In the beginning, his death was all there was. A white-hot, acidic light flattened the landscape for miles – everything obliterated and featureless. I clambered, feeling for John’s hand and have not let it go since.
Back in the privacy of our apartment, where the walls still held their breath for the turn of the key, that “Welcome home” moment; we began the desperate process of sifting through the rubble, turning each detail of his pregnancy over and over, looking for the fork in the road where we should have taken the other turn… As though we could.
I’ve handpicked my way through every memory, carefully cradling each tiny glint of who he was in my cupped hands. Storing up the shape of his fingers, tracing the outline of his mouth, the smell of his soft downy baby head. Memories so well worn they are velveteen edged and frayed along the crease lines.
The acutely traumatic stage has passed. But images that will forever haunt me remain: John, ashen faced and slack jawed, sinking into a chair swiftly moved to catch him… that shapeless, inhuman sound filling the room – a sound I heard before I realized it was coming from me… but in place of the galloping hearts, gasping bewilderment and trembling chins is a quieter, deeper, sorrow.
He really is gone…
Five years on, we are a whirlwind of busy, a flurry of wellies and mud and scooters and poster paints and play-dates and kiddy parties and never ending laundry… Armouring up our pericardial sacs to try for his siblings was rewarded in spades. They have filled our hearts and our home, and given us joy to sit alongside the sadness.
For them, life is lived full and fast. The ease at which they duck down the rabbit hole of what life would look like had he lived, both heartening and devastating. “I think Seamus likes eating strawberries Mummy, just like me… Can we go to the park?”
But moving into May, my gut lurches as the earth shifts and tilts a little further on its axis. The cherry blossoms bloom, the temperatures rise, the breeze carries that freshly mown lawn scent in through the open windows and all these echoes haunt.
I need it all to slow down. I want it all to stop.
This is our fifth year at this and we are still waiting for it to become a little easier. Unlike that first year following his death, the months are not peppered with reruns of the 12 week scan, his first kicks, or the day we found out he was a boy. Not anymore. Not until May.
May marks the slow inevitable journey towards that same catastrophic ending. A tightness sets up home in my stomach and a lump rises in my throat. My skin itches, taut under the pressure of grief that needs its release. The fallibility of my shit-togetherness alarms me and I cocoon away as much as I can to avoid the indignity of crying in public as the check out attendant cheerily asks, “How are you today?”
Five years on and his death still brings me to my knees.
These are the days where not knowing if he would have chosen the yellow plate, or fought his brother for the green, is especially crushing. Where, already so licked from bearing the weight of his death occurring on my watch, the endless list of things I will never know about my would-have-been-5-year-old son adds to the feelings of having failed him.
In truth, a part of me misses the all-consuming early days – I knew everything about him then. I could squeeze my eyes shut and still see the tiny milk spots between his eyebrows, feel the phantom kicks, the weight of him in my arms.
But the unrelenting march of time un-plucks each of my fingernails from their fierce grip on him and I feel the slipping… five years. He is so far away from me now. Occupying that liminal space just beyond peripheral vision. I feel him there and half-turn to catch a glimpse, but he is gone.
He is 5 years gone. And I am 5 years older… wiser than I ever wanted to be. We’ve missed so much – too much. But there is no way back for us now.
Seasons change. The earth continues its orbit. My living children grow at a dizzying rate, and yet he remains as he was. My forever baby.
Everything and nothing has changed.
My beautiful Seamus. My baby boy. So far away, and yet, I held him just a moment ago…