Yesterday marked three years since I last held my middle son, Xavier. He died when he was very young, only two weeks old. Three years. An impossible distance between my son and myself. There are rituals around this time of year. Things that I do to remember him, things to mark the hardest days of the year. His birthday. His anniversary. The memory days in between. Most of them revolve around crafting things for him. I firmly believe in the healing power of creativity and it’s ability to connect us to memory and loved ones lost.
I make Xavier a prayer flag each birthday. Several flutter along our verandah. Picking up the breeze, ribbons rustling softly. I made the first one a few months after he left. A beautiful soul called Carly Marie had just started her prayer flag project and encouraged those that were missing a child to create one. For the first time in such a long time, I felt excited about something. I started sewing and I did not stop.
In moments of stillness, whilst I picked out lace and sewed it together, I found the closest thing to peace. There is a meditative silence in the repetition of needlework. It was there that I could meet the memory of my son in a peaceful way. My mind was distracted from the continual questions – the what ifs, the if onlys and the why mes. My hands, so empty, so bereft of things to do, were finally busy. Here was a shelter from the storm. I was able to make something beautiful for my son. Of course, I wanted to be crocheting a baby blanket or sewing him a bib. But it was a welcome revelation to find that I could do something for him still. I have talked more about the power of those prayer flags on Xavier’s blog.
I started writing again after Xavier died. A childhood practice reinvigorated. I needed words. A way to work through the pain. A release. I wrote poem after poem. Words falling freely, as if he were whispering them to me. I can no longer catch those verses in the same way. You can read some of those poems here. I read them now and they offer a connection, not only to Xavier, but that time in my grief. An evocation as strong as music or scent.
Creativity has long been recognised as a way to work through grief. People much cleverer than I am have studied why and it’s interesting topic to research. But, from a purely personal point of view, this why I believe in the healing power of creativity:
- It silenced the part of my brain that was screaming. It was such a relief to find quiet. To occupy that part of the brain with something else to think about.
- It gave me something to do for my baby. When your baby is no longer in your arms you are not only robbed of your child, but in so many ways, your practical motherhood of that child. Creating things allowed me to mother Xavier, to maintain a connection.
- It gave others a way to connect to Xavier. As a bereaved parent your greatest fear is that your child will be forgotten, that they will fade and no longer matter. You hold their memory as fiercely as you do your living children. Making things meant that others could relate to Xavier in a concrete way – and when they created their own things in memory of Xavier it filled me with hope. He has a lasting legacy of beautiful things.
- Writing in particular helped me work through the emotions of grief. I need to dump so much out of my spinning brain.
- In the midst of pain and unbearable darkness, it is light. It is a hopeful balm to a wounded heart. I still think of myself as a broken person, but without creative expression, I know the cracks would be much deeper.