Today I listened to a heartbeat. It's on my phone. You can see what the heartbeat looks like in the above picture.
1 year ago yesterday, Friday 1st May, my wife and I had the loveliest of days. We knew our baby's arrival was just around the corner and we were doing some prep in what would be the birth room. Hanging pictures that would be nice to look at during labour, generally making the room as lovely a place to give birth as we could.
We had had an Alannah free morning and made the most of it. We went out for lunch (always lovely when your child free). When Alannah did come home she was in a delightful mood and we had a lovely evening together. It was a perfect day.
1 year ago today, the heatbeat that I can listen to at the press of a button, could not be found. Our child was dead and we were changed forever.
A year later I realise that grief is an evolving thing and you can never really say you have a handle on it. It is as organic as you are. I thought the worst was past, that the yawning chasm left by Grace's death was something that we just had to learn how to absorb and live with. However the run up to the anniversary has taken me right back to the rawness of the early days. Complicated by all the conflicting emotions accompanying the run up to the birth of our new child.
I've been trying to work out why I'm so tired all the time. Why my brain is even more sieve like than usual (even the washing up doesn't get done if I don't put it on my todo list). Why my work is so hard despite some lovely students. Why I avoid phone calls. Why I sigh a lot. Why I get scared if Alannah comes into our room 5 minutes later than she usually does in the the morning. Unfortunately there a lot of grieving people out there who recognise the symptoms.
I watch my beautiful, intelligent, self aware daughter. Death, grief and worry for the new baby are ever present in her mind, but without the ability to express herself vocally I watch it come out in her play and her health. I watch her pretending to be dead, I see herself scratching herself to bits with a pervasive rash that the Dr's are at a loss to explain. Conversely I watch her care for our unborn with a wonderful tenderness. Today while I am at work Alannah and Siobhan are going to make a cake for Graces birthday. I hope there is therapy in that.
I wonder if the people who see me smile a lot even suspect the layer of sadness which permeates my life. For some reason my mind wanders to my ancestors, not the free ones but the enslaved. There was an argument amongst slave owners that the enslaved enjoyed slavery because they were still able to make music and dance and laugh. They missed the point that when all you know is misery, you have to grab what happiness you can but that doesn't negate the awfulness of the situation. if you see me smile it's because I want to wring what joy I can from life but make no mistake - tragedy is imprinted on my soul. Today the smile has a long way to travel.
1 year ago tomorrow, my daughter was born. I held her as the last vestiges of her mothers shared warmth left her body, desperately willing her chest to rise and fall, desperately wanting her heart to beat.
1 year later we will endure through the vivid rawness of memory and we will celebrate the birthday of our Beautiful Dreamer, even though our deepest wish is to celebrate with her. We will look at the pictures we have and listen to something that no longer exists, the ghost of a heart that was once so vital.
We love you Grace, we love what you were and what you should have been.