Yesterday it was my first child Maia Lily’s birthday. If she’d lived, she would have been nine years old now. Every year, we do something a little different to commemorate her birth. It’s never a happy day, but at least it has a more uplifting beat to it than her death day. Rather than focus on mourning, we try and do feel-good things. It is nearly Christmas, after all.
It helps that Maia shares her birthday with Jane Austen and Beethoven, and so I choose to believe that Maia would have been artistically gifted. It is a comforting fantasy. On what would have been her first birthday, we went to see Beethoven’s ninth symphony in Minneapolis, and the grand finale, ‘Ode to Joy’, was simply the most beautiful sound I had ever heard; I felt like I could cope with anything when I heard that.
The feeling didn’t last, of course. Because we’ve moved around so much, we have never done the same thing every year, and it seems we are constantly creating memorials to Maia, all of them different. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. One year, when Daisy was three, we made Maia a ‘birthday hat’: it was a tall, white metal cone, cut with stars and diamond shapes, and we covered it with sparkly stickers and a glittering lily. I put a single tea light on a saucer and put Maia’s birthday hat over it, and it made me feel strangely happy. Having Daisy involved in remembering her sister’s birthday made it very special.
Another year, we took some toys to a children’s hospital, but were brushed aside by the staff who didn’t know Maia’s story and were too busy to hear it, so it felt like a hollow gesture, somehow. The key is in having Maia recognised and acknowledged – it doesn’t take much. If I get even one phone call or a card from a friend, I feel profoundly grateful.
This year was a good year, and it is partly because we have finally settled in Falmouth; we won’t be moving anywhere for some time, and people we have met, often only briefly, now know Maia’s story. Like Gina, a play specialist at Treliske hospital in Truro. We had been to Treliske for several tests with Daisy, including one for cystic fibrosis. (After a few awful weeks, we recently found out it was normal.) Daisy was so anxious on these visits that they introduced us to Gina, who gave Daisy much-needed attention and a little toy dalmatian, Lucky. Seeing Daisy so cared for, I was touched, and seeing the cupboard full of toys for children who spend birthdays and Christmas in hospital made me think we could help replenish supplies on Maia’s birthday every year. I told Gina all about her.
A few weeks later, we arrived at the hospital on December 16th and were ushered into a private room. When Gina came in, she gave us a card. She not only acknowledged Maia’s birthday, she’d actually spent time thinking about what words might bring comfort, and she’d also had the idea of creating a permanent commemorative plaque to my daughter. The conversation lasted all of five minutes. It was just what I needed.