When Xavier first left my arms at two weeks old, newborn and helpless, I searched for stories. Stories that mirrored his. Stories that made me feel less alone. Stories that held clues as to how live.
I searched for people. People that understood. People that grieved like I did. People that had somehow lived through the excruciating pain of their baby dying.
I grew tired of people telling me that my grief was unique and I would need to find my own way. I wanted a map. I wanted a rough idea of what to expect. I needed to see a person that had survived the death of their child and was still standing. I met with a generous and beautiful mother who had lost her precious first born son years prior to Xavier dying. She proved that living was still possible. At that stage, I was doubtful.
It is now three and a half years since Xavier’s death. Living is possible. Even beautiful. For those that have recently become bereaved, this post may give you the comfort I sought early on. For those who have lost loved ones years ago, know that you are not alone in your grief or your love. And for those friends and family who are supporting the bereaved, please understand that we do not get better. We learn to live within our new normal.
Three and a half years on, this is how my grief looks.
I no longer wake thinking of Xavier and go to sleep with him on my mind. I still think of him during the day, but my heart and soul have made room for other things. In the early days he was all I could think about. Now, he has shifted in the background of my mind. Always there but no longer omnipresent.
When people ask me how many children I have, I still pause. But I choose whether I tell them about Xavier. I no longer feel guilty if I don’t mention him. I talk about the boys I have at home. I have come to a place where I choose the people who share his memory. A place where silence is no longer dishonorable. In the early months I would tell everyone about Xavier – strangers even. I no longer feel I have to shout his name for him to be remembered.
Birthdays and anniversaries still hurt. The weeks leading up to them still drag me under. In some ways, they have become harder. The distance between my normal life and intense grief has become wide. It’s a shock when it is revisited. Yet, it is always revisited.
People told me that with time I would smile rather than cry when I looked at photos of Xavier. They still bring me undone. Photos of a baby that would never grow up. The son I would never fully know. We have photos of him in our house – a part of our family. But any smile I give him remains bitter-sweet.
I have let go of the things I once relied on. Support groups, visiting his grave every fortnight, writing about him every day. For a while I felt guilty about doing so. Guilty about letting the other parts of life squeeze him out. But I no longer view it that way. When I create something for him or write about him it is now a very intentionally sought connection with my son. It has become more private. Less about keeping his memory burning and more about nurturing the relationship I have with my child.
My life is beautiful. I smile and laugh and look about with wonder. I have a loving family and amazing friends. I am healthy. I am acutely aware of my blessings. But no longer to the point of being crippled by expectations of gratitude. I still cast a wary eye over my shoulder, waiting for the bad things to happen. Knowing how life can change in the span of heartbeat.
I am happier than I ever thought possible. After Xavier’s death I resigned myself to a lifetime of dreary grey. That I would exist, but only as a survivor. I was wrong. Life is full of colour. It just took a while for it to return.
October is infant and pregnancy loss awareness month. It is something that happens to so many families, yet we still don’t talk about it openly. It is through talking about that we find connection. That we find hope. This October, please remember the babies that never grew up and the families that will love them forever.