The following is a chapter from Lizzie’s book ‘Saltwater & Honey’ which she is currently working on.
“I’m pregnant!” I whisper to my brother. His eyes respond with wide-eyed excitement, congratulating me with a silent ‘yay!’ The vicar stands to start the service and all eyes are forced forward, resting on the coffin at the front of the crowded chapel. Even in death my grandmother can still unite the family. My brother nudges me, holding up varying numbers of fingers, ‘how long?’ He mouths. “Six weeks”. I whisper to him. He puts his arm around me, squeezing me closer as my aunt stands to read from the Bible. I try to listen but struggle to focus on the words that speak of a life beyond this one when my body’s preparing for new life right now, she returns to her seat and the vicar guides us through some prayers. The family fills the chapel, blonde and a few strawberry blonde heads bowing forward, shoulders clothed in black carrying the loss of their beloved mother and grandmother.
It was a day loaded with meaning – travelling back down south for my grandmother’s funeral bringing with me the good news of new life. It felt as though I’d been chosen to represent new hope to my family in their grief, my thoughts jumping back and forth between the life we were mourning and the new one that was growing inside me. I had plans; turning the spare room into a nursery, cute baby names, what kind of mother I’d be, how having a baby wouldn’t stop us from being adventurous. Of course I had questions too, like how are we going to afford it? Is childbirth as painful as people say? Who do I tell? What about work? What if the baby has my pinhead and Dave’s big nose?
My uncle stands to share some memories of my grandmother, his voice crumbling when he recounts the sacrifices she made to feed and clothe a family of four. My cousin then steps forward, talking about the plum tree at the bottom of her garden and the alcohol soaked trifle she would serve at family parties. My brother and I both smile remembering our first experience of real alcohol from the sherry drenched sponge lining the big cut glass bowl filled with fruit, jelly and mountains of whipped cream. It was always the crowning glory of every meal at her house, placed with pride in the centre of the dining table on the lace patterned table cloth. As my cousin continues to share his stories of visits to grandma’s house, the recent memories of her absent conversations and deep confusion are quickly replaced with images of summers spent in her garden, early autumn picking plums from the tree and the dining table heavy with food. This is how I want to remember her, not the lady whose mind had been claimed by dementia. The final goodbyes are made and I look down at my lap as the coffin disappears through the plush red curtains at the front of the chapel – I hate that bit. I can never look. It’s so final.
Standing in the low-ceilinged church hall after the service I feel distant from those around me. They are here to say goodbye, to grieve, to remember, but I hold a secret. A secret that’s the size of a pea at the moment but one that’s life changing. I make small talk with distant relatives I barely know but seem to know an uncomfortable amount of detail about me. The food is laid out and a swarm of silver-haired women all 5ft and below gather around the buffet table, blocking the beige banquet of sausage rolls and egg sandwiches from the rest of the funeral party. The sherry is then poured and the women move in unison to grab their free drink, skilfully balancing a paper plate laden with cold pastries in one hand and a small glass of sherry in the other. Spotting my opportunity I quickly break off my conversation, grab a paper plate and fill it with sausage rolls, crisps and a token cherry tomato before the silver army of tiny yet determined ladies returned for second helpings – I’m eating for two now! I grab another sausage roll just to be on the safe side and leave the buffet table to make small talk with more relatives. I move in and out of conversations, but struggle to concentrate, it’s only been 48 hours since I found out I was pregnant and my mind is occupied with thoughts of motherhood. The contrast between the new life within me and the death of my grandmother didn’t clash though, we were celebrating the end of a long life. A life that had been lived, one that had brought new life into this world, reminding me of life’s resilience, its longevity and productivity.
At this point, I have to confess this baby was not planned, we hadn’t even been married a year as my mum pointed out as soon as I told her the news. The previous week I’d been lying in bed telling Dave how strange my body felt and that I was really worried I could be pregnant. I didn’t feel ready to be a mother, I was enjoying being married and wasn’t sure I really wanted to share this life with a small person quite yet but something has changed over the last 48 hours. I’ve fallen in love with the life inside me and the person I’m becoming. Mother Nature is now running through my veins, transforming me, making me feel more feminine, more alive. It’s like I’ve jumped into a film script where I’m playing the lead for once in my life. I love the attention from my family, I love the focus on my new role, the lead role of bringing a healthy baby into this world. I’ve no idea how we’ll afford it, this was the second thing my mum pointed out to me, but it doesn’t matter, we’ll work something out. We’ll be that young couple with a baby who are romantically poor, wearing scruffy clothes and hair styles that look like we don’t care but actually make us look cool and really attractive. We’ll go camping for our holidays and spend afternoons making things rather than spending a fortune on going to theme parks and National Trust properties, We’ll become an inspiration to those parents who waited until they had savings, a family car and a home near a good school.
