Wednesday 28 January 2015

The day Maude died

A light that went out: Nola with two-year-old daughter Maude

Nola D’Enis’s daughter was happy, healthy and adored. Then one day she went to sleep and never woke up. Her family may never know why. Here’s her story

THE terrible, terrible chasm that opens before you when you lose a child is a terrifying no man's land. There is no escape, no place to go where you feel comforted or safe. Once the numbing shock and horror begin to recede, real life cannot simply return — there is a gap the size of a laughing two-year-old that cannot be filled. What did you do before she died? Your life revolved around her. What did you do before she was born? You read, shopped, gossiped, lunched, wrote, did housework. What do you do now when all this becomes meaningless?

Other people's children are torture. Blonde pigtails taunt, and a cr y of “Mama” can reduce you to a hysterical woman in the aisle next to the fabric conditioners, where you have been trying to decide whether it is harder to have the familiar one — the one that reminds you of her — or to change completely and taint your clothes with the smell of treachery rather than regret.

I went shopping alone for the first time four weeks after Maude died. I went to a large local supermarket where I had been rarely with Maude. I went out of necessity — we had run out of milk — and out of a morbid curiosity to see if I could do it.

I found myself in the sales section. Among the clothes. I love clothes and adore shopping. But I couldn't summon up the desire to want anything. I kept my back to the children's aisle. I avoided eye contact with the mothers and their children and I jerked my eyes away from any trolley that had small pink dresses balanced among the groceries.

The cashmere jumpers were down to 25pc of their original price. I pulled them out of their boxes. Didn't want them. But I should want them — because that is what I had been before, who I had been before she died, someone who wanted cashmere. So I put three in my trolley.

I went to the checkout. The cashier passed my jumpers through the till. There was no reduction shown. I told her she had made a mistake. She rolled her eyes. She was dismissing me and I knew why. I looked odd, wild, a little deranged with my bitten lip and puffy eyes.

Years ago the bereaved and the bereft wore black. We dressed in our grief. Now we wear black because it is chic and slimming. There is nothing to mark us out as being on the edge of the world. We no longer carry a protective shroud asking society to treat us gently as we are broken. We just look mad.

I looked behind me at the impatient queue, flicking my eyes away from a young child. I bit my lip so hard I could taste the blood. I paid and went straight to the enquiries desk.

There was a small boy in front of me, the same age as Maude. It is a boy, I reasoned to myself. You can cope because it is a boy. Then his father started playing with him and he started to gurgle.

I turned away. I could not bear to look at or listen to them.

I waited my turn.

When it came, my lip was bleeding. The woman looked at my lip and my damp, dabbing tissue. I showed her the jumpers, the till receipt, said that they were on sale. She shrugged and said that she could see no sales stickers on the jumpers. She sighed and rang the knitwear department.

I wondered whether to run, or just walk out. Would I leave the jumpers or take them? Would they run after me and stop me? Would that make it worse?

I cracked, and started to bawl loudly. People stopped and looked. An old lady patted me on the arm as she went past, her kindness making me cry all the louder.

“Where are you?” came the voice on the phone. “What are you doing?”


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