Evan is opening doors in my head. His silent soul stirred mine like a cauldron. Little mischievous bugger brings a smile to my face even in the ravages of grief.
Matthew and I were having one of our walks round the orchard today. Talking to him about my thoughts on Evan, I used the word ‘excited’. Not the word I’d expect to use as a bereaving first-time parent, but I’d felt these curious little gifts along the way of an otherwise dark wasteland of a journey of loss, and I told Matthew I was excited… because I feel there are more gifts yet to come as we embark on our future warmed by the sweet mysterious spirit of our son.
We walked along the long sunny path through the crop fields, and we heard a loud noise, and noticed a little yellow stunt plane high up above, whizzing round, turning upside down, circling and fake-falling and doing all manner of gleeful manoeuvres. I thought instantly of Evan. Or rather, it reminded me the delirious feeling Evan gave me at those moments where nothing else mattered but his movements, and my swaying and stroking of his rising rump, in the face of his imminent demise we danced like we had forever together. Even if that little stunt plane crashed to the ground, I had this conviction that its little journey would have been worth it. It was having its moment of fun, its aerodynamic parade of gaiety like a butterfly landing on your arm for just enough time for you to catch its beauty before it takes off again. I soaked in the delightful sight and I realised that despite not knowing who was flying that plane, or any banal details about why they were doing it, I didn’t want to know anyway. The sight of that cute little boisterous yellow biplane was mine to store in my heart that day.
As we continued walking home, I paralleled the plane to a seemingly disconnected thing: a beautiful mansion house that Matthew and I will stay at for a job later in the year. As part of our livelihood we are lucky to get to stay at many grandiose places. And during those stays, I sometimes think, oh I cannot be too happy, for I do not live here, I do not own this house, I wish I did – then I’d be really happy! It’s dawned on me, that line of thinking is flawed, actually misleadingly naive. For whomever owns that grand house, their life picture and its problems takes on relative scale. They are adjusted to their home to the point of fatigue, whereby regularly changing its layout is probably the only way to keep it mildly fresh to their eyes. For me to walk in, steal pleasure from the unfamiliar sight of their abode, even though I could not afford so much as a vase from their mantel, I receive a dose of inspirational enjoyment the owner may have long forgotten amidst their duties to improve what is an imperfect sight to them. This has happened many times: whilst my eyes are fixed in awe on an extraordinary room, they sigh back in disdain for theirs are focused on the cracks, the deficiencies, the cobwebs of never-ending upkeep. A sight so majestic to the fleeting visitor can be the greatest monstrous burden to he or she who owns it. I am free to feed on the gift of the experience, it does not matter that I cannot ‘keep’ the house, nor would my childlike excitement be the same if I could. The thrill of being there temporarily, the magic it draws in my mind is a gift in itself, as physical enough to take away all for myself. An experience that feels so physical you could eat it like a good meal.
And just like food, it cannot stay inside us, but we digest it and we are nourished by it. Nor can we take food, or money, nor even our bodies with us when we die, so we realise everything – all of the experience of life – really was for the enhancement of the soul.
And then I realised a revelation, that came back so perfectly to Evan: not all that we cannot physically keep, do we lose.
And many of those we envy for having the things we lack, do not even come close to feeling the transformational power of what we have experienced without it. Their journey is theirs, ours is ours.
We feel the raw pain of loss and deprivation whilst we’re human. But if we can tap into our souls whilst we’re human, we get something special even from suffering. Losing a child is not as bad as it would be if I focused purely on the physical loss. Very curiously there were times through my post-diagnosis pregnancy where I felt suspiciously buoyant, where I felt like saying ‘bring it on’ to the whole caboodle of emotional and physical suffering. This was just one of the gifts he brought: new knowledge of the strength we all possess, I always knew I loved my baby but did not realise that love was so fierce it so easily trumped the fear of holding him dead in my arms. If I am human and I am alive, let me feel everything, let me feel it all! And then at least one thing I won’t have to feel is regret.
Between all the anger and sadness and pain, there were these oh so curious little sparks of fondness, like the taboo feeling I had when a specialist at 36 weeks, after quadruple-confirming my baby had no chance of survival beyond birth, warned me my baby’s head was ‘right above my cervix, ready to come any time’. A weird excitement was in me, that even looming death could not deter the novelty that I was to give birth for the first time, something I’d been dreaming of for years. My first child was going to die, and yet I had not lost it all, for at that moment he was still living, he had not gone yet! I was still proud of being pregnant. Evan taught me that even in the most devastating scenarios, you do not have to give up being yourself! Just because your world crashed down, does not mean you have to hand yourself over like defected goods! Rise up with a new world of meaning. I went to the end of my pregnancy (despite a specialist’s view it was ‘kinder’ to inject him in the heart because he’s going to die anyway) and I birthed him in our big bed (despite my doctor’s girlish disproval that I should be in hospital) thank god I did it my way, because for the rest of my life it’s my head and heart I live with, not anyone else’s! The memories were moulded how I needed them. There was no fear, so there was no physical nor emotional pain during the actual birth. It was surreally neutral and ended with a box of chocolates. I have not dared say this till now but if, god forbid, this happened again, I’d do it the same. I will look after all my children in whatever way they need me, whether they or I die first, because I have tasted just how transcendentally, involuntarily intoxicating true love is.
This was yet another gift Evan brought me, the forced decision of whether I want to proceed in life with more fear than before, or less. I choose the latter.
Memories, feelings, sights, smells and sounds – of all the beautiful things in life – are ours to keep. Even when something is not tangible, doesn’t belong to us or is taken away from us, the nourishment of our souls is long-lasting. The moment is ours to keep.
Don’t fear something just because it’s difficult. There is gain from pain, just like the toughest, most abs-burning part of an exercise routine is the part that stretches us. In suffering, there are the finest treasures even if they’re hidden round the corners of a desolate ghost town, if only we open our eyes to them, and be sure to unwrap them. Some you may spy with one eye as you cry with the other, but know you will have the strength one day to rip them open like a happy child on Christmas morning.