I saw blood before we left for the station. But told no one. I was trying to enjoy my moment, the excited voices talking about plans for the next nine months and beyond until my dad pulls into the station car park and he and mum step out the car for hugs and goodbyes. Both of them tired from the emotion of the day but excited about the news I’d shared with them. I pass through the ticket gate with instructions ringing round my head – telling me to look after myself, get Dave to do more housework, eat well, get lots of rest. I step onto the busy train, squeezing past passengers trying to force their cases into the remaining empty spaces on the overhead luggage rack, managing to find my seat just before the train pulls away from the station. Pain slowly begins to creep through my body, clawing at my stomach forcing me to sit bent forward until eventually I’m doubled over, my forehead resting on my knees, bringing with it a single focus – I have to get home. Nothing else matters -the funeral, my family, the day that’s passed have all disappeared, the disinterested passengers on the train blurring into the Sussex countryside.
Somehow I’m at Euston. I don’t know how, but I’m here and I’m focused. Boarding the train for Chester, my eyes spot the first available seat and I collapse into it. The other passengers are bustling around me, coats and bags brush past me sat curled up in my own tiny world. The train lunges forward and we’re on our way. My chosen posture, bent over with my head pressing into my knees is failing to ease the pain that is now dragging itself through my body. I want to lie down, I want to curl up, I want to cry out but I know this is not the place to do it. I glance over to the toilet cubicle, if I can just get to it. Maybe I will feel better.
I couldn’t make it to the toilet, instead I’m curled up on the floor, incredibly thankful that the cubicle has just been cleaned. I’ve never seen the toilet floor of a Pendolino as clean as this one, although I can’t imagine a dirty floor would have made any difference. Lying there, my right cheek pressed against the floor, my arms pulling my knees into my body, eyes fixed on the door willing people to stay away. I call Dave. I tell him I’m there’s blood, I’m in pain and I need him to meet me at the station. He has questions but I can’t answer them, fearful that providing him with too much information will force us to acknowledge what’s happening.
I lie there for the rest of the journey. An hour and a half on the toilet floor trying not to think until I eventually feel the train slowing down in its approach to the station accompanied by a voice over the tannoy announcing our arrival at Chester. Grabbing onto the sink next to me I pull myself up, catching my reflection in the mirror, my right cheek bright red from pressing into the floor for so long. I lean on walls and hold onto head rests until I find my bags and am finally off the train. I walk slowly, shuffling along the platform, eyes fixed on the pavement with no care for what I must look like. The passengers walking past dissolve into the fog surrounding me as I slowly progress towards my goal. Through the ticket barrier that was thankfully left open, my feet moving slowly, pain rising in my throat. I see Dave. Relief. I let him rush towards me. He’s talking at me, taking my bags with ease, his body full of life and strength. He places his hand on the base of my back, gently guiding me towards the car. We drive past our house and straight to the out of hours doctor who confirms I’m miscarrying, forcing us into a world we know nothing about and slamming the door behind us. Leaving us alone with a box of ibuprofen and the news that what’s just happened is very common.
Before the sun set on the day of my Grandmother’s funeral another life had ended, another heartbeat had stopped. But the doctor confirming this death did not share his condolences, people did not gather to acknowledge the life that existed. We returned home from the doctor’s surgery alone. After what felt like hours on the toilet, I saw the remains of the life that had shared my body and watched as I flushed it away before going back downstairs to Dave. That night we sat on the sofa in our pyjamas and ate cheese on toast, eventually taking ourselves upstairs to bed with the hope that sleep might fill the void created by today’s events. The next day we got up and went to work. On the outside nothing, but on the inside we were changed. Woken abruptly from the slumber of innocence.