Wednesday, 24 February 2010

When talking to a parent whose baby has died...

There really aren't that many do's and don't's when talking to a bereaved parent. Yes, I know it's like walking on eggshells and you don't really have a clue what to say to them, but that's okay, they don't expect you to. To be honest there isn't really much to say and statements like "I can't imagine what you must be going through" are fine. Yes they will have heard it all before but it doesn't dilute your sentiments.

There is however one mah-hassive don't. Without question the stupidest possible thing to say to a parent who has lost a baby is "you can always try again/have another". Rach and I have been fortunate enough to have heard that one only once, but talking to other parents it does seem to be a recurring theme in what people say. For those of you who haven't quite fathomed how monumentally god-awful that is to say to someone, I will try to explain. First of all, a child dying is not the same as loosing a mobile phone, or failing your driving test, you can't just get another one or try it again. Children are not interchangeable. Rach and I could spend our remaining years breeding like good catholic bunnies, but no matter how many dozens of offspring we could end up with, there will always be a huge Emma shaped hole in our lives which will not get filled. We don't want a replacement baby, we want Emma, and the pain of not having her will not go away even if we are fortunate to be parents again. That's not to say we would love another child less, we just won't miss Emma any less.

Here's the big reason why it's such a stupid thing to say. A parent loosing a child is the worst kind of loss there is. I'm basing that statement based on my experience of losing loved ones and conversations I have had with people who have lost loved ones. And yet, if you were to loose a family member or friend, no one would dream of suggesting you get a replacement! If you were consoling some one who lost a parent how likely would you be to say "Well you can always find another role model figure to look up to and love"?. If a friend's spouse had died would you say "You can always get married again". No, of course not. Why not? Because it's insensetive and it's stupid. So if loosing a child is worse than any of these things... I think you get where I'm going with this.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Practicalities of Winter-time Grave Tending

There is no end of advise on dozens of subjects when your child dies. Advice on when and how to go back to work. Advice on how to arrange funerals. Advice on how to begin putting your life back together. Here's the thing, no one has published any advice on what flowers to put on the grave during winter-time when the average bloom has the life expectancy of a mayfly.

Rach and I like to put fresh flowers on Emma's grave. Some people use artificial flowers, I understand why, it's practical and its cheap, that said it's not for everyone and we prefer the real thing. The thing about real flowers though is that they don't last, especially with snow and frost. In my life up to this point I have had no interest in flowers but since Emma's funeral in November I've had to become a horticulturalist trying to figure out what goddamn flowers will stay alive on her grave. If you find yourself in a similar situation I have three words for you: tulips, tulips, tulips.

Rach loves gerberas and roses. For those of you not florally inclined, gerberas look like big daisies that come in different colours. For Emma's funeral wreath we chose white roses and gerberas, but even in an oasis they just didn't last. We are fortunate that where we live there are 2 great florists and a weekly market with a good flower seller, and in the town, so we have had the opportunity to try just about every bloody flower type you can think of. Based on this extensive flower testing I am convinced that in the event of a nuclear apocalypse the only things to survive will be cockroaches and tulips. Cockroaches obviously are not suitable as a grave adornment so my recommendation remains tulips. Tulips come in just about every colour and in this especially snowy and cold winter can last outdoors up to a month, yes a MONTH!! Jesus, what are these things made of? Hyacinths are also pretty good, they can last at least a week, perhaps two and the florists today advised that chrysanthemums are pretty good as well. We bought some today we'll see how they last.

We put some fresh tulips on Emma's grave today as well as basket of planted bulbs, something which will loke nice for a little while. We got them from the florists. The florist who did the arrangements for Emma's funeral. They remembered doing the arrangements, they also remembered Rach and I from when we got buttonholes for a friends wedding in the summer when Rach was still pregnant. Rach was upset in the shop and we were both upset at the grave. Sometimes it's just little things that set us off. That said I have been in tears each and every time I've been to the grave.

To end on a light note I'll tell you about probably the only thing that made us chuckle when we were at our worst. When we were arranging Emma's funeral, the lady at the funeral directors wrote down "gerbils" for the arrangements instead of "gerberas". Visually gerbils as part of a bouquet made us howl.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Back to Work

I've called this blog "A father trying to cope with neo natal death". "Trying" is the operative word in that sentence. Emma was born on the 9th of November 2009 and died on the 11th. It's now more than 3 months on and it doesn't feel much like I'm coping.

I'm back at work now. My boss and everyone here has been great in so far as no one has rushed or pressured me back, but now that I'm here, no one has the slightest clue what to say to me. Some people pretended that I wasn't there until such a time as I spoke to them. Some people just pretended everything was back to normal. Some made the effort to come up to me and ask "How are you and Rach doing?" (emphasis on the word "doing", head slightly to one side, meloncholy and sympathetic smile, optional pat on the arm). They genuinely mean well, but they are pretty relieved when I say something like "we're okay/ bearing up/ carrying on/ taking things a day at a time/ trying to get back to normal/ getting into a routine" (if you've been through anything similar you'll recognise the stock answers). Because they do mean so well it's unfair to give the honest answer that's circling my mind; "Actually, and I'm glad you asked, me, I'm an almighty mess. I am holding on to whatever level of composure I have by a fucking thread and am fighting back tears more often than having cups of tea, and I drink a lot of tea!"

It sounds like I'm being harsh on my colleagues. I don't mean to be. I can't blame them for not knowing the right thing to say to me. I don't know the right thing to say to me. There isn't a right thing to say to me. If people ignore me, I think "why in Christ's name won't you acknowledge the big elephant in the room i.e. my daughter died" if they offer genuine concern, I think "Jesus, you have no idea what to say to me do you?". The emotional side of my brain has staged a coup, hijacking all of my thoughts, the logical side is under house arrest and can only look on as an observer. Well not just as an observer, it also acts as spokesman for the new regime, editing out the crazy and giving out the "we're okay/ bearing up..." stock answers. Propeganda I suppose.

Seeing as I've been so positive all the way through this I may as well end on something that frightens the living daylights out of me. I have lost family members that I have been close to before. It's been tough, but you grieve, you move on and things get better over time so that you can look back on the times you had with the loved one and it doesn't hurt so much. You gradually get over your loss. Rach and I have been to a couple of support group meetings and from listening to others who have lost a child we have found out that you never get over your loss. Ever. You have more children, you still don't stop aching for the child you lost. This gets easier, but it doesn't get better, ever. Not years later, not ever. Jesus, how scary is that?