Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"There are certain memories which will always make me cry..." True Life piece for YOU Magazine

My Short story for YOU MAGAZINE of the IRISH DAILY MAIL which formed part of the inspiration for my latest novel THE HIDING GAME…

If you can't read from picture, see short story, a true-life piece below: -

There are certain memories which will always make me cry. I know them well. I once joked to a friend that if I had been an actor, instead of a writer, those sad memories might come in handy when instant tears were required.
Strangely, over time, with some of them, their strength has grown as I have grown with them. The day my baby sister died is one of those memories, but if truth be told, at four years of age, how much could I have really known about her loss.
In my head, the actual day is very clear. I remember my mother arriving home without the baby, only she didn’t seem like my mother. Instead, she looked like a broken thing. I knew this as a child, because her physical form had changed. She was stooped, like an old woman, unable to raise her head. In this slice of memory, she is also wearing black. I see her now, the stooped broken thing, a stranger, walking past me without saying a word.
Later, I learned, my sister, Monica, was four days, 21 hours, and 10 minutes old when my mother lost her - when we lost her. And for a long time after that, we lost our mother too.
As an older person, I have tried to piece together what my mother must have gone through, being told, her perfectly healthy baby girl was no more. Or how, on the morning when she was to come home with my sister, my mother had to leave her baby behind, and she, my mother, was incapable of ever being the same again.
A deep depression took hold of her. She stopped making our clothes after Monica died. We were seldom washed. Lice got in our hair. When we were given new clothes, they were from second-hand shops, which in turn, weren’t washed either.
I recognise the signs of depression, when everything goes black, and you feel nothing in the world is going to change things. I had post-natal depression with each of our children. I know I was unwell for a time, but I was lucky, because I hadn’t lost a child.
The following year, after Monica’s death, my mother gave birth to a still born baby boy. I am guessing, his loss, took away whatever slice of hope my mother had left.
For years my mother kept the baby cloths belonged to my brother and sister in a cardboard flower box on the top of a wardrobe, unable to let them go. I remember the day I discovered them. How soft and beautiful they seemed, as I placed my hands inside, fingering the clothes my two siblings would never get a chance to wear.
The day my sister died, my mother was so grief-stricken, she couldn’t identify the body. My father was asked to do it, but he couldn’t either. It was another defining moment for my mother, because she would spend the rest of her life never knowing for sure if it was her child who died. She told me later, she would look at other little girls similar in age to Monica and wonder. I don’t think she ever stopped wondering.
Back then, people, mothers, didn’t get counselling. Depression wasn’t talked about. My mother was told to be grateful for the children she had, and to get on with it. Others, people in the hospital, and elsewhere, looked at her and most likely decided she was probably better off without another mouth to feed. She could hardly manage financially with the children she had. She was, in their eyes, a simple, silly woman from an underprivileged home, who would most likely end up pregnant again, and sure what difference did the loss of a baby make if you did the maths. My mother, as it happens, wasn’t simple or silly, and she was very good at maths, but mathematics was never going to cut it.
I was the last baby to survive, so at age four, after Monica died, I was her youngest, and up until the day my mother passed away, that statistic never changed. There is a kind of responsibility in this fact, an understanding somewhere deep inside of you that never goes away, an awareness that the brother and sister who followed you, didn’t get a chance to live, when you did.
At four years of age, it should have been impossible for me to grasp this, but yet, in my childlike way, I think I did. Some events change you. They are capable of defining choices you make, even before you make them.
When I had my own children, I understood my mother’s loss a little more. I know Monica’s death defined so much of what followed in our lives, as I equally know, losing my brother drove the sadness even deeper.
My mother was a strong woman, but for a long time, life made her fragile. There are tears on the page as I am writing this, because certain memories do that to me, and they probably always will.

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