I was so excited when I heard that my daughter was expecting twins. Grandchildren are such a special and precious gift, and something about the role of granny sent me rushing for my knitting needles. Strange really, as a matinee jacket started for my own first baby didn’t actually get finished until my third child was born. But as an expectant granny, I felt a responsibility to carry on the knitting tradition from my own mother and grandmother.
When we lost the dream that was to be my twin grandsons, my heart suffered physical pain, my empty arms ached and my mind and fingers fidgeted with frustration at not being able to do anything to make things right.
I wrote in my little notebook. Pages of angry ranting: the hospital was to blame; God was dead; life was unfair… Was it all somehow my fault?
I went for walks. During a visit to Ashdown Forest, Visitor’s Centre, I spotted a butterfly fridge magnet. Taking this as a sign, I picked up copies of all the trails across the forest and I walked pretty much all of them. Before the loss I’d have been nervous to walk on the forest alone, but I remember experiencing a kind of bravado – bring it on.
I know now that these crazy thoughts were part of my grief process and couldn’t be sustained. In Grief Unseen, Laura Seftel sums this up well:
What you must not do is also simple: you cannot blame yourself, you cannot hate God, or the goddess, or the universe forever (well, maybe just for a little while) but then you must return to trust, to creativity, to reconnection.
After loss, people use many different creative routes on their journey to reconnection with the world. One mummy created a grieving pillow the same weight as her baby, and tucked it under her clothes to carry with her.
Marion K Flannery said:
My painting (The Unexpected) attempts to convey the intense, out of control state of losing a pregnancy and all the unfulfilled hopes.
After a miscarriage in 2011, Brighton based artist Alice Lunt created patchwork tablecloths stained with tea and blood. Walkintomyparlour website. She says her work is:
For all those whose biological clock is ticking away, whose menstrual blood feels like the anxious sand running through an hour-glass; who keep trying and keep failing; who have tiny newborn clothing hidden in the back of their chest of drawers that will never be worn, but will never be parted with.
For myself, sewing was a way to help fill the void. After the funeral my daughter asked me if I could create a special box for the boy’s ashes. Together we visited Hobbycraft, selecting bright fabrics and little buttons and motifs to decorate it.
My next project was a patchwork quilt. I began by making small squares with images of things that had become significant: butterflies, teddy bears, a rocking horse…
At the start it was just an idea; I didn’t really know how I was going to put it all together, but making these little squares seemed to represent the boys; a way of capturing and holding on to their identities. I told my daughter that I was making a quilt, then quickly decided I’d make one for her too. Once I had created all the little squares, I had to research how to sew them together. I knew nothing then about backing and batting. My project filled many hours; hours that I would have spent cuddling, minding, loving my new grandsons.
I also knitted blankets for Sands baby loss boxes – just a big, white square, but it helped to think that I might be bringing some small comfort to another bereaved mummy out there.
I will never forget the day my daughter left hospital carrying two cardboard memory boxes instead of two babies. I walked ahead of her to make sure the coast was clear; I didn’t want her to pass anyone carrying a new born in a baby carrier. As Laura Seftel says:
It is hard to imagine anything sadder than a nursery that must be dismantled because there is no baby to bring home.
Some may argue that making art can seem a watered down remedy – as if it’s supposed to replace the baby. Tracey Emin, who has had two abortions and a miscarriage said:
This is why I have regrets about my art, because it is nothing in comparison.
That first Christmas I bought tree decorations for the boys. Since then I’ve always done something at Christmas for the boys. One year I bought toys for a local nursery; last Christmas I bought the boys gifts that went in the Salvation Army collection box in Morrisons. It is in these small ways that I can remember my grandsons; mark special occasions; give something back.
My idea for a future TAMBA project:
Women engaging in group work art and writing spoke of ‘the need to have a tangible and lasting part of their lost child.’ (Laura Seftel)
Perhaps you would like to create a small square (link to instructions) for your little ones, either embroidered with their names, or decorated with a symbol or image that is significant? Even if you’re not very proficient with a needle, it is possible now to get felt with adhesive backing. You could just cut out the shapes and stick onto a small square of fabric.
I’d be happy to build these squares into a community quilt for TAMBA which we could display – perhaps for the Wave of Light or another occasion when TAMBA mums all come together.
If this project is successful, I’d be grateful for support with the construction stage of the quilt. Perhaps there are mummies or grannies out there who might like to help?
Please email me if you would like to get involved in any way.
Source: Grief Unseen by Laura Seftel. Jessica Kingsley Publishers