Somewhere, in an alternate reality, a universe parallel to my own, there is a mother preparing for a fifth birthday party. Her son is unwrapping presents and playing with new things. An older brother edging his way in, trying to sneak first plays that don’t belong to him. Perhaps there would be a younger brother, very close in age, helping unwrap. But he shimmers in this imagined reality – I am not quite sure he would be there.
This is not my reality. My reality is that my son was born five years ago and died two weeks later. My reality is his two brothers, older and younger, playing quietly upstairs while their mummy writes out her grief.
I like the idea of parallel universes, where permutations and combinations rearrange themselves into infinite options. The sliding doors moments in our lives lived in different directions across the planes of space of time. I wonder just how many there could be. Is there a variant of me who decided to have a coffee rather tea this morning but in all other ways lived her life the same way? Or is it just the big things that spin off into these universal tangents? The things that truly change us. The big bangs and the black holes of our lives.
The woman who is preparing for her son’s fifth birthday must be very different to me. Xavier’s death was life-altering. Not in a physical way — it didn’t change the parameters of my life. My marriage remained intact and strengthened. My career wobbled but steadied. We stayed in the same house (we never thought of moving). Friends and family are still close. My love for all of them did not waver nor their love for me.
But it changed my outlook. It changed my approach to life. I am very different to the person I was before Xavier died. Softer in some ways and harder in others. I don’t care as much as I once did about the very tiny things. Perfection isn’t as important as it once was. I am more likely to retreat than fight. Awareness of my own emotions and the emotions of those around me is finely tuned. I place more importance on creativity and its healing power. Patience has been extended in some areas and contracted in others. There has been a complete change in perspective.
There must be light years between us — the woman preparing for the party and woman planning a quiet and reflective day with her remaining family at the centre of it.
In the first flush of grief I mourned that woman. Grasped at her and wished her back. I didn’t know how to be the mother of a dead child. I’d barely figured out how to the mother of a living one. The ashen face I saw in the mirror was a stranger. It took a long time to grow into a new kind of mother. A new kind of person.
I don’t mourn that woman anymore or even envy her. She had a different path and I had mine. Paved with sharp rocks and hard lessons and beauty and kindness.
I miss my boy. I always will. But I treasure his impact on my life. I will take the lessons and the beautiful in grief. The diamonds in the mud. The stars in a dark sky. And I will celebrate him today. Not just his short, brilliant stay on earth, but the way he continues to reverberate through my life. His unique energy that strums through my day to day. The changes he wrought in me.