Receiver (noun): a person who gets or accepts something that has been sent or given to them
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who’s happy receiving. I’m the type of person who will take the last chip on a sharer plate and not think much of it (I also pick off my husband’s plate, but dislike him picking off mine!) Terrible, I know. It turns out however, that I hate receiving, I really do. I just didn’t know this about myself until recently.
The whole time I was in hospital with Summer, I felt so guilty. Guilty for all the attention and kindness, guilty for the large and comfortable room, guilty for eating taxpayer paid-for food. I was convinced I was getting special treatment and kept telling the staff that I was happy to move to a ward, happy to move if anyone at all needed the room.
That’s crazy, right? I was in hospital, knowing I would be losing my baby. Of course they wouldn’t put me on ward, with mothers delivering healthy, fully grown babies. But all I could think was that there was probably someone else more in need.
This guilt around receiving has continued in other ways. So here’s what I’ve learnt:
Grief morphs you into a net receiver
When you’re grieving, people give and they give, and all you can do it take. That’s how it feels. I am being given people’s love, care, thoughts, words, time, attention, as well as actual tangible gifts.
I really like to give, but I’m finding it so difficult to enjoy the receiving. It really bothers me that anything I try to do in return is completely disproportionate to what’s been done for me. I console myself thinking, “one day, maybe I can repay the favour and be there for them”, but then I know, with all my heart, that I never want any of you to be in a position to need this level of support. So all I can do, is hold out my hands and accept my position as a net receiver, out of love and hope for you all.
In case it’s not been known, I do really appreciate your kindness and all of your giving.
In no particular order, here are some simple stories about some of the very special givers whose stories stand out for me. I’m sorry, it’s all I have to give at the moment. Knowing how precious words are to me though, I hope that you feel it’s enough…
When people have children, it’s hard to prioritise others, I’ve been on the receiving end of that. But when we were ready to see people, C despite having three children to look after, was there like a shot. She did the 4 hour round trip to our house. Standing there in our hallway, she hugged me so tightly and simply said “I just knew I had to see you”. I replied “thank you for coming, I needed you”. C, thank you for making us your priority and for continuing to do so, day after day. Each day since, you’ve asked me to find some joy, and it’s kept me going. YOU are my joy. Day in, day out.
A day after I was admitted to hospital, I text my friend K. No time at all later, my phone rang: “Anjulie! Where are you? I’ve got my coat! I’m coming to find you”. It was a weekday, so I reminded her of that. Her response? “I don’t care if I lose my job, I’m coming”. And just like that she came to sit with me. Just like she’s come to sit with me in my grief, on many nights since (via Facetime mostly – darn lockdown). Fiercely passionate, deeply empathetic: everyone should be fortunate enough to have a friend like K.
I hope that in this stage of life, we all surround ourselves with people we love, respect and admire, people who inspire us to be better: R is one of those friends. Thank you for coming to see me in hospital, thank you for bringing food to my house, thank you for having some of the hardest conversations of my life. We value you and your opinion and we love you dearly.
There’s a colleague at work, who describes himself as pretty closed when it comes to emotional stuff, but he’s been so great in all of this. I honestly don’t know if he considers me a friend, but I know that he’s very special. G made a point of calling me every week, at a similar time, to have a cup of coffee over Facetime. To talk about work or stuff or work stuff. One time, he even listened while I talked about envelopes, which had nothing to do with anything (obviously). I don’t think he got much from those conversations. Really, I think he just knew I was lonely. It might not have been much to him, but it meant the world to me.
When I was at Uni, sixteen whole years ago, I was fortunate enough to befriend our college porter. Over the years, we’ve kept in touch on social media. D contacted me around the time of Corona Virus, just to see how James and I were getting on. I ended up telling him about Summer. He replied with the nicest message: “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to check in with you every few days”, and he has. My 65 year old whatsapp buddy now sends me the most beautiful pictures of his allotment. He listens and he cares. He said that over all his time at the University, there are two people who really stood out to him from the beginning and I can’t believe he counts me as one. I’m counting down the days until this pandemic is over and I can deliver him the biggest hug.
Carrying Summer made me really ill, it’s left me unable to donate blood again. I’ve really struggled with this, it’s made me so sad. It’s irrational really, I’ve donated more blood than I took: I’m a net giver! But it still kills me. I don’t do much for people in life, but I did donate blood. I wanted to donate 50 times before aged 50. It still upsets me deeply knowing I can’t do that. A couple of months after Summer passed away, a cousin messaged me out of the blue. R said “Anj, just out of interest, how many donations did you have left? I’m thinking of doing them all for you”. I still feel on cloud nine just writing that. Whether she does or doesn’t, wow. What a thought and what a kindness. Thank you R, that has meant so much.
To K, my brothers’ friend, who I grew up with, but I strangely never managed to have a conversation with. You got in contact, because you and your wife have been there and you offered to chat. Thank you for making me realise that this is a club that no one ever wants to be part of, but when you do join, you’re not alone.
A different R and K, my secret commonwealth, please see the blog post called “Light in the Dark”. K, thank you in particular for encouraging me to write this blog.
Finally, to the people who have been though baby loss at a much later stage and who have given me the time of day…
To B&G, I’ll never forget you getting in contact regularly in the early days of Summer. A day after she passed away, I asked B how I could ever forgive myself for leaving Summer in the hospital, when she’d never been away from me for so long. B helped me understand that I had to do that, that she was already gone and that there was no choice.
To C, my friend R’s mum! Your messages of comfort always speak to my soul. I’ve come close to calling you a few times, I just need to source your number. I know I promised to write, I still intend to, perhaps this will go some way towards making that promise good.
Finally to R, thank you for listening, understanding and always being so honest. I’m sorry I wasn’t better when you went through it, but I’ve always thought of the boys, and I miss them.
To all of the babies: gone, but not forgotten.
I wanted to ask you, how can I ever get through this? How will my wonderful memories of holding our baby, ever be anything but painful? How can I forgive myself for leaving my baby at the hospital? They’ve never been away from me, for so long. I feel so broken.
My text message to B