The yearly check in with grief via Still Life with Circles has become fundamental to me. I have waited for it to come around again yet now I wonder what thoughts to write.
If I say “Life is good”, I feel the eyes of the boy who isn’t on my back. Imagining myself walking on, I feel him looking and I have no idea what he is saying. “Go on Mamma…” or “Come back Mamma”? Would he be pleased to know that life goes on? Would it do any justice to him if life had not?
I described grief at one year and two years as life a landscape; first came a bitter, barren red dust of a land and then the hopeful but fogged experience of pregnancy. And now… what? Life with Bene has eclipsed what Freddie brought because that is how it is. We are, after all, just animals and it is in our nature to live and move forward, breath in, breath out, foot forward, eyes gradually more seeing. If I look back on this last year it reminds me of a stiff and arduous climb, rocky underfoot, perils and fear and not enough safety ropes; the climb has a quirk of geography that means the oxygen grows better as I climb and from a shaky and wearisome start, the climb grew easier. We learned to accommodate fear and live with ups and downs, an occasional turned ankle, a slide back gripping a rope and praying it would hold. The view at the top is promised to be good and is coming into view. The climb is beginning to feel it might eventually end, might be worth the pain and fear and bone dragging tiredness.
Grief is not the same, three years on. I have the wistful smile, I’ve done my first stint of comforting the newly baby lost and holding a hand out on those first dreadful stepping stones across the sucking, rushing water. Freddie flits into my mind often, his picture is a familiar back ground in my bedroom. I cry less often and only for moments. He is mine now, all mine. My little boy, folded safely in my heart. Still mostly painful, very much the boy who taught me to swallow hard, hold back tears, speak less. I’m a long way across the stepping stones and I think the hurt will not grow much less now. It’s settled into a place where I think it cannot heal much more, but does no harm. He’s gone, not forgotten but no longer an icon by which the moments are tested and measured. I watched a little boy play on the station the other day, thought that Bene would be like that soon and only, several minutes in, realised Freddie would be like that now. That was a shock. A new grief, the loss of loss. The loss of the arrow sharp pain as a new trigger hoves into view.
And then. And then.
I had to get up from a table at Cybher because the woman next to me was speaking of her son Freddie; I stumbled over words and made an idiot of myself explaining why I was moving, because it felt wrong to just get up and move to a new table.
And then… I had to ask someone to change topic because something was going to make me cry. A moment of discussion about another child ill from birth threatened to turn over the rock to a dark underbelly I do not wish to examine.
And then… I am still so angry. SO angry I have to explain this loss to new people taking charge of my children. So angry when people say “it’s nice to have a boy in the family” like there was not one before and even more when family say it. I struggle to forgive that. SO angry when people starve and beat their children, their baby boy, while I left mine in the morgue where he should not have had to go this side of 90 years time. So very, unspeakably angry that this is our life now, that we have a boy who would never have been but for the boy who joins us only in the garden in tree form. SO incredibly furiously, venomously angry that I have to try and be polite when people offer platitudes or speak to me like it is all okay now.
I’m not sure the anger will ever go. I get angry with myself when I see people making beautiful memories and gestures for their lost child, when people remember them everywhere and yet mine is still unburied, that all my grandeur dried up in the face of having to find a way to make his mark for him. The irrationality that I felt angry that a hashtag wasn’t shared on his birthday makes me angry. With myself, because it doesn’t matter, not even a tiny bit. And yet it does. Angry when Max calls his tree “your tree” or “the magnolia” because I just want him to be both of ours. Angry that the walk in centre has some version of ‘neurotic mother with previous neonatal death’ on Bene’s notes. Angry that people say “but this is not the same” when Bene has a chest infection and expect it to be a comfort. I double back on my own frustration and fury endlessly; nothing matters because it does not bring him back. Everything matters because nothing can bring him back. Angry that I get angry, that is is the over-riding remaining emotion. Angry that I keep it patted down, smoothed over, untouched or lanced to play a politic game of recovery and gratefulness. Untouched because there is no time. Untouched because I daren’t open up that place. Untouched because if I lose that feeling, that angry, that pain… I might lose all of him. He might become a story, a curiosity of my life. I’m more at ease with that anger than I might be.
Angry I have lost my words and no longer write about him. That I’m British about my loss. That I feel silenced by losses others experience that I weigh as greater, more acknowledged, more painful.
Time passes. I read last week how a fellow baby lost mother almost lost her 4 year old to a drowning incident recently; she wrote how things are different this week, how they are appreciating life more. It brought me up short. After Freddie I saw life in sharpened colours, grateful for life, desperate to find meaning in death. These days there is humdrum; Leslie reminded me that I do not want to have another too close to death experience to remind me to keep valuing and treasuring what Freddie taught me. Like Leslie, I’ve settled back into the daily grind. It is worth remembering I promised to live life to the full for him. It’s worth remembering that I also promised not to make life an unhealthy concoction of ‘doing everything for Freddie’ either. I didn’t want my girls to feel they had to be more alive to compensate for him; that’s not fair either. Not every day, or even most days, should be a Freddie day. Not for us.
I am not where I expected to be.
Three months after Freddie’s death my nephew was born. I curled up crushed on the floor at the sight of a photo of him once. I didn’t meet him until after Freddie’s first birthday. I’ve met him only rarely since. I have never, never once, resented his presence or wished he didn’t exist. I never felt jealous. I never imagined pretending he was Freddie. I can say hand on heart I have done nothing in my head that was weird or unhealthy or stupid connected with Kit. And yet, something curious seems to have occurred. The first time we spent time with his little boyness, he skirted me but befriended Max and I watched Max, before Bene, cuddling a little boy who might so easily have been his. The second time we spent time with him, he came and hunkered down in the crook of my arm while Bene sat on my lap and for the briefest second I thought “this is how it was supposed to be. This might have been us”. But that’s the sum total of it. No pretending, no imagining.
Two weeks ago we spent 5 days with him. From the first moments I was struck with force by how much this little lad I barely know is how I imagine Freddie would be. He’s a dark haired Bene to look at, but gentle and sweet and funny and thoughtful. From the outset, I struggled not to call him Freddie. I NEVER call Bene Freddie, not since the newborn weeks, and yet for Kit, it hovered on the tip of my tongue all the time. Not in a sad way but just as if I was having a brush with a nearly universe that might have been. Sometime through the week I wondered if perhaps, just perhaps, I’ve always been wrong with my staggeringly disinterested spiritual view. I wondered if perhaps this little nephew brought a piece back with him, if some bit of Freddie lurks in there. All week I felt, as strongly as if it was certainly true, as if Freddie had come to visit, just a tiny shadow of him. He never felt absent, missing, that week. I never counted up the children and thought “nine when there should be ten”. In some odd way but not in some unhealthy pretending, can’t face reality way, Kit made it okay.
So that’s where I am, three years and two months on. Angry, accepting, marching on, possibly mad, probably not. Better than I was. Able to do things I couldn’t. Rather more back to normal than it felt like I ever would be or even than feels quite right.