This is my contribution to the meme hosted at Glow this week on the passage of time after the loss of a child. Two others I love are by Jeanette and Jill who both, thanks to us ‘knowing’ each other online before the deaths of our babies, have been particularly special to me in the last sixteen months.
1. How much time has passed since the death of your child(ren)? Do you mark grief in months, weeks or years? Does it seem to be going fast or slow?
I tend not to mark the date (the 13th) of Freddie’s death in any particular way; the 2nd, the date of his birth, has been far more meaningful to me. This is odd, I think, as I’ve more than a tendency to be morbid. It was a fairly conscious decision not to mark Tuesday mornings or Friday mornings with a thought and luckily life is too busy for it to be easy to remember. So I think I have marked the time in months almost since the beginning. I wrote letters to Freddie on the 2nd of each month for the first year and that stretched it and gave it milestones and teeth-gritting elements of pain, seeing all those months where he wasn’t doing the things I know so well from the girls’ babyhoods. But since his birthday, I’ve freed myself from that a little and circumstances have changed. It seems to be going quicker. The next few months are going to be odd but I think April will come faster in 2012 than it did in 2011. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Edited to add: I never actually answered the question. 16 months.
2. Do you have an end goal to your grief? How much time do you think that will take? How much time did you think you’d need to get there right after your loss? How much time do you think you need now?
I’ve had quite a few experiences of ‘person’ loss over the years and a previous, extremely guilt ridden, pregnancy loss. From the time when Freddie died, much of my anger and distress was in some ways focused on the fact that I had to do this journey ‘again’, even though the circumstances of losing a full term, living baby were also very different. I likened it to a crushed path, miles and miles long, though a cornfield. I had walked it before, the path was beaten down, and somehow I had been transported back to the beginning again. It was frustrating – and comforting – perhaps a false sense of security in my ability to cope. But the image does mean that I always knew there was an end point, a place where the grief is assimilated into life, no longer causing rage and pain and hurt. I know it is there. I think knowing that hastens the journey in some ways, but it also makes me wonder at times if I’m skating on it, not walking it and at some point I might slip and be badly hurt by the fall. I’m not sure what happens in an iced over cornfield though 🙂
I think I shut down now in ways I never used to. Part of where I am is that I’ve developed a knack of shutting off people who hurt me and not seeing things that damage me. I’ve become very isolated and I don’t care. In terms of time, I think I am now at a point where the time I need, what is left in this journey, is more about opening up again and seeing who is still there to welcome me back. Or how successfully I can do that. I do think some pieces of me may be irretrievably broken.
3. Rather than a clear end goal, is there a milestone or marker to indicate that you are feeling grief less acutely, i.e. going to a baby shower, listening to a song that made you cry early in grief, driving past the hospital? How long did it take to get there?
If I’m honest, probably not. Things don’t really hurt less, I’m just more adept at managing them. I finally met my baby nephew, who was born a few months after Freddie. That was very hard and I couldn’t have done it sooner than I did. Even then my time limits on the event were short. But I did do it. Tesco, with the Florence & Fred labels and the waily babies still torments me, I really can’t go there and certain songs are a problem. I don’t hear constant reminders in every element of morning radio any more but I think I might just have stopped acknowledging them. Early on, one friend said she was proud of me for trying not to wallow. I put everything away, I felt guilty 3 days out for looking at his photos. Left to Max, there would be not one reminder of Freddie in the house. I think everything would be in the bin. Balancing my needs with his was hard. It is very strange to have such opposing needs.
Freddie’s blanket is still in our bed and it was quite a while before I managed to communicate to Max that chucking it into a pile on the floor was not okay. if I can see an end point to my need to mark his presence in our life, it is the point at which that blanket goes in the cupboard. I think perhaps that will be sometime next spring, should all go as I hope it will. But it will be a conscious moving on moment, not natural readiness. Possibly there will also come a time when burying his ashes will feel right. We’ve reached an impasse over that; we know where it should be but it is far from home and I’m not ready to have him so far and unprotected. Plus our impressions of what is right are different. Max would happily bury him with a wooden stake that lasts as long as it does; I want it to be honourably marked. I don’t want the conversation yet. Perhaps when we know our family is complete, then that will happen.
