I have been taking part in Carly Marie Dudley’s Project, Capture Your Grief. It is something I discovered when I first dipped my toe in to the online baby loss community, and knew it would be something I’d want to take part it. I didn’t expect October to come round so quickly though.
I’ve been taking part on Instagram, but wanted to collate them here on my blog for future references, and in the hope that in a years time when it is repeated, I will have… progressed somewhat.
DAY 1 : SUNRISE DEDICATION
Let us celebrate the beginning of this healing month by waking up early to watch the sunrise wherever we in the world. Step outside into the fresh air and take some time to breathe the sunrise in.
Place : Southampton, Hampshire
A new month, one that we have been working up to and ‘looking forward’ to for some time. An opportunity to explore our grief further and reflect on the past nine months and the wider picture of #babyloss. No sunrise to be seen today – but we got up, bright and early, to tackle this months objective : honour. This month we honour babies gone too soon, and we remember them through #LeoForMilesInMemory – regardless of the weather!
This prompt made me consider how each morning since Leo died, we get up, take a deep breath and just see how long that calm holds for – somedays it’ll be minutes, others it’ll get you through to the next sunrise. I often read about how it takes people a few seconds to remember each morning, but I’ve never felt that sensation. I dream about this life, Leo is dead in my dreams and in my reality. Whilst I daydream about the life that could or should be, my actual dreams don’t let me forget.
DAY 2 : WHO ARE THEY
Share about your beautiful children today. Who are they? When were they born? How long did you have them for? What is their name? Share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with.
Leo Phoenix Clasby-Monk, our first born, our son, who we met on the 17th January 2016, at 2:33am. A Sunday morning. Weighing 6lb 4oz and a teeny bit extra. A perfect 50cm in length. With giant feet.
He is the owner of my heart, and the occupier of my brain. There are few thoughts I think without him there, somewhere. He is the shadow in every movement we make.
He was fought for, he is still fought for. He has been my biggest educator in life. He has shown me what unconditional love truly is. He has made us both parents. Parents, who ache to hold their baby again. Parents who cherish the moments when we could.
He is us. And we are him.
Our little roaring Lion. Who has quite a lot of answer for but who will rise again, like the Phoenix that he is.
We love you, our little Leo. More than you can imagine.
DAY 3 : WHAT IT FELT LIKE
In honour of this month of awareness today we give the outside world some insight into what it is like to be a bereaved parent by sharing what a certain experience that you had during your grief journey. This can be a positive or negative (or both) experience. Some experiences that you could share about are what it felt like to hear the words “There is no heartbeat” or maybe you had an experience where some did something very special in memory of your children. Pick a moment and share how it made you feel.
For this prompt, I’ve chosen one of the hardest realities of this journey, outside the initial few days of discovering that he had died, and giving birth to him. It’s something that I don’t think will ever leave me and I’ll try and explain how it felt.
When we left Leo at the hospital, we agreed for a post mortem and we were advised it could take about a week and that we’d get called to let us know that the funeral directors could collect him. During that time, we were home with our parents fumbling through life after loss and trying to work out what happens at a baby’s funeral. Those days were solely about survival.
When we hadn’t heard anything from the hospital for 6 days, I phoned for an update. It took a lot just to phone and have to say the words “you have my son, and I want to know if he’s ready”. They casually told me he was, and my heart broke again. It felt as though he knew, he knew I’d left him, forgotten about him, abandoned him. I left the hospital trusting that they would care for him, just as they had whilst we were there. It was the only thing that allowed me to leave him. Yet, they’d just let him stay there for more days the necessary. It was one of those first moments of intense guilt as a grieving mother – did he think we were having a jolly time, forgetting about, moving on already whilst he lay in a cold, morgue – abandoned, forgotten, alone.
At our post mortem appointment, I learnt that he had actually been ready since the day after we left him. So now I really knew that he’d been left for six days. Six whole days. Alone. When he could have come “home” to the funeral directors. He arrived at the funeral directors naked. His clothes washed & folded, but he hadn’t been dressed.
