Where to even begin with this post? I began writing a post about Teddy‘s fifth birthday last year at the beginning of May, that has remained firmly in my drafts folder ever since. The words just would not find their way onto the screen easily enough for me to find quite the right thing to say. Six years feels really quite remarkable indeed. Six entire years where someone is missing from our daily life as it should have been. Yet we seemed to mark the day with possibly the most unremarkable of days; ordinary even, but extraordinary all at the same time.
A morning at home that found me unloading the dishwasher, preparing a toddlers breakfast, and enjoying my usual morning cup of tea. My husband was working; I went to Sainsbury’s to buy a few things; but most importantly candles for a birthday cake. I walked Boris (the pug). I watched through tears as the sunlight flickered through the lush green leaves of Spring onto the path in front of us. I baked the cake; a birthday cake adorned with a six candle, for a six-year-old who isn’t here. There were tears, but also lots of laughter through those tears; because undoubtedly our lives are also filled with a huge amount of happiness these days.
I suppose since Teddy died I have often wondered how it would feel this far ahead in our lives without him. As we muddled through those first weeks and months ,and even year, without him in our lives I wondered how it would feel as each year passed. As our normality became this. I can distinctly remember desperately seeking out other mothers through social media and online forums who were further ahead on this path than I was. I wanted to know how it felt, every detail. What it looked like ,whether I might ever find any shred of happiness again? I knew it would be different for everyone, but I wanted to find comfort in the thought that things could feel better again.
My desire was to understand whether it would hurt less? Or whether it would always hurt just as much, but I would learn to carry that hurt seamlessly and live with it; make it appear each day as if it didn’t weigh me down. I was desperate for all of those things. Less hurt; less weight. Because the weight of it becomes too much to carry, and your new normal doesn’t feel normal at all.
As each year has ticked by I have hoped that ache and the dull pang of grief in the pit of my stomach that lurches to the surface in the week before Teddy’s birthday and anniversary would gently subside and become easier to live with. I hoped that I wouldn’t feel the urge to close myself off from the world in those days that approach Teddy’s birthday. I hoped that people wouldn’t forget him, that they might still send me a message, or a card, or even just write his name somewhere and think of him for a fleeting moment.
Bizarrely, I have found parenting a dead child bares its similarities to parenting one who gets to live; you seem to spend your time simultaneously hoping that time will slow down and speed up all at once. I want time to speed up; I want the years to rattle on as quickly as possible so that it doesn’t feel that way anymore, so that it hurts less. So I can at least pretend I am “normal” like everyone else living their “normal” lives with a living child here. One who isn’t worrying about navigating the conversations of life, death and a sibling who isn’t here with the small person they are so very privileged to be raising. But the more that time flies by, the more I realise we’re also leaving him behind us. Not in the full sense of the word, but physically. That last time that I physically held him is now six years ago. The last time that I can remember his smell, or the weight of him in my arms is now six years ago. I close my eyes, and desperately scrabble around for those memories, in the hope that they might come back to me, crystal clear, as if it were the day he was born. I stare at the items in his memory box, willing them to bring all of those details back as if her were here in front of me. I try and imagine what it might have felt like had time not stood still for us for so long on the 19th of May 2016. I wonder what kind of big brother he would be; whether he would be full of fun, what his favourite food would be, whether he would tease his little sister as my big brothers always did to me?
It’s almost too easy to allow yourself to get lost in a world of what-ifs and whys. Most days my brain stops itself from going there, but on this particular week it is almost impossible to prevent it from wandering through that meadow of questioning. Getting lost in those thoughts and celebrating a life that should have been. The ache of this week is equally joyful in reminiscence as it is torturous. It allows me to remember the time that he was born, but also the time that we had to say a final goodbye. It makes me relive those days and hours once more each year without fail. And this year seemingly more-so than ever, as we face the first year that Teddy‘s birthday and anniversary of his death fall on the same days of the week
Born on a Monday, died on a Thursday. Each year, so far, we have managed to escape that pattern, escape fully reliving those days; Monday to Thursday. One of the reasons I couldn’t plan for our daughters scheduled birth on Monday, was because I truly believed she would die on a Thursday. Your brain can do very peculiar things to you when you are immersed in cycle of fear and grief. So, this year I find myself crying heavier tears than I have done in the previous few that have passed. I find myself reliving each moment more so than I have done. Watching the clock; seeing hours tick by and remembering the exact pattern in which events unfolded that week. Thinking of all of the other babies being cared for in NICU right now, who might not ever make that journey home. And my heart breaks all over again.
Back then, six years felt like a time so far ahead in our future. A time that we might feel perhaps even “mended” in some way? Last week, I asked a friend whose sister died when she was younger to ask her mum what it’s like for her all these years later. Whether if she could tell me that it gets better in some way; that in some small way it feels lighter now that thirty-something years have passed? She said this; that her grief was like a sharp, jagged stone that she carried around in her hand; turning it over and over, often feeling painful or catching her at moments. The more years that she had carried the stone along in her hand, it had become like a smooth pebble, one that was comforting, but she didn’t want to let go of. Something that she could turn over and over in her hand because it was hers, and it was a part of her. And that’s what I think this week is the embodiment of, for the most part. That pebble has become a lot smoother over the last six years, but it still has a couple of jagged edges that catch me unexpectedly when I grip it tightly for comfort. But I don’t want to put it down, ever, because it’s a part of me. Teddy is a part of us and he always will be.
So, I suppose we’ll wait year-on-year, to see how those different moments catch us, particularly when we aren’t expecting it. How something can feel so light and then so heavy. Carrying that weight again this week has reminded me exactly how much changed for us that day that Teddy died; unrecognisably so.
So, I march on, pebble in hand. Hoping that as each year passes from now, it shall begin to bring me more comfort than it does pain.
Happy Birthday to my sweet boy, Teddy.