In six weeks time, it should be my son’s first birthday. Whatever seconds have passed, whatever the minutes, the hours, the days, the weeks and the months have been like this year, they have passed and now it is nearly Spring. It is nearly a year since that first newborn breath failed to happen, nearly a year since all that effort and pain ended, not with joy and relief and a wailing, outraged baby but with silence and then panic, with fear and shock and terror. It’s nearly a year since those joyful, dreadful 11 days.
Winter had ended as I drove the unrewarding roads of town today; the sunlight has altered, as it always does at this time of year. The bland and dirty roadsides of melted snow and rain gave way this week to the smell of cut grass, the sun bouncing off greenery and the sky was blue, the brightest blue. Today was a Spring day, the colours and the smell and the sunlight I associate with April. Today the air was soft and the colours vivid and when I looked in my garden, the daffodils we planted last Autumn were poking their heads up, ready to remind us all of Freddie with colour and life.
In just a few weeks, he should be one year old. In just a few weeks the milestones will be passing for a second time. We are almost at the end of doing things for the first time without our little boy. We have all had a birthday now, we are all a year older (an age older, you might almost say) since he was born, we’ve done all the normal holidays and lived through most of the festivities. Only Easter, which falls after his birthday rather than on his birthday, will be left. I think Good Friday will choke me.
Today Max told me I looked happy. I suppose I was. Or am. Or can be. I liked feeling Spring; in the same way I hated April for what it used to remind me of, so now that trick of the light and feel of the air recalls those days when I had only just stopped carrying him, holding him, worrying for him. What once reminded me of death, now reminds me of life – even if it was not quite a life and certainly not enough of a life. But that is what I have, that is what I got and so that is what I have to make do with. It would be self harm now, to hate that month and turn my back on it. It would be self harm to hate the daffodils. When we drove home, just an hour after watching him die, we were greeted in our village by the sight of flowering daffodils. I often think of that drive home, that walk out of the hospital. It seemed so normal, we acted so normally, we walked out of the hospital without the other people in the corridors knowing we had just watched our child die. We drove home and commented on the traffic. I looked at daffodils. I came home, I told my children their brother was dead. We cooked some food. We ate lunch. We went out to gym and I distinctly remember talking to someone and saying he had died that morning and seeing her face, astounded that I was there. And thinking “but where else would I be?”
Where else indeed? But it is a measure of how dreadful things were, that either of us thought it was appropriate to go to ordinary evening activities. Perhaps everyone did know what had just happened when we walked down that corridor. Perhaps we nearly drove into people on the way home. Perhaps there was a dead body in the daffs and I never noticed. Perhaps lunch was burned.
Time is passing. Our mourning time is nearly up. My mourning anyway. There is a babyloss expression which describes the grief assigned by others to parents, based on the size of a child. Well, I guess newborn roughly equally one year. I can’t go on mourning forever. And I do laugh, I do feel happy. I do have fun. I do enjoy my life. I can do all that with an invisibly dead son in the crook of my arm just as easily as I could have with a living one. He doesn’t hinder me; he’s just.. there.. and I live with him, like a sad love affair you never get over but which taught you how to love. He’s my one who got away.
The light is changing. Winter is over and Spring is coming. The dead colours of the earth and the trodden grass and the weary sky are hit with the brilliance of the early sun and everything that was is becoming something new, with new colours and new understanding. I would wish for it to also bring new life but that won’t be, not for him and probably not for any other. I’ve given up all hope, though that isn’t going to stop me trying.
A few weeks ago a friend used a word. Survived. I have survived. I’d qualify that with “so far” but I don’t disagree. I can’t wish that I had never had Freddie, because I am better for having carried him and loved him, even for having lost him.I’m better for having ‘survived’ him, in all senses of the word. I can wish I hadn’t survived him but I also can’t. Not only am I better for his life, but there are people here who need me, little girls. I’m not allowed to fail them.
On the day we left hospital, the nurse who cared for us though those few short hours said that we had handled his life and death with great dignity. I’m not sure it is a word that had ever been applied to me before. It’s been a watchword this year, one I have tried so hard to stand by. I have tried to be dignified. I have tried to honour him in a way that seems respectful, loving but not over-dramatic, not self-obsessed, not selfish or silly.
I’ve tried to look hard at myself and see the person I am as three people, people separated by growth and experience.
Before. During. After.
I wish ‘during’ had been longer and kinder. I wish ‘after’ had been further away. But ‘before’ is inhabited by someone else, not me. I am not her any more. I am better than that.
I am surviving.
Written for the Have. Am. Will. Writing Workshop at Sleep is for the Weak.