The care we received was good, better than many others have experienced and I try to hold on to that. But those moments – the fact that no one thought to phone us, to tell us he was ready, or send him to the funeral directors with a baby grow on. That’s a stark reminder that the world sees your baby as a dead baby. That realisation is so hard. And I’ll never forgive myself, or them, for him being alone like that.
DAY 4 : SUPPORT CIRCLES
Have you felt supported in this journey of grief and healing? Maybe it is a friend, family member or organization that has been there for you. Share how they have helped you and let them know how grateful you are. Please feel welcome to post links if you would like to share about a charity or support group.
I read recently that grief changes your address book. I couldn’t have described it any better. One of the earliest secondary losses I had to work through was the silence of some of our closest friends, and I guess it started at or around the funeral. I don’t know why they are silent – the don’t tell us, because they are silent.
What I do know, is with that shift, others have come in. Some we knew beforehand, some we didn’t. But the places we run too when we need too, or the places we can feel safe when we feel vulnerable, or the places we just need to go “seriously, that just happened, what the actual fuck is going on in this universe” have changed. Whilst it still hurts that some have quite easily placed themselves in the “can’t” pile – I will forever adore, love and be grateful for those who have come in or stayed.
Within that, I am so pleased I made the scary decision to open this account and start blogging. It’s priceless, having people close to you that have and are walking this journey. We are different, we have all had different experiences, but we give each other the ability to normalise grief and baby loss and that is so important. As is the ability to laugh (and be okay with laughing). We affectionately refer to our little groups of people who have been there as “dead baby club” and we are so so grateful for it. We also try out our (slightly inappropriate but hopefully not offensive) “Dead Baby Jokes”, and suss out what ones might be appropriate in the non-dead baby world. Although, generally to get the joke – you need to be in the club.
I thought this picture I snapped yesterday on our walk, was quite apt in showing people who have your back staying with you.
DAY 5 : THE UNSPOKEN
Normalizing grief is so important and that I why today I am calling upon those who feel brave enough to speak about the nitty gritty side of grief. Share something about your grief journey that you might feel is strange or not common. It might be something you do to remember your children by or maybe it is something you fear about the future. Often while grieving we have feelings of isolation because we fear judgement that what we are feeling isn’t normal. But it is amazing to see just how many people feel the same way. When others stand up and express how they feel through sharing their experiences, it allows us to say “Hey, I feel that way too!” and the fear of feeling like we are crazy is lifted and in some cases embraced!
There are quite a few things I feel I could talk about, but this is the first one that came to mind – and something I’ve only touched on before. I haven’t really written too much about the day that Leo died nor do people ask me about it – understandably I guess. Yet, it’s the day after that I find to be the most painful day to remember – once the dust was starting to settle and the reality of what was ahead with labour sinking in.
This photo is taken a few days before that, when Leo was still alive – I’ve shared it before, it’s our last photo in my camera roll from ‘before’. For me, the hardest aspect of those few days between death and birth were having a bump. I think Leo became instantly real to me the moment he died. He sank in my bump. He was heavy to carry. He didn’t respond to my movements so he would get in the way a lot more than he would normally. Every movement I took I’d feel him in the way, dead, unresponsive, a constant reminder. To find a position to sleep was difficult to make sure he fell in a place that wasn’t painful – emotionally and physically.
This was limbo land. He was dead, but not born. We hadn’t met him yet; we hadn’t felt that huge unconditional rush of love, or pride, of safety that birth gave me. So at this point – I just wanted to run away from him, from my bump more so. It was like this cruel joke, attached to me. I was terrified people would see me, like a fraud, pretending to be pregnant. I couldn’t understand if I still was. What if someone said something? I only left the house to go to and from the hospital – but that’s a place people are walking around with bumps for living babies, not dead babies. This bump that had been a growing, kicking, wonderful part of me for nine months – I just wanted it gone. I needed to get to the other side.
I remember not wanting to highlight this to our parents, who were with us, and just whisper to The Wife “I can feel him”. Not that I thought he was kicking, but I could feel him dead, inside of me.
That’s one of the hardest things to remember for me. And it’s been pretty unspoken since then.
