The true things that people don’t see

Here are some things that are true:

  • I was pregnant for nearly nine months with Xavier. It was a happy and uneventful pregnancy.
  • I gave birth to Xavier. I birthed him and I held him and I cried as he was placed against me for the first time.
  • He lived for two little weeks. He fussed and he cried and he made me laugh.  He was held by a proud big brother.  He met family and friends.
  • I am a mother to three sons.

I felt like I had to write these things down. To make them feel concrete. Because so often, those facts seem unsubstantiated and unsubstantial. Paper thin. A mirage.

When people meet me for the first time, they presume I am a mother of two. People ask whether I will have a third child. There are only two little beds in our house. Two carseats. Two little heads that snuggle against me when I hold them. I hold two boys in my arms and three in my heart. I am a mother of three, appearing as a mother of two. And very often that appearance feels more real than the truth.

In the wake of Xavier’s death, I wanted to scream about his existence. I would tell anyone who would dare ask. He was so real to me. My life was so full of him. I felt I had to advocate doubly hard for the child no-one could see. He was the largest thing in my life for a long time and he could not be seen by anyone else. There was a large and painful hole in my life where my baby boy should have been. A gaping black hole that could swallow a person. But that hole started to close. I learned to experience him in different ways and that allowed me to miss him less. I think it was the missing that made the hole so large and angry and empty.

Sometimes it feels like my life has been cut into thirds. The girl before Xavier’s death. The girl in the wake of it.  The girl who emerged from the darkest of grief.  And it’s hard to grasp onto the girl before. It’s hard to think of those people as linear. They feel more like tangents.

My life now is full – it is not without pain – but for the most part I have no complaints. There are days when I miss him dreadfully – his birthday or anniversary – and there are days that I miss him for no other reason than he is gone. But I do not feel the pull of that dark hole anymore. And here I stand, a bereaved mother but no longer a heavily grieving one. A mother of three boys in a world that only sees two. And a fading memory of a tiny boy with peach fuzz hair and eyes like his great grandfather’s. His essence, who he is now, is alive and vibrant in my life but it is getting harder to recollect the tiny baby. And so it is with time. And so it is with grief.

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The Monkey and the Ocean – the healing power of waves.

Photo Credit Robyna MayI have not had a great week.  A combination of small annoyances and a piece of unexpected news.  There has been no great tragedy.  There is no risk to my or any of my family’s health. The things that have gotten me down will be of no consequence in a few months time. I am a resilient person.  Not by choice or by birth-right.  But you walk through the shattered glass and you become numb to pain. Wounds close over and leave tough callouses. And when the shards you walk upon belong to your scattered heart, you quickly learn the difference between the things that matter and the things that do not. But despite having this perspective, the monkey still climbs on my back.  With his claws of self-doubt and a weight that has me questioning my value.

I had to do some thing to shake him free.  And with the monkey on my back, I went to Stradbroke Island with my boys and my parents.

There is a sense of freedom the moment you step onto that sacred place.   The monkey loosened his grip as my feet found the sand.   He very nearly left as we watched a wild fur seal playing at the rocks near the surf club.   The seal danced in the ocean, turning as the waves rolled over him.   Casting a wary eye our way.   We passed a kangaroo on a walk, the monkey shied away but he didn’t flee.   As I took in the view, the ocean and the beach stretching for miles, the monkey felt lighter, but he clung on still.

It wasn’t until I dived into the ocean and let the salt water rush over my body that the monkey finally sensed defeat.  The cleansing power of salt and surf and the enormity of water finally shaking doubts free.   I dived under the waves, aching for the silence.  Just me and the ocean. As I came up for air, the water caught the sunshine rays and blinded me with its sparkle.  There is joy and magic and healing within the waves.  There is alchemy in the white crests that crashed around me.  I lay, weightless, in the ocean.  Letting the waves catch me and the worries float away.

Like all mothers, these moments for myself are snatched. I wanted to stay in the wilderness that dwarfed my problems, but I promised Isaac I would only be a few minutes.

As I approached the shore, I saw that Isaac was very upset.  He had watched me go out beyond the breakers and was seized by anxiety.  And I was reminded that he knows more about the reality of loss than any little boy should. Elijah’s chubby little arms reached for me as soon as he realised I was near. And I was reminded that, more than any one on earth, this little person needed me. And here is a different kind of wildness.  A different kind of healing and perspective.  And as I gathered my boys into my arms, I watched the monkey fade away.

Seasons in Grief

iPhone 007

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.

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.

Holes in our hearts … but we carry on

I don’t often cry over Xavier.  Even in  the early months, I didn’t sob as often as I would have expected.  During support groups, I would be amongst the few whose cheeks remained dry.  For a little while this worried me – was there something wrong with me? Was this unhealthy grieving? Would the dam burst one day and floods of un-shed tears finally overtake me? Was I in denial? I began to realise that my way of grieving was simply more cerebral.  I analyse rather than cry, think rather than sob, write rather than weep.    And that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean I miss or love my son any less.

However, there is one thing that unleashes the tears.  Music unlocks something in my heart and the tears flow in sweet release.   When I was teenager, music played an important part in my life.  I would see my own feelings reflected in song lyrics all the time.   It has been a long time since I have sought solace in the same way.  Nowadays my life means that I tend to listen to music in the car, when a random song on the radio can unexpectedly send me reeling.

There are certain songs I simply cannot hear – Beautiful Boy by John Lennon,  Small Bump by Ed Sheeran, Last Kiss by Pearl Jam.    Then there are snatches of lyrics that never meant anything to me before that suddenly carry a profound weight.  Songs about loves lost and the inability to live without them. The song “Holes” by passenger hits home at the moment.

Well sometimes you can’t change and you can’t choose And sometimes it seems you gain less than you lose Now we’ve got holes in our hearts, yeah we’ve got holes in our lives Where we’ve got holes, we’ve got holes but we carry on

I have gained so much since Xavier died.  Learned more than I could have conceived.  But I would give it all up in less than a heartbeat if I could hold him again.   You gain less than you lose .   The gifts of grief can be hard accept – you never want to regard their origin with anything approximating gratitude.  Yet they are there – they exist.  And yes, they never amount to the same weight as the life of a child, but they are what you are left with.  We  carry on – life carries us on her relentless tide.  

We’ve got holes but we carry on.