There’s no denying that the Christmas time following a bereavement can be difficult. Last year I resented the rest of the world for rejoicing when we were so sad.
Last year we chose to hide from Christmas as best we could. It was the notion of Christmas as a ‘family occasion’ which was most heartbreaking. We didn’t need an event like Christmas to remind us of what we had lost, but the adverts, the music, the cards, the invites to occasions of celebration and ‘togetherness’.. they all rubbed salt into our already gaping wounds.
We were lucky enough to be able to escape to Denmark for the holiday. We wanted to avoid all traces of the Christmas we had envisaged and create a totally different experience instead. Many other loss mum’s I know did similar- we wanted it to go by with as little acknowledgement as possible and so we hid. Other friends used the day to acknowledge their baby’s memory; one friend went on a walk in remembrance of her son and released balloons, another bought Christmas presents for her little boy.
This year we began a new tradition; we walked out to a reservoir near my mum’s house and decorated a tree for Nieve. We wrote her name on decorations and it warmed me to think of people reading her name, speaking it, pondering over who she was. It allowed me to feel she existed, in a world where I feel like she is quickly becoming forgotten by most.
This year we moved towards Christmas feeling positive. It is surreal to know exactly how you felt precisely one year ago from a date and feel such a stark contrast just 12 months later.
Last year we were desolate. This year we had joy. I feel immediately inclined to tell you it was diluted joy, but this is the guilt speaking. I accept that my happiness now has a ceiling, a limit to its extent. But I would also like to embrace the joy that Elliot brings without feeling guilty for it, or without feeling like it’s proof that I’m cured either.
I am thankful every day for what we have. I feel extremely lucky. I never thought I’d say that, but it’s true. I choose to open myself up to this new happiness and try to free myself from the guilt lingering in the background. It’s the guilt of feeling happy despite her absence, of worrying that I’m filling Nieve’s place with Elliot. But surely I have no choice but to try to be happy? In this life that can whip away the treasures that you hold dearest, what choice do we have but to make the best of each day? To embrace and cherish what we do have? I owe it to Elliot if not to myself.
And yet in our mission to embrace happiness once more, along came life again.
Boxing Day with Matthew’s parents. It’s normally an occasion that I look forward to. They are a house of three brothers just like mine and a family Christmas at Matthew’s parents reminds me of Christmases growing up with my own family before my elder brothers grew up and perused their own family Christmases with wives and children of their own.
I loved being part of Matthew’s family, especially since his parents live relatively close-by whilst my nearest family members are a three hour drive away. I felt safe at his parents house and after losing Nieve I loved the security I felt Matthew’s home and family gave to me.
Turns out, It was all an illusion.
I knew Matthew’s mum was not always an easy character, but I felt I had established a good relationship with her and that she was happy for Matt and I and delighted at the arrival of her new grandson. Now it seemed like everything we thought we knew was a lie.
I knew nothing of what had gone on that Boxing Day morning until I received a text from Matthew from upstairs, to tell me to prepare my things. We were leaving. I’m so glad that I didn’t discover the reason why until we were well away from the house.
Matthew had overheard a deliberately-loud conversation between his parents in which his mother had berated us for choosing a cremation over a burial for Nieve. I was aghast.
It’s taken a good few days for me to process this information. Initially I was shocked and paranoid. Was a cremation seen as something awful? Did we do wrong by Nieve? Did other people feel the same way? Did other people sit at the funeral judging us for doing something ‘terrible’?
It came to light that his mother had initially refused to go to the funeral, only being convinced by his father at the last minute. It was ludicrous and totally selfish and yet she was obviously so incensed by our actions so as to consider not attending her own granddaughter’s funeral and also to still harbour such bitter resentment over a year later.
There were other marks on our names too. The fact we had had Nieve and Elliot out of wedlock and the fact that we were not planning a baptism for Elliot. These were not well known views though it seems his mother was adamant that we knew them now. There seemed to be a suggestion that we had done these things to spite her and that she had been shamed by us.
We were perplexed that she had hidden such bitterness behind a veneer of smiles and of playing happy families for so long. Her views, beliefs and ideas had been hidden, though it seems that she didn’t wish to hide them anymore. We couldn’t even write them off as flippant or thoughtless remarks since these were evidently long-held, well-considered condemnations.
As more and more unravelled I learned that she had criticised us for putting upon her when we sought solace at their home a week after Nieve had died. I recall telling Matt that I felt safe and supported at his parent’s house. It’s not in my nature to want to put upon anyone so even the idea that she felt that way really upsets me.
But it was the comments about Nieve’s funeral which hurt the most.
How dare she comment on the kind of funeral we chose for our child? How dare she condemn us just because our beliefs did not match her own? We made the best decision for our family at the most unspeakable of times. We were broken. Bereft. Desolate. Our baby girl died. I carried her for seven months. We felt her moving, watched her grow and then she was gone. She was ours and yet one of the only decisions we got to make as her parents was how to conduct her funeral. His mother’s beliefs, her wishes, her thoughts- they were never at the forefront of our minds. Nor should they be. Nor should she have ever expected them to be.
For her to suggest that they should have been, reveals an overinflated sense of entitlement and is one of the most self-centred things I’ve ever heard.
We are not religious people but that does not omit us of morals and values. We are not yet married but that does not mean that our children were born out of anything but love. We may not invest in a god but we invest in kindness, love and respect. These are the values that our children will grow up with. They don’t need religion to teach them that.
Where she appears to be ashamed of us, I am proud, so damn proud. We have fought so hard this past year to rebuild a life, to create happiness, to hold tight to what we have. We stuck together, we found comfort in one another and not in detrimental vices, and we had Elliot, the most beautiful blessing we could wish for and we are determined that his life be filled with love and light.
I’d love to tell you that we will rise above this, that we will take pride in not engaging in cheap retaliations and take strength from knowing we have done no wrong. That we will stand firm on the decisions we made and in the way in which we conduct our lives, knowing that we are good people who deserved better than to be the subjects of his mothers hardline judgements and acid tongue.
We can tell ourselves that this is ‘her loss’ and that we won’t let this bring us down or affect us negatively. That the happiness that Elliot brings is a shield that protects us from any kind of pain or sadness. We can tell ourselves we will brush this off because we are strong. But I know better. I have the unfortunate experience of being familiar with this type of betrayal. There will be no winners here, only losers. There will be no ‘rising above’, only ‘learning to accept’.
What begins now is a journey to figure out where we go next. To come to terms with the fact that his mother is not the person she cheated us into thinking that she was. To acknowledge that our support network is smaller than we thought. So begins another bereavement.
I’m devastated that we have once again been inflicted by the misery carried by another person. I want to stamp my feet and say ‘we don’t deserve this’, and feel sorry for us that our plight for happiness has been tampered with once again. But what good will it do?
I’m not sure what Matthew will choose to do next but it seems certain that our relationship with his parents is now forever changed. Once again it seems we will need to readjust our life to adapt to its new shape. I guess we should be better at it by now.