There is, I am convinced, no picture that conveys in all its dreadfulness, a vision of sorrow, despairing, remediless, supreme. If I could paint such a picture, the canvas would show only a woman looking down at her empty arms.
Grief is hard to do. It’s especially hard to know how to respond to a grieving person. It’s in our nature to want to offer a solution, something to make it better. But these words are hollow platitudes at best. Because when a parent loses a child, time does not – can not – heal it. The time of ‘getting over it’ never comes. At best, a new way of existing must be learnt – walking through the everyday with a giant hole in the centre of your being.
And so it is for my beautiful friends Sally and Simon, who lost their firstborn child, a daughter, Hope Angel, seven years ago today. This was the day of her birth. But by that time, her life had already ended.
It is the cruellest of realities. And it is happening to around six women a day in Australia alone. We need to talk more about stillbirth and miscarriage. For too long, there has been a silence surrounding this kind of loss, and silence is damaging. It serves only to deepen the sense of isolation for the person grieving.
As Sally’s friend, I don’t profess to share her grief in the literal sense. How could I ever truly understand? I would never presume to do so. But by share, I mean I am beside her, thinking of Hope, wishing she was here and ready to listen if and when Sally wants to talk about her beautiful little girl. And when she does, I don’t always know what to say, but I figure I don’t have to. I just have to listen.
And it’s not hard to do. Of course, the things Sally tells me are hard to hear because we’re talking about her baby daughter who died. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. But I appreciate every story Sally shares with me about Hope. I want to know everything there is to know about this little girl. So each story is a precious gem and I store them up inside my heart where I have built a picture of who Hope might have been. I hope Sally and Simon don’t mind.
I have no idea how to handle grief, but I know that for as long as Sally and I are friends – and I believe this will be a lifetime – then Hope will be a part of that story. I expect that Sally will want to talk about her baby daughter in the same way she talks about her living children. And so these stories will be woven into the fabric of our friendship and it will be sadder for it but richer, too. I am honoured to be trusted with these memories.
Happy Birthday, Hope Angel. You are loved.
You can support the Stillbirth Foundation by purchasing a gorgeous Fairy Tales for Hope print illustrated in honour of Hope Angel Heppleston.