In less than a week our youngest son’s 1st birthday will be here. Except as a cruel twist, HE isn’t here. So we count down to the day, trying to prepare ourselves for a milestone that will be endured rather than enjoyed, full of love and pride that sits along side excruciating pain and overwhelming loss.
Many processes to the lead up have been similar to the experiences we had of our other two children’s first birthdays. Revisiting the birth, first days and weeks in detail. A comparison of the life we had before that day we welcomed our child into the world to the life that lead after. Thinking about what’s happened in the last 12 months. A reflection on ourselves as parents. A struggle to understand how a year has gone so quickly yet feels like we’ve lived a life time like we are now.
The answers to all the questions and all the recollections are vastly different to those we answered for our other two. These answers contain pain, anguish, despair and heartbreak. These answers include trauma and isolation, questioning and confusion. I thought the hardest thing as a parent was watching your children grow up way too fast. Turns out it’s actually not being able to watch that process at all. It has been the worst year of our life and the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do is live through it. Most parents will tell you how much a child will change your life, but I can tell you NOTHING will change your life more than having one die.
The lead up to Elliott’s birthday has made everything raw all over again. Im back to having moments where I feel like I can’t breathe and the pain is back to being unbearable and completely overwhelming. I suddenly feel fragile, vulnerable and completely needy all over again. I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to live in and accept the ‘what is’ but now as his birthday approaches I’m back to being filled with thoughts of ‘what could have been’ and ‘what will never be’. There’s so much heartache thinking of presents he’ll never open, candles he’ll never blow out, a birthday party he’ll never attend. So much pain knowing we’ll never see those worldly milestones and there’s an agony knowing we’re getting older while he’ll never grow up. It’s not just what we’re missing, it’s what our other children are missing but primarily and most tragically, what he’s missing. I’m not sure how many people stop to actually think of him in it all and feel sorry for him, after all it was his life that was lost.
12 months on many people cant comprehend why we haven’t just moved on. “A year is such a long time” they say which makes me want to reply “try living it”. I wish everyone would understand that the choice to grieve is the same as the choice to love your child- there is none. I wish everyone understood that it’s a life long journey. No one wakes up and thinks “I’m going to grieve today, I really like feeling like shit”. I wake up and without any choice given to me I not only miss my baby but feel him missing from me.
12 months on he’s still an active part of our lives but is active in a lot less of others. Less people say his name, ask how we are, talk about him, or want to listen. We still want to talk about our baby and we want people to care that it’s his birthday. I’ve heard many other bereaved mums talk about their sadness and anger that people don’t remember their baby’s birthday, they don’t recognise the significance, they don’t check up on how they’re going in the lead up, they don’t call on the day to say they’re thinking of them. Hearing these stories I wonder- do people forget, worry it will upset us or simply don’t think it’s important? I can guarantee that special date will be etched into any parents souls whether their child lives or dies and it’s not something they’ll ever forget. Their birthdays will never go by unnoticed and it will forever be an extremely important date that changed the world. Their birthdays matter just like they do.
My husband and I have been struggling to talk about his birthday but from the start we knew we wanted to hold a party no different to our others. We wanted a way to celebrate his life and his significance and importance in ours. A way to give our other children the opportunity to celebrate him too in a fun way. While it’s not easy and I so often want to scream on top of my lungs “what the fuck is the point?” my heart always comes back to the want to do something. I’ve said the whole way there’s no single right in any part of this journey, only what’s right for you. So as hard as it is, i know I need to do this. In saying this, I also need to ensure I do not hold myself to any expectations and allow myself an exit option right up to the last minute should we change our minds.
So here we are, 12 months on trying to plan some kind of party for our baby who isn’t here as we celebrate his life and the gift he has given us and remember that we’ve survived 12 months with broken hearts.