I Have A Problem With Daffodils
I realise for many the sight of the those bright and beautiful spiring blooms gathering a pace in the verges, gardens and roundabouts are a sign that winter is on the way out.
They are symbol of hope, of warmth, of new life.
Spring is on its way.
For many years though they have been a reminder of a time that had been very hard to move on from.
Their bright brash heads shouting at me that you should be feeling joyful, excited for the events that spring will bring.
Its not the pale cream versions or the ones with deep orange trumpets. Its not the extravagant multi layered species.
Its the electric neon yellow ones that cause me to feel the heavy sadness that I have carried for too long. One or two is a joy, they really give that feeling of shaking off the winter, we have made it through another one, the days are getting longer and the sun has a little more warmth in its rays. Even if a cold blast from the East arrives we know it won't last for long. There is a sense of hope in the air.
Then they start to gather a pace, every road is lined with their bonnets of gold. Every roundabout is packed tight like the mush pit at a heavy metal band's final gig. Loud, desperate heads bopping about in the hope of being noticed.
This may sound very miserable of me to be so ungrateful for these little rays of sunshine bringing so much joy to so many.
For me though they are an annual reminder of a time that has left its mark.
It was Easter Sunday and the hunt for chocolate eggs was getting very serious.
My young son was only four months old and so was not really fully appreciative of the importance of searching under pots, in old familiar hiding places.
In huge clumps of dancing blooms of daffodils.
Suddenly life changed. News had reached the family that my uncle had died on a daily run at the age of 31. My father is the eldest of eight, this was his baby brother, the one who should bury him. He was only a few years older than me, more of a big brother than a distant elderly uncle.
Of course death is part of life, eventually the reality set in and the arrangements and normal disagreements over songs and words took over our world for a while.
However like the daffodils fading and being replaced by the summer blooms, life started to return to a new normal. My son grew, he became the focus for hope and new beginnings.
Just as we don't forget the daffodils, life begins to grow bigger around the space now taken by grief.
As the autumn colours started to paint their beautiful scenes across the later part of the year's landscape, a new baby was on her way. My son had arrived on his due date late November as a carpet of snow silenced the world, so I never thought for a moment that birth could bring anything other than joy. I was young when I fell pregnant as the odd daffodils started to emerge but at that time they had not cast their spell. Or so I thought.
I suppose it was assumed that there would be a wedding.
I married at five months, at the church that I still had not committed to, I just accepted my future. My heart was not so sure.
My second pregnancy was just a pregnancy, I was a working mum with a toddler who was so busy. I was 40 weeks gone and my birthday came and went. I can remember unwrapping the pale peach duvet and saving it for when I come home in a week with my new baby. I had finished work so was getting things ready. Monday morning was my check up at the surgery so I drove my son and myself to the clinic. The midwife had delivered my son and looked after me through this one, she was a wonderfully kind person. I trusted her to know all was well.
After listening to the heartbeat for a while she suggested it was probably the time to get to the maternity hospital. I left the clinic and did what all mums to do, made sure my son was settled at a friend's house, went home, sorted out the washing and supper incase I was kept in. I called my father to give me a lift in to the hospital about three quarters of an hour away. We said goodbye neither really understanding what was ahead. I picked up my bag, I clearly remember the tiny packet of newborn nappies I had gone back for.
By the time I reached the maternity wing, passing many roundabouts of waving daffodils, life was standing still. I was taken to a waiting room and eventually a scan.
A nurse held my hand as she explained they were going to induce me. I was moved to the delivery suite in this busy maternity hospital. So many women with bumps.
A interval, a wait ,a silence. I looked out the large victorian window at the flowerbeds three floors down at the vast yellow carpet stretched out below. Being a spring baby myself, this colour had many memories associated with it, of anticipation, of a wish for something, even disappointment when the wrapping paper lay on the floor and the day was done for another year.
Midnight struck and the day I will always associate with my baby passed and a few moments went by and a new day begun. My perfect daughter was born but she didn't break the silence of the night with a cry of new life.
She lay still in the arms of the midwife.
