We went to see Finley today. For the first time in a long time, together, as a family. The sun was shining, it was lovely and warm and I was reminded of the first few weeks after Finley died. It was August. I had nothing to do and I would spend many hours sat next to his grave with my back against his tree. I have always loved sitting under and against trees. There is something so old, and wise and safe about them. They were there before you and will be there long after you.
Finley’s tree has gone now. Taken by an unknown someone, for an unknown reason – much like Finley himself. They left a stump which I used to sit on and talk to him. But now the stump has gone too. Replace by a little persons grave, recent, new heartbreak.
It is a surreal place to be, a children’s section of a graveyard, in the summer sunshine. The sunlight glints off the sparkly blue granite we chose for his headstone, the wind makes the little windmills spin somewhat sadly on the top of the graves that they mark. Each little windmill showing a life ended to soon – taken for an unknown reason. Stories sadly similar, yet each unique. One tiny little quiet corner of a quiet little cemetery, in a quiet little county, in quiet little England. The world does not even know it exists. The world does not even notice the gaps left by all these little lives, dotted around this land. Quietly marked in bright colours, sadly sharing the personality of the person that should have been. The footballer, the princess, the train driver, the animal lover. All just gone.
Yet kneeling in the sunshine, with my two year old daughter happily rearranging Finley’s pebbles, it’s hard to think it is gone. There is a presence, not an absence. There is a warmth, and a space but not a hole. There is a baby forever marked by a footballing elephant, selected because a ladybird landed on one similar when I was walking around the graveyard one day wondering what headstone my son would like. There is a name forever written in gold writing on blue granite. But there is so much more. There is a three year old boy playing with train sets on a fluffy cloud – every so often telling his friend “tell your Mum to speak to my Mum she will help”, or asking a grown up “can your son help my Mum?” There are things beyond this world that we cannot know, cannot explain, cannot understand and somewhere this little three soon to become four year old boy is sharing them with a world that is forever changed because he did not take breath in it.
Father’s Day is hard for some people. When you have experienced the death of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, neo natal death or as an infant, you may wonder how you can get through Father’s Day when your child is not with you. This post reflects on some of the Father’s Day’s we have lived through since Finley died and aims to share some ideas about how to mark it, or survive it.
You see the build up to it everywhere, months in advance. Cards in the shops, tacky gifts lining the shelves of the supermarket when you do your weekly shop, friends with living children talking about what their children are giving to their Dad. And each time you see or hear it, your heart breaks just a little bit more. It brings up so many questions for bereaved parents (Angel Parents).
Am I still a Father if my baby died?
Can I give him a Father’s Day card?
Do I put the names of our living children only in our card to our father?
Should we go to our baby’s grave on Father’s Day?
I have other children, I should be happy on Father’s Day. Why aren’t I?
You are still a father, a Daddy, even if your child is not alive. It gets a bit complicated by judgement and fear when it comes to the loss of a baby, social norms and expectations come into play. Just have a think about it for a moment. If a man and a lady have a baby, and that baby grows up into a 30 year old, they are parents the whole of that time right? What happens if that 30 year old is their only child, and suddenly dies? Does that Father stop being a Father just because their child is no longer living? No. Of course they don’t. So why do we question it when a baby dies before birth? I imagine part of that is the age old argument of when life starts. But anyone who has planned a pregnancy knows that when you put heart and soul into getting pregnant, you have dreamed and imagined life with that child. When you find out you are pregnant, then you become a parent. If that baby later passes away, nothing changes. You are still a parent.
You may be wondering if you should give the father of an angel baby a fathers day card. My answer would be yes. It can be a job to find just the right card. There are some special designers online that make cards for bereaved parents, or you could hand make one yourself. You could visit the grave of your baby on the day and take the card for your baby’s father to pick up.
Another tricky question on the subject of cards is names. If you have other children, do you add your angels name? Again my answer is yes. Not least because it feels awful not to include them. If you don’t want to write their name, or they don’t have a name you could draw some stars.
When it comes to the subject of visiting the grave, there is no right or wrong answer. Some people go every day, some people find it too hard to go and never go. Some people visit at special times or on anniversaries. This may change over time. Perhaps considering how it makes you feel to go, vs how it makes you feel if you don’t go would help. For example do you feel guilty for not going and constantly question that decision, and does it bring you down? Perhaps then it is easier for you to visit more frequently.
Mel Scott is an Occupational Therapist, teacher, life coach and author of After Finley and The Fairy Caretaker. She started her journey to motherhood in 2008, sadly experiencing a miscarriage followed by the stillbirth of her son Finley in 2009. She now has a healthy daughter, Mel regularly hosts study days on the subject of baby loss, is available to give key note speeches, or inspirational talks and has created a variety of resources. She has also recently established Towards Tomorrow Together as a charity (1151022). Mel recently won The Women Inspiring Women award for Women’s Role Model / Advocate.
