Today is your sixth birthday. I can barely breath knowing that you cannot. Some days I can just about tolerate you not being by my side. I can think of your kind eyes and smile to myself. I can speak ‘Freddie’ with familiar fondness, playing your sayings over and over in my head. I can hold memories close to me and feel your love. But most days the weight of my love for you can feel unbearable. It is just so big, so overwhelming, so unbelievably everything and everywhere. I say your name over and over just to hear it, feel how it sounds, call your name, I wish you would answer.
When you were ill I knew what to do. You made me brave and, in turn I made you brave. When our roots upturned and the ground beneath us disappeared, the branches of our trees entwined to give support. You held me and I held you. You, you, you, sweet you. Freddie, Freddie, Freddie. The longing is excruciating.
Then you were gone. You died and part of me died too. My inner Mary Poppins part had to go. The part of me that carried on regardless. The part of me that smiled while inside I was screaming. She was no nonsense, spit spat and off we go. Come along now! No more. She is nonsense and false, she doesn’t belong in the mix with this beautiful, painful love of mine. Now I stop, wallow in the wonder that is you. Freddie, Freddie, Freddie. Such a beautiful sound. I beg, please say his name, it makes me weep, but it also makes my heart sing.
Then I think, god you were good, the best of everything.
You made me better in every way.
Always your mummy Freddie. Love you more than a Rufus pie.
P.S. He is called the Hulk not the Hoke.
Today I wrote a note to the milkman.
“Thank you for your patience while we get our milk order right. Our son died and it is very hard to work out what we need. Going forward, please can we have……….”
Probably too much information for our milkman. But it dawned on me that our milk consumption habits are a mirror for other areas of our life. Some days you open the fridge and there is great big empty hole where the milk should be. Just nothing. Other days the amount of milk is overwhelming: bottles and bottles of the stuff, spilling out everywhere.
This is how is with grief. It’s exhausting. It’s hard to work to know what you need. It keeps changing. It’s overwhelming, heavy, confusing and never stops. But that’s the thing, you don’t want it stop. You don’t just want to cancel the order. In fact, you need it to stay very, very close. It’s both the thing that makes you feel like you are wading in porridge but the thing that gets you up in the morning. Its love.
Making no sense
And then you were dead??????????
I look at my phone every day, tracing the photos of last year. When you were alive. Looking at the calendar, trying to make sense of how it played out. How could you be here and then gone. One month well, one month tired, one month sick, one month in pain, one month sleeping, one month…… then you were gone. My heart doesn’t understand. My brain does but my heart can’t bear it.
Come back now. I’ve had enough. I can’t be without you for one moment longer.
You were just so excellent
With everything I have, f**K you Cancer.
Broken, pieces everywhere.
I am a fragmented self, a fragmented mother, a fragmented daughter, a fragmented partner in a fragmented life. Nothing but a fraggle.
Life at fraggle rock sucks.
Running always running. That was you and that was me. Running around and around the block, chasing peace.
Before I was a grazing zebra; greedily chewing, enjoying the sun, sometimes chatting about the lions over the way. I thought I knew stress. Ha!
Then life was nothing but fear; heart pounding, stomach churning, shoulder crushing, heart breaking. Run, Nat, Run! Like the opening credits of Trainspotting, I only stop to laugh manically. Choose a vein, choose a med, choose a massive vat of coffee, choose wine, choose a jumpsuit, choose a massive load of appointment letters, choose life.
The lion came, he ran after me, pounced, let go, played with me, tortured me, then he left my baby dead. My baby died. The lion got my other baby, but he let him go. Where is the lion, where is that bloody lion???? I’ll be ready.
No I’m not. I want to lie down. You can’t run and now I can’t run. I am not ready for anything. I can’t even get the milk order right. All I can do is lie down. You can’t run, neither can I. You are burnt and so am I. You can’t breathe and neither can I. I match you. The pain matches the love.
Like a pan coming to the boil. It fizzes away. Bubbles slowly coming to a pop around the edges. Pop, pop……….pop. Bubbles making pin pricks in my heart.
He looks fine.
He is just like any other three year old.
I’m not worried.
It couldn’t be.
I would know.
Trust your gut.
My gut says: everything has gone to shit.
Lie down instead.
No, be around people.
People have birthdays and keep living their lives and stupid stuff like that.
All I want to say is: my boy died and now I can’t think about anything because there isn’t space in my head for anything but him.
Stop talking about anything that isn’t him.
Arthur is here, he is real.
But he might leave too. Like Freddie, like Mungo….. like Pixie,
Arthur, I’m doing my very best to be your best mummy.
Sorry the rest of the world, but that is all I can manage.
Weeping, “I thought we were going again…”
This is what I said to Martin after Arthur’s last scan. We were standing in the corridor of safari outpatients, at the good end. The bad end is where you go to have your hopes crushed and where dreams go to die. Even the toys are all broken.
I didn’t realise how worried we had both been.
