In the beginning, my love for Aubrey and Ellie was reflected in my pain. All you had to do was take one look at my tear-covered face and it was clear how much those little girls meant to me. As I made progress in my healing something strange started to happen; healing felt like betrayal. Every time I laughed again or looked forward to the future, it felt like I was leaving them behind. I didn’t know how to love them and heal at the same time. I had to learn that my love for them is reflected in my healing more than it ever could be in my hurting. Healing didn’t mean letting go of them, it just meant letting go of the pain.
His brother was six. He had been asking for a sibling for more years than I could count. That year, I finally got to tell him I was pregnant. On New Year’s Eve, we had made a joke about no siblings that year and he had wept. He didn’t yet fully realize the year would be over in four hours.
I was under terrible stress. Medical examinations all the time, no answers, and I didn’t even realize I had no period when I should have. Then, out of a joke to my husband, I counted back and it came to me. I had an important delay.
That pregnancy was like a wonderful dream come true. Unlike his brother, he wasn’t born preterm. I was overdue! My labour was amazing. Wonderful. Painless. I’ve always taken that as a gift for me. A goodbye present, maybe? Then, after a whole wonderful day labouring, I lay down for the doctors to check on the progress. His heartbeats went crazy, c-section, and I entered this world.
- The world in which a wonderful day discloses into an endless night.
- A world in which a six-year-old will be told his long wished sibling won’t go home to play with him.
- A world in which people stop you on the street to ask about the birth and get what happened with a glance.
- A world in which people insist on saying you have only one child, though you gave birth to two.
- A world in which you have no heart to get into your house while the baby stroller is there, ready for a baby who won’t ever use it.
And I’ve coped with so many comments. Comments from people who never got near this world. Comments from people who never knew such a world could exist. And to this day, after five years, I still talk about him. He will always be my precious second born.
There are people who don’t want to hear about him. People who take it as a personal offence to the world (they live in) if I publish his photo on my social profile. People who get their maths wrong with how many kids I have. But there are also people who watch this world with due respect. People who say his name with no fear. People who don’t take it as a contagious disease if I speak about him.
He lives through me, my every breath, my every heartbeat. He lives through my words and my thoughts. He lives through his brother who is now eleven. He lives through his sister, born exactly three years after he was born. He lives through my laughter and my tears. And he always will.
Image: Handlettering and artwork by Nathalie Himmelrich
After Aubrey and Ellie died I felt for the first time the kind of pain that would make someone want to put a needle in their arm. Although I didn’t, I certainly found other ways to numb the hurt. One of those ways was to drink. Alcohol is highly effective at stifling pain, but it is also highly effective at stifling healing. For a time, I used alcohol to suppress the emotions that seemed to never let up. Becoming aware of the role alcohol was playing in my grief and the obstacle it had become to healing was a turning point. Now I rarely drink and when I do it is for completely different reasons. I still enjoy a glass of wine on occasion but I protect myself more than I used to. I have ways healthier ways to face my emotions now.
The days are getting longer in the north where I am. Winter filled. Snow, ice, cold.
I feel I have been doing better, whatever better means. I take better with some reservation, because every day is still hard and painful. Better is hard making itself comfortable. Hard being the new adopted normal. I felt proud of myself about a year after he died that there was a day I didn’t cry. Then I felt guilty. Was the memory fading, was love fading? The questions that are always present somewhere and resurface every now and then. There is no weakness in feeling guilty, no weakness in questioning, no weakness in anxiety that is the source of both – guilt and questions. These feelings just exist, within. The further he is away the more harder becomes normal. I am not always sure if I am doing enough, if I talk about him enough, if I mention him enough, if I think about him enough. My life is so different from what I had pictured, before, during and after. I find it hard to find balance where I feel fine with how much/little I share about my boy, my family and myself. Is there too much or too little? I feel like a broken record sometimes, but the truth is, my truth, that I feel the same, I miss him, I love him, I long for him, for his hugs, his kisses, his voice, laughter. I miss him being a present part of our family, a play partner to his siblings, dad’s little helper, my sweet boy… all of it. That has not changed, that has not become better or worse. That is. My memories of his death, birth, him are changing, the little details transform as the time passes, not so detailed, a little bit blur, reshaped. This is where time and I will always have a conflict.
With Love, Tina
This morning I woke up with a scream that woke my husband. I couldn’t breathe. I got up and I found my spot in my daughter’s bed. It was not enough for me to feel her warmth or hear her breathing, I needed to hold her and I needed her to know I was there and react. I woke her up so she recognized I was there, she turned towards me and asked me if I came to hold her. Yes, that was why I was there.
I was also there because bad dreams have power, they play with my mind, a moment is enough. No matter how realistic or not, the fear is real and this fear was enough for me to go and check on my daughter’s breathing, her reaction if she was alive.
Early grief was constant controlling, checking, making sure… they are warm, they are breathing, they are alive. Holding hands, co-sleeping, never leaving.
With time, this changed for me… I don’t check many times at night anymore, once before I go to bed and I listen in if I am the first one up in the morning. I let go a bit. I let go of expectations, anticipation… with that, I got calmer and present. And as much as this makes my life quality way better it is always a shock when the wind hits the wall again. Like this morning, when she died in my dream and my breath was taken from me again.
No matter how much time I am living without one of my children, no matter how comfortable life seems to get, or how much calmer or happier I am, the hurricane of grief seems to be luring in the shadows.
It is evening where I am, I got through this hard day, let her very capable daycare teachers take care of my daughter, let her go to a birthday party of her best friend and held her, laughed with her and talked to her in the time between. And somehow survived the shadows of today.
