Life can change in an instant. You can spend your time overthinking the minor details in life, as I did in 2012, and suddenly you are struck by a loss so profound, so deep, that you can barely move.
When my son Hamish passed away after an accident at home in 2012, I never looked at the world the same again. The trivialities of life seemed ludicrous, the ‘fluff’ I had naval-gazed at so intensely, so inane. I had lost my child. I felt emotionally, physically, mentally altered. I’m convinced it changed me on a cellular level. I breathed differently (short, sharp gasps), I was affected more by the sun and the rain. I even walked differently. It changes you, converts you back to infancy – suddenly you are learning how to walk, learning how to speak, trying to swallow food that suddenly tastes strange. Baby steps all over again.
Hamish was my youngest child, my baby. After he left us, I wanted to sleep, to try and escape the deep, guttural pain I was in. But I couldn’t. I had three other children to take care of, to be there for. Putting one foot in front of the other wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity.
Well-meaning people said things to me like, ‘you are so strong, if I were you, I couldn’t get up in the morning.’ They meant well, but that comment always cut deep. Is it wrong that I get up? Is it wrong that I’m functioning according to the outside world? After another recent set-back in our family, a friend reached out and said, ‘You are all so wonderful with how you handle all the challenges you’ve been sent. I’m not sure I’d be as brave and as strong.’ I wrote back, ‘You would be as brave and strong. We all have it in us. I’ve just had to dig for it more than I’d like.’
For me, it was about finding something to cope with the onslaught of pain, of trauma and missing him. My GP kindly wrote me a script for something to help me sleep, but I knew that was a ride I shouldn’t get on. Numbing it wouldn’t change anything, it had to be faced, like standing in front of an impending wave, no matter how daunting it was.
So I wrote. I wrote letters, poetry (awful, awful poetry). I would light a candle and type and type and type until I wondered if the pads of my fingers would wear off. Then I would use a pen. It was a haven – a place of solitude, where I could grieve, remember those baby blue eyes and those soft feet, and release. Then I would sleep.
This was my way of honouring and remembering. I’ve met other bereaved parents and they all have a way of ensuring their child is never forgotten. Charities, trusts, foundations, campaigns – it’s a way we can take care of our child after they’ve left. We are still parenting; the only way we know how.
I turned to the pen. It was my release whenever the grief started to flatten me. I wrote many genres – a memoir, even a romance novel (with grief as the major theme) but it was picture books that called me at 3am. I realised I was writing them for Hamish, my almost two-year old. It was something that we did religiously before bedtime, and I was not done telling him stories.
In 2014, I felt the pull to write a children’s picture book about grief – to honour Hamish and to help families who’ve lost children. My own children were left bewildered by the loss of their brother and other children didn’t know how to help.
I wrote many stories. Nothing worked. Everything felt too trite or too much. I threw page after page on the floor (or hit delete a lot!).
One day, everything changed. I was driving my daughter home from netball and the plot for FINN’S FEATHER came into my mind. I was overcome with emotion. When we arrived home, I bounded up the front door steps, desperate to get my idea on paper and stopped at the door. A feather. Surely a sign!
Three years later, FINN’S FEATHER is here, given new depth by amazing illustrator, Zoey Abbott, gently guided by a dream publisher (Enchanted Lion) and about to head out here in Australia, the US and UK.
My wish for this book is for it to fly into the hands of every child who needs a story of hope. Because when life changes in an instant and you are left in a new world bewildered and scared, hope is the best thing you can ask for.
Rachel Noble's book Finn's Feather is a children's picture book that introduces children to ideas of grief and coping with loss. You can purchase it here.