Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Letter To The Son Of The Boy With The Outy Belly Button

Dear Dylan

Can you believe that after all that pfaffing around with Google maps this morning and all that stressing about whether it was better to go along Anzac Parade or Malabar Rd I was actually a whole twenty minutes early? Twenty minutes early, that's some kind of record for me. Usually I'm at least five minutes late for these kinds of things and actually, one time, at a very good friend's wedding C and I were so late we only just managed to make the "I do" moment. And I was meant to be making a speech at the reception. But then that was a few years back now, so maybe I've learned something.

I thought your aunties were looking very beautiful today. And your grandma too in that embroidered blouse.

And your parents...

I remember your dad when he was just a little boy. Our families were all in the Royal Australian Air Force, so that meant we all got posted to different places every few years. But for some reason, your dad's family was often posted to the same places as my family, and so we would see each other fairly regularly over the years. Me and my two younger sisters were older than your aunties and your dad was the baby of the lot, at least until my youngest sister K was born.

The Place We Were All In that sticks most clearly in my memory was Penang, Malaysia.

In my mind I can see your grandmother making the kids sandwiches and giving us the choice of vegemite, peanut butter or a miraculous gourmet cocktail of the two, which from memory was both salty and sweet.

Malaysia gave up many more culinary delights, and there were plenty of shared family dinners, and it was the late seventies and early eighties so there were also things like 'steamboat' which was a sort of communal soup pot where you cook your own chunks of meat. And 'fondue,' and my dad's infamous disco parties with the aluminium foil stuck on the walls to reflect the coloured lights, and then your grandmother's famous cakes (sponge and fruit), but in my mind it's the vegemite-and-peanut-butter-sandwiches that we ate with your dad and his big sisters that seems to sum us up.

We weren't related at all but we called your grandparents 'aunty' and 'uncle' and your dad and his sisters did the same with my parents. So that made us like cousins. We were as different as vegemite and peanut butter, but we made a hell of a good sandwich.

I was the eldest with all the authority that entailed. I remember once pointing out your dad's belly button to the rest of the girls and instructing them rather grandly that the reason his belly button was an 'outy' was because it was the stump of his umbilical cord and it hadn't fallen off yet. I think he was three at the time. Sadly for my authority your grandmother overheard and interjected, her raucus laughter no doubt stunting my potential medical career at the age of ten.

It was probably hard being the only boy, and the youngest of this gang of girls, but your dad managed pretty well. It probably helped that he was a cutie, with his blonde hair and blue eyes and long eyelashes. Now that we're all grownups he's the only one that still calls me Professor which was what his dad used to call me. I don't really know why, it's not like I was particularly brainy or had a wild mop of white hair or anything like that. Although now that I think back to that time, I did have a chemistry lab set up in the back part of that house. So maybe that was it. It certainly couldn't have been my know-all attitude.

Anyway what I'm saying is that I look at your dad and though he's quite the grownup now, I still see that little blonde boy with the blue eyes and long eyelashes.

And why I think it hurt just that much more seeing him carrying you in your tiny white coffin today.

His face was tense and slightly crumpled like he was holding back all the pain and sorrow of the last two weeks and though your coffin must have been light, I could see the weight of all that pain, on him and on your mother walking beside him.

There was a lovely knitted rug and some blue tulle and a little blue bear where your coffin sat, before all the sad bewildered people who had gathered today. There was a framed photograph of you in a blue knitted hat, your eyes shut tight. For two days your brave mother carried you within her, knowing that you had died, and then labouring to bring you into the world so that she and your dad and your heartbroken family could hold you for the first and last time and say their goodbyes. Your gift to her: a beautiful, perfect birth.

And I never knew you, tiny little boy. I never even saw your mother pregnant and because we all lead busy lives I didn't hear from your grandmother about how the pregnancy was progressing, nothing until that shocking message last week to say that you had died. And then, my sisters and I, calling each other, confused, trying to work out how old you were, how many months was she, was she due, what happened?

