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.

Poetry in Grief – New Reality

 

Photo on 1-10-12 at 9.20 PM

 

I wrote this poem when feeling very lost about a reality that did not feel real.   When I felt like I had fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole and every single thing was up-side down.

New Reality

I should have a messy house,
My time consumed in his care.
I have a messy house,
Little things too hard to bear.

I should have sleepless nights,
Tending to his every whim.
I have sleepless nights,
My thoughts are all of him.

I should be meeting new mums,
Cooing over their new kids.
I have met new mums,
Who have also lost to SIDS.

I should be on a break from work,
Spending time with my newborn.
I am on a break from work,
Can’t go back whilst still so torn.

I should be juggling two boys,
Wishing I had more hands.
I am juggling two boys,
I’m not sure my eldest understands.

I should be talking about him,
About how he fed and slept.
I am talking about him,
So that his memory is kept.

I should be crying over photos,
Sighing he grows too fast.
I am crying over photos,
The only memories to last.

I should have a living baby,
I should be happy and fulfilled.
I don’t have a living baby,
Just a life left to rebuild.

Poetry in Grief – Dichotomy

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Every Thursday, I am sharing a poem I wrote in the first year of my grief.  This poem is about the tension I felt (and still do feel to some extent) between feeling better, and feeling further away.

Dichotomy

I want the time to pass quickly
– The hurt to lessen every day
I want the time to pass slowly
– It carries me further away

Away from my precious boy
Away from when I was whole
Away from when I was unaware of pain
Away from my complete soul

And where I am going on this journey?
This long, circuitous road
Where the burden is so heavy
And no one else to take the load

Sometimes I feel okay
And the load a little lighter
Perhaps that is his gift
When the sun shines a little brighter

Sometimes the load is heavy
And I feel so bereft
And I don’t feel him close to me
Just the absence he has left

Some days are filled with sunshine
And in the  warmth I feel him near
Some days are filled with storm clouds
And I can’t escape the fear

One day there will be peace
I will remember without pain
They will be together in my heart
Both the sunshine and the rain

Dearest, I hope you don’t mind

Dearest Xavier,
It’s been a while since we talked. I am sorry. I have to wonder if you mind. I have to hope you don’t feel forgotten.

In the early days after you said goodbye, my every thought was full of you. My arms were empty but my mind overflowed with you. The hole in my heart was exactly your shape. Yawning and bleeding and wide. And I spoke to you and I spoke of you. You were never far from my mind or my lips. But time has become the healer they promised, even when I didn’t want to believe. And you have settled into a different place.

When the hair dresser asked how many children, I didn’t speak of you. But I saw you as I drove home against the bubble-gum pink sunset.
When the lady at swimming asked about my boys, I didn’t say your name. But she pressed and asked about the age gap and I told her that you lived. And that you died. And she wondered how you ever recover from such a thing. I held your little brother a little closer and said he helped immensely. Because what else could I say? I hope you don’t feel betrayed.

In the earliest of days I did things for you constantly because I was convinced that I needed to mother you and more than that, you needed me to mother you. As I move away from my need does your need lessen as well?

Oh my little man, please know you are still loved. As this river called time seems to pull me further away, know my heart is still tied to yours. And although my thoughts are no longer tied in knots around your memory, your memory is secure and safe. My dearest Xavier, as I heal, I hope you don’t mind.

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

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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.