From the moment the obstetrician placed my fourth child on my chest, I was entranced.
The light in his newborn soul was already burning bright and as his mother I felt nothing but utter amazement. You may think the arrival of my fourth child would be less wondrous, less miraculous, than the three before him. Not possible. He was perfection.
His name was Hamish and he entered the frenetic pulsing of our family with a calm and stillness that even dazzled my frantic 18-month-old. When it was time for his nap, I would wrap Hamish up, kiss his lips and whisper, “It’s time for bed, love of my life.” This inevitably would make my husband snort in protest, but there was something about Hamish and the bond between us.
It was pure, bright and almost tangible.
I love all of my children desperately. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for each of them but my last child was soul-soothing, beguiling, a sanctuary.
As he grew increasingly beautiful, our besotted family drank in his good humour. He laughed at every clowning moment, danced at every song, and smiled constantly; the joy seeping into the walls, floors and ceiling of our home. He was also a budding artist. It didn’t matter where I hid the colouring pencils or crayons, Hamish would find them, expressing his creative soul with Picasso-like pieces on any available space. He was relentless in his quest to fill every blank canvas in our home. I could never chastise him. He would smile cheekily and I would struggle to hold my stern countenance. I swear if he could wink, he would have.
And then he was gone.
At the bewitching age of 20 months, my sweet Hamish was taken from this world and placed in the arms of the angels, leaving his family bereft, tormented and very alone in a frightening new world. A tragic, drowning accident that I can’t bear to recall as it takes me to a place of complete horror. I can still hear the screams in my head. Animal-like and torturous. It was a sound like no other. It came from a place I didn’t know existed. My very core was destroyed, my heart ripped out, ravaged by trauma of the very worst kind.
Every mother’s unbearable, unthinkable nightmare.
As we lay in each other’s arms that night, a ventilator filling his tiny lungs with air, I begged God to give him back to me. I begged Hamish to forgive me for failing to protect him and I told him I loved him again and again. “I can’t live without you my sweet,” I whispered in his ear. As the nurses delicately sobbed around me, I stroked his body, desperately trying to ingrain in my memory every inch of him. My eyes absorbed every crevice, every contour. I stroked his hair and kissed his long, striking eyelashes, determined that every touch, every kiss of him would be memorised, to be treasured forever.
Even as I did this, I wasn’t sure I’d survive.
How could I live without Hamish? The pain is not livable. How could I possibly breathe, eat or sleep without Hamish, let alone give my other children the love and care they deserve? My heart is shattered, the fragments microscopic. Impossible to pick up and put back together, surely? I looked at my husband’s shocked face and whispered, “What on earth are we to do?”
He gazed at me heart-broken. “We have no choice. We have to live. We have to love our children and give them a life and we have to honour Hamish.”
It’s been nearly four long, torturous months. Even with the cloud of love that surrounds us, we are broken, moving through a frantic world trembling and tiptoed.
Sometimes I find myself gasping for air, suddenly aware that I’ve been holding my breath, my lungs incapable of inhaling gulps of air. Then there’s the pervading emptiness weighing me down; the thumb of loss pushing me down with every step.
There is no escaping the glaring absence in our house. The halls echo with the silence of his joyful voice, his effervescent laughter. The loss. It’s overbearing. Unthinkable. Apparently it’s livable because I’m still here.
There are pinpricks of light peppering the heavy, dark clouds above us and we absorb their warmth in desperation. They come from our children, from the pride and love that fills the heart of every parent. They make my husband and I smile, our mouths not used to the stretching. They also come from friends, family, strangers who are relentless in their giving. Humanity at its most inspiring.
There’s no quick fix. No cure. There’s no escape from the eternally relentless agony of grief. However, there is hope. Hope that we can make Hamish proud, to make his angelic chest fill with pride, as we, his family, live and honour him daily. That is the only way I know how to survive, until we meet again.
“Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown. In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”*
As our children grow and become more independent, we might become a wee bit complacent about their existence, lost in the daily grind and focusing on the world outside the home. But it doesn’t take much to realise how shockingly fragile human life is, and how quickly childhood will be over, though the connections and feelings that bind us will remain for eternity.
* Tony Morrison (American novelist, editor, and professor)