5? 4? 3? What’s with the random numbers in the title of this post? Well they are the number of Mother’s Days I have experienced with each child/since each child.
Each one of these days holds a variety of memories. Should they have been different? Perhaps. I know that I spent many hours on some of those days wishing with all of my heart that it was different.But inside, somewhere deep inside, my belief is that things are as they are meant to be. I never asked for it, I never thought this was what life would hold, so all I can do is make the most of it. So tonight, just before Mother’s Day 2013 arrives in the UK, I am sitting in my memories.
Mother’s Day 2008 – March 2nd.
This day was probably the first Mother’s Day I had ever taken much notice of – apart from giving my Mum a card and pressi, those days pretty much passed me by. The one in 2008 however was different. A few days earlier one of my best friends had visited, telling me the good news that she was pregnant. This got me thinking. I couldn’t remember when I had had my last period. We had been trying for a baby for a few months, but I am so unorganised I hadn’t been keeping note of anything. I brought a pregnancy test and used it on the Saturday before Mother’s day. I was shocked, excited, terrified and happy to see that it was positive. I took it to show my husband and he didn’t believe me. I had to do another 4 tests before he would believe it. We sat in bed together, surrounded by them. We were so excited and told people straight away. As Mother’s Day arrived, my dreamy self was imagining what the following years would be like, with a little baby in my arms and getting a card from her Daddy, pretending it was from her.
Just 3 days later I started spotting, and the roller coaster began. Several days of tests, built hopes, dashed hopes followed and finally the devastating news that my baby would miscarry. Painful memories of my first Mother’s Day as a mother.
Mother’s Day 2009 – March 22nd
Some people will have heard me mention before about how I feel my miscarriage was worse in many ways than Finley’s death. This Mother’s Day is a good example of that. I had not yet realised that you can still be a Mum – even though your baby is not with you. I had nothing to remember my lost baby by. No memories, no thoughts of kicks imagined, no gifts, no grave to visit, no scan photo. It was as if this baby did not exist at all, and that is how I had tried to deal with it. I had been through the anniversary of the miscarriage, and tried to pretend it did not affect me. I couldn’t have even put my feelings into words. I felt like to everyone else that baby meant nothing. I had not expected Mother’s Day to affect me. I was 6 months pregnant with Finley (we didn’t know he was a he then) and I was having a happy, healthy pregnancy. I had passed the worrying stage and was usually to be found in a naive little bubble with baby items, and pregnancy books. Instead of looking ahead to the Mother’s Day to come, I was sad inside.
Mother’s Day 2010 – March 14th
Did I know? On Mother’s Day 2009 did I know that I would have no reason to celebrate Mother’s Day the following year? Was part of me somehow aware? Mother’s Day 2010 was a horrendous time. A day I was dreading, a day with a massive build up, coming in my “year of firsts”. I had already done first Christmas (made a bit better by being in Tenerife), first birth of another baby, first New Year, first Valentines Day and still had first anniversary/birthday to come. Mother’s Day though? Mother’s Day was a day full of the should have beens. I should have had two babies with me. I should get a lie in. I should get soppy cards with pretend writing in. I should get lots of cuddles from my squishy kids. Instead I got a lot of feelings I had not planned for. I got to go and sit with a gravestone, crying my heart out for the son I had held in my arms, willing him to breathe or open his eyes. I got to sit and try to come to terms with the fact that yet another baby was in my tummy, one that I had not yet told the world about, one that I hoped with all my heart I would want, and love, but one that was not Finley. We sent Mother’s Day cards to Finley’s Nana’s too. Mother’s Day 2010 did bring me two beautiful, unexpected things. My husband had left a card for me at Finley’s grave. It was addressed to Mummy, with our address and following that Earth. Instead of stamps it had pictures of kites and balloons and it had a return address of heaven. I also had a card in the post from a friend, which had this poem inside it.
Mother’s Day in Heaven
Its the busiest day in heaven,
we’re planning a big surprise.
To let you know we love you
and that no one ever dies.
Even though your down below,
and we are up above.
We’re sending you our wishes
and all our angel love
Its really quite exciting
to plan this big event,
for lots of gifts will come your way
and all are heaven sent.
First we’ll take a bubble bath,
our splashes might cause some rain.
But knowing all the fun were having
will help to ease your pain.
we have color crayons in heaven,
and we’ll draw some stars so bright.
and place them in the sky today
for you to see tonight
Then Jesus will have story time,
and we will sit upon his lap.
He’ll tell us all about you,
just before we take a nap.
We’ll awake full of energy,
and play a game or two.
