Tuesday 17 December 2019

Milestones, Grief and Time Travel

This is a postscript of the Address I gave at the SANDS Memorial Service ....

I have had cause over the last year to watch a ridiculous amount of My Little Pony. At first this felt like a burden but I'm here to tell you that season 5 is hardcore. There’s even a character called Dr Whooves. based on our best British icon Dr Who.

This of course has no relevance to today except that it enables me to talk about time travel.

I want to time travel now. 

2044 3rd June

My wife turns to me and says Grace would have been 30 today. For a moment I see her life, she’s probably moving in with her boyfriend  because in my mind none of my daughters are moving in with anybody before they hit 30.

lets go back a little

July 2037

I’m sitting somewhere imagining Grace graduating from University …maybe…if that’s what she wanted.We'll never know

My life, our lives are full of imaginary milestones and it’s not just me of the future that’s doing it.

We took note of the first week after Grace was born

the first fortnight
the first month
the second month
the sixth month
the nine month mark…because you know that’s enough time to have a baby.

More than just dates though.

We noted when she might have crawled, might have stood, might have walked.

We celebrated her 1st birthday and endured the anniversary of her death. And then we did it again a year after that.

we endured the memory of burying her and the pain of walking away from her grave again and again. 
We mark them with our tattoos and with our jewellery

These milestones have become the map of our relationship with Grace,a vital work, a heady mix of fact and imagination. But how long can we, how long should we do this for.

If David of the future could pop in right now I’m pretty sure of what he would have to say.
“you will never stop David and why should you, She’s your daughter"
I’ve spoken to too many people in the last 2 years who still know their dead children birthdays after decades to know that David from the future is not an idiot. That he knows what he’s talking about - which is a bit of a surprise to everyone.

So don’t worry about charting your children lives….in fact lets go one step further.  I’ll explain what that step is i a moment

I was speaking at a conference in Denmark about stillbirth.  2 women came up to me afterwards and both thanked me for speaking so openly as they had both had stillbirths about 6 years ago. One of them said that listening to me was the most amount of healing she had been allowed to do.

I’ve also spoken at a couple of events with well meaning academics who have forgotten the human cost in the midst of their research and professional life and thanked me for essentially shoving my grief in their faces. a reminder they needed.

So here's the next step. Do not be ashamed of your grief. We use the phrase stillborn, we talk of loosing our children. But we did not loose them and the word stillbirth has started to become a meaningless medical word. let’s make no mistake of what we are talking about here. Our dead children. Our babies that died. This is no small thing, this is trauma, this is something that can change the way your brain works and make the world actually look physically different. There is research that shows that trauma affects you on an epigenetic level meaning that it can even affect your genes. It can alter your brain chemistry. You all remember leaving the hospital wondering why everything looked and felt different? If this research is right it didn't just feel like it looked different it did look different.

So do not be ashamed of your grief, do not be ashamed or feel like your going crazy, do not hesitate to seek help if you need it, do not hesitate to see a Councillor, a therapist, a psychiatrist if you need it because this is no small thing.

Do not be ashamed to talk about your beautiful child , do not sacrifice your dignity to those friends or family who refuse to make the effort to understand.Because with all due respect, if you are a partner, or a parent, a grandparent or a best friend who doesn't get how big this is - then what use are you?

Do not think you are going crazy.

Do not feel ineffectual because 2 years later you don’t want to go back to work.

I was asked on a radio interview. How was i doing.  Well I said. People think I’m OK because I can speak and articulate, because I smile and laugh readily. But the reason i speak is because I’m not OK. This, this is my therapy. Make sure you find yours. 

You are not mad, you are not pathetic, you are not …alone

you are hurting, you are tired, you are struggling,  - yes yes yes

But be proud because like so many you are living with an empty weight in your arms, and you’re still going! 

you are strong
you are survivors of trauma
you are parents….and that’s what parents do, honour and love their fallen children 
After giving my acceptance speech at The Butterfly Awards, a man hugged me. 
I'm a soldier," he told me, "I've held dying men in my arms but I couldn't do what you do"  
Make no mistake at how big this thing is. Your grief is a wound. Wear it proudly, it is one of the few things we have to give our children.

Do not shrink into your grief but stand tall.

Take your time, find your way, live well in this new normal and own your grief because the milestones never stop coming.

1 comment:

Fabian said...

Since this is the newest post, I thought I´d comment here ...
The words on your blog just resonate with me, and my girlfriend. We lost our beautiful son 4 weeks prior to his birthday due to an accident with the umbilical cord while he was still in the womb. It has been the longest 3 weeks I ever experienced. Still reading most of what you write on your blog in a weird way helps me cope. In german we say (roughly translated) that shared grief is only half the grief - while I disagree that it gets less, I feel reading that other people did manage to survive this losens the knots in your guts and lets you breathe.

Thank you a ton for being outspoken about this topic! Keep sharing, I will keep reading.