I’ve just arrived in Chiang Mai after 5 days in Sukhothai. This was the first capital of the Siam empire and now a UNESCO world heritage city.
I booked myself into a really nice hotel-bungalows set in beautiful gardens with a pool.
My sense of unreality, first experienced in Bangkok, is clearing somewhat. As I walked around the old temples, took shade under one bodhi tree more beautiful than the next and stood in awe of enormous Buddha statues, the reality of all this beauty hit me. It’s overwhelming and I felt my heart open and ache.
I turned 41 on my second day there- hence the nice hotel. I spent it relaxing by the pool, listening to the multiple birds singing, followed by a truly amazing Thai massage and a delicious dinner.
I kept thinking about this time last year: I was 31 weeks pregnant and basically waiting for my son to die-he was extremely growth restricted and I had taken the impossible decision a few weeks earlier not to have an extremely premature birth.
For two days before my birthday, and on the day itself, I had stomach flu. I called a doctor, only to have a surreal conversation about how my baby’s growth would be affected by my stomach flu. I didn’t have the energy to explain that the bigger issue was my traitorous placenta.
That was my 40th birthday. My only celebration on the day was my friend and her son coming round with bananas and white bread-the only things I could keep down.
Exactly two weeks later, my son was stillborn.
My grief has manifested in many different ways. It’s hard to miss a person you only knew for 33 weeks. It’s even harder when you didn’t actually see them until they were dead- though I half count the weekly scans I ended up having.
My grief for a life never lived is hard to explain. It manifests in strange ways: watching Stormzy headline Glastonbury and thinking about how proud his mum must be. Reading Gary Younge’s last column in the Guardian, in which he writes so beautifully about his mother. And watching Andre Gray (a footballer) explain his massive back tattoo, with some great figures of Black History represented.
All these things made me sob. I miss being insanely proud of my son. I miss watching his little mind grow, seeing what direction it would take him in. I miss making sure he was incredibly proud of his heritage, teaching him about all the different cultures he came from.
I miss knowing whether he liked spicy food-he would swim around a lot in my belly when I ate it. I miss knowing whether he liked reggae-he moved more gracefully when I listened to it (grime made him kick me!). I miss teaching him to cook, I miss watching my mother and sister teaching him to cook (and so much more). And selfishly, I miss feeling his love for me. I miss being a mother to a living child.
All of this played on my mind whilst I was in Sukhothai. On my second day of wandering around the temples-this time on a bike- I broke down in front of this statue.
It was so beautiful, so peaceful, just me, the birds and trees and this beautiful Buddha. I was moved to tears because I wanted to share it with Jamil. But then I remembered that he’s the only reason I’m here. I promised his little sleeping body I would overcome my fear. I am, despite the incredible pain, so grateful for my son. He’s the reason I’m in the midst of all this beauty and his and my father’s deaths have brought me more insight than anything else.
As I sat on the bus north, I listened to a series of talks by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun. I am gaining so much insight at the moment, I don’t know if it’s because of my grief and determination for Jamil’s death to mark a change in me, or because I’m surrounded by Buddhist thinking and culture. It’s probably because of all those things, plus travelling alone and spending most of my time alone with my thoughts!