I have been thinking about writing this post for many weeks. Thinking about it, and then putting it off, and putting it off some more. One of the things I promised Romy I would do is write about her, her life and its meaning, but up until now it has just been too difficult and painful. But I always do what I say I’m going to do, so here is the first post to this blog. I’m still not sure who I am writing this for: for me, for her, for you all who have been so incredibly kind and supportive but who have no possible way of knowing what my life is like now. I have resisted sharing how I feel because the nightmare that I currently live each day is so awful I cannot bear to share it with anyone: not another mother, not a friend, and with the exception of my husbandd, certainly not a loved one. I don’t want to invite anyone into this hell. So please bear with me on several levels. My writing skills, historically pretty good, are now shaky as I find it very difficult to articulate what I feel. I am a total technophobe, so if this somehow makes it onto the right page without disappearing into the ether I will be amazed.
Today marks sixteen weeks since Romy passed. Passed, went home, left us – anything but ‘died’, because for us, Romy will never die. She is still as much a part of our family as she ever was, except she is not physically here. Having to explain this to our other two children, aged (just) six and four and a half, has helped me to solidify this information. I explain to them that even though we may not be able to see her, Romy is still all around us, she still loves us, she is with us. They accept this, although our son in particular finds it difficult to live with the fact that he cannot interact with her in a physical way. He still insists on signing her name in birthday cards.
Sixteen weeks is a milestone for me. Romy was just a few days short of sixteen weeks old when she passed, which means that now she has been gone for longer than she was with us. I have been both anticipating this day and dreading it in equal measure and now that it is finally upon us I honestly don’t know what I feel. On some level I think I believed that once I passed this day, things might seem a little easier somehow, or at least different. So far, it’s just another difficult day. As usual, dropping the children at school was emotional. I love their school, a small, independent and spiritually minded school on the outskirts of Brighton, and we are all so happy that they are thriving there. However, I was until recently expecting to drop them at school and then skip off to spend lots of one to one time with my newest daughter. Instead I find myself battling with huge anxiety as I leave the classroom. I miss them unbelievably as somehow their presence, even when challenging, is a huge comfort to me and I flounder when they’re not around. So I drop them off, cry in the car for a short while and then try to figure out how to fill my day until I can go and collect them again.
Aside from mourning the loss of my child, I am also in mourning for my work. This may sound strange, but when I explain that my work of the past eleven years has also been what I believed to be my life’s purpose, this might make more sense. For many years I was a reflexologist working with fertility and pregnancy, a baby massage instructor and a birth doula. I loved my work, and was thrilled to come to it after many years pursuing various careers which never seemed quite right and which never lasted much beyond a couple of years. I spent huge amounts of time, money and love studying and learning as much as I could from those I considered to be the best in this field, including Ina May Gaskin, Janet Balaskas, Dr. Gowri Motha and Michel Odent. One highlight was a trip to The Farm in Tennessee when I was three months pregnant with my first child, an experience I shall never forget and one which inspired me in so many ways. I felt, with my work, that I had come home. Although I was never going to be rich doing it, it felt so good to be making a real difference to people’s lives; a cliche, but true. Something I have always admired greatly about my husband, and something which has always glued us together, is our joint belief in following our truth, even when there may be an easier path.
Shortly after we lost Romy I realised that I would never be able to do this work again. It’s hard to explain exactly why. A big part is that I know that unless I am privileged to welcome either another baby of my own or, later, a grandchild, I know I will never hold another baby again in my life. This could present difficulties.
I had many (one sided) “conversations” about my work with Romy, and in fact just a couple of weeks before she left us I remarked to my husband, out of the blue, that I felt that when I came to return to work again it would not be with birth and babies. Given what I have just expressed, he was understandably surprised but predictably supportive. I told him that I felt that part of my calling would be working with death and the dying, which takes me right back to my first months studying reflexology. Choosing a topic for a project, I was torn between fertility and palliative care, and over the years I have come to realise that birth and death are inextricably linked on many levels. Being present at someone’s birth or at their passing is huge privilege, and those of us who have experienced this privilege know that the energy is the same. I am in awe of the fact that, having obviously been present at Romy’s birth I was also allowed to be present at her passing – something which I will write about one day when it feels less raw.
For now, there are many milestones that I need to acknowledge in order to progress in this life; something which, if I am very honest, I sometimes feel completely unable or unwilling to do. I will never witness physical ‘milestones’ with my daughter. I will never see her crawl, walk, never hear her first words or lovingly prepare food for her to try – all things which come into my mind many times over the course of one day, usually when I see a child who would be about her age.
So perhaps the purpose of this post is to publicly acknowledge these milestones in my grief in the hope that by following them I may begin to find my way out because one thing I know, and that is that it is not humanly possible to live in this state for any period of time.
So, for Romy, here are the things which I need to fulfil:
To find a new home for our family, a place where we can cherish memories of Romy without reliving the pain of missed opportunities and “if only”s. I would like to be able to sit in my living room and relax alone without endlessly replaying her last moments; not to be burdened with a small, empty room in which she never even slept but to which the children still refer as ‘Romy’s room”.
To visit the small cafe in a neighbouring village where Romy and I spent our last morning together, where I sang to her, kissed her and laughed with her. Where I actually told her out loud how impossibly happy I was, and how grateful I was to be living with everything I had ever dreamed of. Some days I feel blessed to have been given those four months of complete and utter fulfilment and bliss, recognising that some people never experience that feeling. On other days I feel angry at how impossibly cruel this seems – to have that feeling and then have to live the rest of my life having known it but knowing that I will never feel it ever again.
To find the strength to seek out, look through and sort all the photographs of our angel. I currently have one image-the image on this site- in a small frame next to my bed and in a locket permanently round my neck. I have until now been completely unable to look at any other images of her without feeling totally destroyed.
To be able to reply, with confidence, “I have three children” to anyone who happens to ask casually. On the couple of occasions where it’s just seemed easier to reply, “two” I have suffered terrible guilty repercussions for days.
To find new purpose in my life. At the moment, outside the children and Darius, I don’t have a purpose and for the first time in my adult life, I don’t care. This in itself is a struggle because I have always, by nature, been an optimistic, dynamic personality, used to following my instincts and seeking inspiration from those around me. I don’t recognise the woman I am now and at times I have no desire to find her. I can operate in the outside world – make small talk, interact with others, carry out the necessary tasks, but inside I am just waiting for the time of day when it’s just the four of us inside our home, the door is shut and I can relax. With my husband and the children I can actually, just for a while, be the version of myself I am now, without worrying about other people’s grief, their needs or expectations. I have long fostered an instinct of what it is that my work is supposed to be and I somehow have to find the faith to find my way too it.
Today, I will spend time at Clayton Wood Natural Burial Ground, which is where we remember Romy. I will take her white roses as I do every Friday, because she went home on a Friday. I will cry for her, miss her, and hope above all that wherever she is she is happy and peaceful and that she is doing and being what she is meant to be.
The inscription at “Romy’s place”, which is what we call her grave, is a beautiful song in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh which we heard for the first time at the children’s school and which we instantly recognised as the right words for how we feel about our daughter:
No coming, no going, no after, no before
I hold you close to me, I release you to be so free
Because I am in you and you are in me.
Go well my daughter. I am committed to living your truth, and however hard it is, I will find it.