Trigger warning: This post deals with the death of a child and may distress some readers.
Six weeks ago my 14-month-old son Archer died in his sleep.
Over the past six weeks I have read countless stories (possibly every story/blog/article on the internet) looking for ways to help me cope. Searching desperately for answers, for a magical cure to make the pain go away, just to find someone who feels the same way I do.
Through the stories I’ve read, I’ve come to realise that people tend to avoid going into too much detail about their ‘behind the scenes’ experience. They skim the top. They say how they feel and how it has affected their lives but I couldn’t find one thing about how the real grieving occurs.
Maybe it’s taboo. Maybe no one wants to read it because it’s too painful. Maybe it’s inappropriate.
I don’t know.
What I do know though is there are so many different layers of grief you have to deal with when you lose a child, layers that I am still in the early stages of unravelling but there is one thing that has given me even a glimpse of relief (if you could even call it that) and that was having another mother in the exact same situation as me, reach out.
We started sending essays to each other over Facebook one night, and every single detail, every inch of heartache, every crazy thought – we could truly say to each other, “I know exactly how you feel,” and even if the feeling only lasted for a few hours, I truly felt like I wasn’t alone.
I write everything down. Through my first pregnancy I wrote every detail and throughout my daughter’s life I documented countless pages of milestones and things she had achieved.
For some reason I never wrote as much about my second pregnancy, maybe I was too busy, but now, obviously, I wish I had.
Unfortunately, all the writing I will now be doing about my son will only be memories.
The real face of grief is not the 5 seconds it takes to post a photo and a caption of the person you miss on Facebook, it’s the behind-the-scenes that most people are lucky enough to never witness.
It’s the images of the morning ‘it’ happened. As the weeks go by your brain unlocks more and more horrible memories one by one.
It’s the screaming, the yelling and the image of his face in your head that you will never you will never forget.
It’s the screaming and yelling at the paramedics when they tell you that they’re trying to revive your baby – they’re telling you to calm down, even though you both know that it is far too late.
It’s remembering the urgency and pain in your husband’s voice as he woke you up that morning. It’s the policeman guarding your baby’s bedroom and placing evidence stickers around the room like a crime scene.
It’s your baby’s belongings being removed from your home in brown paper bags and detectives questioning you about every single aspect of your life, mere minutes after your baby has died.
It’s my asking why the fuck they need to know my email address right now?
It’s being too afraid to go into the room and see him before they take him away because you don’t want that image of him in your head – followed by the horrible regret that you didn’t hold him one last time in his own home.
It’s the sense of panic days after, when all of a sudden there is this fiery urge to be with your child but instead all you hear are words like “coroner”, “morgue” and “autopsy” when you ask to visit your baby.
It’s driving to the city to be in the same vicinity as your baby while they perform an autopsy because the thought of him being alone is heartbreaking.
It’s holding his cold little hand in yours, rubbing it and holding it between your hands as tight as you can to try and warm it up – because that’s what you do as a mother, if your child is cold. You keep them warm.
After a while his hand did start to warm up and for a brief moment, I closed my eyes and pretended that he was okay.
It’s leaving your child with a bunch of strangers. They may have been kind enough to dress him up in a little onesie, place him in a bed and rug him up underneath some blankets but it’s knowing full well that when you leave, they will put him back into a cold fridge and he will go back to being just another number.
You will never know the devastating pain of having to leave your child behind.
It’s the guilt and the ‘what ifs’ that eat you alive.
What did we miss? Why did I go out that night? What if we had taken him to the hospital? What if I had checked on him a little bit earlier? Was there anything that could have been done to prevent this? He had a fever, maybe it was an ear infection or meningitis? He did have that rash a few weeks back?
And once you are done with all of the obvious ‘what ifs’ you move to the totally ridiculous ‘what ifs’.
I bought him a new blanket a week before, maybe he suffocated? Maybe he was bitten by a spider? What if he was too cold and got hypothermia? What if he ate one of those mushrooms at the park that day and was poisoned?
You have to wait around 6 months for an autopsy report to come back. Six months.
We’ve already been told numerous times that although they may find something, the chances of them finding out what happened are quite slim and that, ‘some babies just die’.
Can you believe that? Some ‘babies just die’.
It’s selfish to say but I wished that the results would come back as “inconclusive” or “no known cause” because the thought of something coming back telling us that we could have prevented it is too unbearable to think about.
It’s the sleeping all day just so you don’t have to think about it anymore and the hoping that maybe you won’t wake up the next morning either.
It’s the hours spent by the side of your little boy’s cot remembering the countless times you tucked him into bed at night and more importantly the mornings you woke him up.
It’s holding your hands through the bars of his cot over the last place you saw him alive praying to a god you don’t even believe in to bring him back.
It’s laying in bed and holding a pile of his clothes, smelling them every 10 seconds just to feel a little bit closer to him.
It’s your heart breaking as the weeks go when his clothes start to lose his smell – realising you will never smell him again.
It’s the moments you turn the washing machine on, or turn the TV down because you think “shit, I hope that doesn’t wake Archer” because for a split second you forget and think he is just in bed asleep. And then you have to remember all over again.
It’s seeing other mothers with their babies and feeling mixed emotions of envy and also relief because they will never have to feel this pain.
