A Letter of Thanks to the Biochemist Who Said My Daughter’s Name
You probably don’t even remember this moment:
My first day back and the world a strange, naked place, like a room lit by a light without a shade; too bright, too sharp on the eyes. I almost didn’t, couldn’t come in, knowing that the world would have changed, or worse, that the world would have stayed the same, yet everything in my life had changed. I caught the eye of a colleague in the car park and half smiled, half lifted a hand to wave but they rushed on, almost running away, they couldn’t bear the thought of being that close to death, to acknowledging every parent’s nightmare, to speaking to the embodiment of fear that I had become. Then minutes later, in the corridor, another colleague sped away out the stairs. There were the reception staff: kind, smiling, jovial, Welcome back I think a hug. Then the cloak room, the bustle of thick coats and scarves with so little room to move and my old locker, just the same as when I’d left it, when I went off on maternity leave. Just the same! As if nothing had changed at all, as if I had just closed it; its key hanging like a sad signpost. I tried to hang my coat and put my bag away but my hands were shaking. Then some people came with tentative smiles: good to see you back. I was trying to build myself up, to armour myself for that first exposure: to walk past the rest room where people would look at me – the lady whose baby had died, coming back like an apparition of herself – and knowing that some people would not know what to say, would feel awkward, would avoid me, and wondering about lunch and how to be with people and wanting to tear myself back in time to be with my daughter, to just fold back down into nothing, to die, to do anything except be the centre of attention, the gossip, the horror story in that place. And then there you were. You walked right in, right up to me, and said her name. You must have asked it from someone, remembered it: I’m so sorry that Matilda died, I can’t imagine what that must be like, can I hug you? and she did. Then she asked to see photos, and when she did this, when she said this, it was like a door had been unlocked and other people filed through, taking her lead, expressing their sorrow, saying my daughter’s name, looking at her pictures.
Thank you, I can’t remember your name, you weren’t from my department, but you changed that moment, that moment of many, many terrible ones, into something bearable, for me and for them. Thank you.