Today, for only the second time in my life, I bought red roses on Valentine’s Day.
They are not for my husband (I doubt he would fully appreciate the gesture), or for myself (in some act of empowered self-love), or a friend, or secret crush.
But they are for someone I love.
They are for Findlay.
I never imagined that Valentine’s Day would be spent selecting flowers to place on my son’s grave; but then, I’d never imagined needing to. The death of a baby isn’t an experience I had expected to call my own. Of course I knew it could happen, but like the old adage: I never thought it would happen to me.
But it did happen. And it’s something which I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Losing your child changes you. Long after the initial trauma, when the condolence cards have come down, and you’ve returned to work, or even gone on to have another child, you accept that you are no longer the person you once were. You are different, and so is your life.
I remember, in the early days after Findlay’s funeral, visiting the cemetery and seeing a huge array of flowers, cards and balloons placed around one of the headstones. One card in particular caught my attention: it was pink, covered in Disney princesses and glitter, and had a large number 6 on the front. It was at that point I realised; realised that this would never go away. Sure, as time went on I wouldn’t feel the all-consuming, suffocating grief I do now, or wake at night convinced I can still feel baby kicks, but nothing will ever change the fact that Findlay has died. I’m never going to ‘get over it.’
But that’s OK, because I don’t want to.
My life is now made up of a series of rituals, customs which mark me out as a bereaved mother. Whether it is physical actions, such as our regular dog walk through the cemetery, or subconscious idiosyncrasies, like the way I twizzle the charms on my ‘Findlay bracelet’ – the loss of him is now an intrinsic part of my identity.
Children take over your life. From the chaos of toys in your living room to the near-permanent state of exhaustion which comes from frequent night wakings, there is no escaping the monumental impact they have on all aspects of your world. Had Findlay lived, he would command the majority of my time, energy and devotion, just as his brother does. But Findlay isn’t here to fill my diary with play dates and nursery drop-offs. I’m not constantly updating my Dropbox with the latest pictures of him, marvelling at how much he’s changed in 18 months. He’s not able to keep me up all night or demand my attention when I’m trying to take a shower. I have wished for those things over and over, but no amount of wishing will change the fact that he is gone.
And so these small acts: singing Mr Tambourine Man, walking via the cemetery, watering the camellia, take on even greater significance; they are all have of him, besides thoughts and memories.
I cannot comprehend a time when I wouldn’t want to take flowers to the cemetery; or would replace Findlay’s photograph with another; or not wear my memorial jewellery. There will never be a point in the future where I don’t pause when someone asks ‘How many children do you have?’ or not mark his birthday on the calendar. Grief evolves and we learn to live with it, but we are forever changed for having lost a baby.
These little habits, adopted to carve out Findlay’s place in the world in some tangible way, have helped me to survive. They are a means for me to feel like I’m doing something to help sustain his memory, to exercise my love for him in a way which is actual, and physical, and external.
Days like today serve as a further reminder that this is just a part of my life now; the ‘new normal’ which comes with surviving the death of your child.
And so I took Findlay some Valentine’s flowers: an act of love and an act of remembrance. One which both breaks and heals my heart. One I hope to continue, year after year.
Findlay Eric, you are my valentine. And I will love you always.