Remembering Clare…. learning to mourn
As John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, and this is so how my life has been since I last wrote something for my blog page.
There has been a lot of “happening” in my life and without Focusing I do not know where I would now be… what I do know is Focusing has guided me through a time of huge emotional turmoil where old traumatic events frozen in my body have been coming to the surface. Actually erupting would be a much better “felt-sense” description of how it has been.
Last week I went on a retreat about “Who I am” using the Myers Briggs type-indicator approach as a starting point. And out of this retreat two things have emerged for me. One is a sense that I have finally found an embodied inner sense of “Me-ness”, a coming home to myself as I can now do this with all the frozen trauma now unfreezing and making space for me to feel myself. This feels a major turning point in my life and that I am now in a position to start turning more outwards towards the world again.
And, this turning to the world, and sharing my story, or parts of my story, is the second thing that has emerged. On the retreat I met with a hospital chaplain and we got talking and I told him about my recent and very positive experience of hospital chaplaincy and he asked me if I would write my story down to share. So this is what I have been doing this wet afternoon and having written it for Martyn, it occurred to me, it would make for an interesting blog. So after 11 months of non-blogging here is what I wrote for Martyn:
In late September 2014 my elderly and beloved West Highland terrier, Angus, was going through his daily paroxysm of rage at the postman, when he fell off the sofa which was his viewing station of the dangers of the outside world. Sadly he completely shattered his left back knee and was too old and frail for surgery so we made the hard decision of having him put to sleep.
Angus had always been very scared of the vets so they offered to put him to sleep in our home. So Angus laid on my knee while the vet gave him the injection, and as I sat there stroking him I could feel the life in him just ebbing away, until I felt that he was gone. And as this happened I also felt something huge and very distressed inside me begin to surface – at the time I had no idea what this was other than it was more than just my grief for my much loved pet.
Over the next month this place came more and more and I felt utterly awful but had no idea why. Then at the start of November I was catching up with an episode of Downton Abbey and in this episode the news came through that one of the main characters, who had gone to Germany and just vanished, was indeed dead as they all feared. And as I watched this I felt my body become icy cold, like I had been plunged in a deep-freeze.
I went to make a pot of tea and just asked my body what on earth was going on? Immediately I knew that there was a deep connection here with my own life experience and then, as I brushed my teeth, at bedtime suddenly what this whole thing was about came to me.
It was the deeply buried memory of having my first child die inside me in early 1980. Angus dying on my knee had activated the body memory of feeling my baby die inside me and along with this memory I discovered a tsunami of buried almost 35 year old grief. Those first few weeks after this I felt like I was going mad, the pain, the shock, the horror and grief were totally overwhelming as memories flooded back.
Memories of how in 1980 the death of a baby was treated so differently to now. Not only did my baby die but the way that it was dealt with I now realise was in and of itself deeply traumatising. Back then the whole message to me was that the death of my 32 week old baby was not to be talked about, acknowledged and I was told to go away and just forget it.
At the hospital they persuaded me to agree to my baby being viewed as less than 29 weeks old as my baby was small for dates. This, they said, would save me having to do “the paperwork”. What this actually meant was the death of my baby could be treated as a miscarriage and so no funeral, no grave stone, no nothing to remember my baby by.
They sent me to a gynae ward for the induced delivery and it went all wrong – in the end it was a nurse who delivered the baby. My husband was sent out of the room and we were not allowed to see our baby nor know what sex the baby was or anything else about them. “It is for the best”, they said, “just go away and get pregnant again and then in a couple of years you won’t even remember what happened. They could not have been more wrong.
Once home I found no-one knew what to say to me, neighbours crossed the street to avoid me. My family and friends didn’t speak of it; my husband, following the advice of the hospital, also didn’t want to talk about it. I followed their advice too and tried to get pregnant and had two early stage miscarriages. So by August 1980 I had lost three pregnancies. It was a truly dreadful time and I just continued to bury the pain of it all.
Finally, having moved to Worcestershire, in 1982 I got pregnant again and had a lovely obstetrician who looked after me very well so at 38 weeks I had a second child, who was actually my second daughter. The obstetrician got hole of the hospital notes for me and found out my baby who died had been a girl. We had chosen her name prior to her death – Clare Elizabeth. He could also tell me that she had died because the placenta had failed.
With the birth of my first living daughter I just got on with my life. Having Lucy was wonderful and her life enabled me start to enjoy living my life again but she did not and could not replace Clare and I always knew this. So the whole of the experience just became buried within me and then erupted into my life as Angus died on my knee.
My recent professional background is in the field of Focusing, a not well-known, but wonderful way, of providing support and healing generally but it is particularly good, in my opinion, in working with deep trauma, pain and grief. So I used Focusing to start to help me make sense of what felt like akin to some kind of insanity inside me – how could what happened almost 35 years ago make me so “deranged” by grief and pain? Very quickly with the Focusing I realised that Focusing was not enough that I needed to “do something”.
My first thought was that I could go and write something in the Memorial book that I knew that most hospitals now hold for parents who have lost their children, as I did, to write in. But somehow just rocking up to the hospital (not the one where I delivered Clare but Worcester Royal Hospital where I had successfully given birth to two wonderful living daughters), dealing with the whole hassle of finding a parking space, to jut “pop in” and write in the book did not feel like enough, not nearly enough.
