real life

'The sadness of Mother's Day when you're coping with the pain of losing a child.'

Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

My beautiful daughter will make me a hand-made card. She’ll drag her dad to the shops and buy me a personal, meaningful gift. Together they’ll make me pancakes for breakfast and they’ll take me out somewhere nice for lunch.

I’ll refuse to do any housework, though I’ll end up ironing her school uniform anyway. And I’ll feel blessed that I’ve been afforded the privilege of raising this amazing kid. She is smart, witty, kind. She is the light of my life, and I know how lucky I am to have her.

There will also be a touch of sadness, though, this Mother’s Day, as with every Mother’s Day, because something is missing. Someone is missing.

You see, I belong to a not-so-exclusive club – the club of one-in-four women who’ve lost a child. One. In. Four. For such a common occurrence, it is a surprisingly silent statistic.

Sandie Docker Mother's Day after child loss
Sandie with her daughter. Image: supplied.

Days like Mother’s Day, like birthdays and anniversaries, are moments of reminder that we one-in-four mark in lonely silence.

This Mother’s Day, I’m preparing myself for a rockier road than usual, as my first novel hits the shelves and I hit the interview circuit. I knew when I was writing this novel that difficult questions would follow. That’s inevitable when you explore in your work the theme of the grief of losing a child.

I never set out to write about such a theme. And when I realised that was where my characters were taking me, I stopped and asked myself two important questions.

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Firstly, could I? Did I have the strength to tap into those emotions that I keep buried so deep within me? Could I do such a deeply personal theme justice, when everyone’s experience of grief is so different? How do I write about something so big, in such a small intimate way?

The pain of losing a child is all-consuming, and it never goes away.

Mother's Day when you've lost a child.
The locket with photos of Sandie's daughter and child that passed away that she wears everyday. Image supplied.

Life stops, you forget how to breath, and you know the world will never be the same colour again. Ever. Losing a child is different to other losses. With other losses – a parent, a grandparent, a partner, a friend – there’s a reservoir of happy memories to hold on to in the moments of sadness. When you lose a child there is only the grief, the loss of hope and dreams. The guilt. Why wasn’t I strong enough, good enough, complete enough, woman enough, to grow a healthy baby inside me?

Why couldn’t I protect my child?

To write about such pain was never going to be easy. Thankfully, though, my characters weren’t me and had taken on a life quite different to my own, and with that distance I found the strength to give voice to the pain and grief and guilt.

But the harder question still remained.

Should I write about it? Will it put readers off? It isn’t somewhere novels normally go – maybe there’s a reason for that. Novels do delve into difficult themes all the time though – infidelity, death, espionage, terrorism…But the loss of a child?

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There is something uncomfortably confronting about the topic, something that prevents us having open dialogue about the issue. If you do mention to people you’ve lost a child, they avert their eyes, close off. And you don’t want to force your story on them, burden them with your grief. So you stay quiet.

Sandie Docker Mother's Day after child loss
"When we continue on in silence and carry the heartache alone... we also prevent a more important conversation that needs to be had." Image: supplied.

But when we continue on in silence and carry the heartache alone; when we do not have the difficult conversations about the pain and grief and guilt that comes with losing a child, we also prevent a more important conversation that needs to be had. The conversation that lets us know that we can endure; that helps us understand that while we carry the tears inside us for eternity, they will subside in time; the conversation that allows us to realise that after such tragedy we can begin to hope again, to love again. That we can begin to live again.

Should I go there? I had to go there. Because it is important to know we are not alone. That we are one-in-four and our stories need to be told.

The Kookaburra Creek Café by Sandie Docker is published by Penguin Random House Australia and is available now, RRP $32.99

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