“Here was this beautiful little boy that I was suppose to raise and there I was trying to work out how I could squeeze a lifetime of memories into a few short hours. The grief was so heavy I couldn’t believe it was even possible to be in that much pain and still be alive.”
These are the words of Carly Marie, who at the age of 25, tragically experienced the stillbirth of her son Christian. Six years on, Carly explains why “time heals all wounds” is a myth and that it is what you do in that time that counts. Discover Carly’s profound gift that she uses to help other parents worldwide through their darkness.
You tragically experienced the stillbirth of your son Christian in 2007. What is your dominant memory of the initial period of grief?
When I think of that time in my life the most dominant memory that I have was the night times and how I yearned for him. Christian was born in the middle of the night and so each night I would relive the time that we had him with us. In that first year of grief, my night times were very ritualistic. I created an altar in memory of him in our home. I would burn candles each evening for him and I would play music. I was listening to a lot of Ben Harper at the time so hearing any song from his Both Sides Of The Gun album will send me straight back into that time. Even though we only had Christian with us for about 10 hours I have many memories of him. The one memory that is always in the forefront of my mind is when my midwife gave him to me to hold for the first time. The love that I felt at that very moment was indescribable. Here was this beautiful little boy that I was suppose to raise and there I was trying to work out how I could squeeze a lifetime of memories into a few short hours. The grief was so heavy I couldn’t believe it was even possible to be in that much pain and still be alive.
How has your grief changed over the years?
I guess you could say my grief has changed dramatically. At first I struggled to get out of bed and now, I struggle finding the time to get into bed. I have been through so many stages that I feel I have some sort of partnership with grief now. At first it was heavy and the disbelief that I had a child that had died was very prominent. Some days I still cannot believe that one of my children is not with us. Around the 18 month point the sunlight began to filter back into my life. Now, I am 6 1/2 years out from losing Christian and my grief is still there. I think it always will be there. If I were to stop grieving him, surely that would mean that I would have stopped loving him and clearly that is never going to happen. My grief has transformed. Time does not heal anything. That is a myth. It is what you do in that time that will change things for you. You have to make a conscious effort to heal. At first all I wanted was crawl under a rock and die but thankfully my first born daughter was there. I needed to heal for her and so I chose healing. But now I want more than that. I want to grow and learn, love and live my life to the fullest. I feel so thankful that I am being given the opportunity to grow a little older and wiser each day. It is a gift that so many of us are denied. My life is more beautiful than ever right now. I am in absolute awe and wonder of life and death now. It is all very magical to me. I feel that death is not an ending, just a transformation. Christian died so very young and for so long I questioned why he had to die before he got a chance to live. After some time of having this question eat away at me, I decided to give up on it because I will never truly understand in this life why he had to go and so wondering why serves me no good purpose at all. Once I let go of that question I believe I was set free from the heaviness of grief.
You have pursued many different paths of healing. What inspired Project Heal and the Seashore of Remembrance, and how have these helped you?
True healing began for me on August 19th 2008, about 19 months after Christian had been born. I dreamed that I saw him on the beach and that he was writing his name in the sand. In my dream, he was perfectly healthy and whole. The dream lit a fire in my heart and so I began a project called Christian’s Beach. Since that day in 2008 I have written over 17,700 babies and children’s names in the sand under sunsets at Mullaloo Beach in Perth Western Australia. I have received requests from bereaved parents from all over the world. After speaking and sharing my story with so many people from across the globe, I realized that I needed put my experience together into a website for others to read and so Project Heal is now a guide for those who are walking the road of baby loss. It is filled with community projects and events and ways to heal and grow from your experience
I am always exploring new ways of expressing my grief through my art and photography at the beach and so a few years ago I opened my Memorial Art Website called The Seashore of Remembrance. All of my artwork there is to honour the lives of people who have passed away at any age or gestation.
Being able to share my experience, artwork and photography has played a such an important role in my healing. It has helped me connect to my son and learn more about myself and who I am becoming, not only as an artist but as a mother and a woman. It also gives my son a legacy which will mean that his life will touch the hearts of others and that he will never be forgotten and that is all that I could hope for.
