Poetry Thursday – Poetry in Grief

Every Thursday I will be sharing one of the poems I wrote whilst in the first year of grief.  It is my hope that in sharing these poems, those that have lost a child will feel less alone.  Those that have not, might understand a little of the pain.

These poems do not reflect where I am right now, but they are testaments along a journey.

 

They Wait

They wait patiently for her to return,

The laugh, the sparkle

They know it won’t be long now,

She will come back

They tolerate this stranger,

Who wears her clothes,

Who bears her shell,

But who has different eyes

They catch glimpses,

Sometimes she is almost in reach,

But she recedes quickly,

and they are left alone again.

They know time heals

They have heard it so many times

And so they wait

Patiently, for her return

She knows.

She knows they wait in vain

She tries.

She tries to be who they want

But she is gone.

She is with her baby now.

And someone new stands in her wake

Someone else, Someone new

Can you accept this newness?

Or will you continue to wait

For someone that no longer exists?

I created this image as part of "Capture Your Grief 2012".

I created this image as part of “Capture Your Grief 2012”. The topic was “After Loss Self Portrait”

Lucky

DSC07109Last night I grabbed a few groceries after Isaac’s swimming lesson. The boys were fractious but it didn’t stop Elijah flirting with a lady working at Woolies. She paused, played with him a moment, commented on his cuteness and said to me “You are so lucky”.

Perhaps I imagined sadness in her eyes and a wistfulness in her voice. I wondered if she had been affected by loss or infertility or a life that ended up in different place to what she had hoped for. I thought about asking, but I didn’t. I thought about telling her I could be luckier and have all my three boys with me, but I didn’t. In that particular moment, with dinner, bed and bath time pressing against us, I didn’t feel particularly lucky or grateful. But I know I am. And perhaps I needed reminding.

I view “lucky” with a different lens after loss. I feel lucky that we had fourteen days with Xavier. I know that not everyone gets that much time with their little one. I feel lucky that he held onto a glimmer of life for twenty-four hours after we found him without breath. A day is longer to say goodbye than many people get. I feel lucky that we were so well looked after by the Mater and the beautiful social workers there. I feel lucky that I found a group of bereaved mothers who understood and understand me. I feel lucky that I have been given space and support and permission to grieve. I feel lucky that I have this place to remember Xavier and write in his memory. I feel lucky that I have the words to write. I feel lucky that Xavier’s memory is held precious by so many dear to me. I feel tremendously lucky that I have two living children to hold and kiss and adore.

I cannot count the number of times I have spoken to other bereaved parents and we have used that word – “lucky” – to describe various aspects of our experience. It’s always accompanied with a rider – “it’s funny what we think of as ‘lucky’ now.”

Before losing Xavier I had a different view of luck. I didn’t really believe in it. Someone would tell me I was lucky and I would respond with a glib “Yep, and the harder I work, the luckier I become.” I had a perception that you made your own luck and that bad luck was generally predicated by bad choices.

Age and experience has taught me that life is not so tightly controlled. That fate can be cruel and that luck plays a larger part in my life than I might like.

I look at my darling boys and I know, I am incredibly blessed and I am very lucky.

Poetry in Grief

20140815-213914.jpg
After Xavier died, I wrote poems on a near daily basis. I had to express myself creatively to make any sense of life. I felt pent up with emotion and in need of release. I wanted to lash out and scream and make people understand my pain. Poetry allowed an outlet for that frustration. A figurative punching bag with the English language delivering hooks and jabs. Up until that point, my experience with poetry had been the clumsy, angsty words of a teenage girl. All darkness, conjured up emotion and the firm belief that no one could understand the complexity of being me. I am sure the words I scrawled, words that seemed so unique and intensely important at the time, have been echoed in girls’ diaries since the beginning of time. They were laboured words, teased out and poured over. Xavier’s poems have almost felt like gifts. As though the poems already existed and I just stumbled upon them. An unseen muse whispering the verses in my ear. I have held those poems close, feeling them too private to share with a broader audience. When I wrote them, the emotions were so raw and they bled onto the page. I read them now and I am startled by their clarity. When my mind raced with so many mixed-up feelings, when everything felt fuzzy around the edges, these poems have delivered my feelings back to me sharp and in razor focus. When I read them now I understand my initial reluctance in sharing them. I can recognise the protective instinct.

Today, I met with a beautiful group of mothers. We share our children gone too soon in common. I decided to share with them a poem I wrote on strength. It made me realise that these poems have power and the potential to give voice to unspoken emotion. They can give form and validation to the mess of grief feelings. And I think, despite the fact that doing so makes me vulnerable, sharing them feels right.

