But Now I See

July 12, 2013

As a child, one of my favourite fairy stories was Hans Christian Andersen’s, ‘The Snow Queen.’ The story opens with a tale within a tale, a short segment nested opening the more well-known drama. In it, a wicked imp makes a mirror that distorts everything shown in it. It causes all that is good and beautiful to be reflected as poor and mean. To make matters worse, the imp’s mirror is subsequently shattered and pieces of his glass fly about the world. Some become lodged in people’s eyes, where they stay, distorting everything that they see. Some fly into people’s hearts which then become likes lumps of ice.

There is something about this small, opening story that haunts me. When I was a child, the notion that an outside influence could change the way that I perceived the world was something that disturbed me greatly. That what I once saw as beautiful and kind could come, by some chance, to seem ugly and cruel. In recent years, something about the mirror and its perception altering qualities have come to strike a different chord within me.

As I watched my daughter die, I felt something shatter on the linoleum floor of the hospital ward. Sometimes I feel that it was me that broke into bits, sometimes I feel it was my world view, my certainties, my preconceptions, everything that I thought that I knew and understood.

I will never perceive the world in the same way again. However, unlike the pieces of the imp’s mirror in the fairy tale, I don’t feel my vision has been distorted. It is only now, that I see. With a sharp shard of glass stuck in my heart, making certain that I am awake, that I notice the glory. Silly things, that used to occupy my entire field of vision, money, appearances, work worries, shrunk down to their proper size. Not so small as to be no bother at all but it has stopped them looming over me as they used to.

I used to think that beautiful and terrible were two discrete entities. That what was beautiful could never be cruel. That the imp’s mirror in the story was a horrible trick. However, as I watched my daughter’s body slowly fail her, there was a perfect congruency, as the two seemingly disparate elements drew together and overlapped perfectly in that one tiny person. Never have I seen such beauty, those little hands, that small face, those blue eyes that looked about.

But her death was terrible. I hoped, against all hope and reason, that it would not happen. That the doctors were wrong, that some medical marvel would occur and that she would survive.

I was terrible in my own helplessness. All that love that sloshed about so fearfully in my chest but could achieve nothing for her, could not help her. Could do nothing at all apart from to sit and watch and tell that I loved her so, over and over again.

Once beautiful and terrible become indistinguishable, everything looks different. My living children appear sharply in focus, my gratitude for their beating hearts, their sturdy limbs. My own life, so long and so very lucky, up until that point.

After she died, I briefly hated insects, plants, anything that was alive. How dare they still be here, living and growing and buzzing about annoyingly, when she was dead? But now, I marvel at them. Their quick eager growth, which I wanted so much for my daughter, seems miraculous. So much so that I can scarcely bear to see it. But I do. Now I truly see.

Do you see things differently now?

  • Catherine

    My name is Catherine and I am honoured to have been asked to contribute to this amazing project. In 2008, I was thrilled to find myself pregnant with twin girls, a wonderful surprise. Sadly, my daughters arrived extremely prematurely at 23 weeks gestation. Despite the heroic efforts of many medical professionals, my eldest twin, Georgina, did not survive her early birth and passed away in the arms of her parents at three days old. We miss her terribly. Her younger sister, Jessica, spent three months in intensive care and a further month in a special care nursery before coming home to us at last. I write about my experiences of neonatal loss, premature birth, the NICU and raising a surviving twin at my blog, Between The Snow and The Huge Roses. I am also a regular contributor to the online community Glow in the Woods. I am endlessly grateful for the support and comfort I have received from the online community and I hope that I can help other parents, walking along this difficult path.

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