DAY 6 : EMPATHY
So often when someone experiences the death of a baby or child, family and loved ones fail miserably at empathy because they try to fix what has happened. They usually do this because they either love you so much or just can’t deal with it themselves so they say things like “God needed another angel. It was probably for the best. At least, blah blah blah” They are desperate to show you a silver lining when there really isn’t one. As we know these kinds of words rarely ever help, in fact they more often than not make us feel even worse. So today you are invited to educate people on the art of empathy. We don’t need to turn this into a vent about what not to say, but rather, what to say and what they can do that will actually comfort the grieving. What does empathy look like for you?
This prompt for me is really about the ‘can’ pile and how they seemingly with ease, position themselves in the ‘can’ pile. It’s not always acts of actual empathy, but just unquestionable support. Those that have walked the path, or those very much close to us and similarly affected by this grief can quite easily have empathy – they feel those things too, they understand. It it those who have never experienced similar themselves, yet make an active decision to either get involved or stay involved.
They show that decision through a willingness to just listen, to educate themselves, to ask questions, to understand, to acknowledge where they don’t understand. Simple acts of kindness are the obvious examples of their empathy. It doesn’t have to be grand, it doesn’t have to cost money, all it is it having a fleeting or deep thoight of Leo, of us, of our pain and then *showing this to us*.
To me, this is the crucial point. Many people will tell us, weeks down the line “I’ve been thinking about you everyday” but if you wish to show someone in pain, who is lonely and feels isolated that you are thinking of them, you need to do it then and there. Getting post or pictures such as these shown here, mean the absolute world and are actions to demonstrate people’s empathy. Write their name, say their name, listen and join in. Don’t wait to be asked. For me, it really is that simple.
DAY 7 : MYTHS IN GRIEF
Have you discovered any myths about this grief experience?
For me, a completely unbelieving and unreligious person, I think a lot of the myths in grief come from our colloquial understanding or conversations regarding the afterlife and how we comfort ourselves because of it. I don’t believe that Leo is an angel, or refer to him as such. I understand how others do, but for me, that isn’t a comfort. I don’t believe in an afterlife, I believe in reality – and that is actually something that bothers me quite a bit, especially as we buried Leo over cremating him. It’s bothers me to the point that I fully understand why religion and a belief in the afterlife continues to comfort people following such a deep loss. Yet, for me, I can’t snap into that, so it isn’t a comfort for me.
Me and The Wife will “believe” in certain things though. We will smile when we see a Robin, we will joke that his windmills going are him saying hello, we will notice feathers and look out for signs that he is with us. Yet this is just a comfort on the surface, a mirage. We don’t really believe and we both understand that with each other in the things that we say. What I do believe is that those things do make me smile, even fleetingly and I am able to quieten my all too scientific mind and go with it for a while.
But Leo didn’t grow wings, he isn’t in a better place, he isn’t an angel. He is the personality we have created for him, in his absence, through the way we remember and honour him. Our love for him lives, and is active. He however, is not. The reality is the reality – and I’m okay with that, I don’t like to pretend or soften it. He is our son. He died. He is dead. That’s not a nice thing, but it is the truth.
DAY 8 : BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY
To me, my son is a beautiful mystery. I gave birth to him and yet I never knew him. I sometimes allow myself to imagine that he is alive in another time and space and that we are all together. If it is not too painful, allow yourself to imagine who your child would be now. What would they be like? What would they be passionate about. Tell a wild, beautiful story about them.
I was a bit hesitant about even doing this prompt, our minds and hearts are a little fragile about the concept of “what could have been” lately. As the seasons turn and the memories of last autumn and winter get stronger, Leo alive feels like a far distant reality – almost to the point that it doesn’t feel like it ever was a reality.
What would I imagine him to be like? What would I have wanted for him? What kind of parents would we have been for him? Why did we not know this was going to be who he’d become? A figment, a legacy, a memory. That isn’t what you dream of for your child.
I find the looking into the Leo-that-should-be right now, very hard. I find seeing photos of babies that are his would-be-age incredibly painful. It’s a visual image I try hard to hide from, I don’t want it in my head – eating away at me. But a future Leo, a child, a toddler, feels safer.
