – the First Poem

photo (20)This is the first poem I wrote  after Xavier died.  I was trying to make sense of the senseless and completely convinced that I was being punished.

Where are you?

I used to hear stories of heart break,
And wonder how they felt,
And then I’d feel so grateful for the hand that I’d been dealt.

But then someone changed the rules,
Someone changed the game,
And now our perfect life will never be the same.

I don’t pretend to know the mysteries of this earth,
But I knew how precious life is, I knew a baby’s worth.

I never was complacent – I was well aware,
Of the blessings and the privileges of children in our care.

I thought tragedy was for others, I thought we were immune,
Maybe that’s why he was taken all too soon.

I didn’t have to lose to recognise we were blessed,
We gave him all our love, we did our very best.

He was loved, he was precious, he made us a family,
I don’t understand why he was taken away from me.

Was it the hand of god? Or the finger of fate?
Or was it just all random – just a horrible mistake?

Or was it darker forces? The wages for some sin?
Or at the game of life you can’t always win?

Is there any order? Is there any sense?
Or just a lot of platitudes people like to dispense?

Things are said when you are grieving to make you feel ok,
But is any of it true or just words people say?

At the funeral I was strong, said words that then seemed true,
But now all I have is time and a future without you.

I know I’ll search for answers that I will never find,
And I know guilt will forever haunt the corners of my mind.

Even if they could tell me exactly what went wrong,
Would it make any difference – bring you back where you belong?

Where are you now my precious little boy?
Are you filled with light and with love and with joy?

Are you looking down on me and looking after us?
Or have you just returned to the dust?

Heaven, hell, dirt – in the end I just don’t care,
All I know is my arms are empty and my baby should be there.

Seasons in Grief

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There are seasons in grief.

The first Winter – desolate and cruel. Seemingly unending. Life is frozen in the moment you said good-bye. Everything is grey, turned to ash. Food has no taste. Blooms no scent. There is a hollowness that echoes through every moment. The weight of a missing baby heavy against you. Absence, weighing more than presence. Crippling. It is impossible to concentrate, to still your mind long enough. There are words, and they fall, softly as snow, around you. You know they mean well but the words don’t bring summer back. And the void the baby who left made is so vast that you could fall into it at any moment.

Then, gradually, the Spring. Hope shooting like new grass. The colour starts to return to a faded world. You hear an unfamiliar sound and realise it’s your own laughter. You hold a newborn baby and instead of it ripping you apart, you think about a promise for your future. Life beckons and, with hesitation, you respond. You wonder if it’s okay – to let this in. Whether you are betraying your baby by smiling again. And then you catch glimpses of him – when the light hits a certain way, when a butterfly floats near, an unexpected tiny white feather settling on your hand. If you listen very carefully you can hear him. And he wants you to be happy. You open the window and you let hope in.

Against all odds, Summer enters your life. There is joy again. There is sunshine and there is life. There is beauty and purpose. There are so many things you once never thought possible. And against this brilliant blue sky, the knowledge that you lost a baby feels uncomfortable. How could you have lost someone so precious and be happy? How is it possible that a life full of love and laughter can also accommodate such enormous loss? You once thought that you could never be happy again – that life could be bearable at best. Yet, here you are, filled with contentment. The photos that once could only illicit tears now bring a melancholy smile and there is gratitude for being part of a precious life, no matter how short. You have come to some sort of peace. Not an acceptance, or even an understanding, but a life that can accommodate loss and still be beautiful. You feel him in that sunshine and it warms your heart.

Autumn falls. Little reminders. The tug of winter. Things that were once easy, become less so. An anniversary approaches, a birthday, Christmas, Mothers Day, Fathers Day. Days that remind you of the great hole in your life. Or perhaps it is a word, a memory, a song that cuts at the wound not quite healed. A chill enters. You try to shut the door, to close it out, but winter is insistent and sometimes grief has its own agenda.

And then Winter can come again. Never as long or as cruel as the first, but the sadness creeps back.

But no season lasts forever and love lasts through them all.