Other people’s grief
Today is the birth and death anniversary of my friend’s firstborn daughter.
This friend I have known since we were 16 and running ruckus through the streets of our sedate hometown. I look now at the picture of our teenage selves — five in front of the camera, one behind. I count four of us six as having lost a baby.
There is my friend Kate* whose her daughter was perfectly ready to come on her due date but the world went terribly wrong. There is me. There is Sammie* who lost her baby just before sixteen weeks and there is Maria* who has had several miscarriages. The fifth I haven’t seen since we were 18 and the sixth has lost none.
Statistics say one in four women will lose a child in pregnancy or soon after. We belong to a club we never asked to join and no-one wants to be a member.
Something strange has happened to me since losing my sons. My empathy gene which once was astronomical is now mild. I cannot feel anything anymore.
I was always the sensitive kid — skin so thin I bled for other’s pains. The kid who got the school’s citizenship award because I was so damn busy making everyone feel ok about themselves. Now when I visit the cemetry and see a new child’s grave I simply blink and stare in the distance.
The man who adopted my dog when I moved into a too-small apartment tells me his recent stint in hospital is because he tried to kill himself. My eyes open wide, my head stiffens. I. Cannot. Deal. This would have usually been up my alley — I would go to lunch on this saddness — I would send flowers, call, text, write a card.
When he asks for my phone number, I don’t reply.
My friend who witnessed the birth and death of my second son writes me long emails about the tribulations of her life in Europe. The bureaucracy, the mis-timing of things, the non-friends, the sunshine, the brother, the airfare, the tax, the savings, the expensiveness of mobile phone calls. I laugh out loud. Really, really laugh. I don’t mean to be idiotic. I just find it odd. I mean, my babies died three months ago.
So today is my friend’s daughter’s birthday and I am preparing to drive interstate state for the party. I have had the birthday in my diary for a while and set calendar reminders for two weeks leading, but I could not bring myself to buy the card or gift.
I go to the store, look around and around for a card. I stare at each one and tears start to come. I pick two thinking between them they should do the trick. My hands shake as I write. I tell my friend and her husband I am so, so sorry for their loss. I wish their daughter a happy birthday. I race home, wrap the card badly. I race to the post office, stuff the envelope badly. I post it.
*Not their true names