With Love, Tina
My daughter is 6. She loves babies. She talks a lot. She also talks a lot about her brother. The three listed are her favorites, talking about her baby brother. Many of our conversations end up talking about him and I love it. She is my buddy.
K: Mami, now that M (my sister) has had her baby, maybe S (my cousin) will have her baby.
T: S will not have a baby.
K: Why not, doesn’t she like babies?
T: She does, she loved you when you were a baby. She is now too old to have a baby. I am also too old to have a baby.
K: Why did she not have a baby before, when she was not too old? Don’t all girls have babies?
T: No, not all women have babies, some decide not to, some want to, but are unable.
K: I love babies, I would love to have babies, but I don’t want to.
T: What do you mean?
K: Well, I would want to have many babies, but I don’t want my tummy to hurt.
T: I promise that all the pain is forgotten in an instant once you hold your healthy baby. This is how it was for me when you and J were born.
K: What if something happens, what if it happens to me, the same as it was with Tapio, what if that happens?
T: I don’t know, I just hope this does not happen to you. I do not want this for you.
K: Mami, did everyone in the hospital know Tapio was the cutest and the tiniest baby?
T: Yes, they knew he was tiny. If he had the time to grow, he would not be so small.
K: Yes but he was, he is the sweetest baby.
T: Yes, he is.
K: I miss him, I wish he was here, alive.
T: I wish that too.
This is how it goes. So often. And my heart swells of pride, cracks of hurt and screams in pain, all at the same time. She doesn’t question the tears anymore, she knows why they come. I hope we never stop with these conversations.
With Love, Tina
As my day turns into next…
I was supposed to be all covered in flour. Mixing bowls on the counter, choosing how to decorate a cake – an animal theme. Two candles ready…an eager boy ready to blow. Wishes for a firetruck, a farm – filled when you opened your presents. Excitement, laughter, kisses.
Instead of gifting you, little man, let me tell you how you gifted me in the time you have been gone.
You have given me the gift of sight to see brighter and wider, to see beyond the physical, beyond the visible, to see what I would never see before, to see you in everything I do.
You have expanded my heart in ways I never thought possible.
Your absence has filled my life with the most amazing people, who know how it is to miss, but also know what it means to love and hurt at the same time. People who have helped me see the beauty when all I could see was darkness. Who love us and let us love them.
WYou have opened this door to a world I never wanted to enter, a world I never want to leave. A world full of possibilities, new beginnings, honesty.
Without you, I finally know who I really am as a person, as Your mami. I never wished for it this way, but I will always be grateful for the gift you are.I hope you know how much I love you and how I long to see you grow in front of me. I wish I could watch you blow your second candle.
I miss you so much. Words will never be enough to explain…I love you, always.
P.S. And… this weeping willow reminded me of you.
With Love, Tina
I was reflecting on the lunch meeting I had on Monday. A fellow bereaved mother sat across from me and we seemingly interacted like everyone around us. But were we really?
The place was crowded and the tables were close together, the sound of chatter filled the space, word exchanges, gestures, smiles… we did the same, but our conversations seemed to have been a bit different. Very uneventful and fluent for us, but the silence and looks from the table beside us let us know we were using words that startled people. Talking about our dead children and death in general is just a part of our conversation but I guess it is a different kind of narrative, ours and theirs.
I was looking at my friend, smiling, even laughing from time to time. Her whole body language is different from the time I met her. Even though she still feels very much on a hunt for peace and meaning, she is different from the woman I met 2 years ago. I don’t remember the time we first met like this, in a setting outside our support group, just her and me. That was in the time when my mind was still completely absent and disconnected. We persisted, and now 2 years later, even not remembering the starts, I can see our progress. Her progress and my progress. I never knew I was going to learn this, life without him, I think she never thought she would learn life without her son either. But there we were, talking and smiling, two friends having lunch, deliberating on new ways to look for our boys within this life without them.
With Love, Tina
He was missing. He was missing way before. Way before he became. His place was with us before I was facing secondary infertility and he just did not happen, his place was with us before we moved countries, his place was with us even when we held our first newborn son while mourning my husband’s mother. He was a part of our family before he ever became one. Missing him now is a result of all of it, of him being a part of the US way before his time, the yearning for him then and now, the wishing to see him grow in all the ways, the dreams for him becoming a beautiful human. All of it will remain the missing and the love. New missing will be added on to the heaps of missing and love that has been a part of me, before he was there, before he was growing and before he was growing no more.
His face will always be missing from our family photograph, his wet kisses will never reach my cheeks, his footsteps will never echo in our house, his laughter never fill a room, his voice never call my name and his eyes will never sparkle.
Still, as much as he is missing, he is also there and within and all around too. His presence is the part of me I cannot explain, the part of me that formed and continues to form and grow in the After. The change in me his death brought. I do not remember myself without him. How was I ever complete? How can I be complete when he is not here?
With Love, Tina
Learning to forgive has been the hardest part of my healing journey. The wounds inflicted by cold and unsupportive loved ones cut deep. I resisted forgiveness for a long time because I misunderstood it. I thought it meant giving the harmful people in my life a pass and saying that what they did is okay with me now or no longer matters. Real forgiveness isn’t saying its okay. It’s actually saying it’s so NOT ok that I refuse to be connected to it anymore. Real forgiveness is about freeing myself from bondage, not freeing the one who harmed me from accountability. When I choose to forgive I set myself free. And free people are powerful people capable of bringing hope and healing to a hurting world. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Set yourself free to heal and watch how your healing helps other find healing also.