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.
“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”.