You also write for Still Standing Magazine and are involved in The STILL Project, a documentary film project committed to breaking the silence about pregnancy loss and infant death. Why is it so important to speak out and connect with others in similar situations?
When Christian died, it felt as if somebody had come and abducted us in the middle of the night, taken us out into the desert, pushed us out of their moving car and then tossed a note out of the window that just said “Good Luck”. We were left on our own in the middle of nowhere, with no idea how we would get back home. We were lost and we felt so alone. I later found out that my grandmother had suffered through the loss of multiple children. 3 stillborn babies and 3 babies that she miscarried including twins. My beautiful nan lived a very tragic life and having her husband taken as a prisoner of war in Burma for 4 years, she was left to grieve in silence on her own. She never spoke of them. It broke my heart to think that she never even named her precious children who left too soon. She took her silence to her grave.
Christian dying opened up so many conversations with my friends and family and I could not believe the number of people that I knew who had either suffered the same kind of loss or knew someone who did. I thought my story was rare because nobody speaks about the babies that die before they are born, they are seen as sad circumstances rather than human beings. People don’t have to suffer in silence like this anymore. Why do we have to be quiet on death? Everybody dies. It doesn’t matter what your age is. There is no escaping it. I sometimes wonder if the death of babies is just too tragic to speak about and so people just close up and pretend it doesn’t happen so that they do not have to deal with it. The truth is most people are afraid of upsetting the parents who have suffered the loss. You don’t have to come up with something that will fix the person. There is nothing you can say that will heal this kind of hurt. But what you can do is ask your friend or family member about their baby. You can ask them that if they would like to share about their baby then you are there and ready to LISTEN to them. If you don’t know what to say, tell your friend that. Just let them know that you are here for them. Most of the time people just want someone to listen to them anyway.
Writing for Still Standing Magazine is a complete honour for me. The writers there are so beautifully brave and they along with all the readers are working to break the silence surrounding the death of babies so that people will not suffer in silence anymore. My friend Franchesca is the editor of the magazine and if it wasn’t for her beautiful daughter Jenna Belle, the magazine would not exist. These babies that die leave such incredible legacies, just like Elena’s legacy – The STILL Project. This film will be such a gift to not only to the 1 in 4 people who will experience the loss of a baby but the 3 in 4 who won’t. It will be an honest and raw look at what it is like to suffer such a loss. If people can begin to understand the loss of a baby without having to experience it, this will break down a lot of walls in society and mourning the loss of a baby will be accepted because it will be more understood. It is all about love, compassion, education and acceptance.
If you could whisper words of comfort to newly bereaved parents of babies, what would you say?
I would say, I am so sorry that this has happened to you, it is so cruel and unfair but know that you are not alone in this. There are so many people out there who understand your pain. It is okay to feel whatever you are feeling. Do whatever helps to comfort your own heart. Don’t be afraid to seek help from others, whether it is professional counselling or friendship from those who truly understand your pain. The Internet is filled with amazing charities and organizations that have groups of people for you to talk to and you do not even have to leave the comfort of your home. My hope for you is that within time you will begin to see the light again and that you will find the many gifts that your child’s life has left for you and will continue to leave for you. Your baby may not be here anymore but just like all the babies that are born healthy and alive your baby is a miracle and a gift to you and this Earth.
And lastly, how has Christian’s brief life shaped the person you are today?
My life is filled with so many crazy wonderful and heartfelt experiences because of my son. Since Christian died, I have met the most beautiful people from all over the world. The path that Christian has opened up for me is so incredibly awe inspiring. I have no idea where it is taking me and I love that. I am eternally grateful for his short life here on Earth. He has and is teaching me so many things. I get asked so often, if I could go back in time would I erase his loss from my past, so that I would not know such heartache. I would never choose to do that. Having him for one day was worth all the pain and heartache that followed and although he is not here physically to grow with me, I am still his mother and I always will be. Nothing can ever change that. He didn’t get to live his life here on Earth, so I am living this life not only for me but for him too.
For more information, visit carlymarieprojectheal.com