4. How do you view the time you had with your child, either alive (within or outside) or already deceased? ?Before you all answer “Too short! Not enough!”, did you have time to “bond” or develop a future imagination about what this child would be like? ?Perhaps depending on whether yours was cut short, how do you now feel about the nine-month period of gestation — too long or not long enough?
Freddie’s pregnancy was very lovely and a happy time, but it was odd as I was filled with nameless dread about him. Then he lived for 11 days, every one of them frightening and fraught and full of pain and despair and hope and dread and love. I never thought he would live, even though the doctors did. I had not one iota of hope for him beyond the first 24 hours. It was hard to bond; I didn’t let him wear our baby clothes, I didn’t change his nappy much, I didn’t even hold him often because I somehow thought that would stop me loving him. But of course I did, because I was there constantly, I barely left his side. And then he woke up and I loved him so much and had this brief belief that a miracle would occur, just for a few hours.
Our girls fall into two ‘sides’ – we have 2 loud and fidgety ones and two quieter, more thoughtful ones. In the 36 hours when Freddie was awake, even though his eyes were telling me he couldn’t stay, I knew he would have been one of the latter type. He was a Maddy-Josie style of child. There was just something gentle in his soul.
I wish I had known to relish the pregnancy more and write about it. Instinct stopped me connecting, but what I remember, I remember very affectionately. I remember feeling very protective of him and very much that he needed my love.
5. One grief book suggested that it took 2-5 years to incorporate your grief into your life. ?Where are you on this timeline, and you do you find that to be true?
Past experience would lead me to believe in that. 2 years tends to mean some new life experience has moved in on the space, I think and 5 years on from my other pregnancy loss, I think I’m healed from the loss, if not the guilt. I’m fairly sure I would be at the same point, even had Freddie not occurred in the interim.
6. There’s a familiar saying, “Time Heals all wounds.” ?Do you think this is true? ?Or do you subscribe to Edna St. Vincent Milay: ?”Time does not bring relief, you all have lied”?
It depends what ‘heals’ means. Max fell off a motorbike when he was 15. When I met him 9 years later, his knees were angry red, shiny scar tissue. Now it is flesh coloured. Thin, shiny, not the same, but leg coloured and functioning. I’m not hoping for any better than that really. Not even another 50 babies will ever heal me of the sound of silence a newborn who doesn’t cry makes. Freddie will always be there, probably be my only ever chance at mothering a boy. I miss him more than I can say because the hole he has left is etched into everything and I resent that I can’t watch him grow up, but I’d be a liar if I said I felt as bad now as I did at 4 months out.
7. Has your relationship with the future (immediate and far) changed since the death of your child(ren)? ?How about your relationship with the past?
I can’t plan now. I just can’t. I go to one thing almost every week and I simply can’t focus on being ready for it. I always fail. I can’t think past the hour I’m in. I used to fit masses into every day and I’m almost inert now. I can’t think ahead, I can’t assume a month will happen. I can’t organise things, arrange things, think up ideas, commit to anything. It is losing me friends, I know. I’m utterly dependant on people calling to me and extricating me from my home. I’m virtually housebound unless someone forces me to be out there. I can’t look forward, I’m scared of looking back. I can’t assume August will be there to make plans in. I can’t book things or fix points in time into any sort of framework.
It is beginning to be a problem and something I have to work out. More than anything, it horrifies me that I used to be so active and busy and cram a life and a business and a family of home educated children into life and now I barely get dressed. It’s taken me a while to spot this is an issue rather than a laziness I didn’t used to have.
8. How long did it take to answer these questions?
Not quite an hour. Mostly due to interruptions 🙂