It was a normal birth so the same procedures were followed, the afterbirth, the check, the concern. Still no sound, not from me nor my new baby as I stretched out my arms for her, I had a daughter, a perfect fully formed chunky baby. She was covered in the newborn dew but it laid on top as there was no need for it to be absorbed. She even had rosy apple cheeks, tiny chubby fingers that seemed to want to grasp mine. I uncurled them and placed mine in hers allowing them to curl around my finger.
They took her away for a while, to carry out checks they said. When she came back, the colour had drained from her sleeping face. She was tightly wrapped up with just her head on show. I remember it that she was wrapped in the softest of mohair, pure white, brand new for a new born. The truth is I believe it was a tired, hard towel. Clean of course but the whiteness long washed out. I wonder if they had a pile on the shelf for such occasions. I will stick with the softest of mohair.
It was the darkest of the night by now and there was a stillness in the room as I named my daughter Emily. It was not common practice then to know the gender before they arrived. So I only knew I had a daughter once she had died. However I had had Emily stuck in my head for a while, there was no hesitation as to whether I wanted to 'save the Name " because this was Emily that I was meeting now as the dawn started its warm glow on the horizon.
Suddenly there was a loud and urgent sound of feet running outside the stillness of the room.
The familiar cries of a woman in the final stages of labour filled the space. I was of course on the delivery ward so it was to be expected, that was not a problem. The heartache came when the now familiar silence descended around the place. So much noise from all involved in the room next door. Then nothing, no cry, no sound of joy , nothing. My tears ,also silent, flowed scared that another woman would feel this numbness that had engulfed me a few hours earlier.
Then suddenly the loudness of a new cry broke the spell.
I was now crying with joy for the family in the next room. It felt like the time that had elapsed had been hours but it was hardly a few minutes. Strangely it was to transpire that we vaguely knew of each other through a mutual friend and yet we never spoke then or in anytime in the years that have passed. However I have always quietly whispered Happy Birthday to Grace who was born that night, for a few moments each year wondered what has life brought her. I have always hoped it was one so filled with love and joy and she now has a family of her own. Daffodils I imagine for her mum have a very different meaning.
During the night the priest arrived upon the wishes of the father and carried out a baptism but he explained in his soft Irish accent that because she had died before baptism her soul would go to a place between heaven and hell. It was hoped that would be of some comfort.
To be honest it while he was splashing water on her tiny forehead that the bright light shining above his head exposed the realisation that he dyed his black hair. My thoughts were struggling with this new information and the realisation that someone so keen to enforce the rules was as vain as the rest of us. Little did I know at this point these words of comfort he said he was sharing would become a major element of my life as her father refused to accept the theology behind that statement. To this day he may well be struggling to find the truth for himself in order to find some peace. At last its not my business.
The clocks had changed the night before so dawn was a little later to arrive that morning but it was immaterial what a watch was telling me, the light was levels was increasing as I once again looked down at those flowerbeds and the glimmer of the new day was illuminating the petals of the spring bulbs once again but also the tiny still features of my daughter. They said they would leave us together until dawn.
Dawn arrived and so did my midwife who gently removed my baby from my arms and left the room. I am grateful for those precious hours I had. I am not even sure if it was plural to be honest. It could have been an hour or it could have been a lifetime but it was the final time we would have together. The last chance to feel her body, now outside of mine. I wished for her still to be inside kicking my ribs, turning somersaults, sleeping. Lets try again I thought maybe this time you will cry.
They had explained that tiny little soul would have to have a PM. I asked what is a PM, my mind still hoping she would wake soon and I could feed her. My breasts had got the message that they are required again to keep a little one alive and growing. They hadn't had the update.
So she was gone.
I packed the bag filled with nappies, babygrows and a little white cardi, because I was no longer required to take a space on the ward that welcomes new life. It was now early morning as I put on the maternity dress I had arrived in yesterday. Only yesterday, less than 24 hours ago, I was still a woman waiting. I suddenly noticed the polaroids that a nurse had given me last night of Emily. They didn't represent what I saw and for a while they scared me. In time they became so precious. I picked them up and put them in the bag.
