When Freddie died, Max and I attended his funeral almost alone. We had just our doctor/nurse/midwife team and one friend as a witness, a friend who happens to bridge the gap between real life and those people who cared for us.It is hard to explain why we made that decision, except that I felt I couldn’t bear to take the girls and if they didn’t go it didn’t seem quite right to have any one else. That 11 day SCBU stay was a peculiar thing and the only people who felt real, were the people who got to know Freddie and care for us. And a piece of me was frightened that I wouldn’t be able to bear to see people who saw me on that day, so some people who should have come, including our lovely doula, didn’t get invited for just that reason. I was afraid of having people in both worlds. Even to invite Helen seemed a massive leap of faith really, but I knew she wouldn’t let me push her away afterwards and I knew the girls wouldn’t either. And I needed someone to be there, who could tell me in the future that it had been real. I needed someone capable of looking backwards with me, because much as Max is wonderful, looking back is not something he can do.
The other reason was that somewhere in the midst of all that, I lost my ability to be a drama queen. I can actually pinpoint the moment; I received a bracing, ‘it will all be fine, we’ve been there, it will work out’ message from a friend and I looked at it and thought “No… no. It isn’t going to be fine. But I can’t bear to tell you that. I can’t bear to put you through this with me.” Amidst all of the comforting and ‘keep positive’ messages I got in those 11 days, I could spot the ones who knew what was coming and the ones who thought that ferocious determination would somehow win the day and I just didn’t have it in me to deflate the people who believed it would all come right. I lost the knack of being obsessed with being the centre of attention, ironically right at the moment of deserving it. The piece of me that thought life was a stage where I could direct the ending simply broke and all the theatre left the building. I think that particular thing was exacerbated by a nurse telling me with great kindness, that I had been a person with dignity throughout Freddie’s life; it touched a chord. I want to be the dignified person he knew. I hope he knew.
So when it came to planning a funeral for my child, I was lost. All the bits of me that ought to have solidified into a grand gesture were not there. I didn’t want people there to see me cry. I didn’t want people to see me sad and broken. I didn’t want to be the one who tried to put on an act to smile and thank people for coming. Even in front of the nurses I failed drastically at that. I just wanted to be me – but at least they had seen me cry solidly for 11 days. Me weeping like a raincloud had been a kindly joke for most of those days.
The trouble with not having that event, a funeral, was that huge events do need an end point. As a friend pointed out, we have these rituals for a reason and I did feel we had missed that emotional goodbye among people to talk nonsense with us afterwards. Lacking the ability to use religion for it, I did want to do something and it always felt that his birthday would be the right time for that. But, having lost the knack for the grand gesture, I didn’t manage to plan anything, except to fret about the weather. I couldn’t seem to make it all sit together in my head.
Then last week it all settled into position. Max and I had a chat about it and decided it would be the right thing to make an occasion of the day; I went to a party shop and ordered balloons from a lovely man who was so kind and thoughtful that I will buy all my party stuff from him forever. Max came up with some simple food plans, the girls decided on labels to add to balloons and thanks to a comment on the blog from Emma, I went and got some bubbles for the children and picked up some crafty stuff to keep them occupied afterwards. And I let people know what we would be doing and asked them to come if they wanted to and could.
I had a bit of a horror being hopeless and making a big deal out of it or dragging people through my process, so no speeches, not elaborate stuff, nothing to make anyone shuffle. We counted down and let the balloons go and they did just exactly what balloons carrying messages to a little boy should do… they went up, up and away 🙂
We came back and had food and talked and the kids played n the garden and the adults spoke of trivia and laughed and it was exactly what I needed and afterwards, talking to Max and the girls, I knew it had been right for them too.
People left gradually, staying exactly the right amount of time, which was perfect too because they is nothing so comforting as friends who know when to be there and when to leave and when they had gone, I looked at all the lovely things people had said and done to remember Freddie and cried a bit and we all huddled down for a while.
We also gave the girls little copies of the acorn necklace I wear; Josie kisses my one every night 😥 but they all love it and thought it would suit the occasion well to give these on the day. I’m incredibly grateful to Rowanberry for her generosity in making these for me at a time that was also very difficult for her. *blows kisses*
In the evening we lit candles all round the garden and across the doorstep and left them to burn until they went out. It looked beautiful. We had sparklers too; it felt joyful, rather than sad, to do that and is a little link between him and Josie, our Bonfire Night girl who didn’t get long enough as a big sister.
I’m keeping these ones burning each night he was alive. It feels right. A small gesture, but enough.
I’m so grateful to everyone who came, especially as I couldn’t decide what to make of the day until the very last minute. You made it perfect.