Martin Heidegger, in Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry reminds us:
‘…poetry never takes language as a material at its disposal; rather, poetry itself first makes language possible.’
And this means, to me, that articulating the empty spaces left inside us, just as poets do, shapes the way we feel, and subsequently, the way we think about the way we feel.
I remember in the weeks after Jannah died, my mother-in-law had no ability to comfort me. I cried at any moment, once when I was making tea in the kitchen, bent over and sobbing. She was cooking there at the time, and looked at me. She stood awkwardly, and watched me, but carried on stirring the spoon over the stove. It was so strange at the time, especially as I was told that she had herself had a late miscarriage. I wondered, how could a woman not sympathise with another woman? Over similar life experiences? But now I know why.
There is a spectrum of learning disabilities, weaving a complex web of needs for the person who suffers from them. Autism, and other conditions like it, has differing manifestations, but one behavior that I can recognise is that my mother in law couldn’t read emotions, and this meant she could not give comfort, to me nor her children or grandchildren.
A friend of mine who is a clinical psychologist told me that young children need their primary caregiver to frame the emotions they feel, and learn how to express those emotions. Being raised by an autistic parent who has trouble with their own emotions must make life far harder for their children. They have to find their own way.
This is where my memory of Heidegger’s use of poetry came to me. When at our most vulnerable, it is only poetry that makes it possible to discuss the darker things most social structures wish to suppress. Any functioning organisation, by virtue of its needs to continue functioning, needs its members to move on from grief, not dwell on death or war or exploitation and injustice. But poetry is where the language runs free, and where we find the most expressive empathy for what we feel.
Although I can look back now and see that the birth of a child after loss is in itself complex and filled with anxiety, I had this vision: I wanted to have a pleasant home, and to take my baby swimming, and to have weekends with grandparents and cousins sharing food and laughing. It was a difficult road, but it was in front of me, and it spurred me on.
And, I think, now we have gotten here, I can breathe.