So I am sharing the poem I shared with those beautiful mothers today. I will be sharing the poems I have written over the next few months and collating them into a page on this site.

Strong

“You’re so strong” they say, “I couldn’t get of bed” they say
They tell you “I don’t know how you are living day to day”

They think that I am coping – this smile that masks my grief.
They think that I am coping – and it’s met with great relief.

But you can’t see inside me and you can’t read my mind.
And you can’t fill a hole that a baby leaves behind.

I have moments when everything feels like it will be okay,
But I need you to know that I don’t always feel that way.

It’s only been four weeks and years stretch long ahead,
And sometimes when I’m smiling, inside I’m feeling dead.

You ask me if I am “better”, as though recovering from some disease,
But I have lost a son and gained a pain that will not ease.

How would you feel if your child had been taken away?
In a matter of short weeks, would you really feel okay?

His life was cut short, but my love still lingers on.
And for the rest of my life he remains my son.

The time you have with your children you never will regret,
And though our time was short, I never will forget.

He is no less real, no less a person than your living child.
And the tiny time we had him does not render the loss mild.

I might say I see him in the sunshine, hear him when a bird sings,
But I wish I didn’t have to grab on to these remote and abstract things.

To you it seems like beauty, like I’m finding ways to live,
But I’m only holding on to the little life can give.

Half the time I don’t know what I actually feel.
Most of the time the fact he’s gone seems horribly surreal.

And I scream, I cry, I rage but I do it all in silence.
And my exterior seems serene while
my interior’s in violence.

But these thoughts are too dark, too strange for me to say aloud.
And so I stay silent, and you say “You’re strong – I’m proud”

I know you’re trying to help, that you don’t know what to say.
But please don’t believe me when I reply that “I’m okay”.

The Grief Words

Your world shatters.  You find yourself alone.  You see pity and sympathy in the eyes of family and friends, but they do not understand.  They hurt, but their hurt is not your hurt.  You search for others who share your story.  You try to normalise the thing that is so far from any sane normality.  You find them.  Online and in person. This community of loss.  This beautiful and fragile community of tattered souls.  Facebook groups, blogs and forums dedicated to babies and children stolen from their mothers’ breasts and their fathers’ embraces.  And there is such aching beauty.  Words strung together as delicately as beaded necklaces.  Artwork that touches deep nerves.  Poems and images that steal your breath as they gift you tears.  Enormous and important things achieved in the name of children who may no longer live on earth but whose impact is great.

But through this thin veneer of beauty, do we hide from ugly truth?  Do the newly bereaved come across these sites and wonder where the pain is?   Where the heart-stopping, gut-wrenching, puking, sobbing messes are?  I don’t think I have ever written publicly about the true pain of grief.  The darkest of days, where even the weight of water in the shower was too much to bear.  When my skin crawled and the ache in my arms to hold my baby felt like the loss of a limb.  When the only relief could be found in sleep and the sleep would only come when I was too exhausted to think.   I cannot convey in words the pain of those days.  I remember wanting words.  Yet, no words were horrific enough to capture the pain.  I do not swear, I never have.  But even the worst words I knew could not scratch the surface.  There isn’t even a word in the English language to describe a parent whose child dies.  There are orphans and widows and widowers but no noun for those who lay their children to rest.  And as I searched for a word ugly enough to sum up the wretchedness I felt, words beautiful enough to describe my baby boy also remained elusive.  Perhaps that is a struggle felt by many who populate those online groups and forums.  How do you express a pain so horrific in the place you are recognised as mother to your child?  How do you articulate the depts of hurting when you also want to celebrate your baby? How do you find language that isn’t repressible and offensive to describe something so bitterly broken? How do you reach out and seek comfort when you want to spew barbed wire and bile and venom?  How do you tame the rage and the anger to a gentle simmer to remain polite amongst people who share common ground but are, for the most part, strangers?

For those in their grief who find comfort from the beauty, but wonder if they are lost alone on an ugly path.  Please know, you are not alone.  There are just no words to capture the depth of the hurt just as there are no adequate words to capture the enormity of the love.  For the pain and the grief run deep because the love never ends.

Being Okay with Being Okay

On the third Friday of each month, I meet with a group of mothers. Like most mothers groups, we all come from different walks of life, but have our children in common. Unlike most mothers groups, our children do not play underfoot or interrupt our conversation. If anything, our conversation keeps our babies alive.