Then something in me prompted me to explore maybe contacting the hospital chaplain to see if maybe he could arrange to do a little service of remembrance with me for Clare. I looked up on the hospital website about the chaplain and found him, “Dave the Rev” as I came to call him. As he was not only a chaplain but had a wonderful motorbike too. And I emailed him, told him my story and apologising for me needing to contact him as I did really feel back then like I had gone somewhat mad.
Then I had the most wonderful email back from him. He told me that what I was going through was not unusual, that I was not going made and I was not alone. He told me he could do me a service but also suggested that I might like to contact a colleague of his, Trudi, whose job was that of bereavement support midwife.
I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had not found Dave-the-Rev and Trudi; they, along with my GP, then supported me through a journey which I am still on (and will be for the rest of my life) in finding a way to heal the trauma around what happened all those years ago and to help me find ways that felt just right to mourn for my first daughter
“Mourning” – it was a word I knew but had no idea what it actually meant. I had never seen anyone mourn before. In my family if someone died you didn’t talk about it, you went to the funeral but tried not to cry and then you just got on with life as if the person who had died did not exist. I didn’t realise that to heal after a death one needs to mourn, to actively recognise the dead of this person with whom you have had and still have a relationship with, who will forever be a part of your life.
Trudi encouraged me to contact SANDS (the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) and they found me a befriender, Liz, who had gone through a similar intrauterine death in 1984. Talking to Liz, and Trudi helped me work out ways to start mourning.
Towards Tomorrow Together memory box
The first thing I did was order a bespoke-made for Clare memory box. At the time of ordering it I was in so much pain I did not read the dimensions properly and when it arrived I discovered what I had ordered was a large children’s toy chest! Not a more regular sized memory box but somehow it felt so appropriate that it was so big. My pain and grief were huge, so a huge box, seemed somehow very apt as a metaphor. And it turned out it just fitted neatly into a space in my bedroom.
I also discovered the “Saying Goodbye” charity who hold services around the country. I found a service they were holding at Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, in late November and I decided to go. My husband (not the father of Clare or my other daughters) came too and I did need this support. It was perhaps the hardest thing I did – it felt akin to “coming out” as gay person.
It was making a statement to the world – I have had a baby who died. I lost my first daughter. It was a very poignant and beautiful service and seeing all the little flickering tea-lights that were lit in memory of those babies was moving beyond words. I had four little lights - one for Clare, one for the two babies that miscarried also in 1980 and then one for another miscarriage in 1989.
Toward Christmas I started to think about what kind of service I would like to hold for Clare and that it just being me and Dave-the-Rev was not going to be enough. Out of all the support a sense emerged of what I needed to really be able to remember her and at last have a ritual in which I could say goodbye to her. Dave made two home visits to see me and his wonderful listening helped me get clearer about what I actually needed.
Finally I did create a “Remembering Clare” weekend on the 14th and 15th March. Clare would have been 35 on March 15th as that was the day her dead body was delivered back in 1980. So it felt very fitting to arrange the Remembering ceremony over this weekend, particularly as the Sunday was also Mother’s Day.
So on Friday 13th March I had a plaque in Clare’s memory placed in the local cemetery so I can visit Clare any time now. Then on Saturday 14th Dave led the remembering service which I created with his help. I invited friends to come as I wanted to have a service where Clare’s existence was acknowledged by others as well as by myself. I made the service sheets, I chose the readings and the music. I found images to accompany the music and I even recorded a song myself to remember Clare. I had expected to find the service “too much” but I didn’t. Rather I felt held by the love of my friends and husband. I could feel healing come at a very deep level in me.
On Sunday 15th my husband, my “oldest” friend Ruth and I travelled to the National Arboretum, in Staffordshire, to visit the SANDS peace garden where bereaved parents such as myself take a stone, with their babies names painted on them, to leave as a memorial. I took four stones, all taken from the beach at Kynance Cove in Cornwall, which I had visited in January, and was the place that we took family holidays at when my children were young. I found that I was much more emotional at the peace garden seeing all those little stones, there was even one dated for 1941. The mother who left that must have been a very old lady when she laid that stone as this garden has only been there since the millennium.
After leaving the peace garden we parted company from Ruth and my husband and I drove then to the hospital in Gloucester where I had actually delivered Clare. I had already been in contact with the chaplain there, John, and had arranged to meet him in the early afternoon so I could write in the memorial book of that hospital. Again this was a far more emotional experience and John’s gentle care and prayers helped me to find the words to write about what had happened and how now finally Clare was being acknowledged by the hospital that had so denied her little life and death 35 years ago.
We then drove home and I had with me 35 daffodils, which had been at the remembering service the day before, and we stopped at a bridge over the River Severn just outside Gloucester and I slowly dropped each stem into the river. One by one I watched them get carried away on the current, a daffodil for each year of Clare’s “life” that I had not mourned and remembered.
My experience of creating this weekend of Remembering Clare combined with other things I am doing to mourn her have been transformational for me. Writing this has been at times an emotional affair but the tears are no longer a tsunami, they are like gentle rain and just my heart telling me just how much my first daughter meant to me and the impact she has had on my life. I cannot thank enough my family, my friends, my GP. Trudi the midwife and Dave and John the two hospital chaplains for their parts in my healing journey. Together they have undone the trauma of what I experienced from the world around me 35 years ago when my first daughter was stillborn.