Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

There can be few images of loss in literature more potent than that of the empty stool shown to Scrooge in the Cratchit house after Tiny Tim has died. There are few images more powerful in a film than that of Dumbo’s mother as she is torn from her child and left without him. It’s strange that a topic which can be dealt with so beautifully in cartoon films meant for children is such a taboo, so very unspoken, in every day life. We need a day to remember; even then, I think International Infant Loss Awareness Day is something many people will brush over, most of all because they simply cannot bear to consider it happening to them. So it is better not to think it at all.

None of us were any different before it happened to us. Unlike the Cratchit’s, there is no chance for us to be saved by some unexpectedly benevolent being changing a past and a future. We can’t reverse time. We can’t change it. We can’t fix it or rerun it or scream that we can’t cope with the reality and please could someone alter it for us.

We are stuck with clothes that were never worn.

We are stuck with memory boxes and not nearly enough memories.

We are stuck with a place at a table that will never be filled.

We are stuck with platitudes, sometimes from our own mouths.

We are stuck birthdays that simultaneously do and do not happen.

We are stuck with never being able to grasp a memory, an image and a thought and say “that was him, that is the joy of that person that I remember.”

As this piece of writing says so beautifully, “Infant loss is more than an empty cradle. It’s a life sentence.”

And if you read the comments to that piece, you’ll see we are also stuck with the people who will always believe it was somehow our fault. And we are also stuck with wondering that ourselves.

Forever.

****

This year, like last year, I remember.

I remember Freddie.
I remember a twin.
I remember Evie Rose.
I remember Benjamin.
I remember Joel.
I remember Toby and Estella.
I remember Sophia and Thomas.
I remember Matthew.
I remember Lily.
I remember the lost potential children of friends & family who I love.
I remember Florence Violet and Emma Faith, daughters of mothers I knew before these losses.
I remember Daniel.
I remember Minnie.
I remember Thomas.
I remember Jack.

And I remember all the babies of people who have kept me sane this last 18 months and 2 days on my blog, on their blogs, and at Glow. A list I will inevitably keep adding to for days as I get to yet another blog I read and realise the enormity of loss that silently surrounds us. (Forgive me if I have not yet added your child, please remind me, my memory & rss feed are equally inadequate prompts.)

I remember Iris.
I remember Lucie.
I remember Georgina.
I remember Charlotte.
I remember Alex.
I remember Reid.
I remember Hope.
I remember Haloumi.
I remember Gabriel.
I remember Micah.
I remember Cullen.
I remember Otis.
I remember Foster.
I remember Liam.
I remember Laura.
I remember Joseph.
I remember Snowflake.
I remember Margot.
I remember Catriona.
I remember Isabelle.

I remember all the babies of the men and women on Glow who have stood beside me this year.

I am thinking of the babies who belong to women who have told me their stories this year in person, to comfort me and abide with me, but who have not always told me their names.

I am thinking of babies held in hearts and kept private to their families.

I am thinking of the mothers for whom hope was gone almost before it had taken root.

I am thinking of the babies who were longed for and never came.

I am thinking of the mothers for whom pregnancy became surgery & medical procedures.

I am thinking of the women who made the decision to say goodbye for a greater good, while it tore their hearts out and broke their souls.

I am thinking of the mothers who discovered horror on a day that should have meant a whether pink or blue nursery needed preparing.

I am thinking of the mothers who felt stillness where a moment before there had been back flips.

I am thinking of the mothers who prepared or laboured to deliver a baby knowing they would never hear a cry.

I am thinking of the mothers who unexpectedly heard the loudest silence in the world.

I am thinking of the parents who hovered over a neonatal crib, hoping for a miracle, learning medical terms they never wanted to know.

I am thinking of the parents who chose the moment of their child’s last breath and held them as they died.

I am thinking of the parents who didn’t get there in time to do that.

And of all those who fall into the myriad of cracks between, each a chasm as deep and dark as any other.

