On Suffering and Loss

Monday, 15 October 2018


I remember being scared that something must surely go wrong if I were this happy – and then it did. Despite having been prepared I was not truly prepared. I look back and I say “in a way I guess I sort of knew”. I did, I didn’t. I thought maybe.

Every time I left him in a room I panicked. I left to make a cup of tea and while the kettle boiled I would look in on him, suddenly afraid. He must have stopped breathing, my mind said, for what other reason would one be told not to leave a baby alone? It never happened like that, but I was afraid it would. A whole world of new fear now that I am a mother.

What had I done to deserve this kind of happiness, I thought. Happiness is earned, not just simply given. Everything in life is earned. I had done nothing and so his position seemed precarious. Because I had done nothing I had no real claim to him, as it were. It wasn’t as if I had made him with my own two hands, and so I had ownership, it wasn’t as if I had put myself out or I had bought him, so should he be taken away, well, what then? I didn’t have a receipt. He has been bestowed upon me as if a grant, a gift but that came with conditions I didn’t know about. 

One minute he’s there and the next minute he’s not. As easy as that. As fast as that. Time, as a concept, ridiculous, because a matter of minutes could change a life; in this case: end one.

People ask what happened and I say "SIDS." And most people don't know what that it immediately, then they say "cot death", and the word Death hurts me a bit because I feel like I'm the only person who's allowed to say it, even though I never do. Some people think that it is a taboo, death, we don’t want to talk about it for some reason, but that we should. I think, in reality, what those people want is the freedom to talk about the dead without awkwardness, not about death. Death itself is painful for those left behind and that is why we don’t talk about it. We are a species of self-preservation for the most part and see no need in hurting ourselves when there is no need to, but it’s funny because it’s just a word. It’s funny how words without intent can have such an effect, like Dead, or Death, or Dying, or Infant Body Bag.

I envied the ill for their time to say goodbye, to come to terms with the inevitable. Much easier on the heart, I thought, than the unexpected was – though later I decided that this was unlikely to be true, the loss of a child at any stage, in any way, sickening, but a thought that still lingers.

I can’t believe it’s been a week. (Yes, I know, I Know.)
A strained grunt in response.
I can’t believe it’s been two weeks. Three weeks. Four weeks. Every day, much like in pregnancy, dragging, but for entirely different reasons. Every day suddenly without meaning, without anything, and yet seeming to take me further and further from the only happiness I had known. 
Wine in hand, no response to any of it. Like a shark, I moved through dark water, dead eyed and on autopilot. Perhaps they have an emotional depth we don’t know about, grieving for their crippled and murdered kin. 

They tell you to keep an eye on a dog when they go off their food and get lethargic. I was that dog: dragging my feet, constantly nauseous, the feeling so physical and heavy that it stuck in my chest and throat and stopped me even from speaking. My breathing was shallower. Everything some kind of reverent and unintentional quiet.

Maybe Grief will make me skinny, I thought (unable to muster the energy, the drive, to chew - I had cuppa soup for every meal for weeks), spoiler alert: it didn't. 

Maybe Grief will make me a better writer, I thought, it didn't. 

So what good is it?

It isn’t. No good at all. No silver lining. 

It's only human to look for one, isn’t it?

Perhaps a ridiculous thing to think at all but rarely can we control where the mind goes with out us. I tried hard not to think at all for thinking made everything worse. If I could have silenced it entirely, I would have. Likely permanently.  

People on the internet, in our sad, quiet club, say that the grief only shows how much love there was. I still don't want it. I wonder sometimes if, if I could, I would go back to before I was even pregnant, to spare myself this. But then I think that's selfish because this didn't happen to me. It happened to him, I am only a bystander.  My grief is, as such, in part, unwarranted, I think. It is like being comforted by the dying at your sadness at their dying. I think it's selfish because I would deprive him. Then I remember that I'd give anything to hold him again and so why would I wish away the time that I'd had. But then it still hurts and I have to distract myself and think about something else, lest it envelop me.

I drown anyway. It’s easier. 

Am I a bystander? When an adult dies there is a sense of that death having belonged to said adult, as well as to those around them, but I have found that babies and children do not get ownership of their deaths. I think that this is because it is hard for us to imagine anything happening to them. And so it is I who has suffered. I suffer his loss but I did not suffer the death, that is his. His death is his loss, it is he that misses out on life and on the world. I suppose, however, can you miss something you had hardly known? Or never known?

And yet I am the one who suffers.

This is exactly why I had not, I thought, publicly basked in my pregnancy, why I had not allowed the world to see how I'd immediately, completely, wholly, fallen in love with this boy. I knew it wasn't going to last and so I wanted to save myself from that hurt. Obviously I couldn't, and I didn't. I cried a lot in public. And I still do. Still, I couldn’t really have known.

On television there is always a certain look of the grieving and the depressed, we see dark bedrooms with the light shining just so on the face of the sad, the tears glinting a little in that light. And then miraculously some time passes, and by the next episode that grief doesn’t really matter anymore, the death is no longer central to the story as those around the grieving move on with their lives.

And this is how it goes. The world continues to spin while yours remains stationary, everything moving around you and yet you, stuck, watch on. There is sadness, there is envy, there is anger, there is resignation. These things do, as the steps of grief tell us, come one after the other but what you are not told is actually how all of these things come at once too. A barrage of emotions [and for someone so used to not acknowledging them] is all encompassing. It is what some may consider selfish, but it is not selfish, not at all. It is entirely necessary. 

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