The last two years I did a New Years Eve post, one full of hope and joy, one full of anger and despair. This year I didn’t think I would take the risk. In fact, looking back at the festive period this year, I think I got through it all by just deciding not to actually acknowledge it at all. I didn’t think head on about buying presents, I approached decorations sideways, I barely let myself see Xmas Eve and I resolutely didn’t think on the day. When death and grief come marching into your home, so that there is not a single place to hide from it, no opportunity to pretend it isn’t happening, hasn’t happened, I think the only way to escape is to find a place to escape inside your head. From the outside I imagine that doesn’t look too good, but from my point of view, I only have to make sure the 6 of us are safe and happy. Beyond that is a long way beyond what I can manage.
I don’t believe there is a parent who, faced with the reality of losing a child, would not swap any other person on the earth for their life. Outside of this house, I would give any one and and any thing to have a whole and healthy Freddie back here. I wouldn’t trade Max or the girls, and Max only makes the cut, quite honestly, because the thought of coping with loss and grief and pain without his love and care and support is intolerable. That in no way diminishes my love for him; brutal as it sounds, it is the highest compliment I can offer him I remember my nana saying when she lost my grandfather that the person she needed most to help her through it was him. Only her spouse could have made such pain, such a new life, so much emptiness, tolerable. And so it was to lose Freddie; Death stood on the bridge and offered me 5 lives for his and I couldn’t give them. He didn’t offer me any I could have stood losing. It doesn’t matter how much you love other people, nothing would stand in the way of a mother with the chance to save her child.
What makes it nearly tolerable, mostly, is knowing that I did save him really. What makes it less tolerable is knowing that in the intervening 21 months, the circle of people I love enough to think twice has widened. That enough grief and pain has passed for me to know that it would not be okay to cause pain by saving us from it.
Last year was all about gestures and finding meaning. I made him a tree and I did things that made me cry but seemed right and important. This year I didn’t want to. In fact it was only thanks to 3 lovely people who made ornaments for me that he got his tree, I put it up to hang them and I’m glad I did. Thank you. This year though, I didn’t want to do things that would make me cry, so I didn’t look at the 4 stockings or hear the carols, or make things or indulge in the sad thoughts more than I had to. A few crept up on me, but I didn’t seek them out or pierce the pain. That isn’t because I’ve forgotten or moved on, it is because it hurts so much that I dont disturb the scab any more. Part of grief is learning to manage it and sometimes that doesn’t look good from the outside. Sometimes it looks heartless or callous or uncaring or even just plain wrong. It is because of this that people think parents move on from the pain of losing their child, we make and perpetuate the myth we hate. It hurts too much to wear it always and the place we lock it is very deep and very secret. Sometimes we make black jokes and sometimes we say ‘but you know, it’s fine’. Doesn’t mean it is.
A few weeks ago, Max read me a passage from a book that described a war time experience of a man who, on getting to active service on his first ship, was torpedoed and sunk twice in the first 24 hours. The language was gung ho and jolly, a glossy and funny account of the experience. “it was just a different time, wasn’t it” said Max. “you can’t imagine a person reacting like that now.” I just gaped at him. Even after everything, though an entire festive period when we didn’t speak our son’s name or acknowledge his loss between us, when the people who did are countable on my two hands, he said that. Where he sees a cheerful positive account of terror, I see a man who makes jokes about the most horrific experience of his life, because that is the only way to encapsulate it in something bearable. 20 years on from losing almost a ship full of comrades twice in one night, he was writing about it as a jape. He can’t have meant it. I don’t believe anyone who went through that could have meant it.
We have the house back to normal now. It wasn’t unbearable like last year but I just didn’t think about it. New Year’s Eve was just a night, I am still cautiously tasting the reality that Freddie was no longer even born ‘last year’. I can manage to just about do that, from a mental distance.
I assume that at some point, I will be able to come closer to him again than this. Right now, it’s the safest place to be.