And for the fathers, the siblings, the aunts and uncles and grandparents for whom life is never quite the same again.

****

If a woman, or a man, mentions a lost baby or a pregnancy in passing, don’t gloss over it and move on. It won’t save them pain. They mentioned it because they want you to know of that child. They want to speak a name and of a moment and you will help them to allow it.

If they tell you of their loss, don’t equate it to any other loss you know, that was similar in your eyes. It is NOT the same as losing your dog. It is not even the same as losing a grown person you loved. Not more important, but not the same.

Only say “I understand” if you do. Otherwise, “I am so sorry” is quite okay.

If they tell you of their loss, don’t try to make it acceptable. Don’t say it was better that he died earlier before they really loved him, or better that they never knew her, or that he never came home, or that at least they have other children.

Just abide. Just walk a moment beside them.

Just remember that there will always be hope that turned to tragedy. There will always be an empty chair at their table and a space under the Christmas tree where there should have been a present.

Always.

  30 comments for “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

  1. Mrshojo
    October 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I remember xx

    • October 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm

      xxx

  2. pixieminx
    October 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Oh Merry! Your words have left me in floods of tears again, but not just for my lost little ones, or for the emptiness in me but all the Mothers all who have an empty chair (or many empty chairs).

    I have felt a fraud at this baby-loss business with my first baby girl, born sleeping over 8 years ago now. A fraud because I had a termination, a late termination at 26 weeks because we “discovered horror on a day that should have meant discovering whether a pink or blue nursery needed preparing” at a sexing-scan. Our 2nd little baby girl had so many problems, so many medical terms that stick in my head, the long almost unpronounceable words meaning organs that didn’t form or were too small and holes where there shouldn’t be holes which all in all ended in a unanimous verdict that our longed-for 2nd daughter wouldn’t make it through the traumas of being brought into the world, and if she did, the life she would have had would be questionable as being ‘a life’. So I laid there as her life was taken away, I laid there. I could/should/would love to have run away from there clutching her inside me, tiny fragile heart still beating but I laid there, didn’t watch the monitor, couldn’t watch, just closed my eyes, felt the sting of the needle, and then nothing. An image of 2 girls dressed in white dancing with ribbons in our back garden entered my head and I just went with it, thinking I deserved this now, the image of my first born and now this long for daughter – Kaitlin – dancing in the garden – it would never happen now because I had killed her.

    I know now that after years of the grief coming back and biting me in the ass and much soul searching that the image was my two daughters I have with me now -my first and third born – they have dressed and played in our back garden, just as that image on that day.

    “I am thinking of the women who made the decision to say goodbye for a greater good, while it tore their hearts out and broke their souls.”

    I think that’s what you meant – for a greater good – I said goodbye to my daughter while it tore out my heart and broke my soul. Maybe a fraud no longer?

    I remember Kaitlin.
    I remember my 4th pregnancy – the “hope was gone almost before it had taken root”
    I remember by twin baby boys born October 2 years ago – lost to early onset of twin-to-twin-transfusion at 17 weeks who I laboured to deliver, knowing I would never hear them cry.
    I remember Vanessa, my MiLs 1st born daughter, lost to hole in the heart complications at 3 days old over 40 years ago.
    I remember Freddie.

    Thank you for your words Merry – the sheer power of them.

    and for all the empty chairs everywhere, I light a candle for international infant loss awareness day.

    xx

    • October 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm

      Oh my dear.

      You have my meaning quite correct and you have my sympathy and gentlest thoughts. Grief with guilt added is just dreadful and I think my loss with guilt heaped upon it is still the worst pain I have ever experience, more recent loss not withstanding.

  3. Naomi Marsden
    October 15, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks Merry for a beautiful post.

    • October 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      Lots of love. Not forgotten. xxx

  4. Jackie
    October 15, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Thank you Merry, you brought tears to my eyes with your beautiful post. May I also add to your list, those children who were so desperately wanted and craved, but never concieved. We grieve too, for what could have been but never now will be. Some children are lost before they are ever even a possibility.

