Yesterday, taking a photo of the cat having a cuddle on my lap. One of many such photos that I spam my Instagram followers with. Typing the caption: “…having a cuddle with…”. Before I had a chance to type the cat’s name, the predictive text suggested ‘Hugo’.
A slap around the face. It stopped me in my tracks.
There is nothing in the world I want more than a cuddle with Hugo. To feel his warm little body, his chubby fists, smell his wonderful baby smell.
But I cannot.
The predictive text suggestion felt like a taunt. Salt in the wounds.
It is not, I know: it is based on algorithms, picked up from other posts, tweets about me cuddling Hugo.
That knowledge does not stop the sobs.
Grief, a mother’s visceral desire to cuddle her son does not know rational thought.
Technically, the cat is not ours. She belongs to a neighbour, but has adopted us as her own. We do not mind; we love animals, and the cat is the willing and grateful recipient of all our pent-up love and affection.
As beautiful, affectionate, entertaining and loving as she is, she is no replacement for my baby.
Today, another slap.
Feeling hungry, a good sign I am recovering from a vomiting bug that started a few days ago. We – Martin and I – venture to a local sandwich shop for a treat for lunch. I have not left the house since the bug started, and the glorious sunshine and spring-like feel to the air makes the short walk extra special.
Arriving at the sandwich shop, seeing the lady who runs the shop standing at the door with her baby. A beautiful, dark-haired boy baby born just a couple of weeks before Hugo should have arrived.
I smile a brief hello at the lady, seeing the brief look of puzzlement on her face that I have not stopped to admire her baby.
We choose our sandwiches, and wait to pay. I can hear the baby happily gabbling away at the sights of the street outside. Tears prick my eyes. Martin sees, says he will deal with the transaction. I pass proud mum and happy baby to leave.
She must think me strange, or rude. But I cannot explain: that she has her baby in her arms and I do not is not her fault. I do not want to spoil her moment of pride. More customers will soon come through the door and coo over the baby and I will be forgotten, I am sure.
Standing in the sunshine, trying to focus on its comforting warmth. The tears flow, and my words are choked as I explain to Martin what he knows, of course. That this baby, with his head of dark hair and of a similar age to our son, looks like how Hugo should look.
I know these unexpected stings will continue throughout our lives. Shadows of what should have been, spectres of what we have lost.
Shadows at the obvious times: the milestones like birthdays, Christmas, starting school. These can be prepared for. So can the expected ones, such as little boys the same age as Hugo should be playing in the park. To an extent.
I dread that one day one of these children will have dark hair. They will be defiant, not behaving, wanting to do their own thing, in their own way, in their own time. Their parent will call “Hugo!”.
This situation will feel not so much a slap around the face as a full-on Glasgow kiss.
That is a situation that happens in my head, of course. My grief-brain making up all sorts of awful scenarios.
My rational brain knows that situation might not ever happen. But it also knows that strange things, bad things can, and do, happen.
Those who are more experienced in their grief tell me these slaps around the face will lessen in intensity. The signs will still be there of course, but over time the stings will feel less acute, perhaps even fading into an imperceptible nod.
Maybe. But at the moment I need those stings. The masochistic side of grief.
My loss is raw, my anger at the unfairness of the world is raging.
These constant slaps in the face are metaphorical, but their sting feels no less than if they were real.