From Ashes, To Ashes

By Lucia Allamandi Schwenker

mindshare and the Author of this work wish to advise that “The Face of Stillbirth” contains themes that may be distressing to some readers. Content follows themes of stillbirth, infant loss, and grief. 

If you feel you may be affected by this piece, please reach out to someone you feel safe with, or a mental health service.  Feedback may be directed to mindshare@mhcsa.org.au .

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As we drove through beautiful Ngarrindjeri, Coorong on the way to Mt Gambier in Boandik Country, grief had my heart hostage. From the moment we left Kaurna Land, Adelaide, I pictured the trip it would have been had my baby been born alive.

I was able to hold back until dinner, when a single glass of Coonawarra premium Shiraz led to tears down my pub Carbonara. I needed the release. On the way back to the accommodation, we stopped by a bottle o’ on the main road. We were committed to trying as many Coonawarra reds as possible while in the region. I chose a name I recognised from the pub’s wine list and went with it. The wine was superb, even to my now snobby palate stemming from years of drinking Barossa’s finest.

My husband Scott had a glass while soaking in the tub (worth commenting he never bathes at home, where the bath is deeper and a wide selection of salts, flakes and smells are available to soothe, revitalise and beautify) and I finished the rest of the wine bottle on my own. Partly because of its smoothness, plum and stone fruit notes but mostly to shut off the agony I felt for having lost my son in his fifth month gestation only weeks prior. Dilute the pregnancy hormones still raging in my body, urging me to bond and feed a child who no longer existed. Who would never fully exist.

We decided we’d scatter our baby’s ashes the day after arriving to Boandik and by the time I finished my beauty/grief sleep, we could not fit much more in. It was cloudy, I could see the wind moving Eucalyptus treetops through the window. Accustomed to Adelaide’s most recent heatwave, I had definitely not packed appropriately for the weather.

The night we arrived at the Caravan Park I had suggested leaving the purple floral bag with our baby’s urn inside the locked car. Scott did not want to, which was of course fine by me. The next day he mentioned how silly he felt for not wanting to leave our baby in the car overnight. We knew he wasn’t there anymore, but it was all we had of him. It was all we’d ever have of him.

We drove to the Umpherston sinkhole, with its splendid garden. During daytime, huge orange and black butterflies fed on the blossoming pink hydrangeas. Ferns and English Ivy elegantly competed for space, climbing the crater, creating a hedge of green against the stone. Mushrooms resembling a collection of giant ears adorned small caves on the walls. Near a manmade water feature, fresh green groundcover bathed near lilac honey suckle like flowers.

Scott and I walked up and down amongst other tourists soaking up the sun like lizards on a warm rock. We choose a spot as secluded as possible, surrounded by giant pink hydrangea heads.

‘- This would be a nice spot for our son to rest. Surrounded by flowers and butterflies.’

I told Scott who agreed nodding. I sat down on the grass and Scott followed. We stayed there for a few moments, not wanting to let go, to say our final goodbyes. Finally, I pulled out the cheap, tacky, made in china white urn with a teddy bear on top. I despise such mementos, especially when aimed at a loss of a child. Losing an offspring is such an incomprehensible and devastating experience that the mere suggestion of preparing for it (such as stocking funeral paraphernalia custom designed for this event) feels abhorrent. Inside the urn was a plastic bag closed with a metal clip, like a loaf of bread. The amount of ashes was so small compared to when my Nonno was cremated. I remember scattering handfuls of his ashes by the lake where he loved to take daily walks with Nonna, feeding the ducks. For my son however, his body was so small that Scott and I took turns gathering miniscule amounts out of the bag with our fingertips. Lovingly placing them on the ground by the English Ivy vines, telling him out loud how much we wanted him, how loved he was. ‘Tchau filho’, ‘Bye son’ I repeated several times, tears that I thought I had already used up pouring from my eyes, from my heart and from my soul. I found it so hard to let him go, even though he was already gone.

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