“Parenting a child that isn’t here is infinitely harder,
than parenting a child that is”
When William died I can remember coming home for the first time since I had carried him out of our house when he had passed away. What I came home to was silence, but that silence was so deafening, the silence pierced every thought and I wasn’t able to escape from it.
William was still wholly dependent on me when he died. He was only one. We had gone from a flurry of nappies and being late for everything to silence and having nowhere to go.
The first year after William died was pure survival, just to exist was difficult, to exist in a world that William no longer lived in. Every single second, minute, hour and day was painful. Physically painful. I had to survive to find out what had happened to William, I had to endure an inquest, I had to hear those words ‘with better care William could have and should have survived’. If it wasn’t painful enough already, that twisted the knife that was permanently lodged in my heart.
When William first passed away I lost count of the times that people used the phrase ‘time heals’. Well-meaning people, not quite knowing what to say, trying their best to help, to say something, anything. At the time my response, perhaps not out loud but definitely in my head was that nothing can ever heal the death of your child; and I still stand by that. Time doesn’t heal but it does allow you to learn how to live again and I guess in a way that is healing.
As the time passes though you feel isolated as if you are in a different life from everybody else. When William first died my whole world stopped, and so did everyone else’s around us, but although tinged with sadness, people’s lives inevitably return to normal. They had to work, had their own families to look after, whilst we were just stuck. For the first-year people will look at you with that tilted head and enquiring face, taking extra care with how they ask how you are but as time passes greetings return to normal, well the way they were before William died. They stop asking how you are, genuinely wondering about how things are to fleeting acknowledgments.
After a while I had a stock answer, “yeah I’m ok, yano” and do a little tilt of my head, the conversation quickly changes to something trivial, something that is happening in the now. I’m okay with this now. Every time that I bump in to someone I don’t want to have to say well actually, when I woke up this morning William was still dead and I’ve still got to endure another day without his cuddle, his smile, his touch, his everything.
That word, the word that everyone is afraid to use. A cold, hard, definitive word that no one likes to use. It’s strange because when William first died, I would tell people that he was dead, but after a month or so it changed to much softer phrases such as passed away, died, fell asleep, you name it, anything to avoid that word.
People are afraid of death, people are afraid of talking about dying, death and the dead. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe its fear, maybe its ignorance of not knowing what to say in response, but whatever it is I find myself softening how I talk about William’s death so as not to make the other person feel awkward. When I talk about William’s death on a pre-planned platform, such as the recent HSJ Patient Safety Congress it gives me the arena in which to express the cold, stark nature that his loss represents. I do wonder perhaps without the sepsis campaigning where my mental health would be. For me I find that campaigning is my way of somehow being William’s mum in the present, here and now.
When he died I had no nappies to change, no bottles or food to make, the mounds of washing soon depleted. In fact I didn’t wash William’s clothes that hadn’t already been washed. There was nothing, the investigation into his death soon took up most of my time, but once this had, thankfully concluded there was a deep chasm in which I needed to ‘do’ something. This is where my campaign journey began, my desire to ensure that no other parent has to endure the indescribable pain of losing their child or a child that has to lose a parent when it could be avoided.
Campaigning has helped me, it has been my way of grieving. It has not just been a time investment for me, but every time I stand up and open up my soul, it is an emotional investment for me. The moment I say ‘thank you for listening’ the emotional hangover starts. I think to be honest the part of me that I can no longer give to William, I give to others. It helps me and I hope it helps them.
My most important job will always be mummy to two beautiful boys.
William and Arthur.