Life goes on. Seems to be the only thing i can think of to say about it really. And it really does go on; other lives, other events and you quickly realise that you and yours are just a tiny part of a much bigger picture. Even in hospital with Freddie we watched a Brian Cox thing one night and i thought “here i am, crying for my sick baby and i’m just a tiny dot, on a tiny dot, in a tiny drop of water, on a tiny ball in a huge, enormous **** off universe that can’t even hear me cry.” It is a bizarre thought. Human emotions are so big, so all encompassing, so complete – it is impossible to imagine things beyond your own thoughts sometimes.
When Freddie went off to another hospital for a brain scan, Max and i were shown the little incubator cart he would go in. I immediately retreated from it and knew i couldn’t go with him (there were lots of other reasons for not doing so) because that was the same style of little cart that almost 12 years earlier Fran was taken to her first operation in. I sobbed all the way through the hospital as we walked with her to the theatres that day, in the same hospital that Freddie was being taken to. Afterwards, once we’d decided to let Freddie go on without us, Max said “in some ways you just want to go and slap yourself round the face for thinking that Fran’s operation was worth getting frightened about but in other ways you have to remember what a big deal it did feel at the time. And was.”
I’m not a believer in hierarchies of stress and pain and fear and grief – a child who dreams of monsters is just as scared at the moment as they can imagine being and it doesn’t matter to them that somewhere else a child has just lost its mother, or seen a person die or been beaten or damaged. Fear is fear. People say “worse thing happen at sea” but i doubt that is much comfort to the person about to fall off a tall building. My children sobbed for their rabbit 3 weeks before Freddie was born with the same intensity and sadness that they cried for him. People mourn for many things. When Fran needed that operation, i was terrified she was going to die and powerless to help her; 10 days of knowing Freddie was probably going to die or perhaps worse, might manage to live, was not really worse than that, it was just different. I’ve had the healthiest child in SCBU and the sickest and i can’t say that one was particularly less frightening or tearÂ inducing than the other. But then i do cry a lot, so perhaps i am not the best barometer of such things. Certainly the most frightened i have ever been in my life was the moments after Freddie was born, nothing really compares to that, but watching him die was not one of the worst moments of my life. Well. It was. But it wasn’t. I was heartbroken, bereft and full of loss. But also relieved and at peace and sure that the right thing had happened. And i was cuddling my boy, without drips or beeps, for the only time in his or my life. So how could it be the worst moment?
No, i wouldn’t slap myself round the face on the day of Fran’s first operation, when she was exactly the same age as Freddie was on the day he died. If i could have a moment with myself, i think i would want to say that one day i was going to need the memory of that time to get me through another time and thatÂ i would be stronger and more able because of it. It wouldn’t have helped me to know there were people in worse positions, or even that one day i would be in one. I doubt very much it would have helped the people in the room with sick children to know that i was in a better position. Bad things happen and they tend to just feel really bad at the time. If you are ill-equipped to deal with such things (as i am and Max apparently isn’t) then you are likely to handle them badly. I’ve handled Freddie’s life and death better than i’ve handled any other crisis in my life – and that is weird, given it certainly ought to be appear to be the worst position we have ever been in. I guess that might be because no one else ever really knows where you are in your heart – from the outside a situation might seem clear cut but if you are in it, with all the baggage that goes along with people and couples and secrets, something else might be true.
Freddie’s death might seem like the worst thing that could possibly have happened to us; the truth is that i happen to have enough knowledge of how things might have turned out, thanks to my friend Kate, to know that things might well have been more devastating if he had lived. That sounds so heartless but it isn’t – but the reality is probably that we have got out of jail -Â not free but only scarred- and he and the girls have probably been spared a life time of pain and regret and frustration and obligation. The down side, the black lining to the cloud, is that we can’t ever really know. And we can’t wipe this experience away from any of the 6 of us left behind.