We are each at different stages in our grief, some of us have seen years pass and some of us have welcomed more children. In this group we are understood, in this group we are not judged and in this group we are all recognised as mothers first and foremost, no matter where our children reside. There are a few of us at a stage in our grief where our new lives feel comfortable and our loss has taken us to passions and purposes that feel overwhelming positive. This in itself is confronting. Did our babies die to provide this new direction? Did they leave so that we could learn hard lessons? How do we reconcile the immense hurt and holes in our lives with the gratitude for new friends, an expanded outlook, and in some cases, the formation of badly needed charities that provide support and research?

Around six months after Xavier died I came across an online loss support group that asked “if you could change your past, and not go through your loss, would you? Think about it carefully before you answer”. At the time, I could not conceive any bereaved parent needing time to answer. My baby, my baby back in my arms in an instant is all I could think. What a ridiculous question to pose I thought. But there were those that were further in in their grief that said that they wouldn’t change their lives. That they had arrived at a point in their journey where they had learned a great deal and had made a kind of peace with their loss. I could not understand that viewpoint at the time, but I can now. I still think it’s the wrong question to ask. An impossible hypothetical with no easy answer. When you reach a point of being okay, not with your loss, but with your life, I think it’s indicative of integration rather than acceptance and certainly not a preference.

The guilty thought “if my baby had died, I would never have met these amazing people” becomes “my baby, their life and their story, which are inextricably linked, led me to these beautiful people”.

The worry “maybe my baby had to die for me to learn this lesson” becomes “all our children teach us important things, mine taught me some of the most important”.

The concern that “my baby’s death has led me to pursue long forgotten passions or renewed my creativity” becomes “I have figured out how to parent my baby – I have created connections with my child.”

The thought “I would not have founded or supported this charity unless my baby died” becomes “every life leaves a legacy and the length of that life in no way correlates to the power or impact of that legacy. My baby continues to make an important and positive impact in the world.”

As a bereaved mother, I feel guilt over so many things. But I will not feel guilty about coming to a place of peace. I will not feel guilty about finding purpose in parenting my boy no longer here. I will not feel guilty about my life reaching a place that feels okay. I worked too damn hard to get here.

First birthdays, Rainbows and Growing Up

In a few short weeks Elijah will turn one. It is impossible. My tiny baby is growing up. I feel the melancholy of every mother as he takes his first tentative steps away from babyhood. My heart aches as I put away the clothes he no longer fits, knowing that the next baby to wear them will not be my own. I look at his photos, taken when he was so new and tiny and wish myself back to that moment. He takes up so much space now – in his cot, his pram, his car seat – and I feel a pang as I remember when he looked so little in all of those places.
As a bereaved mother, One feels improbable. I have only just accepted that Elijah’s presence is permanent. I was drinking him in, savouring him, fearing that if I did not, I would deeply regret it when he left. He has not left and he will not leave but I am grateful that I have treasured the moments so carefully. I never let myself believe that Elijah would be one, or two, or twenty. It seemed presumptuous and arrogant. And now, here we are, on the brink of a year on earth.
Elijah was never born to replace Xavier, but we did think he would bring healing and hope. He has brought both in equal measure. As a newborn, I projected a comforting, healing personality onto my son. When babies are too tiny to express their opinions, we imagine what they may be thinking. Look at their little faces and prescribe thoughts to their expressions. We form an idea of their personality, their likes and dislikes before their personalities emerge. Part of Elijah will always represent healing to me, but he is so much more outside that persona. He suddenly has a host of opinions on a variety of things. He gazes at his brother adoringly and will laugh at his antics with a giggle reserved purely for Isaac. He will reach out for cuddles from the people he loves. He will try to pat any dog that might come his way, accompanied with a determined “d-d-d”. He will attempt to catch and return a ball. He scoots along the floor, with his funny crawl, at top speed with a broad smile when his father comes to the door. He wiggles his way out of my arms to explore and demands being scooped back into them when he has satisfied his curiosity. He has dozens of toys, but will always choose the Tupperware and DVD drawers as his favourite play things. He is funny and bright and calm and inquisitive. He is not the sage old soul brought on earth to give me comfort that I may have first imagined. He is light and colour but he is so much more than a rainbow baby. He is Elijah. And as he grows up, as I am sure he will, I look forward to learning ever more about him.

20140716-203815.jpg

20140716-203905.jpg

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.

Image

 

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.

Image

 

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.

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?