I’ve had to relay the same facts, the same update so many times now I can do it sleepwalking.
Yes, it’s been a rough go. We’re drained but we’re okay. The more we find out about just how injured he was, the more we can reconcile that he couldn’t stay with us. We’re just trying to focus on Ben, and Evan, and thank goodness we’re busy. I don’t know what we’d do if we weren’t busy.
A strange feeling, this claustrophobic paranoia. People we know spot us and instantly think, there they are, the ones whose baby died. Imagined or not, I see it in their eyes.
I spent much of Liam's life wandering hospital hallways and deserted utility closets and unoccupied pumping rooms puffy and red-eyed, with rat's nest hair. More tears, terror, depression and panic than I've ever felt in what I now know was our excessively fortunate life.
Now he's gone and I am tapped of grief, exhausted for the time being. Shoulders unclench to music in the car, laughing at a joke, and I am instantly ashamed. In ordinary conversation I slip into recalling the clinical highlights of the most difficult night of our lives, which happened just over a week ago. Then I walk away feeling callous and cheap.
Alone, my eyes close and I am flooded with memories of the first night we lost him, when they were born. And the second night we lost him, six weeks later. I relive it all, all-senses snapshots. The smell of antiseptic, the chilling squirt of morphine at the point of their beginning and at his end.
I’m filled with horror as though contemplating some unimaginable trauma that happened to someone else. How can they bear it without falling apart?
That’s when I realize it: I am numb.
Our nurse gave it to us as she took his body away. A ceramic heart on a string with a cutout — a hole in the heart — and the missing piece to stay with Liam. So we’d always be connected, she said. So we’d always know the other half is with him.
It felt spontaneous and intensely personal. I’ve had it around my neck every since, shortened so that the heart rests in the same spot where Liam’s head was, that night.
Searching for shared experience tonight with Bon, my eyes rested on a photo of her Finn’s urn. I stopped, startled with recognition, looked closer. Around the neck of the urn rests a little heart — the centre of the empty one given to her the night he died.
It’s like walking in on a lover with another woman. It dawns on me: I’ve simply been cycled through the steps the hospital takes when a mother loses a baby. Who am I to say it's any less genuine because it's protocol? Our nurse is a wonderful person, just doing her job. And doing it so well, as they all do, that we’re deeply moved and grateful.
But now I am an idiot, fingering this bureaucratic trinket every time I'm sad for Liam. In some boardroom they decided that this ceramic hole-in-heart would be line item number twelve on the Infant Mortality Response Strategy.
Suddenly I want to take it off. Struck that a trinket will not make me sane, or calm, or fulfilled. Nor connected in any physical way to my lost son. Pissed off that it can't. Resentful, feeling positively curd-headed for falling for it. But then panicking as the spell evaporates and the man behind the curtain is revealed.
If this heart thing was just a contrivance, what am I going to do if I take it off? How will I have Liam with me, if it's not this? All over again, it’s true. He is gone. My stomach turns, rattled.
Desperate for something to grasp onto when I feel like I'm drowning, but not wanting it to be line item number twelve from the gift shop next to the Tim Horton’s in the lobby of the building where he died.
Some threads, tugged on, don't amount to much, don't compromise the whole. Others, without warning, leave me an instantly unravelled heap on the floor.
I've thought about this now, this trinket. It's not so much a link to Liam. It's a token of sisterhood, a communion of lost babies. A link to other mamas who fell into and climbed out of this pit. This is me now. Branded like all the others before me, living with a hole in the heart. But nonetheless living.