The roundabout was still a mush pit of shouting daffodils.
There was a silence as I returned home walking pass the pots of yellow bulbs lining the doorway. I climbed under the peach duvet, my beautiful son, still a baby himself, snuggled against me and said he will look after me. No child should have to carry that responsibility.
By the time the funeral came the daffodils were thicker than ever, every grave presented with a bunch, every step of the walk from the car lined with yellow and green.
Daffodils fade and so does the sharp pain. I was told the loss of a baby was like like being handed a sharp flint and your hand closed around it. In the beginning it cuts you, gradually over time the continued rubbing of it will turn it into a smooth pebble that no longer causes pain but provides comfort.
Autumn is my favourite season, its one that means the world can tuck away for a while, its ok not to be beach ready, jumpers then coats are acceptable once again as regular attire. The world is a full of gentle colours that gradually fade and fall. Autumn represents that life can still happen but in a quieter fashion. It was the autumn again that a new baby started to grow.
Quietly through the winter great care was taken of us to ensure a safe outcome. Regular returns to the hospital with what seemed like buckets of urine being wired in and checked over. The snowdrops appeared and like a warm up act to the main event of spring, I held my breath.
My birthday came and went, a quiet affair, Emily's birthday was marked, Easter hunt organised for an excited son, chocolate munched.
The daffodils were in full bloom.
We had moved home and were staying at my parents while work was being done on the new house. I seem to like moving when in late pregnancy.
Mum had a garden that she had struggled with over the years to make it like the one in her mind but it was getting there now and the daffodils had centre stage with the front bed crammed full of their bright neon heads.
There was a knock at the door and a policeman stood with his head lowered. He asked if he could come in as he had news.
My younger sister, my only sister, my only sibling had been found dead in her room she rented while in her last year at University. She was gone and life was now dictated by the arrival of the daffodils. She was a week off her 21st Birthday. She had had an a diabetic hypo in her sleep. She was always a very organised type one diabetic since the age of 13. A couple of weeks before her death she had been changed from pig to human insulin.
This moment in time has meant life has struggled to be lived in a way that I imagine it has for others. We had lost the battle to keep each other safe so it seemed to me. Its now a case of waiting.
Each year when the yellow heads start to shout, life gets even quieter. Words are stopped from sharing, names not mention in case of tears. This is a moment that fear of daffodils appearing would mean one of us will go forever.
At her funeral the church was filled with stocks, their scent permeated the cold building crowded with so many faces there to support. Their faces showed the shock that was not possible to feel yet. Walking behind her coffin to the same graveyard to lay her next to her niece. The daffodils were again there with us, it was icy cold as we made our way through the gate but still the daffodils shone
Mum has stocks each year as a memory in the house on the anniversary. She needs that reminder of that day. Its a familiar comfort to her, the scent and colours of these blooms each year.
I had a another son born a week after my sister's 21st birthday, they refused to let me go full term so another induced labour on the same ward. A few years later another daughter, again induced, this time on my sister's actual birthday. Then a few years later my youngest daughter born in mid winter as the snowdrops arrive.
I feel snowdrops are innocent of their role in this Ancient Greek Tragedy.
This year my middle daughter handed me a bunch of daffodils from her own garden. I took them home and placed them in a blue and white Cornish mug and put them on the windowsill by the kitchen sink.
Each day I have watch them open, bloom and fade.
They are still there as I want to see their power over me diminish, they will soon be taken to the compost heap to carry on their return to the soil. For a few days more though I want them near to allow me the freedom I am feeling that they have no power to take anything away. In fact they also represent bringing joy. I have had two more Spring babies who have
brought nothing but joy into my life, I have a Spring granddaughter who makes me smile everyday as she grows more confident in her being.
Also I have hopefully many more Spring Birthdays to celebrate like the ones I see other Spring born do, loud, full on celebrations. Maybe watch out next year as I have many years of silent birthdays to make up for !
Maybe I do like Daffodils.