A conversation that can be beautiful as well as sad

In 2015 I was funded by Creative Scotland to carry out a Writer in Residence role with Children's Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS). I have been visiting the charity's hospices, Rachel House in Kinross and Robin House in Balloch, to record conversations with children, parents and staff based on their experiences of living with, or losing, a child with a life-shortening condition.
Poet Martin O'ConnorPoet Martin O'Connor
Poet Martin O'Connor

When death is discussed in relation to children it can be unbearable. More often, the language used hints at bigger conversations in the words that are unsaid, words which are hard to say, and words which are unsayable and I hope to convey this with a poem that I have written.

The Bigger Conversation

I’ve said to people my friends it’s not that.

Robin and Rachel HousesRobin and Rachel Houses
Robin and Rachel Houses

We’ve always said that’s just so far from the truth.

I said something to someone once and that’s exactly what I found when I came in and I almost describe it as the happiest/saddest place in the world.

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I mean like you’re saying it’s fifty per cent towards the child and fifty per cent towards the parents.

Which kind of goes against what I was saying.

Robin and Rachel HousesRobin and Rachel Houses
Robin and Rachel Houses

And her sort of saying about not being there to give answers.

Saying that one of the parents had just been asking as though she needed reassuring and checking other people had the same.

And as I say that’s really important.

Like as you were saying I’ve learned that it’s not taboo to speak like this.

And it’s like as I say arms encircling you and you just feel as though a load’s lifted from you.

So that’s what I’m saying. Because there’s a lot of amazing stuff.

As I say over and over again that was so important. Yes just when you come in the door.

And I will say that I still, I still have real – I still love coming here.

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She had said you know when you come in the door its as though she felt that everything was a bit lighter.

Well personally as I’ve said earlier talking about how they felt as though all their hope was gone.

As I say, everybody, happy memories and we look back – family holidays and stuff like that.

Like you say, yesterday we felt coming up here just takes the pressure off.

And they’re not just, as I say, looking after your wee one they’re looking after you as a family as a whole.

Like I was saying before, when actually sometimes I think you need to feel whatever you’re feeling. You need to feel the pain and you need to feel the anger and you need to feel sadness and all these things. Feeling what we need to feel as human beings.

Like I said, something to get as much fun out of that short month that we have.

They just, as I say, they make sure we get to spend that quality time.

And as you say you get your slippers on.

But before when we came in and I was saying.

I was just saying that this morning.

And as you mentioned earlier.

And maybe that’s not a good example of what you’re saying.

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Like you said before you sleep that’s the only time you sleep when you’re here.

She told me to tell you that. I look around myself and I wonder what I’m doing here. Where it all went wrong?

Like I said a slow beautiful nightmare and that’s what it is – the emphasis on beautiful. Cause we’re having a fantastic time but we know it’s going to end – we just don’t know how and when. But I think it’s something that could be beautiful.

Martin O’Connor is a playwright, poet and performer