“Who is Oscar? Is that his house? Can I play with Oscar?”
Usually when Freya asks a question I don’t have an answer to, which happens quite a lot these days, I turn to my good friend Google for help – all the while pretending I know, really, but it’s educational for her to help me look it up.
Those three questions, though, the first two fired from her car seat as we were driving along, left me struggling to find the right words to explain. When they never came, I knew this was the one time I probably couldn’t even turn to Google for help.
“Who is Oscar?”
Maybe it’s because I’m desperate to say the right thing. To make sure that I can tell her who he is, or was, or nearly was without frightening her or making her worry, which she has a tendency to do.
I could have said: “Oscar was your big brother but he was poorly and died” but then I’d probably need to explain death and, rightly or wrongly, I didn’t want that to touch her. At two and three quarters it feels like her world should be full of light and colour not tinged with darkness.
Not now, when it doesn’t really need to be.
So I stayed silent.
My silence led to guilt.
Firstly for not answering her when I promised myself that I would always respond to her questions. And secondly because not talking about him felt like a betrayal of his memory and of what we went through.
Because I was only 13 weeks pregnant, trying to work out my own feelings at the time – in the face views such as it was “one of those things” and “not like a real baby” – was something of a minefield.
It took time and counselling to eventually come to some sort of understanding.
And my understanding is that he was my first, much wanted, baby and not only did I not want to simply forget him, having seen him, I wasn’t able to.
Which is why we were going to the Woodland Burial Ground that day.
“Is that his house?”
We had just pulled into the car park and she could see the meeting hall, a peaceful building with panoramic views over the woodland, where funerals and memorials are held.
“No, darling,” was as much as I could manage this time.
She has been to the woodland before, starting from when she was a tiny baby, but this was really the first time she had questioned her surroundings.
We walked together, holding hands, with Freya gripping the flowers we brought so tightly that I was worried she might crush them.
The woodland is dotted with beautifully carved memorial markers including Tinkerbell, various animals and flowers as well as the odd (tasteful) tribute to that person’s favourite football team. She was pointing out ones she liked and asking what some other ones were, which meant a reprieve from the more difficult questions – although not for long.
“Can I play with Oscar?”
This was the one that caused the lump in my throat.
When I visited on my own at Christmas I spent some time sitting near the baby memorial having a think. It’s such a peaceful place and while there are never very many people about it always feels safe, even on a gloomy December afternoon.
As I walked back down the hill, I could see a man in amongst the markers in the children’s section and I wondered what he was doing. As I got closer, I could hear. He was reading a storybook hunkered down next to a little grave.
Oh my heart, it broke for him in that instant.
So as not to disturb him I quietly walked the other way and went home. Freya’s question reminded me of him.
We can’t play with them or see them and I know Oscar isn’t really there, or anywhere, anymore but it comforts me to visit – just as I am sure it comforted that dad to read his story.
If everything had gone to plan, our boy would have been celebrating his fourth birthday on April 30. As you’re not allowed to leave anything that’s not natural, it feels right to take him some bright flowers.
What to say?
When Freya was a baby I had no trouble mentioning him. “Look, Freya, Oscar has sent us a rainbow,” I would say. But since she started to really understand things – and I was mindful of the fact the that I didn’t know how to explain it – I’ve been more careful about saying his name.
A shame Mark and I hadn’t had this conversation.
That day I told her we were going to take some flowers to a woodland but, while we were in the car, Mark mentioned Oscar, and set the questions off.
Our eyes met in the rear view mirror and I think he was as clueless as I was about how to explain to her.
After laying down the flowers we walked back to the car and went off to get on with our day. She hasn’t mentioned him since but I’m left with a feeling of not having done right by either of them.
I do mean to talk to her about Oscar and what happened – I don’t want it to seem like some dark family secret – but when she can understand things a little better.
That evening, just before she went to bed, I happened to look out of the window. On his birthday Oscar had sent us a double rainbow.
I’m hopeful that means he understands too.
Does anyone have any experience of this? Am I doing the right thing in waiting?