When a Broadsheet Made Me Cry
It’s not often that a newspaper can make me cry. Call me a hardnosed cow or whatever, but no, the journalistic standards of most of the daily newspapers – so called ‘quality’ broadsheets included hardly instils much emotion into me. Certainly on most days, I’m hardly likely to be reaching for the Kleenex and bawling into my laptop screen.
A few days ago though, I was sitting in work with tears and snot dribbling down my face – I’ve never got the hang of crying gracefully. I don’t dab daintily at my eyes as they sparkle tremulously with unshed tears. No, I bawl. Loudly, and messily and entirely without regard for how I look, which is usually like a panda with a severe head cold.
So, there I was, in work doing an impression of endangered wildlife, reading an article by the actor Jason Watkins, about the death of his daughter. After only a few sentences, I wasn’t sitting at my desk all puffy eyed and snotty; I was back in my daughter’s bedroom, in the dim silvery grey light of early morning, staring at her tiny six month old cold, still and very dead body.
As much as I want to describe how I felt at that precise moment when the rest of the world stopped, I can’t. I can’t tell you about the feeling of loss, because loss doesn’t cover the desolation and the devastation you feel when you walk into your child’s bedroom and find a lifeless doll in her cot instead of a warm, plump pink little girl kicking her legs excitedly at the prospect of breakfast. I am incapable of putting into words the horror of the next few minutes of my nineteen year old life – minutes that felt like forever, passing slowly before me as the rest of my life has since the end of my daughters. I could never begin to make you feel the fear; the disbelief; the longing to have her back- giggling, flailing, laughing and most importantly, living. I can’t tell you what it felt like to scream into the waking morning as I picked up a heavy, stiff and lifeless looking dead thing which had replaced my daughter in the quiet of the night.
There are no words which adequately describe the loss of a child. It is against the order of nature. Surviving your child is not written into the script of life. If I was pressed to tell you how I felt at that moment, with her body heavy in my shaking arms, I could say that all I felt was bewilderment; Utter, total bewilderment. How did my daughter die in her cot in the night? Why did my daughter die in her cot in the night? There are questions I know that I will never have the answers to, but I do know that every parent who has ever lost a child will be asking themselves the same thing. Over and over again, and you will ask it again and again and again. The bewilderment never goes away, and nor does the loss.
My memories of ‘After Lucy’ are vague, and befuddled; like me that morning as I held her body close to my heart, willing the beating of mine to restart hers. I stared out of the window into a sparkly winters’ day with frost shining like diamond chippings scattered across the outlying fields which were just becoming visible in the milky morning light. I stood there and wondered why everything looked so normal – why the sun still rose, why I could hear the sound of milk bottles clattering on the doorstep, why life around me was carrying on whilst my daughter’s has stopped. Nature doesn’t equip you to cope with the death of a child. The natural order of things is broken and whilst you, as a bereaved parent ask these endless questions, sadly, there are never any answers.
Her father and I were arrested, of course, taken to separate police stations and questioned remorselessly and heartlessly about the events surrounding her death, because of course, until there was a post mortem and they had a reason for her death, the law assumed the reason was us – her parents. That night, my son was silently removed from my care, leaving me bereft of not just my dead child, but also my live one, so that whilst I returned home, I never returned to who I had been before my daughter died. The death of a child takes more than your child from you. It is as if, in dying, your child has killed you too. Jason Watkins, in his interview with ‘The Guardian’ spoke of ‘the unacknowledged difficulties of loss; especially the loss of a child.’ If you call developing mental health issues (which I now, thanks to my ex -boyfriend, recognise as PTSD and anxiety); having to fight to have your other child returned to you after being under suspicion of murdering his sister, your relationship with your child’s father breaking down and you eventually being left broken, penniless and homeless – if you call these things difficulties, then yes, losing a child is difficult, and you never recover from it. It’s that simple.
As a result of Lucy’s death, I developed insomnia. I cannot sleep for fear that the night will take anything or anyone that is close to me away, that my living children (all grown up now – you’d think it would stop, but it doesn’t) would die if I closed my eyes to dream about my dead one. On rare occasions when I do fall asleep, I cannot sleep in the dark – I have to have a light on. I fear the dark will take away anyone else that I love. Of course back in those days, there was no real support network to help a parent cope with the death of a child. Perhaps if I’d had that help, I wouldn’t still suffer from the leftovers her death caused, like the chronic insecurity which dogs me every day, like the insomnia which keeps my nights long and my days an exhausted blur, like the sleeping with the light on – childlike myself in my own fear of the dark.
All those years ago, very little was known about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the eventually proclaimed ‘reason’ for Lucy’s death (as Jason Watkins says of Septis, which claimed his little daughter – so little is known about how potentially dangerous this disease can be. It’s like putting your baby to sleep in a cot on his or her stomach) – thank goodness that understanding of S.I.D.S has improved dramatically and that there is now much more empathy and acknowledgement, together with on-going support for people who do lose a child suddenly and unexpectedly.
The Lullaby Trust, for example – formerly the Foundation for The Study of Infant Death was founded in 1971, yet when Lucy died in the late 1980’s, even though sudden infant death was at its peak, relatively little was known about this organisation which offers support, advice and counselling to bereaved and bewildered and broken parents; as well as contributing to tireless research into the nature and potential causes of these types of infant death. Their multi media campaign which warned parents to get their babies sleeping on their backs was a huge success, culminating in 25 years of tireless campaigning by the Trust and the rate of SIDS deaths dropping by 85%, reaching an all-time low in 2014.
It took me a long time to accept that Lucy had died, that I would never hear or see her again after her coffin lid had been gently and irrevocably closed for the last time on the morning of her funeral. Now, the years have separated me from her more effectively than death ever could and I find my bewilderment and the PTSD and anxiety have given way to a tremendous guilt. The ‘massive red dot’ which Jason Watkins speaks of – the actual loss of our children indeed diminishes, the bone crushing pain of her loss eases through the echelons of time but it also dulls my memory. I cannot recall little details like I remember that her hair was blonde but was she white blonde or a strawberry blonde as I was as a child? Were her blue eyes light blue or a piercing cornflower blue like mine? What did she sound like, because I can no longer remember the throaty giggle while we played ‘Peek A Boo’ or the impatient sobbing as she was waiting to be fed, snuggled against my breast, her tiny fingers wrapped tightly around my index finger as her very being took hold of my heart from the minute that she was born.
Jason Watkins is right, time diminishes the pain somewhat, but it has also taken my daughter away. So yes, a broadsheet made me cry, but it also gave me a chance to remember my beloved little girl. Rest in Peace, Lucy Charlotte Jayne, until we meet again.
©Amy J Steinberg 2017
You can read the story of Lucy Charlotte’s young life and death in the forthcoming novel – ‘The Fingers Of God’ due for release shortly.
Please do not hesitate to contact The Lullaby Trust if you wish to make a donation – firstname.lastname@example.org
Or alternatively, if you have suffered the loss of a child and need support, information or advice – email@example.com