I sometimes wish I could package up the support that our friends have shown to us since November and hand it out to people experiencing grief – like a little ‘hug in a bottle’.
In the hours after we lost Evalyn and the hours before I gave birth to her, my mind went into major ‘panic mode’. How on earth would we announce this? How would we inform our friends? What would they say? What would they think? How are they going to act around us now? Will they even want to be around us now or will it be too hard for them to find the right words? Would they feel uncomfortable? What if they don’t really want to be in our company again? What if it’s too hard for them? WHAT IF THIS RUINS OUR FRIENDSHIP? . . .Ok, slightly dramatic. But in extreme situations your mind goes to extreme places.
Nick made the majority of our phone calls. I managed a few. My heart sank each time I heard the phone pick up and the excited hello on the other end of the line. Because when your friend is just two weeks away from her due date and you get a call at 7am on a Wednesday morning, of course you’re going to think that this is that happy phone call you’ve been waiting for.
I think that was the overall feeling from everyone we told. Shock and sadness and an inability to know what to say or to make it better for us. I often imagine, had the roles been reversed, how I would have acted had I been the one receiving that phone call and not the one dialing the numbers. What would I have said? Would my words have been as comforting as the words we heard that morning? Now I would know exactly what to say to a grieving parent. But before? I can only imagine that it is the hardest thing trying to find the words to support your friends when your heart is breaking too.
If I was ever worried about our friends feeling uncomfortable around us or not knowing what to say, those worries were eased a few days later when we were home from the hospital and the first of many friends popped by. I opened up the front door, anticipating an awkward ‘hi’, only to be pulled into the warmest hug.
This is so shit! My friend said, This is so bloody shit! I literally want to beat the crap out of life for you right now. Go and sit on the sofa – I’ll make you a cup of tea and then we can cry and rant and scream and tell life to F off!!
In less than ten seconds, my friend had made me smile for the first time in days. And those that followed over the days and weeks only made that smile grow. From the very first conversations back at the hospital, we had made it very clear to our friends that Evalyn was not to be a taboo subject. We didn’t want her to be the ‘elephant in the room’. We wanted to be able to talk about her openly. We were also very aware that we had friends with new babies and friends who were pregnant and it was important to us that they didn’t hide their own lives in order to try and protect us in any way. We wanted to hear their children’s stories just like we wanted to be able to talk about Evalyn and discuss hers.
We felt like we needed to explain . . . .
Looking back, we really didn’t need to.
Our friends just got it. They understood if we had to cancel on them last minute because we were having a bad day. They understood that sometimes we may find it hard to be around their babies, not because we don’t love them to pieces, but just because some days we may feel more fragile than others. They understood when we needed space or when we just couldn’t face being alone. They listened when we wanted to talk about Evalyn and changed the subject when they realised we needed to just breathe for a bit. And of course they knew how to be with us and of course they understood . . . . . .
Because they lost Evalyn too.
It’s easy to believe that as we are Evalyn’s parents, we are the only ones who have lost. But that wouldn’t be true. Our friends had been excited for Evalyn’s arrival too. I had been pregnant at the same time as some of my friends and we had made plans about how our babies would all grow old together, just like our first-borns.
I was the last in line to give birth last year. Evalyn’s arrival was meant to be the cherry on top of what had been an amazing year of welcoming beautiful babies into our group. The fact that Evalyn never got to come home completely destroyed this and opened up feelings within our close friendship group that none of us thought we would ever have to experience.
My friends felt guilty because life had blessed them with their babies. I felt guilty because our own situation had made them feel that way. I would never want anyone I love to feel that way. I am proud of all our friends as parents. Yes, it is hard. But as I always try and remind myself and them too, this is life. In a way, watching their children grow reminds us that there is hope for the future somewhere down the line. We have been extremely lucky that we have been able to openly discuss our thoughts and feelings with our friends without guilt or judgement and we are beyond thankful for their listening ears and wise words.
Conversations with Ieuan about why his sister isn’t here with us have been some of the hardest we have ever had to have. But we have not been the only ones having them. We weren’t the only ones who had to explain death to a child. Our friends also had to sit their own children down and explain that Evalyn, the little baby they had all been so excited to meet, wasn’t able to come home. I curse the fact that we have had to have the sort of conversations with Ieuan at his age that, as parents, we try and protect him from. I curse the fact even more that due to our own bad luck, our friends have had to have these conversations with their own children too. It can’t have been easy for them either.
It also could not have been easy for our pregnant friends who attended Evalyn’s funeral. But they did. They still stood and supported us and said Goodbye to our little girl whilst life grew inside of them. What a cruel way for life to show us the sadness and the joy of life in one bittersweet moment. I love you for your bravery in being there. You will just tell me that of course you would be there. Why would you not be there? But it must have been the hardest thing to witness first hand when only weeks before we were discussing our pregnancies.
Evalyn is not alive. But the way in which our friends have taken her into their hearts has given life to her spirit. I love the fact that Evalyn’s name is mentioned at least once a day in general conversation. I love the fact that she is never too far from people’s minds and that she is, in her own way, a big part of our ‘friendship family’. I love the fact that when Nick said he was running The Great South Run in October, it took less than an hour before all of our friends had signed up to run alongside him because they understand the impact losing a child can have on a family and the outer circles. It has a ripple effect that extends far beyond the parents themselves. And they also want to run it for Evalyn. They love her just as much as we do . . . .
To our beautiful friends. I’ve heard you tell us a hundred times over that you feel useless sometimes, that you don’t feel like you’re doing enough. That you wish you could just take away our pain or that you wish you could do more for us to try and help us heal. But you’re actually, in your own individual ways, doing all of that. You will never know how much you have helped us because even these words aren’t enough to express that to you. Just know that you have. We’re only at the beginning of this journey and there is still such a long way to go, but we feel stronger for having you beside us.
You have all been a blessing. You have all picked us up and given us a dose of strength when we’ve been at our weakest. Saying Goodbye to Evalyn last year was by far the worst moment we have had to face. But having you all in our lives has been the blessing.
Keep doing what you’re doing.
Keep being you.
Because we honestly couldn’t ask for anything more.