My son Freddie was born into my blog and died on my blog; 8 years worth of readers awaited him and recognised the silence of a no daily post as meaning a birth had taken place. Some of those readers had been like dear friends over the years, through thick and thin with comments and care and I updated with news of his birth and desperate condition with a heavy heart. I knew people would be devastated for him, for us. As well wishes poured in, optimism, hope, blind belief that all would be okay, I had to ask a friend – not one of my closest and distressed ones but someone more distant but guaranteed to do the job well without being even more upset – to quietly dampen the hope. I couldn’t bear to read it, I couldn’t bear for people who had never actually met us but cared, to hope. When he died I chose a blog post title with no ambiguity, so that no one who saw it flash up in their Facebook stream or RSS feed would know a moments optimism… ‘Stop all the clocks’ and a short paragraph to tell the news.
There was a story to tell of course, Freddie is part of our family life and our family life has been written on the pages of that blog through ten years. Some of his story I still haven’t told; it is too deep and too precious and too, too painful to write, even now three years on. What I wrote about was my grief, pouring it out in the only place I knew how to write as myself. In our house we all grieve very differently; my children were young and needed a strong mummy who would guide them, my husband grieves neatly and at speed, locking pain behind a wall that will never break. I was on my own, filled with rage, despair, horror, guilt, the aching, endless aching of loss, the wretched pain of milk that came and womb that bled and all the love for a little boy which streamed out of me and had nowhere to go. There is NOTHING like the loss of a child. Nothing. You can lose whoever you think matters the most, hurts the most but it is nothing to the agony of a mother who has empty arms. It goes on and on. It never stops. It is there in how many bowls of cereal you make, the places you lay at the table, the presents you buy, the dancing lessons you do or don’t pay for. Endless. Gaping, acrid grief and guilt and shock. So many questions. So many thoughts.
So I wrote. I had always written, my heart is laid bare on my blog and I knew that I had to record the pain. Pain is really all I have of Freddie, he was gone without a happy day in our lives together, without a smile, I never sung to him, I never took him for a walk. Even if I had, all that would have been obliterated by the despair of a lifeless body, blue hands and the bitter knowledge that what little I knew of him evaporated before my eyes as he died. My best memory of him is holding him dead, without tubes or wires, for half an hour. Unless you can relate to that, it is better not to criticise a grieving mother.
But love I had, even if love was pain. Pain was caring. Pain was him. Pain was as good as joy because that is what we had. Our relationship was my terror and fear all mixed in with the joy I somehow felt in his beauty, sick or not. So I wrote. I wrote of nights without him, of days where he so very wasn’t there, of the ache in my arms and the dead weight in my chest. I wrote of sitting on the sofa in the dead of night, sobbing into a pillow so I didn’t wake my sleeping family. I wrote of how much he was missed and how we had loved and wanted him, of the fear that chased me, the depth of feeling that proved to me that his fleeting life had been full of love. I wrote my ugly, despicable pain and do you know, I did edit it somewhat. If any grief stricken mother could really write how it feels, the Internet would sizzle and die.
And people answered. They said that they didn’t know what to say but they were there. They spoke his name and told me how my loss had changed them. They told me he was beautiful and they let me rage. They kept answering, kept reading, took the burden, shouldered the guilt, guided me in the darkness. They kept me alive, quite frankly. They were my Samaritans, not crossing the road, always there in the night to read and listen and remember. It went on and on. It takes a very long time to begin to recover from child loss; it is not some neat month long process. Tere is no ‘put it behind you’.
Right in the beginning I knew I would not always write so much about Freddie. I knew the time would pass. But I knew it was important to have something, some record, of his imprint here on earth. Of his imprint on me. Of his place as the fifth baby in the family, the one who had made me whole, only to break me again. The first boy, the end of my innocence.
I had less understanding back then of how important the memories would be. It is impossible to believe, at the start of the journey, that you will laugh again, smile, have happy days, smile a thoughtful, wistful smile at their memory but not break down. I thought a myriad of thoughts, a million juddering, gasping thoughts and they are him, him and me. But I forgot them. The human brain is an amazing thing and what is does is make us forget, blanks out pain, rubs the rawness off the wound. We heal, scarred but mended. We forget, we gloss over. It is an unconscious thing. I am not reconciled to it. I am not reconciled to much of life without Freddie but I accept my brain cannot hold all that pain and function.
On days when I need to remember him, now that three years has passed, I go back to those posts. Not often, not much, not regularly, not for long. But back I go. I read the love and the despair, all intermingled and it reminds me that I adored his little self and that he has his place among us and in me and he was real and loved. Whatever the catharsis of my blogging was then, the legacy is that it allows me to have a tangible record of my love for him, my process in accepting his loss and the healing and change he brought to us. I can go back to him, cry for him, remember and safely put it away agin. There is no danger of forgetting your written word.
There are three types of people who read the blogs of grieving women; there are friends who will always listen and support and there are the other baby lost, who come for solace and kinship and to find their thoughts written and validated in another. And then there are the people who come for the car crash, for the soap opera, for the ghoulish delight in seeing grief laid bare or to sanctimoniously tell themselves (or the writer) they would grieve better, with more dignity, more politely, more discreetly.
You know what’s so great about a blog that offends you with its grief? You don’t have to read it. You will never help a mother by telling her how to grieve; that is your failing, not hers. So just WALK AWAY.
2012 MADS Awards finalist in Blog of the Year, Post of the Year and Most Inspirational.