One night I dreamt I visited Santorini. I didn’t know what it was called then – just that it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Closer to the sky, it seemed god-touched. The azure blue domes made the bright white walls shine even higher. The town tumbled down the hill vertiginously. Below the wine-dark sea sparkled stretching to infinity.
In my dream, I was old my hands wrinkled and covered in sunspots. HWSNBN was stooped, his hands gnarled and weathered as mine. We walked haltingly down the cobbled paths curving between the cave buildings until we reached the sea. We sat in the comfortable silence watching the children play it on the docks.
The strangest part of this dream was how I knew two things: we had never been able to have children. And I was happy.
When I woke up I couldn’t wrap my head around it. How could I be happy and not have children? This dream came to me when infertility was killing me slowly. If it hasn’t happened to you that may seem hyperbolic – but it has you will know exactly what I mean. I wasn’t sure how many more months I could stay on this cycle of hope and despair. How many more times I could be torn apart and slowly piece myself back together?
Then I dreamt of Santorini and I knew, the way I knew my own face, that whatever happened I would find a way to be OK. Maybe that longing to be a mother would never fade, would twinge like an old wound when I thought back on my life. Maybe life wouldn’t look anything like I envisaged. But somehow, in some way it was possible to build a life among the wreckage. A good life with joy as well as sorrow.
If I was reading this I was struggling to have a baby I’d think ‘Fuck her’ of course she’d say that now. How can she know that? She got her happy ending.
And I did. I am so unbelievably lucky to have Nibs.
But I know that because this year when struggling with a different tragedy there was only one place I wanted to visit. Last month we went to Santorini: He Who Shall Not be Named, the toddler and me. And it was even more beautiful than in my dream. But more important than its beauty was the promise Santorini held – that healing was possible.
My visit to Santorini was very different than how I had pictured. I wasn’t visiting to heal a heart broken by infertility but by trauma. It wasn’t a couples trip, but one with the family I wasn’t sure I would ever have. Instead of spending evenings staring lovingly into each other eyes, we spent our time tackling our toddler as he tried to repeatedly throw himself into the caldera. We swam in the sea, we sat and watched the sunset, we marvelled at how beautiful it all was.
The details had changed but the promise remained the same. That one day, somehow I would find my way back to OK.
The one thing that I know is true is that life is both beautiful and brutal. Sometimes even at the same time. I remember sitting next to my sister in intensive care laughing more than I could ever remember I had. I also remember weeping in a corner of a garden centre so much that I didn’t have any tears left. Beautiful. Brutal. Brutiful
What happened to my sister’s is always going to hurt. Just how losing Lianne will always kill me. It will always be the wound that never completely heals. The ‘what if’ that haunts my life. There are things that hurt us so badly the only thing we can do is figure out how to live with them.
Some days distracted by the joy of watching Nibs the pain fades into the background. Still, present like a background ache but not at the forefront of my mind. Some days the pain is so excruciating – it’s all I can do is to breathe through it. Still, I have days when it fells me anew. Both my sisters I think, both of them?
‘No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all?’
A holiday couldn’t cure that. How could anything? But it did remind me that I had felt like this before: lost, broken and hopeless. And before that and again before that many times. And yet I am still here. I have survived 100% of my worst days so far.
Out of sheer bloody-minded stubbornness and with a lot of work I know now that I can find my way back to OK. I am not there yet. I may never be entirely there. But slowly piece by piece I am putting myself back together. The promise of Santorini showed me that no matter what life throws at me and those I love there will always be a path back to OK if we search hard enough. There has to be.