Before we finish sending
all our love to you.
After snack we’ll write a song,
for all the birds to sing.
And know we’ve made you happy,
with all the joy it brings
At night we’ll be tired,
but we’ll still hold you tight.
Our arms will wrap around you
and keep you through the night.
And when you finally slumber
we will kneel and pray.
Asking god to bless you,
on this special mothers day
Mother’s Day 2011 – April 3rd
This was my first Mother’s Day with a baby in my arms. I would love to tell you it was an amazing day. The truth is I don’t really remember it. I know that we went out for a meal, to our favourite pub in the country. I know we took our little Twinkle with us. She was born in September 2010. I received a card from Twinkle, which also said Finley’s and Poppet’s names in. This had become the norm for us, our way of including all our babies in our family. We sent cards to our Mum’s – I remember the agony of whether to include Finley and Poppet’s name in those cards. It felt like we were expected to forget about them now that we had Twinkle. I know that I spent much of my pregnancy terrified and numb, and when she was born I expected her to die. I kept myself distant in case she did. Those feelings started to ease when she was around 7 months old and her health problems had improved.
Mother’s Day 2012 – March 18th
At last, my fourth Mother’s Day as a Mother and I enjoyed it. I felt like a Mother. I was finding myself more and more able to relax, and play with this amazing little girl. She had stopped looking so much like her brother. I had stopped taking photographs in case she died and we never got a chance to do anything again. We took flowers to Finley’s grave together as a family.
Mother’s Day 2013 – March 10th
This day is tomorrow. I can’t give you any memories! I don’t have any yet. But I do have some thoughts. Tomorrow we will find a place to go as a family. My Step daughter will be with us for the first time. We will take some spring flowers for Finley together. I have been thinking about our first baby this week. Mother’s Day falls close to the date we lost her. I should have 3 children with me – would I though? If I had had my first baby, maybe neither Finley or Twinkle would be here now. That’s a weird thought. My thoughts are also going to next Mother’s Day, and to whether I will have another baby on the way. Who knows. For now though, I will remember and I will enjoy.
2nd August 2012 began as it usually does with the cuddles in bed with a squishy almost 2 year old. It doesn’t allow a lot of time for sadness. This birthday has had a different focus for me. I have felt a pressure to not pass my sadness on to Finley’s sister. You see the realisation hit me that this is our sadness not hers. She will know who her brother is, we decided that almost immediately. But how she will know him depends on us in the most part.
If you take it to it’s basic level, my basic belief, actually Finley is magical. He is somewhere beautiful. He is peace, he is freedom, he is pure love, he is able to fly. He gives magical gifts of knowledge, he shows us he is there, he makes us see the world differently. Even my hubby sees the world differently. I caught him the other night saying goodnight to a shadow. Clearly this shadow matters to him. The first Christmas without Finley I put two silver sparkly fairies dangling from the lights. I haven’t had the heart to take them down. And sometimes when the light is right the shadow appears on the blinds.
So that is the way I want Twinkle to know her brother. I want her to know her brother as magic, not sadness. The sadness is ours. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is no need for her to feel it as her own. Perhaps I am wrong in that. But anyway that’s how I felt.
So, I took Twinkle off to the childminder as usual, and went home. Baz and I slept for a bit (which is always heaven when you have a 2 year old who wakes every day without fail with the birds – the very noisy baby seagulls are her current alarm clock!). He then started cleaning, so I followed suit. Another rare occurrence in my house. It actually worked quite well as a I’m gonna avoid what this day is. Eventually though the urge to be with Finley got too much to ignore. I went to visit him. I sat chatting to him, took some of the cards that he had been sent down and laid them on his grave ready to open later.
Finley’s grandparents came up to be with us. They brought a cute little gnome, pot plant holder, and a lovely card. We went to pick up Twinkle, and had a lovely surprise. Her childminder had helped her make a picture. It had the number three on it and lots of stars. I was so relieved and happy that she had helped Twinkle do that. Twinkle was very excited by the balloons, walking round all the little baby graves with them. We let some balloons go as we usually do, and actually Twinkle made me smile I forgot to cry. She has this amazing ability to see the wonder in everything. And I captured a lovely photo of her Daddy and her watching the balloons laughing. We had to let her keep a red star though.
I had come up with a new idea this year. I’d written little gift tags for the little angels that I know of who share Finley’s birthday date, and tied them to the necks of some rubber ducks. We went to a little bridge over the river. Twinkle and Nanna really enjoyed dropping them off the bridge and watching them travel towards the sea. I wonder where they end up.
I ended the night reading Twinkle a book for the first time. It is a picture book called Someone came before you. I managed to read it without crying. She liked the pictures, and I am sure that the words will come to bring understanding to her.