Christmas and Regret: Did I give him enough?

Christmas WreathThe Christmas tree has been packed away. The lights have been stowed. Stockings no longer hang and wreaths have been taken down for another year. Christmas is well and truly over and I am a little sad. Not the usual Yuletide  hangover, but regret that Christmas wasn’t as magical as I could have made it. We had sickness and birthday parties, beach holidays and projects that all encroached upon the season. Christmas cookies were hurriedly baked on Christmas Eve. The school carols were rained out and we didn’t get a chance to go to another. I didn’t go to a Christmas Eve mass, as I was so very tired and unwell. Hand made Christmas presents went unmade. We didn’t take the train one evening to see the big Christmas tree in town.

I didn’t make Xavier a decoration this year and I didn’t place a Christmas tree beside his grave. His little Christmas area was necessarily condensed due to the reach of a curious toddler.  I didn’t get a chance to write Xavier a letter. Out of everything, these things sadden me the most. Sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans. And I feel like he was forgotten – not by family and friends, but by me. That he didn’t have the Christmas he deserved.  Continue reading

Advertisements

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.

Parenting in Absentia … the guilt and the reality of parenting living children whilst grieving

I remember the first time I ever paid for an iPhone app.   We were in the hospital not long after hearing the devastating news that Xavier would not be coming home with us.  Isaac was demanding attention I could not give.  I turned to technology as baby-sitter.  I relinquished  previous rules, gave him my phone and in a metaphorical sense, I never really asked for it back.

In those dark days after Xavier died I could not give Isaac the parenting he deserved.  He heard yes too often to requests for things when I had no fight.  He heard no too often to requests for my time and attention when I had none to give.   My wonderful sister in particular stepped in and looked after Isaac when I could not.  There was a period of time when I was completely absent as a parent.  My previous approach to parenting – to be present, to be fun, to be involved, to say “no” but then redirect attention to some brilliant new game or activity – all of it impossible.

Even in it, I knew I was being unfair to Isaac. I felt terrible guilt over it, yet I had no capacity to fix the situation.   He was never phsycially neglected,  but I feel like I missed the months of his life that followed Xavier’s death.   Like everything else, I went through the motions, whilst my mind was elsewhere.

Even as the darkest fog of grief lifted, my parenting had changed.  I was more permissive.   Isaac’s short term happiness, and even compliance, more important to me than the longer term effects.  It has been a hard Pandora’s box to try and close.   With the advent of school, some behaviours have crystallised as being of concern.   I look back to those days of absent parenting and wonder if I am now reaping what was sown.   And then I ask myself whether I am using grief as an excuse?

Most children go through a period of time when their parents’ attention and time for them contracts.  Whether it be a new baby or return to work, there comes a time when the best of parenting routines come unstuck.  And Isaac is certainly not the only five year old to be a little crazy, prone to the occasional tantrum, unhappy with the word “no” and fond of fighting games.

I can spend time with my guilt over my absent parenting.  I can beat myself about it and wish things to be different.   Or I can choose to change our present behaviour into something more positive.

So I have decided to do the following:

  1. Every morning, we will dance to William Pharrell’s “Happy”.  You cannot help but start the day on a positive note with that song in your head.  And it was the first song Elijah clapped to.  So it must be good.
  2. Every morning, we will talk about our intention for the day.  We will spend a moment or two discussing what positive thing we want out of that particular day.
  3. The Star Wars, the Ninjago, the Chima – they will no longer be a part of our week days.
  4. Because I am taking away something important from Isaac, I want to give him something.  We will work on a project each week.  It might be an art or craft project, a building project, or something else.  But we will do something creative together.
  5. We will start each day with some gentle yoga.  Every week Elijah and I attend a yoga class.  I might go into that class wound up and anxious – worried about various aspects of my life.  I come out of that class and I am no longer worried.  My problems have not magically been resolved, but my perspective is more realistic after spending time connecting my body to my mind.  If Isaac and I spend some time with yoga, I think it will help us both.

At then end of the day, children are enormously resilient.  My parenting in absentia will always bother me more than it has Isaac.

For those parenting living children and living in the thick fog of grief – be gentle with yourself.  You can only give what you can give.  Somedays that may not be very much at all.  That’s okay.  You are an amazing parent – you have made the choice to still be here with your living family.

For all parents, we can’t be perfect each day.  We can do our best each day.  Some days are going to be better than others, and even when it all goes wrong, there is always tomorrow to look forward to.

Reclaiming Motherhood

The other day I was enjoying a beautiful brunch outing with some other mothers.   They had their first children in their laps – from newborn to 18 months.    We talked about the things mothers talk about.  Sleeping, eating, toilet training, breast feeding, weaning, husbands, careers, having more children, facing bikini season.   As the only one with more than one child, I fell into advice giving.   It’s not something I am very comfortable with.  No-one likes a mummy-know-it-all.  Besides, I have always, always believed that mothers who trust their own instincts never go too far wrong.

Until one does.  I trusted every instinct with Xavier and he didn’t survive.   You know those Facebook memes where the mother hails her day a success because she’s kept all the children alive?   You can’t imagine how much they hurt.  The old adage that you don’t need to be a perfect mum, you just need to be enough, that stings as well.

And so sitting and dispensing advice makes me feel fraudulent.  I can’t help but wonder, why would these women want advice from me?  They have their beautiful children surrounding them, loving them, touching them.  Do they nod politely and inside think “at least I can keep my child alive.”  I know my friends, and I am sure that this thought wouldn’t pass into their heads, but it could and I would understand if it did.

When I expressed these feelings to N, he hugged me gently and said “What happened to Xavier and your abilities as a mother have absolutely nothing to do with one another.  You are the best mother I know.”  Coming from the best father I know – that did restore my faith somewhat.

Isaac is a beautiful boy of nearly five.  Boisterous but as well-behaved as you can expect any five year old boy to be.  He is full of life and colour and imagination.  He is fun to be around.  He cares for those around him.    He is a credit to his father and I.  He is proof that I can mother.

Elijah is adorable and wonderful.  Every moment I spend with him is precious.  I love everything about taking care of him.  Even at 4am in the morning, I cannot help but be filled with excitement that this precious little baby is mine!  He is proof that I can mother.

Xavier remains an integral part of our family.  I talk about him fearlessly.  I love him through space and time.  I try to make his memory accessible to other people in a positive way.  He is proof that I can mother in the most extraordinarily difficult of circumstances.

I lost my baby to SIDS and  I am still a good mother.