It strikes me how very much I’d have loved to have done this when my first son died. In the days and weeks following his death I often said to my husband how I wanted to just sleep and wake up in a few months’ time when I felt better. Desperate for reassurance that the gut-wrenching grief that I was experiencing would lessen eventually, I turned to other bereaved mums, those further down the line from me, and asked ‘would it get better?’ Yes, they assured me, it would – my grief would never go away, but it would feel less heavy, the hole in my life less sharp, less unmanageable . Whilst this was very reassuring, I wanted to skip to the end (typical of me, I’ve often been one for spoiling the end of a good book by trying to read the last few pages before I should). If someone had given me the opportunity to ‘flick the humanity switch’, to turn off the pain, the guilt, the hurt so all-encompassing that at times I felt I couldn’t breathe – well, I would have jumped at the chance. I didn’t want that much pain, there were many, many times that I felt I couldn’t deal with it.
But here’s the strange thing. A few years down the line I wouldn’t take away that pain for all the world. Would I have my son not die? Of course I would. I wish he were safe and well, and here with his little brother. But since he did die, I wouldn’t take away all that pain I felt. Because - as I slowly began to realise – you have to experience that pain to get to the other side. There’s no escaping your emotions – try to bury them and they just pop back up to get you when you think you’re doing ok. You need time – masses of time – as much time as you individually need – in order to work through your grief. And space – you might need a quiet room, or a graveside spot, or somewhere that you can think or feel, or just be.
Through my voluntary work I have the privilege of offering support to other bereaved parents. When they come to our support group, newly bereaved and raw with emotion, it hits me physically. You can sometimes see the grief written on them. It can weigh people down, it can be etched on their whole being. And I never stop wishing I could just take it away. Simply reach over, and take it from them. See them walk out of that room with their head held high, shoulders no longer pushed down by the burden they carry. But I know I can’t. They have to work through it. For some it might take months, for some years. To some extent, it’s a lifetime’s work. But those emotions – all that feeling – are part of what makes us human. We can’t ever flick that switch and turn it off.
Over time I’ve come to understand that to be human, to have all the many good things that come with that honour, we have to take on the bad too. I had the shock of discovering I was pregnant with Xander, the joy of carrying him, the wonder of feeling him move and the excitement of planning his birth and what was to be our new lives as parents. With that, I’ve had to accept the devastation of being told he’d died, the dread of anticipating his birth, the pain of leaving him at the hospital, and the wrench of letting him go. It’s a trade off that I’m always sorry I had to make, that no parent really should have to accept. But there it is. And all that love I have for him is matched by my grief over his death. So, 3 years and 9 months on from his death and birth, would I flick that humanity switch, given the chance? No way. Turning off my grief would have meant turning off my love for him, and there’s no one, and nothing, that could ever make me do that.