Three times I have now done this.
The first was my cousin. Her beautiful daughter died just six weeks after entering the world. I am not sure how much of a help I was for that to be honest. I think teapot and chocolate spring to mind.
It is not that we weren’t close, we were very much so. Childhoods entwined with long summer sleep-overs and roaming feral across coastlines and cliffs in the those care-free days before parents locked their children away with iPads. Then there were the teenage years spent lolling, eating fizzy cola bottles, on bunk beds debating the relative merits of Curiosity Killed the Cat and Wet Wet Wet. She was the one that told me that I could practice snogging on my hand and led me astray with my first elicit ‘mixy’ made from bottles languishing for a reason in her parents’ booze cupboard.
But I was young. I had no clue. I think I rolled up to the funeral, got drunk and probably obnoxious, then swanned back to London and my life. The only support offered in the coming years being a metaphoric slap on the back in a late night bar and 2am blurrily recalled booze-fuelled chats.
The second was my sister-in-law. Just nine days her little man graced the earth before Edward’s Syndrome claimed him. We knew it was coming from early in the pregnancy, but nothing could prepare us for how heartbreaking it was. I am happy to admit I was of more practical use in the dark early days this time around. I could take her other children to school and back, load the fridge with food, make tea (so much bloody tea), and sit on the floor with her toddler and play whilst she wept upstairs.
I got all the inside scoop, sitting there on the sidelines, on the way that people handled her. And what worked and what did not. Because everyone is different. And for every person that gave her a bear hug, there was one that crossed the road to avoid her – crippled with unease, not knowing what to say and not wanting to sustain her sadness.
Now there is you. Not even a week has passed since you lost your beloved boy.
I suppose I could have put all this in a private letter. In fact that was the plan. But now I find myself opening up my blog dashboard and keying in the words here instead. A blog long neglected as what could I write about when all of our thoughts have been with you for what has been the most bittersweet of summers. And this is what we do – you and I – we spill our beans online. The “brainfart” as you call it.
I also thought that I am probably not alone in what I am about to write.
You have created comrades in droves with your endless kindness to others. Even when the chips were down and I knew you were fighting your own demons, you could always find the right words to help and bolster those struggling with this life that we all now lead. The one governed and mastered by the genetic lotteries that are our children. Your support stands out – coming as it does from your your own unique, witty and insightful perspective of the world.
Now it is time for us to try and support you. And where do we begin?
This time around it is beyond tough. Because this time around you are too far away to make tea for or to scoop your daughter out to the swings down the road so you can pause, hear the quiet, try to calm. I can’t load the fridge or stand in the corner handing out the biscuits as the visitors arrive. There, but not there, as you try to get through the day.
For a friendship that began in a support group, I like to think it is a strong, if not conventional, one. We speak in some form every day. Our conversations are in the written form, accessible at all hours, and that’s what has made it so easy and natural. I’ve got so used to this sort of friendship that I sometimes stare at the phone in surprise if someone calls and I have to speak not type.
But this ‘virtual friendship’ mode is going to make things tricky going ahead. You are not going to have the energy to communicate through a keyboard, you won’t be able to find the words that jumble your brain, to relay just how broken you are right now. The most effective communication is non-verbal – a small smile, a pat on the shoulder – things that smart phones are still not smart enough to convey.
Then there is the thing that bonded us that might now drive us apart. Our two little boys, born just weeks apart. Who although medically different, matched each other developmentally small step by small step. It will be painful for you, I know, to hear tales of my child. You’ll say it won’t, but there will be times that will rip you apart. I won’t do that to you, but I believe the strands of our friendship are made up of so much more. That is where we will focus our attention in all the long days ahead.
I am going to get it spectacularly wrong at times. I know that. There will be days when you can’t function and I’ll post a picture online beaming with a cold beer and you’ll think I’m a terrible mate. I know I’ll annoy you – hell we all will – just because. But, I am setting my stall out early. You can push back and hide as much as you need, but at the end of the day I will still be here. You can rant and shout and scream and I will listen. You can weep and I will comfort. And one day you will laugh again and I will laugh with you.
You say that you are “pinned to the bed with sadness” and there is nothing but despair ahead. There will be the funeral, his birthday, Christmas and the summer once more. Each day feeling like it can’t be worse than the rest, but then finding a new way to knock you down. But let me whisper this to you now to put away in your pocket for another day – those two women above were just the same. But, slowly they began to live again, allowed themselves to plan, to see that the world still had lots more to offer. You will one day again too. With every breath I know that they grieve their babies, but most days it doesn’t consume them the way it once did.
So what do we do now? How do I – and all that love you – try to help pick up the pieces of your smashed heart. I guess it will just be one small piece at a time. Holding each part in our palms and handing them back – bit by bit – when you are ready with a word, smile, hug or gesture.
I promise you this. We are not letting you go down with this ship. You’ll sink for a bit, but there is a small army of us watching and waiting, arms spread out wide. All that you have invested in us, will now be paid back in spades.
We are building you a raft to keep you afloat, but you’ll not need it forever my friend. You don’t realise it yet, but those sails will mend and there are many more oceans still for you explore.
And for now I’ll keep hold of the maps.
You can follow my friend’s story at Are You Kiddingney.
Her brilliant, brave and sharp writing has also earnt her a nomination for Best Campaigner in the Mumsnet Blog Awards and you can vote for her here.