Twenty years have passed – a brief eternity. At school, I turned my tie around and used the skinny side, because you did. I begged my mother for Kickers, because you wore them. The passions and pulses of our teenage hearts were similar then, though I would not have believed it; I thought you were cooler than I could ever be. And now, time and space separates us – only a loose connection remains.
I saw the first pictures of your swaddled newborns. I saw their bright eyes and tiny hands. I saw how small they were, how in need of protection. Sons first, then daughters, just like me – reminding me of my babies being placed in my arms for the first time, of those exquisite, painful first days.
In a way, I have watched your children grow, at intervals – some small, some great. Tiny hands grew. Suddenly there are sturdy and handsome little boys with messy hair and winsome smiles. Proud big brothers.
I have seen your lives unfold at a distance – flickers on a computer screen, glimpses of the significant points in your lives. Loved ones, gone, far too soon. Bright faces and wedding dresses. Birth announcements. The clarity of your joys and despairs, caught in a snapshot.
There are words, across the void, that connect us still. Daughter. Wife. Mother. And now, a new word, one we would not have predicted, in our school ties and fashionable shoes. A word that scared us, when those bundles were placed in our arms. It still does, though it has become as familiar as an old friend.
I wonder, when that word was first uttered in the same sentence with your precious boys’ names, did you feel a vice tighten around your hearts, as I did? Did the stark walls and flickering lights close in, threatening to suffocate you?
Has every day since then been a struggle, a fight to fend off that anguish, to learn joy again?
Have you held your beautiful boys while they railed against the world, fought to keep it together, for them, when you feel just as lost?
Is the silent pain of listening to other mothers – at school gates, at coffee mornings – sometimes too much to bear? The most mundane of conversations can spark that splinter of pain. Some days, the isolation of those moments is raw, because there is no way to breach that gap, no way to lead them on the path that led you here. On others, the perfection of those winsome smiles can save you from any heartache.
It’s hard to know how much of our experience is the same. We have reached out to each other, but it is only a single strand, a minuscule thread, across a void. Our boys are as different as any four-year-olds might be. But I know you love them desperately. I know that long before you heard that word, the A-word, you knew the bittersweet agony of their failures and successes. I know every day is filled with sorrow and wonder.
We were not close, at school. Even in my own friendship group, I was awkward, misunderstood. It took time to find soul mates. A long road led me to where I should be, to my children. But the differences that separated us then, that divide us now – they mean nothing.
Grief. Pain. The fierceness of a mother’s love – they unite us.
And we are not alone
For G and E