What happened?

Your parents agreed to an autopsy if it would help another baby, another mother and father.

But they may never know.

You were 36 weeks. You were breech. Your heartbeat stopped.

Here's what I learned about you today. You had tiny beautifully curled fingers. You travelled in your mother's belly to South America. Your father like to play 'kick boxing' with you through the wall of her abdomen. Your mother said you were perfect. Your father called you my little man. Your birth was miraculously easy.

I think you would have been so proud of them today, their dignity, their grace. The two of them, strong and stable, like an island in that huge ocean of tears. When I hugged your dad, I couldn't help saying it's not fair and he smiled sadly at me and hugged me back and said thanks for coming Professor, it means a lot that you're here.

Afterwards at the cup of tea and cakefest, I couldn't help thinking about this beautiful family you were born into but had to leave. They believe in God, your family, and this gives them an incredible strength and peace. They are such good people. They care about others and they help out wherever it's needed and they put themselves at the end of the queue and it seems inconceivable to me that they should suffer in this way.

I get very angry, I said to them as we sipped our tea and munched on your grandmother's special fruit cake, with you know who and I pointed to the ceiling. Because so many.. I mouthed the next word to your aunties fucked things seem to have happened to you. They nodded. It was true. But your grandmother hugged me and said she always remembered her fridge magnet that said: God only gives me what he knows I can handle, I just wish he didn't trust me so much. Wry smiles all round.

But they know they'll see you again.

It was time to go and your grandmother pressed something heavy into my bag. It was an enormous slab of fruit cake. I made extra, she whispered at me.

I kissed your dad and your mum and your grandfather and aunties and uncles and your grandmother goodbye. It's so sad, said one of your aunties, that we only see you at events like this.

Well we should get together, I said, we should make the time, when we come to Newcastle next.

Your grandmother was pleased at the thought.

And I know just what we'll have, she said. I'll make a steamboat.

As I waved goodbye, I thought of my own family, and my 36 week baby, now a nearly two year old, waiting for me at home with his daddy.

And about love and about grief and about childhood and vegemite-and-peanut-butter-sandwiches.

And about the miraculous gourmet cocktail that is parenthood. Both salty and sweet.

Goodbye baby Dylan.



DD said...

My sympathies to your friends and their families.

Anonymous said...

oh, OG, this just has me in a crumple of tears. These moments of life and death will never make sense to me.
Sending much peace to your friend.

Unknown said...

Saying goodbye is so very difficult, even to those we almost knew. I hope you give this posting to his parents.

Betty F said...

What a wonderful letter for Dylan. How beautifully worded. I could see you all playing as children. How awful to loose a child. How strong your friends must be. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful letter with so many.

Betty M said...

I'm sorry for your friends' loss. Your letter was beautiful.

MsPrufrock said...

What a wonderful letter. I'm sorry for your friends' loss. I can't even begin to imagine.

Anna said...

a beautiful memorial to dylan and his family.

Anonymous said...

you are, hands down, one of the best writers I have ever read.

And I read a lot.

A lovely, lovely goodbye.

Em said...

What a lovely tribute. So very sorry for your friends.

Anonymous said...

Oh my. Oh dreadfully tragic and sad, but what a beautiful letter came from that sorrow.

Mima said...

You write so beautifully to express such awful sadness, and so recently after your last try which must feel like a bereavement to you, but one that is not shared by everyone else in such a public way. My thoughts are with your friends, and obviously with you. Thank goodness for Tricky to remind us all of the good things.

Grit said...

this is so sad, and we are so very fortunate.

Linda said...

Oh. *Oh.* My deepest sympathies and prayers to your friends. And my tears, too.

Bon said...

oh, tears. this is so rich, with all that would have been waiting for Dylan to know and to taste.

if you haven't already...send it to his dad. it would have meant the world to me, i can tell you honestly.

Maggie May said...

Deeply sad!