Sat 16 Jun 2007
Come away, human child, to the water
and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
- William Butler Yeats, 1886
little Liam died yesterday morning.
Liam Stewart Inglis, six weeks old, son of Kate & Justin, brother to Evan, twin to Ben. he died in his mother’s arms, against her skin, over her heart, in a hospital he never got to leave. the same hospital where Finn died two years ago, in my arms, in a little blue blanket. small, frail bodies…gone, we hope, to be whole somewhere else.
i need to say something, and i’m not sure what. nobody ever knows what to say when a baby dies.
i once had words. in the moment, in the grace and visceral adrenalin and profound surrealness of having touched death, been party to that crossing over, the heart speaks. i committed some of those words to paper…a few to Dave. a few have leaked out here, long after the fact. but my words were mostly for Finn, most spoken to the air.
in Kate’s case, the heart is speaking with a terrible beauty the likes of which i’ve seldom read. the tribute she wrote for Liam yesterday – just after they let him go – is elegy, and celebration, and release. it sings and sorrows, and honours Liam. with her words, as ever, she’s done good by her boy. she has written him out of his life with the same fierce love and courage that has written him and Ben into so many people’s hearts these past six weeks.
the words i had two years ago still leave me with nothing to offer her. i cannot add to her song for Liam, not really. he was not mine.
but i still need to keep saying something. because nobody knows what to say when a baby dies, and that – in its own way – is one of the worst parts of losing a child. after the outpouring of sympathy and sorrow and kindness…silence. not just the absence of laughter and babbling, of the child him or herself, but the silence of others, the hole where that part of your life was. because nobody knows what to say. because nobody wants to hurt you. because we are all – even those of us who’ve walked the same awful road in our own way – terribly, terribly afraid of saying the wrong thing.
so most say nothing, or fall back on platitudes about angels that usually serve to make the speaker feel perhaps a little better about the order of the universe.
i didn’t know, when Finn died, that there was a whole, small, sad corner of the blogosphere out here written by mothers whose children have died. even if i’d known, i think i’d have slunk to that corner timidly, desperately seeking the communion of grief, of freedom from feeling like the freak show who had to clearly show she was not going crazy because her baby had died. but i would have done it in secret, looking over my shoulder, afraid – and i cannot believe this now, though i know it is true – that someone would see my sorrow and judge me for it. i was, outside my own journal and the tiny, private circle of Dave and myself, almost entirely tongue-tied about Finn for months after his birth and death. not because i didn’t want to talk about him…i did. desperately. i wanted nothing more than to say his name, to sate myself with it, to mark it on the world…before memory erased it all. rather i was afraid i’d start and not stop, not be able to shut up. i was afraid i’d cross the boundaries of normal conversation, that i’d come undone in the middle of one of those conversations and never be able to find my way back.
now, i kinda wish i had. people tried…a few dear friends who didn’t just stare at their shoes in respectful silence, trying not to say the wrong thing. a few even asked about Finn, directly. and i told them about him, and lit up inside…but then faltered. the conversation would founder, and i would fear that my friend was uncomfortable, and i would clam up, close myself off again. because there is not much to say, in the normal language of everyday, about a newborn, no matter how healthy or unremarkable. an eleven hour life does not make for much to say…nor even a six week one. not unless you ask that child’s mother about how she felt about him.
i’m not sure entirely where i’m going, here. i feel sad, and powerless. and touched, by the life of a little boy i never met, who ran his tiny fingers across his twin’s face and stunned his doctors. i wish i could sit with Kate, whom i’ve never met, and hold her hand and maybe drink a bottle down, and just listen. and find out all about more about Liam, how he felt in her arms, how exactly he slipped away…find out how he changed her, what his life meant. i wish she could the same for me, to be honest.
so…if you don’t know what to say when a baby dies, here’s my assvice, for what it’s worth. go tell Kate that you will remember Liam. that you will remember that he was here. that there will not be total silence, and then a hole, gaping. that three months from now, six…no one will make her feel she should be over it. that you will still ask her, two years from now, about him, about this journey of letting him go. that he will not slip from their lives, from the Inglis family picture that people carry in their minds. that he will not be the reason you all avert your eyes and look at her in hushed tones for the rest of her life.
now is the time for the great outpouring, yes.Â but she’s not going to forget.Â as time goes on, you don’t have to pretend you have, either.
i don’t know if that’s the right thing to say. but i think it might be a start. and hell, if i’m wrong, i’ve already told her she can tell me to eff off.
peace, little Liam. i’m glad you were here.Â i hold a little of you in my heart, with another wee boy you share far more with than i’d ever hoped.