I’d imagine he would have no choice but to be obsessed with Lego. He would probably enjoy sorting it just as much as playing it, just like his mum. I see him being an outdoorsy little boy, not afraid to get dirty or fall over. As he’d get older, he’d probably tell us off for assuming he likes lions, just because we called him Leo. He’d probably try really hard to keep up with his cousins, but would at some point become the youngest kid they didn’t really want to hang around with anymore. I’d hope he’d be an older brother perhaps, so he’d understand the feeling of finding younger cling-on children really really annoying!
Most of all, the biggest mystery to be is the colour of his eyes. His eyes. Never seeing his eyes. We soaked up every part of him, but we never saw his eyes. And he never saw ours. It’s always played on my mind, what colour are his eyes?
DAY 9 : SURRENDER AND EMBRACE
Completely surrendering myself to grief on multiple occasions has allowed me to release my emotions. The hurt, the anger, the unfairness. I was always afraid to giving in to how I was feeling. Like I had to hold it together for my family or if I did break down, I would not be able to bring myself back together. But I always did and afterwards I felt lighter. I was able to flow with grief rather than fight with it. I have screamed into pillows, cried myself to sleep and I am amazed at how much tension I was able to release. Surrendering to whatever it is you are feeling is one of the most powerful experiences of being present and in the moment. To sit and allow yourself to feel sadness is very profound. How do you feel about surrendering to grief? Have you done it before or are you more the type that just keeps carrying it all inside? Does the idea of falling apart frighten you? Share your thoughts.
Since the early days, I’ve viewed grief as this third wheel in our house. An unwelcome guest, who we didn’t invite, nor do we like, but we cannot ask to leave. Do we surrender to its power? Do we embrace it? I think we do pretty well at balancing carefully between letting it have its moment, but not over-indulging in it. We know that resisting grief is a pointless exercise – resisting is just delaying, and often with extra power. As a control freak though, I don’t like to feel that we surrender without control or indulge and get swept into a lifetime of darkness. I feel sometimes this is the most appealing option, but it’s not the option I would not have wanted for Leo, so it’s not the option we will choose to take.
I try not to over analyse the rights and wrongs of grief, or the why’s and how’s and just allow us to feel what we feel. We have a much broken rule of not apologising for grief – it’s not a mistake, it’s not something that needs forgiveness, it just is. We also know too many good days, will mean a few bad days in return.
Lately, in terms of tears and breakdowns, I’ve been really good. Unnervingly so. Does that mean I’m better, fixed, back to my usual self? Or is that The Wife has struggled and I’ve subconsciously held it together? Probably neither, as grief to me isn’t just our tears – it’s our anxieties, our anger, our inabilities.
This picture was taken moments after we found out we were pregnant with Robin. We allowed ourselves joy and excitement. I don’t think we questioned why, even though logically we were probably terrified. Whatever the emotion – you have to just feel it. We tend to analyse, process, talk and write it, but after we have felt it in its full. The presence of Leo is here, we both have his teddys – but this journey throws it all at us, we can ride the wave of it all, but I’ll resist when it comes to allowing us to drown.
DAY 10 : SYMBOLS AND SIGNS
Do you have a symbol that represents your child? Maybe it is a butterfly, tree or bird etc. Share how you came to find that symbol and what it means to you. Do you believe your children send you signs at all? Have you had any? How did they help you?
Do we have symbols or signs for Leo?
I think the obvious is the Lion!
But see him or are reminded of him in many things.
The Lion because of his name, as well as a Phoenix… but you don’t tend to see them as often.
The colour yellow is his as we scattered yellow roses on his coffin.
The number 5 is his as he was of fifth fertility treatment cycle… and it’s appeared everywhere with things to do with him since.
Countless songs remind us of him.. mainly Stand By Me by Ben E King as it played just between transfer with him, and was our wedding song.
His footprints I love – they aren’t a symbol, they are him, uniqueness and all. That’s why we send them around the world – they are prints from REAL feet for a real person.
Signs from him?
Robins are our thing. Which is why little Robin got called little Robin. I don’t think I’ve ever clocked seeing Robins outside of winter before until this year!