I am on a journey.
There are no cliches on this journey and yet “to journey through life” sounds like such a cliche. Upwards of six people ( I haven’t done an official tally) in the past four days have told me I should write a book. It doesn’t scare me.
I was referred to as a writer a few days ago, in public, in front of a crowd of people, when I was being introduced. It didn’t scare me. It sat beside me comfortably like an old friend.
I am saying it here, out loud, kind of… and it doesn’t scare me that I am doing that either.
I am on a journey.
I am not anticipating the end of the journey, just acknowledging where I am right now.
It is ridiculously busy, crawl into bed at midnight busy, where has the weekend gone to (again) busy. But it feels ok, this place.
K has just graduated with an MA in Art History and Philosophy and now talks of PhDs with an air of inevitability.
Giraffe Princess is a radiant, cantankerous beauty on the cusp of teendom. The child in her is all but gone.
Astro Boy has just hit double digits and is abandoning dreams of being a lego designer to work instead for NASA as an engineer. He has some new ideas they could be working on.
The Boy Racer gave up racing for an extended period from November – January and focused instead on hauling a full leg cast around with him. Or was that me doing the hauling? Or both of us? He is building up speed again now, in a lopsided, hop-skip-and-jump kind of way. It is quite the silliest broken leg story ever.
I have begun an artist residency one day a week, making art for the first time in years. It doesn’t scare me. I don’t know where it will lead.
There is movement in this place. That much I know.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.
~ Mary Oliver ~
A friend sent me the following poem the other day. She had recited it days earlier, not knowing my story. She recited it in french and then translated. I cried and told her about Laura…
Demain, dès l’aube…
Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.
Tomorrow, at dawn, at the very time the countryside whitens
I will leave. You see, I know you are waiting for me.
I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain
I cannot remain far from you any longer.
Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.
With eyes fixed on my thoughts, I will walk
Without anything to see outside, without hearing any noise
Alone, unknown, bent, hands crossed,
Sad, and the day to me will look like the night.
Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.
Neither will I see the gilding of nightfall
Nor the mist lowering itself over Harfleur
And when I will arrive, I will leave on your grave
A bouquet of green holly and heather in bloom
Four days ago I was at an exhibition opening for some art work produced by an artist, Marie Brett, in collaboration with bereaved parents. The exhibition is called “Anamnesis”. It is a kind of cultural memorial to infant loss. I was one of the parents she collaborated with. I was one of the speakers at the opening…
I invited a friend of mine to come along this evening (I invited a lot of friends, including this particular friend) and when I explained the exhibition to her, she said – Why would I want to go to that? It’ll just be full of sad parents…
I need to stress that this friend was a wonderful support to us in the months following Laura’s death and has never shied from the topic of baby death, but her words speak, quite probably for a great majority of people out there. It is too sad. Let’s avoid it. Let’s not talk of it. Let’s stay away.
And in their determination to stay away from such sadness, to protect themselves and others (and possibly even us) from such sadness, we as parents are left. Our babies have died. That secure ground of birth and the cycle of life and death has been whipped away from under our feet. Our hearts have been wrenched open. We are staggering around in a world that looks the same as it always did, but none of it makes sense any more.
And mostly people don’t know what to say or just don’t say and the abyss that has opened up in our lives echoes with too many silences –
the silence of our missing children,
the silence of our missing children’s stories…
I met Marie for coffee a few weeks ago and she tentatively asked me if I would say a few words at the opening (after being advised not to ask a parent to speak)– I suspect Marie knew me well enough to know that I would either (a) be very clear about my reasons for not wanting to speak or more likely (b) jump at the chance to put voice into that silence.
I had no idea what I would say but knew whatever it was I would write it down so when I inevitably get teary and my voice breaks, at least I don’t need to stress about what I am going to say next. (I didn’t even make it to here. I had already broken down several paragraphs back!) I have written many many talks in my head since the day we met. Every one of those talks fell out the back of my head when I finally sat down to put pen to paper.
I am a sad parent. I always will be. We have four beautiful children, but one of them will never be here with us and that is tragically sad. I am a sad parent, but in my sadness, I am not a miserable parent, nor am I a weak parent, nor an unstable parent. In fact, in my sadness I am quite often joyful. I am more filled with wonder. I am strong. I am brave. I am sensitive. I cry at one stop short of the drop of a hat, but that is a privilege I allow myself because my daughter died and that is sad.
Absence is a strange thing.
In some ways it is very clear – Here/Present. Gone/ Absent.
What could be strange about that? But absence is so much more than ‘gone’. There is so much presence in absence. These days I view the world through ‘Laura Absent’ glasses. Her absence echoes all around. Everything about her absence shouts, whispers, vibrates – “She was here. She was here. She is here.”
The word ‘recollection’ has been used around this exhibition and ‘Anamnesis’ (the title for the exhibition) is associated with the process of recollecting. Recollection is an idea I have difficulty with when it comes to still birth. When your baby dies before they are born, there isn’t an awful lot in the way of memories for you to hang onto. It is a pretty shallow puddle of memories to draw on for the rest of your life.
And yet there is a weight to the loss that belies this pathetic stockpile of accumulated memories.
Laura is, in too many ways, all too still in our lives. As her mother, I do not want to recollect her, to think back to a time when she was here. I want her to be allowed to move through our lives with us. In her own way I want her to be allowed to continue her journey with us in this world.
I really struggled when Marie asked me to identify an object, an amulet, for this project. I struggled as a mother, whose daughter’s feet never touched the ground. I didn’t want her narrowed down even further. Reduced to an object.
As I write, I haven’t seen the final works. Marie has described her treatment of the photographs and the sound that accompanies them.
If I had a choice I would have my daughter back with us in a heartbeat. But life didn’t give us that choice. Laura left us, and in her passing threw into painfully exquisite focus the bond and love between a parent and a child. My husband, K, has said, more than once, in our struggle to put words on how we feel – It is not a specific emotion. It is an intensity of emotion.
Sad is not bad.
There is a richness and depth and wonder and love in sad that we never imagined…
and in that place Laura lives on with us.
Marie described to me how she had echoed the photographs of the amulets with light drawings, piercing the surface to allow the light to shine through. If the photographs are a recollection of our babies lives, to me these light drawings are more evocative of our journeys onward – tentative, less clear than a time before our babies died, but offering glimpses of exquisite wonder and love – and all around is the echo of our loss.
Will I be a writer? Is that the journey?
Will I write a book? Is that my bouquet for Laura?
Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées…