The 20-week scan had revealed that our second baby would be a boy. The first phone call when we got home was to my mother-in-law, who I'd never met in person but I had felt her care and compassion through the text messages that we exchanged regularly. My partner phoned from his mobile to her mobile, but the wrong person answered. And the sounds of wailing swept through our house.
After a seemingly minor illness, my mother-in-law’s condition had suddenly worsened and she had died that morning. She died on the day our baby became our son-to-be, the joy of that impending birth would now always be tied to the sense of another loss, the start of one mother-son relationship, coinciding with the end of another.
Much of the next few days were taken up with phone calls from country to country. My partner's grief was happening in a language that I couldn't understand, but his pain and suffering could be seen and felt. He couldn't return for the funeral which was another long day of phone calls. He was tortured by thoughts of whether he had done enough – had he stayed in touch as much as he could have? Had he sent enough money back home to try and ease some of the hardships of her life? Should he have gone back home more often? should he have ever left?
It became very important to him that the rituals and ceremonies of death were followed properly, including ones that some of his friends here had long forgotten or never known. The differences between us, which had lessened over time, suddenly seemed significant again. And there was now a hole in our family network that couldn't be filled. My role seemed uncertain. How do you support the grief of your partner for their mother who you have never met? How do help your children feel love and connection with a grandmother who would never be more than a photograph to them. The only thing I had of my mother-in-law, my children's grandmother, were the most recent text messages I had received from her on my mobile phone. I typed them up and printed out the short list. The last message from her thanked us for the clothes we had recently sent and she said how happy she felt every morning to see them hanging in her room.
I recently found that mobile phone again and wondered if her text messages would appear if I turned it on.