Capture your Grief 2018: Days 1-7
During October I took part in Capture your Grief, a worldwide 31 day photo project to help bereaved parents mindfully explore their grief. I wrote something most days and posted to Instagram on about half the days. Here are some of my thoughts around the prompts set by the challenge.
Day 1. Sunrise.
On this day last year I was approaching the end of a largely uneventful pregnancy, I was days off full term and excited about finally meeting my baby. I didn’t expect that October would be the only month in which I would ever get to see and hold him or that his last days alive, his first, last and only ever breaths would be in this month. Never did I think that on the very last day of the very same month that promised so much excitement and happiness I would lower my baby’s body into the ground beyond my physical reach forever.
Henry has given me a sense of self-belief, focus and purpose like I’ve never had before. Since he was born I’ve done things I never would have previously done; I’ve connected with so many other parents in this community, met a few in real life, fundraised and publicly shared my thoughts about love, loss and grief. All things outside of my comfort zone, all because of Henry.
Henry being here has made me want to push myself and live a full, good life, enough of a life for both of us. Sharing him, connecting with others, writing this blog and hopefully engaging others in conversations around baby loss is all part of that.
Day 3. Essence.
Who are they to do? Do they have a name? What is the meaning of their name?
I feel like I know the very essence of who you are, think it isn’t possible to bring a life into the world and not have some sense of who that person is. Yet so much of you will always be unknown and this is maybe one of the hardest parts of your not being here. Who were you? Who would you have been? Who would you have made friends with and fallen in love with? What would have brought you joy? I will never stop wondering.
One thing I know is you are Henry. You were named for you. Henry wasn’t a name on my radar until I was pregnant with you and then I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s like it chose you. A solid name you could have been anything with, a nuclear scientist, judge or stage actor. Your middle names are after two of your uncles, if you’d been anything like either of them I’d have been proud. Actually I would have been proud of you whatever. And your surname is a mix of both mummy’s and daddy’s. I have both my parents’ names too and always liked having a connection to both sides of the family (it’s why I didn’t change my name when I married daddy!) I wanted you to have the same connection to both of us. So there you are, a name that connects us as a family but is also very much your own. I definitely didn’t name you after a vacuum cleaner.
Where are you right now in your grief?
I wasn’t sure how to answer this because I really don’t know. There is no grief map to tell me. Grief is complex and chaotic and ridiculously hard to explain. All I know is I am one year into something that will last the rest of my life, it’s still very early days.
What are some things you do to remember your child?
We speak your name every day, say we love you often. Carry your photo with us and photograph you in different places. We write your name everywhere: in sand, snow, condensation, with sticks, stones, fallen pine cones and when I test a new pen it’s always your name I write. We sleep with your bear crew nearby, take them with us when we go away, they get photographed a lot too. We visit you whenever we can, collect pine cones, feathers and nice stones to leave you. We light candles for you and I write to you, and about you, all the time, almost every day. You are never forgotten.
Photos: Henry sailing (he had his own topper before he was even born); with a tortoise at York Maze and skiing in Alpe d’Huez, France.
What are your thoughts on healing? What does it look like to you?
This is a prompt I struggled with and was tempted to skip altogether but it is perhaps the harder ones that are most worth exploring.
I think the idea of healing in relation to the death of a child is too simplistic. Grief is not a pathology so unlike an injury or illness it cannot be made better. One platitude that gets trotted out time after time is that time heals and though probably well intentioned I find it quite jarring to hear. It feels too similar to the idea of moving on or getting over it, things that have absolutely no meaning when a child has died. Healing suggests an end point when everything will be okay but my son’s death is forever and that will never be okay.
Having said that, I understand why people use the word healing and I have probably used it myself on occasion for want of a better word. There are things that help me navigate the world while grieving and could maybe be considered acts of healing: self care, connecting with other parents and any mention or inclusion of Henry are a few. They all help but they don’t change what happened or make it better in any way. I had no idea what photo to post for this one so here’s us, Henry’s parents, living, grieving and struggling to get a selfie.
What advice do you have for family and friends wanting to help a loved one who has experienced the death of their baby or child?
There is no single or short answer to this so if I had to give one single piece of advice it would be to acknowledge. Acknowledge the child, both their life and their death. Use their name, don’t be afraid to mention them. Remember them- on their birthday, Christmas, special occasions and the anniversary of their death, this could be a simple message to say you’re thinking of them. Count them when listing other children, grandchildren, cousins in the family. Acknowledge that a parent is a parent whether their child lives or dies.