Posted by: Louise | July 21, 2011

losing my words – using my words

All the best conversations happen when the kids and I are side by side, heading somewhere. Those are the moments when I hear the cogs whirring in their brains – glimpses of their process, their processing.

We were heading to the park, driving through the city, down the quays, past the multi-storey car parks, the Opera House, the old buildings, the evangelical bus with it’s painted slogan always parked in the same place.

Astro Boy turned to me, Mum, does Jesus heal broken hearts?


Well, yes, if you believe in Him.

Long silence.

Laura must not really have believed in Him then.

Laura died from a congenital heart defect. When you are eight the world is still very black and white.


Last week I travelled out West with the kids for a few days. My oldest friend was doing field work a long way from home and had rented a house to keep her young family close by. I very generously offered to mind her kids (and provide entertainment for them in the form of three children of my own) in this rented house in a very beautiful part of Ireland. All good.

Of course we brought some sunshine with us for good measure.

And so for a few days last week I had six children aged between 2 and 10. I drove my friend’s 7-seater car. We went to the beach. We picnicked. We made cups out of the sandwich tinfoil so the crisps could be rationed out fairly. We listened to the same CD wherever we went and sang the words of the songs over and over again. We fed the ducks from our hands in a wild life sanctuary. We went to a prehistoric museum with wooly mammoth skulls and a fossilised dinosaur nest, in someone’s house. We ate ice-creams. We visited a pottery and threw pots. And all the time I had my friend’s 2-year old daughter at my side or in my arms.

At the prehistoric museum, when my friend’s child wrapped herself around me and snuggled into me, the owner said, she really loves her Mum.

There are no words for those moments.

The woman that man saw laughed and said, she isn’t mine. The woman I know held on for dear life.

You have no idea, she thought, no idea.

As I drove the winding roads with the music blaring and the kids tired and content, I imagined a full quota of family represented in this bundle of six – my three and my missing two year old, the little bean who came and went and broke my heart before Astro Boy and the child I want so desperately now, the ‘possibility’ that I must continue to mourn. And for those few days I felt the closest to me that I have felt in an unfathomably long time.

K came down to join us at the end of the week and I went to meet him from the bus.

You look so relaxed, he said.

And I couldn’t tell him why.

Yep. I’m fine.

There is a loss we neither expected when our daughter died. We clung to each other in those first few months, never closer than in the early days of loss, but one day we realised we were barely talking any more and our loss was so much more than burying a child. We have put in a lot of work since then. We are moving closer these days, not further away, but this new place is fragile, delicate. It needs to be handled with care.

And this is where the ‘losing words’ sets in. I don’t know how to talk about this aspect of our grief. I worry about the effect of talking in this fragile space.

For four days I carried a two year old girl in my arms and I realised, motherhood is a biological process. My pregnancy with Laura was the beginning of this process (anew) a physical anticipation, a biological expectation of a child, but this time our child never came home. The process, however, has continued past the pregnancy and on and on. To have a two year old in my arms felt so perfectly right. It was the filling (oh so briefly) of a phantom process that has persisted in Laura’s absence, a process that most days is felt like emptiness and gets stuffed down and down and covered by layers of life and ‘getting on with it’, but never goes away.

The days I spent with my friend’s children were a gift, a mothering gift, but a gift I struggle to put into words. I do not understand motherhood, but I feel it. I feel it in my heart and in my chest, in my empty arms, in my full arms. I am a strong, educated woman. I have all the twenty-first century offers women – independence, a voice, opportunity to work, to be valued outside the home, a loving husband and a beautiful family. For all it offers it is family, motherhood that overwhelms me, in the best possible way for I am the queen of containment.

It is family and mothering that leaves me gasping in wonder, that physically hurts as it simultaneously fulfils. It is family and mothering that make me feel like me, bubbling up and over and out of myself… Rough-around-the-edges-human.



  1. These days mothering is certainly how I define myself.. and I don’t care much for those who say it is an unhealthy view of myself. It is what it is. I am a mother- plain and simple. It is what I do and it defines my purpose at this point in my life. What is hard to define is how one parents both living children as well as the one who is deceased. I am still at that place where my grief defines me as well. I read a post today by a mom who is moving out in her journey and who is beginning to accept her changed life ‘after’ (for lack of a better way to put it). It’s good to see others further out.. I am grateful for the view you are sharing as well.
    Sorry for the ramble tonight…

  2. We were in that fragile place when Freddie was born. I know exactly what you mean by it – when you’ve worked, but the new ground you’ve put down still feels difficult to trust and a little, not flimsy exactly, but like a rope bridge over a very high valley. Safe, but hard to believe in. Dealing with a loss at that moment was incredibly hard. And hard to talk about publicly and hard to talk if you can’t refer to it. I’m back in that place again now.


  3. there’s so much here that speaks to me, so much. x

  4. Oh that opening conversation with Astro Boy. That caused a sharp intake of breath here. How to even start to explain. I’ve got years to prepare but I’m sure that conversations along similar lines are still going to catch me by surprise.

    The difference between the woman that man saw and the woman that you know. Beautifully drawn.

    A biological expectation of a child That is an absolutely perfect description. I too often feel that a phantom process, entirely beyond my control, something almost physiological, drives the sensation of two toddlers in my arms whereas, in reality, there is only one.

    I love this post, you write so beautifully.

  5. This:
    “My pregnancy with Laura was the beginning of this process (anew) a physical anticipation, a biological expectation of a child, but this time our child never came home. The process, however, has continued past the pregnancy and on and on.”

    I feel like this all time. It was the hardest in the beginning, when physically my body was still thinking I was coming home with a baby. Now it feels more like this hum against the day to day of my life. I am a mother with no baby.

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