It probably wouldn’t have been your first choice to spend your 17th birthday with your mum, your Grandma and your Auntie, it’s highly unlikely that flowers would have been top of your gift list, and you may well have preferred pizzas with your mates to a home cooked birthday meal with family. However, relations, blossoms and chicken cannelloni are how today panned out, and I am glad.
I’m glad we continue to come together, just as we did on the day you refused this world – to hold you, to hold each other, to remember, to grieve and to laugh. Yes, to laugh.
Because, you see, although there is dreadful sadness within the few memories we have of you, there is also much joy. Your tiny life was so pure, and bizarrely, so complete. From the moment we knew of you there was a change in all of us, and when you left, you brought us together in a way that had never been before. Of course we’re not glad or happy to take flowers to your grave, to wonder what might have been, but it would be dishonest and a disservice to your memory if we allowed the ending of your life to negate everything else.
It’s impossible to explain the depth of the changes you wrought – you were a catalyst for so many remarkable things, and for so many members of your family. What I can tell you is that I write this today as a far more complete, confident, secure and loving person than I would have been had you never existed.
I’ve always baulked when people talk about you with words like ‘tragedy’ – your existence was not a tragedy, it was a gift. I know that for some people (a lot of people) our ability to recall humorous incidents and moments from that time is incongruous with their own expectations of grief. C’mon though, it’s funny that your Auntie suddenly realised the item slapped into her hand by a nurse, and with which she had mopped my face throughout my labour with you, was in fact a wet sanitary towel. Needs must in an urgent situation I guess!
It’s not like we all fell about laughing there and then, but her recollection caused a twinkle of a smile in later days and was a welcome lightness in the dark. People find it odd that we can talk of you with joy and without crumbling, but there was a perfectness to you that would be diminished if we only dwelt upon the pain.
And there was pain – deep, ripping, rending, physically felt, pain. At the point when they told me they couldn’t save you, an animal started howling “No!” to drown out the words and make it not so. There were days and nights when empty arms screamed for fulfilment and the weight of the anguish pressed the breath from my chest. There were months and years of learning to accept; piece by piece, one tiny stage at a time, folding up the fragments of memories, good and bad, and stowing them into a little suitcase that hangs on my heart. They make it a little heavier than it once was, but it’s comforting to feel your presence there.
Not in our memories can we mould
You or distort your character.
Then all our consolation is
That grief can be as pure as this.
~ from For a Child Born Dead by Elizabeth Jennings
Occasionally I unpack your actual tiny suitcase of memories, and even though I know the scent has long since gone, I press your clothes to my face and close my eyes, trying to conjure up your smell from memory as I inhale. I stroke the tiny lock of hair and trace the outline of the purple imprint of your tiny hands and feet, preserved within the folds of a ‘memory card’, and always send a silent thank you to the nurses who created this for me.
Other times, and admittedly more often, I take down the little suitcase on my heart and I unpack some of the precious snippets kept in there. Today I took them all out and spread them in front of me. I ran my fingers over them and felt their textures, experienced them again, diluted by time but still there. I miss you, and can’t help but wish I could have had a little more – a little more time, a few more memories, some extra anecdotes. You know, if you had to go…
We all know that had you stayed, there was a fair probability of you being a little shit. I like to think that you’d have been head down, studying for the all important exams that would be looming for you…but I’m a touch more of a realist than that 😉 On your birthdays we often joke around and hazard humorous guesses about what you’d be ‘into’ and how you’d be behaving.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that this is all just guesswork, we will never know. Of course that saddens me, but more than sadness I feel love, pride and gratitude Your memories are not just sitting there on their own, they’re a beautiful part of an incredible family tapestry of memories – you’re woven into the very fabric of us.. You brought me total, perfect happiness for nine months and you left me with a family who, in the face of astounding grief came together and bonded in an unshakeable, unbreakable way. How could that ever be seen as a tragedy?
Thank you for sharing your birthday with us baby boy – your light will shine in our hearts forever.