The 6th January 2018 marks my 30th 6th of the month without Findlay. I can hardly fathom how it’s two and a half years since he was here, nestled in my arms in that sunlit delivery suite and yet here we are.
Life after loss is littered with anniversaries, poignant moments and dates which loom on the calendar; some filling you with fear or dread as to what emotions they will bring, others viewed as an opportunity to honour and celebrate the life, however brief, of your loved one. Thinking back to Findlay’s birth, I didn’t know how I would face the next hour, the next day, without him here. The idea I could survive 915 of them seemed impossible.
I wish I could go back to that frightened, confused and utterly devastated shell of a woman, sat lovingly cradling the lifeless body of her first born child in a hospital bed, and tell her what I know now. That things will be okay. That there is life on the other side of tragedy: a life which, although marked by grief, is full love.
I have learned so much over the last 30 months: about love, about life, about motherhood. But most of all, I have learned about myself. About who I am and what I’m capable of. About the things which truly matter. They are not a lessons I wanted to learn, and I can’t help but think there must’ve been an easier way than to lose a child. But nevertheless, here I am. Older, stronger, and (I hope) a little wiser.
These lesson’s were learned too late to help that woman, the one whose heart was broken in the summer of 2015, but perhaps they can bring some comfort to others facing life after loss. Maybe they can give someone hope that there is light amidst the darkness.
So, if you’ll indulge me to share what my two and a half years experience of life as a grieving parent has taught me, this is what I’ve come up with:
- You will survive this. Without you really knowing how or why, the sun will keep rising each day and you will muster to strength to face it. At first, it will feel like you’re merely existing (perhaps even against your will) but slowly little pieces of your soul will come back. You will be changed, of that there is no doubt, but you will emerge like a phoenix from the ashes, and learn how to wear this different version of yourself, how to navigate your ‘new normal’.
- You will learn that you are stronger than you ever though possible. Not only will you will make it through the most harrowing days of your life, but you will face new challenges with a resilience and dignity you didn’t know you had. Of course, there will be days when you feel broken; when you get tangled in the ugly emotions of anger, jealousy, even hatred, which lurk in the dark parts of you. But you won’t stay there. You will find your way out of the labyrinth. These thoughts and feelings are normal and valid, but they are temporary. They will not devour you.
- You will laugh again. Maybe not for a long time, and maybe not without a pang of guilt at first, for fear you are being somehow disloyal to your baby. But one day you will feel pure, unadulterated joy, and it will bubble out of you in a genuine, honest, side-aching belly laugh. Please do not berate yourself for this; life is long, and there will never be a day which passes when you don’t long for your baby to be with you. But a life without joy is no life at all. You can feel happy – truly happy – whilst still loving and honouring your baby. They never got the chance to laugh, or be silly, or play. We owe it to them to grab these moments of joy with both hands and treasure them.
- You can love another, a sibling perhaps, without it taking anything away from your love for your baby. Your heart will expand to make room for them too, and like any parent with more than one child you will love them both with a ferocity and intensity which is beyond all explanation. Having another child is confusing, your heart will hurt again in ways you could never imagine, but you will manage these emotions as you do everything – with a mother’s love.
- Life can – and will – be beautiful again. It is not the life you had planned, and would never be the one you would choose for yourself, but it is yours and you will learn to live it, accept it and (in time) love it, in all it’s perfectly-imperfect reality. Because whatever happens, your baby will be right there at the very core of it all. Carried in your heart; loved, missed and celebrated for the rest of your days. And how could a life so full of them be anything other than beautiful?