We sat in the PICU Quiet Room of Doom (different ward, just as Doom-y) the day after Rory’s death with his Clinical Nurse Specialist and she mentioned something that would happen in “a couple of months’ time”. In my internal monologue I balked and dry-laughed. I couldn’t even imagine getting through the next couple of hours, let alone the next couple of months. Rory died in January and the idea of even getting to February just seemed impossible.
And yet, here we are.
I’ve experienced grief before and I’ve watched those close to me experience grief. I’ve read some blogs and books about grief, I’ve talked to my psychologist about grief, I’ve played characters that are grieving. There are those documented “stages” we all recant and expected patterns – especially when you lose a child. But no single example that I’ve encountered seems to be the same.
Matt and I – and those around us - are, of course, in the ridiculously early stages of a lifelong journey with the grief of losing Rory. But look! We made it to the end of February! And I uphold my right to celebrate that, because on 11th January, I really didn’t believe that I could make it this far.
And that’s not to say that I was suicidal, or had any wish to no longer live, I just literally couldn’t get my head around functioning without Rory. It was like the world had applied, on my behalf and against my will, to a job I had fuck-all qualifications for and I’d arrived at the office expected to build my own desk. I honestly didn’t trust that my body would carry on - 12th January and beyond was a giant black hole. I just couldn’t fathom how to do it.
We’d been carried initially by the wave of adrenaline that sustained us while Rory was in Intensive Care. That got us through a few days post-death. But eventually, and dangerously, that began to wane, and what I’d initially thought was grief wasn’t really grief at all. Grief was an all-consuming, horrible, vicious monster that waited (and still waits) in every room you enter, every child you see, every sponsored advertisement and as an endless, maddening film on repeat when you close your eyes to try and sleep. It seeps into every fibre of your being and out of every one of your pores. I hate how wanky and metaphorical I’m being, but there’s just no way to tangibly describe it. If you’ve grieved, perhaps you’ve felt this too.
But I did function. We functioned. We are still functioning! We began one hour at a time. We’d map out a really simple task – as simple as making each other a cup of tea – and we’d do that. And that was a good achievement. Hey! An hour ago we didn’t think we’d be able to get out of bed and make each other a cup of tea, right?
Once cups of tea and meals became manageable, we tried going outside once a day. We started to get used to seeing other parents and children. It’s painful (especially when you see the odd example of shit parenting), but it’s getting to be just “one of those things” – and we really don’t want to be “that couple” that friends who are parents with living children feel that they can’t be around. We started to make funeral arrangements, every one of which was hard, but every one of which we tackled together, and achieved together. Registering the death was something I’d really built myself up for. Amongst many qualms I have with city councils and their idiotic systems, the fact that births and deaths are registered in the SAME BUILDING with the SAME RECEPTION is just sadistic. It was impossible to ignore the fact that we’d been in that very office seven months earlier to excitedly register Rory’s birth. I very nearly chickened out and messaged our CLIC Sargent nurse to go with Matt to register instead, but I knew that it was a really important milestone to me and I’d always wish I’d been braver.
Eventually, we left Bristol for the first time since 19th October. We went to the Lake District, to Rory’s Grandma’s house. We’d not been there since September, when life was rosy and the three of us were blissfully happy. That was really fucking hard and we were both dreading it. We cried. Lots. Every time I passed Rory’s baby rocker in the living room I felt like the air had been knocked out of me. We went to see Rory’s Grandma’s grave, where as soon as we could after Rory’s birth we’d carried him triumphantly in our arms to show her the beautiful boy we’d made. We just couldn’t believe any of it. But there we were – we’d made it out of Bristol without Rory and we were surviving.
And then, tentatively and without much joy, we left the country and went to Berlin for a few days. We must have been the most unenthusiastic holidaymakers that Heathrow has ever seen. But it was really good. We walked loads, visited as many museums as we could, crammed in lots of history and a fair amount of beer and were absolutely knackered by the end of it. Obviously our thoughts were never far from Rory, but the trip was just what our minds needed. And we were so proud to have got this far.
And finally, Matt went back to work. Day one was fine – my mum came to Bristol and the whole concept of establishing some sort of “new normal” seemed totally manageable. Day two was shit. I went into town, but all I could see was parents and babies and I just felt so, unfathomably angry at why they got to keep their children and I couldn’t have mine. I have some pretty ugly, irrational thoughts at the moment – and I’m a tolerant person, I promise – but there you go, that’s grief for you. I’d lost my little best friend and my heart was irreparably broken and that was just really, childishly unfair. I couldn’t help feeling that I’m not needed by anyone anymore – that joyful purpose had just disappeared.
But that was Tuesday, and then Tuesday ended and Wednesday began, and then Wednesday ended and Thursday began. And so on, and so on, and I took a moment to reflect and thought to myself “you know what? Everything you thought you couldn’t do, you’ve actually already done”.
I think what I’m trying to say is that grief is endless and the pain will be there forever, but we’re taking one step at a time and although you might find us crying in the street sometimes, we’re actually OK. An army of amazing friends and relatives have quietly surrounded us and are gently making sure that we're eating, sleeping, washing our hair, going outside, laughing and thinking about other things. Life will never be the same, and the word "routine" makes us want to vomit right now, but - for Rory's sake - we've got to make something of what's left of our world.
While we were in the Lakes that first trip away without Rory, we walked up a nearby fell and stood in the howling wind. And as hard as the whole trip had been, and as much as we carried on crying for both Rory and his Grandma while we were standing in that ridiculous wind, it was pure magic. The wind was so strong that we could lean into it and it held us up. And that was Rory and his Grandma: holding us up and keeping us going. And you know what? Everything is shit, but they are always going to hold us up. And as long as we think that, we’re going to be OK.
"Although we know that after such a loss the acute state of mourning will subside, we also know we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute, no matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else. And actually that is how it should be... it is the only way of perpetuating that love which we do not want to relinquish."
(Freud, S. (1929) Letter to Bingswanger. In E.L.Freud (ed) Letters of Sigmund Freud, New York, Basic Books.)