My birthday was less than two months after Lenny died. I absolutely dreaded it. Another cruel ‘milestone’ that I was supposed to celebrate with my son. Also, Lenny died on his birthday, how could I celebrate my birthday or anyone else’s ever again?
A good friend advised: “you can’t just ignore it, it will still happen and you will still feel shit.’ So we planned something very low key and unbirthdayish just to ensure that I wasn’t alone on the day. Messages saying ‘have a great day/lovely day/enjoy yourself’ etc felt ridiculous and dismissive and even insensitive. But then people ignoring it felt shit too. Even Roy didn’t know what to do – he got me some ‘acknowledgement of birthday items.’
One message did touch my soul though. I opened a card handmade by my friend’s 6 year old daughter. It had a picture of a bike, a dog and a female climber – if you have been paying attention on the website you can tell she nailed it! Then some words she had written totally unprompted by her parents and independently ‘NEVER GIVE UP!’ I cried.
Every single day up until this point I really wanted to give up, I wished I had died in labour, the pain I felt so unsurvivable that I would collapse sobbing on the bathroom floor convinced that I would eventually fall unconscious and never wake up because the emotional pain was just too awful. To be clear, I never thought of seriously harming myself but for a long time I would describe Roy and I as passively suicidal – if a large piano was falling from a building we would not have moved out of the way. I was a bit reckless a couple of times on my bike, not really looking at junctions because it would be easier just to go and be wherever Lenny is. Then suddenly I would correct myself because I couldn’t risk ruining a driver’s life, or my parents feeling the pain of losing a child and most of all I had made some promises to Lenny at his funeral which I have to keep. So somehow I kept breathing.
But, ‘NEVER GIVE UP!’ A 6 year old was acknowledging our grief, seeing our pain and offering support in 3 words. Some adults had stumbled and said things which minimised our grief or offered unsolicited advice for a situation they simply can’t imagine. And here was the 6 year old mini Dalai Lama. I felt seen. But I also felt a bit watched. Shit. A little girl is watching how an adult woman navigates hard things. I didn’t really know what to do about that. But, over the next few months – I watched her. I watched as she approached situations which terrified her, cried, did the thing, maybe cried some more but then was delighted she did it. Genius. I took her approach. I found myself suddenly terrified of unpredictable situations, social occasions and generally life (especially chuffing supermarkets) but after watching her face and overcome various situations – I felt braver. I did a fair amount of public crying in the process but I started to face the world and a lot of ‘firsts.’
One of the things I was scared to do in the early days was to see her and her brother. I was worried they would ask me questions about Lenny that I couldn’t answer – after all whenever she saw me during my pregnancy she would ask where the baby was. I needn’t have worried. Turns out this 6 year old has more emotional intelligence than most adults and hasn’t been corrupted by our society’s ‘being shit at grief’ approach.
She knows we are sad and accepts it, she always mentions Lenny’s name and does so naturally, she painted Lenny a stone to be placed at the SANDs garden and she notices things in our house which represent Lenny. Obviously her (pretty amazing) parents are in some ways responsible for this in terms of how they communicate with their kids. But so much of this is about her response. I bought her a birthday gift (the only person I have bought a gift for this year) and wrote all of our names on it Mim, Roy, and Lenny – her mum told me she likes to see Lenny’s name written down and turns to the front of the book. Even while I have been writing this, I have received a picture of Lenny’s name written in leaves that she did. She seems to intuitively understand what lots of adults don’t – mentioning Lenny’s name doesn’t ‘remind’ me he has died (I haven’t forgotten), it doesn’t bring up pain – he isn’t pain he is my son and that he is my son!!! And if he were here with me we would talk about him.
She has taught me you can say a lot in very few words. That being brave doesn’t mean not showing emotion and that tears, even public tears are allowed. That saying something is always better than staying quiet because you feel awkward. That small actions or gestures have a big impact. That you really can’t predict how people will react and who will be supportive.
And most of all that there are some things that children can teach adults. They have an uncorrupted approach to grief and loss, they don’t mask emotion, and they just take you as you are. They seem to prioritise having fun with the people they love. Maybe they have got life right. They constantly try new things and experience new situations, whereas adults tend to stick to the same activities within their comfort zone. They are willing to learn and keep learning – we should be too. And we should never, ever give up! Especially as you never know who is watching and learning from you.
UPDATE: I wrote this just over a week ago and wanted to get it approved by her parents before I shared it. It is truly heartbreaking to now know that her parents have now shared with her that we have also lost Bhai, Lenny’s little brother – apparently she doesn’t fully comprehend it – she is absolutely not alone in that!!! I have reflected on the idea of our children being our best teachers and truly believe that my boys have taught me so much and always will.