In the meeting it felt like everyone was shouting. Arthur certainly was. He really didn’t like being back. He didn’t want to hear about anything medical. After, Martin and I disagreed about things that were said in the consultation. The scan was clear, that’s all that mattered. We all bubbled over and stress was released. Then we hugged, apologised and held on tight.
Love. What you hold onto on a windy day and bask in its sunshine for every other day.
Like Thelma and Louise with less rape and murder
When the multiple cancer bombs dropped I knew I would have to find some gurus to get me through. So, when any modern woman is looking for gurus where does she turn….Netflix of course!
It was here I watched the film ‘Alison’. A film about a mega human, Alison, who survived being raped, disembowelled and an attempted beheading, to go on, have children and inspire others. I know it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Most people might go for a gentle rom com or action film to take them out of themselves. I just wanted to find people who had lived through bad things happening to them, learn what they did and work out how they survived. I remember clearly, Alison explained that she made a choice to turn and look for the light. She did this again and again; initially to get off the beach where she was left for dead and later, metaphorically to beat the dementors of depression creeping in. I thought if Alison can do that, then so can I.
I have since found many other gurus. Brene Brown for relationships, Dolly Alderton for friendships, Elizabeth Day for actually verbalising what’s in my head and finally Dr Joanne Cacciatore for teaching me about love and grief.
I read Joanne’s book while Freddie was fading away over the last few weeks. Then, after his death, a friend of mine helped me to make contact with her. Joanne Cacciatore is a unique person. She is a bereaved mother, a psychologist, a zen priest and all round awesome human. She lives in Sedona, Arizona. I didn’t know where that was, until Joanne invited me there.
Travelling to Arizona for Selah, a 4 day retreat for the traumatically bereaved, was one of the best things I have ever done. As I said, like Thelma and Louise, except it was just Natalie in a Toyota.
I could say so much about my time there, but there just isn’t the space or the words at the moment. Two things I did bring home were; to first turn my heart inward in grief and start to practice self-compassion and care. The second was, when I am able to, to turn my heart to others, be grateful and use my pain as a bridge to others.
Thank you gurus and especially Dr Jo.
Heart Inwards: A Recipe for self-love
-3 oversized cardigans (preferably one hoody belonging to you husband)
-a generous dollop of friends willing to drop anything
-a gentle trickle of mum doing little things behind the scenes
-1 trip away for new year
-4 sprinkles of surprise days out
-25ish massages (the exact amount is not important, be liberal)
-7 surprise bunches of flowers on the doorstep
-copious glasses of wine (colour not important)
-85 cups of yoga or Pilates if you prefer
-a massive blob of silly text messages
-a few handfuls of nights out, which you may or may not come to and will probably cry through
-5 really good books
Make sure you wear really nice clothes that make you feel good, put in earrings and honour your loved one by saying their name as you cook.
-First put some of the ingredients in a bowl. Then change your mind. Take them out and then put them back in again in a different order. It might not feel right, but you’ll get there in the end.
Have a little cup of tea and a sit down.
-Then, gently dribble in some other ingredients you totally forgot about because your brain is like a sieve. Forgive yourself for this immediately.
-After that, make a well and stir in a bunch of warm baths and a heavy dusting of sunshine.
Have a nice lie down with a hot water bottle and an open fire.
-Next, put into a giant hug from your husband for 40 minutes, turn up the heat if required.
Take it out and add in the stuff you forgot.
-Finally, serve in bowl of toddler giggles accompanied by compassion sprinkle with some dark humour.
When I have enough battery stored I try to turn my heart outward. It does help.
I don’t have Freddie and I don’t have much peace in my heart about the people I love (especially Arthur). I know I don’t have control over most things in life, that is an illusion.
But, this is what I do have, which I am grateful for and allows me to turn to the light everyday….
- My brain. It’s really busy in here. But it works. Freddie’s did not work at the end. I will always be grateful for a brain that works (most of the time).
- My white, middle-class privilege, I feel quite sick about how little grace I have had about this at times.
- My parents, in-laws and extended family who love us unconditionally
- My living child-he is an actual angel.
- My wonderful husband, I hate the term partner, but he is that in every sense. A partner in crime and in love.
- My bloody awesome friends. New ones, old ones and ones I have never met. You have saved us.
- My body. It runs, it jumps, it breaths and it feels. It works.
- My home with all the painful, wonderful memories inside and all the amazing neighbours holding it up.
- The little animal visitors, rabbits and red kites in particular.
- Lovely sunshine when it comes
- My memories of the four of us together. 2016 was an especially magical year, a blessing I will never forget.
- All birthdays. They are really hard for me now, but they are to be treasured. Another lovely year being with someone lovely.
As it is Freddie’s birthday today, I hope you can remember him and do a random act of kindness in his name, even if it is small, like smiling at a stranger or making someone a cup of tea.
Freddie, forever 5. But today he would have been 6. We remember you every day.