It’s the moments you feel absolute crazy because sometimes you put a nappy on a teddy bear because you miss changing his nappy, or when you pack his blue dinosaur bag with nappies, his drink bottle and a change of clothes – because you miss packing his bag.
I have bargained for just a few more moments with him. I’ve begged for it to be me instead of him.
I kid you not I have even closed my eyes really tight and tried to go back in time.
It’s wrapping a cold urn in a blanket and reading it a book and then it’s placing that urn in his cot and tucking it in for the night. Kissing it before leaving the room in the exact same way you would as if he were alive.
It’s realising that all the cliché, lame and utterly crazy things bereaved mothers do in movies are absolutely true.
It’s feeling so relieved that you didn’t wipe down his highchair from the day before, because it’s still covered in food. I will never wipe down that high chair. It is dirty and sticky, covered in the peach he ate from the day before.
It’s the strain it puts on your relationships. I have read that after you lose a child you will cling onto your remaining child and never let them go. You will become over protective and never let them leave your side.
I have been the opposite. I have distanced myself from my daughter as she is a reminder every day of the little boy I lost. Seeing her sad, seeing her react to situations, hearing her say “I wish this never happened” and “I just want Archer back” is too unbearable. She now thinks that babies dying is a normal occurrence.
She is now terrified that she too is going to just go to sleep and never wake up.
She constantly asks if her skin is the right colour after seeing her brother blue that morning. She told me that if your heart isn’t beating you have to push on your chest and count – after witnessing her daddy perform CPR.
If I can’t make sense out of all of this, how can a six year old?
It’s the tiny things that you took for granted. There are so many little things you will do with your children that you think are insignificant, you won’t realise how significant these moments are until they are gone.
It’s all of the ‘firsts’ and there are firsts for everything.
The first time you eat without him, the first time you do the school drop off, the first food shop, the first coffee, the first load of washing you do without his clothes, the first car ride – the ‘firsts’ are everywhere.
Every tiny thing you do, no matter how small brings sadness because you are doing it without him.
It’s people praising you for being ‘strong’ or ‘inspirational’. They say these things because they don’t see behind-the-scenes. If they did they would see that I am merely clinging on by a thread, my head is barely above the water and in fact, my whole life is now an absolute mess.
It’s people avoiding you like the plauge. We know why they do it, they just don’t know what to say. If it happened to someone I knew, what would I say?
I would only know what to say now because I am in this situation. When my bosses’ dad died, before I went into work that day I almost had a panic attack because I was so nervous about what to say to her.
“Do I acknowlege it?” “Do I ignore it?” “Will it make her cry if I bring it up?”
Don’t ignore it. Don’t let someone in horrible pain walk past you without you even saying a word. Don’t let them think the death of their beloved child is something that is not worthy of mentioning. If you say “I’m sorry” or even if you mention his name, yes I’ll cry – but I’d rather cry and have him acknowledged than be ignored.
It’s been six weeks’ and I have only had one mother at school drop off acknowledge me.
She simply came up to me, with tears in her eyes and said, “I just don’t know what to say” and she hugged me.
Thank you to that mum because her hello every morning really do make school drop off just that tiny bit more bearable.
In a few weeks it will be two months since Archer left us and on the outside two months is quite a long time, people probably think a lot of healing and moving on has happened in that time but on the inside, two months still feels like yesterday.
Every year we will have to celebrate his birthday without him. Every Christmas his stocking will be out but it will be empty. Every family event for the rest of our lives will be missing someone. As we watch the children around us grow, all we get to do is imagine what our little boy would have been like.
Losing a small child is not a situation where you can sit back and think “he had a good run” and remember all the good times he had. You can’t sit around with friends and have beers and remember his long life and all the cool things he did because he only had 14 months of life – not only do you mourn the memories you have, you mourn the memories you will never have as well.
In the first few weeks after he died, I selfishly thought “If you were going to leave us, why couldn’t you have died in the first few weeks of your life so it would have hurt just a little less”. And then I put a question to myself… If I could have the choice to never have had Archer, to have never known him, had a different baby that lived a lifetime and forget this horrible pain, would I choose that? Or would I choose 14 months with him? I would chose the latter.
I would chose 14 months of pure joy and happiness. 14 months of a messy house with hand prints all over my walls. 14 months with a little boy who would whinge everytime I took something off him or told him ‘no’. 14 months of him smashing the TV with the broom, slapping the rabbit and eating rocks from the back yard.
I would choose 14 months of Archer and deal with this pain for a lifetime.
Today I promised my son I would find a way to make him proud, a way to help others. A way to make my life mean just that little bit more and to raise a family he would be proud to be apart of because he is a part of our family and always will be.
Rejoice in every, tiny thing your child does.
Those bad days you have, where your child stresses you out so much that you put them to bed early just to have a break – spare a thought for the mothers who no longer get to put their children to bed.
Take a deep breath, put down the dishes, hold off on doing the washing for a few hours and hold them tight, or read them a book, play blocks with them – in honor of the mothers and fathers who no longer have that chance.
October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Its purpose is to help families affected by this loss, and particularly those who are suffering or grieving in silence. To help others relate to those affected by this type of loss, to guide them on how to help and what to say or not say.
If you would like to make a donation to Sids and Kids you can do so here.