    • October 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

      Yes, of course. I will edit to add that. Accidental omission. xxx

  5. Angela
    October 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Beautiful, Merry. This October 15th is very difficult for me. There have been lots of tears. I needed your words this morning.

    • October 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm

      Much love my dear. Keep breathing.

  6. October 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Merry, thank you. Thank you for remembering Florence, thank you for being a friend and thank you for this post. x

    • October 15, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      And thank you for keeping me upright this last 18 months and 2 days.

  7. Michaela
    October 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    I’ve come back to this so many times today, really not sure what to say, but I don’t want not to comment.

    Remembering Freddie, and all the other children who should be here, and thinking of their mums and families.

    xxx

    • October 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      I think I speak for everyone when I say that your care and the time you took to comment means a great deal.

  8. October 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Thank you. Remembering too many here, too.

    • October 16, 2011 at 10:44 am

      Sending love and remembrance.

  9. Claire
    October 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Thank you for remembering. I cried reading this is in a cafe at lunch. I remember too.

    • October 16, 2011 at 10:43 am

      Where is that ‘blog most likely to make you cry’ category when I need it, huh? ;)

      Hugs.

  10. October 15, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Thank you for remembering Snowflake. It means so much.

    Remembering Freddie, and all the other babies.

    • October 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

      Snowflake was very important. And so is knowing you :)

  11. Joanna
    October 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Merry, That was just beautiful. Thank you xxxxx

    • October 16, 2011 at 10:40 am

      He is very much thought of in this household – and always will be. xxx

  12. October 16, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Oh Merry,

    I am so terribly sorry for you and the people you have met.

    Will hug my babies that little bit closer tonight.

    Lots of love J

    • October 16, 2011 at 10:16 am

      Thank you xxx.

  13. Ben Cook
    October 16, 2011 at 10:14 am

    As with many of the comments before this, you reduced me to tears as you capture so brilliantly the way we all feel.

    We lost our daughter Grace at 34 weeks about 7 weeks ago. I wrote 2 poems about/for her and read them to a packed crematorium service recently. Since the feedback I received from people I set up a blog for these and other poems of mine.

    Message to Grace is here: http://wp.me/p1TfPC-q
    Message from Grace is here: http://wp.me/p1TfPC-n

    I hope some of the readers here can take something from what I have written.

    Thank you once more for your own words and for this website.

    Ben x

    • October 16, 2011 at 10:16 am

      Ben,
      I am so sorry you have joined us in this awful place and that you have these paths to walk. You are welcome among us, though I know we all wish there was no need for you to be here.

      I will come and find your blog today.

      Remembering Grace with you.

  14. Ben Cook
    October 16, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Thank you once again!

  15. October 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Wow Merry. This is all so beautifully heartbreaking. What a piece of writing and one that I will keep coming back to again and again and again, even just to see Josephs’ name.
    Thankyou for taking the time to write his beautiful name and for writing the names of all of the other babies gone too soon. And for acknowledging the impact on other family, other than just the mothers and fathers and siblings. Our extended families lives are forever changed too.
    Thankyou. This really did bring tears.
    Remembering your Freddie too on this day and all others.
    xo

  16. Maggie
    October 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    (((xXx)))

    I remember my two ectopic babies, Lauren when I was eighteen and Phillip when I was twenty two. They usually “don’t count” to anyone…..but they count to me.

    I should have four children…..I should have an almost eighteen year old, probably independent, hormonal and hating me…..and I should have a twelve and a half year old, in between Faith and Jack, two children in the same year at school but not twins……two brothers ganging up against Faith and scrumping all the apples and pears from our trees before they are ripe and getting no sympathy except from one another for their resulting belly-ache.

    :)

  17. Ishtar
    October 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Thank you. I could never put into words how I felt after I ‘chose’ to lose my son. Yes, you’re right….it tore my heart out and broke my soul…

    Take care
    xx

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