I had a lot of vague but relatively grand plans for Freddie’s 10th birthday. Somewhere in my head I decided, years ago now, that this would be the point where I would have reached a serene understanding and acceptance of my little baby boy dying without ever leaving a hospital. I thought this would be the point where I would be able to start making sense of a long ago time when I learned fast about medical words and machines that breathed for babies and drugs with long names that kept him asleep when I wanted him awake but seemed like the best idea at the time. I’ve planned for a long time for this to be the day when – for one last time – we had a family day out and then I read his notes and cried but remembered some things I had forgotten. I planned to spend the next 11 days writing those things into a timeline with photos and combining them with my texts and memories of the day. And I thought there would be one last round of candles, if I managed to take the evening off work, and perhaps we’d finally have had that conversation about what to do with his ashes, and we’d make it a special evening somehow and then I’d tidy it all up in a package and put it away forever. I remember knowing someone a long time ago who had lost a baby boy ten years before I met her and she seemed to have reached a wistful equilibrium and I thought perhaps I’d reach that on this day too.
Truth is, I’ve not really felt much like that for a long time. Work is too busy to give much headspace to ritual now and I’m just not that person anymore. So it probably wouldn’t have happened. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever open that envelope; I’m too afraid of what reading all those memories would do to me and I’m just not sure it is worth the risk. I prefer feeling less these days – less emotions overall takes its toll on some of the good things, but it is a compromise I’ve learned to like.
But then the pandemic happened, and while it’s quite true that there was never going to be a good time for that, for it to coincide with these weeks – in this PARTICULAR YEAR – does feel a bit brutal. The last thing I need right now is to be looking at beloved photos of one of my children on a ventilator, because I’m all too aware that in a few weeks I could be wishing like hell that not only was there a ventilator for one of my children, but that I was allowed to be there with them. There’s a PTSD trigger right there and you can be sure I’m feeling it. And I’m not sure anyone in the world right now wants to be reminded that sometimes the cleverest people in the world can’t make it okay for someone, no matter how much it would be fair if that was so.
A month or so ago, tragedy hit a family I’ve had a long affinity for; they had 4 boys, I had 4 girls, they lost a child and I lost a child – I knew them well when I was young, though I haven’t recently. And for them, it has happened again recently – another loss, another child. It was a brutal reminder that you don’t get inoculated against tragedy just by having bad luck once – it can happen again at any time. For anyone sitting at home at the moment with the anxious feeling in the pit of their stomach wondering if they are going to become a number, another statistic… that’s how I’ve lived the last 10 years. It’s how everyone who watches their child die lives; you just spend your life waiting for the other shoe to drop. Right now, it’s nearly outside my comprehension to imagine us all making it through this. We’ve been the unlucky ones once, I just don’t expect to get lucky ever again.
They lit up the arena behind our house blue tonight, for the NHS. It was lovely. I appreciate them, I’ve always appreciated them; I got 11 precious days with my boy because instead of giving up, they did everything they could. I’m grateful and I clapped. But I also had a slightly wry moment at it being lit up blue – Freddie’s colour – on his 10th birthday. An odd salute for him too – accidentally – and one I think we all wish wasn’t having to happen.
I don’t have the words for a 10th birthday for a little boy who lived 11 days instead of 10 years. I’m horribly aware that had we pulled him through that we’d almost certainly have lost him in this. I don’t have any words, I don’t have any tears, I don’t have the headspace or the energy to even do a decent job of a photo of candles (I’ve used last years). The garden daffodils were finished and there are none to buy in the shop and while all the kids are home from uni there was no day out to remember him on and we’ve all – by common consent – studiously ignored the date. It is what it is.
I just really REALLY don’t want to have to go through that again. I remember sitting on my bed after he died and imagining the rest of my life feeling that empty and bleak and thinking ‘well it won’t be for long because there is no way I can survive 10 years like this even if she did’ and not believing at all that I’d be like that other mum. But I did. I clawed my way back and I’ve made it a good life, even if it doesn’t have him in it.
But I really, really don’t want to have to do that again. So please, stay home when you can. Follow the rules. I don’t want you to have to do it either.