I get worried that this piece might be an exercise in guilt-tripping bystanders when tragedy strikes. But, it depends on how I approach it.
I remember when I researched what I should expect, needing to cover every prospect of that certainty of losing Ivy at any moment. I wanted to be prepared for my own grief, and the awkwardness of others’ around dealing with it. You see, I had carried our daughter in my womb for 6 months, with the knowledge that she might not be born alive, and that if she did make it to full term, she might be in a lot of pain, or pass away shortly after. Ivy Valentina died the day before she was born, at 35 weeks gestation.
The thing is, it’s difficult to empathise. Generally, we all view the world from our own lens, unless we are super enlightened, or are trained therapists. So, we always treat people in the way we think is best, how we think the other person might respond. When it comes to infant loss, we don’t actually know what is best, because we’ve likely not been in the position of consoling someone in mourning, or we just don’t want to put ourselves in the shoes of the other because it’s all so confronting.
One of the people I really treasured through this process was our post-natal nurse. She seemed always to know what to say. She asked questions, the right ones. Specific ones. She also said things, plain and simple. “Jane, come here. I see it’s getting difficult. Go upstairs so you can have a rest, I’ll look after things down here, and I’ll be gone soon so you can have some time with Ivy.” “I see when you cry, that it’s about different things each time. Do you feel like talking about what you’re feeling right now?” “I feel so privileged to feel the power of your daughter. It’s amazing. I see her power in you.”
Things people can do when they are confronted with someone experiencing loss:
Ask how Edwin is. Many did this, but most were concerned about me. I’m still concerned about my husband, even 10 months later or 6 years on, but that’s another story.
The well-meaning suggestion to get on with life will never sit right with me.
The reminders that “at least we have Milo”, “make sure you enjoy Milo”, will never be a consolation in and of itself. I mean, OF COURSE we are grateful for the gift that is Milo and we cherish him every day. But he shouldn’t fill that gap, because he has a complete and perfect place as our firstborn. Just as Ivy has her place as being our complete and perfect second child, in her way.
When Ivy was born, so many people said “Congratulations. And condolences.” That was right. I was so so so so happy to have given birth to Ivy. The ones who blurted out “I’m so sorry”, or burst into tears straight away, or said or wrote nothing, just didn’t and couldn’t understand the pride I had of being Ivy’s mother, and that she was here, actually here, in the flesh — in our house! How I wanted to share that! Instead I was constantly reminded that people found our approach morbid, gruesome or creepy somehow.
I remember, as it is in my nature, tiptoeing around other people’s difficulties with our preparation for and the arrival and departure of Ivy. Their grief, their horror, their discomfort; I was even told by people how difficult they found our experience, how hard it was on them, personally. That Edwin and I should not underestimate that Ivy’s life and death was a blow to other people. And I remember feeling really shitty about that. Their need to offload their feelings about how we went about receiving Ivy made me feel like a bit player in the single biggest event of my life, of my family’s life.
And then I remember, people are all only doing their best. They can’t see into the depths of their own joys and sorrows, so how could they possibly know anything about the deepest most intimate web of mine? Monday 19 January 2015 was a day where I felt the angriest, the loneliest, the proudest, the happiest, the saddest, the most outraged, the most blessed in my whole life. I’ll never feel that way again. I may have felt a host of other things too, and I don’t even know. So, how could anyone truly empathise with my experience? Grief is so personal, so unique; it is more isolating than love as it’s so individual a experience. It really is love turned inside out. We shall all feel that sometime, whether we lose a spouse, or parent, sibling, grandparent, other relation, perhaps (god forbid) a child — and our links to that person is so special, that we cannot predict how we go about mourning that loss. Because it’s about travelling that transformation of our connection as living and breathing in the same space, to letting them live (on) in our memory and our words — spoken and unspoken.
I dither. Perhaps you can imagine how it is.