Saint Patrick’s Day is a joyful celebration for many Australians. In my family’s case, however, it was a tragic day, tainted by the memory of my stillborn sister’s birth. A term baby, cherished but not cradled, as a result of an undiagnosed misplaced placenta.
Dad made the burial arrangements, but kept the location of the baby’s grave a secret. I decided to search for my sister’s burial place many years after Dad’s death. Mum was in her seventies at the time, and I decided not to tell her what I was doing until I had some news.
I opened the yellow pages of the telephone book and looked up the addresses of the cemeteries in Melbourne. I wrote a letter to each of the twenty cemeteries, explaining my request.
I searched the letterbox with anticipation every day. In the first few weeks, my heart raced every time I received a letter from a cemetery. I’d rip open the letter, anticipating good news, only to have my hopes dashed again and again. As the weeks went by, the number of replies in the negative increased. I began to lose hope.
After several months, only two cemeteries had not replied. By that time, I was conditioned to expect a ‘no’ whenever I opened a letter. When the next letter came, I opened it automatically, with no expectations. Why should this letter be any different from the rest? But I was wrong. The letter, from the Melbourne General Cemetery, had a record of Baby Hardy, stillborn on 17 March 1956.
I raced over to Mum’s home and gave her the news. Her eyes shone as she touched my hand tenderly. She asked me to take her to the cemetery in a few days.
Mum was dressed much more elegantly than usual on the day of the visit. She walked over to her wooden dining room table and picked up a bouquet of twelve scented pink roses, surrounded by a bronze coloured ceramic angel.
The cemetery was a forty minute drive away. On our way there, Mum started talking about her labour and the stillbirth in much more detail than I’d ever heard before. Her description of the traumatic events poured out quickly, as though they’d just happened yesterday.
We finally arrived at the cemetery. I slipped my arm through Mum’s as we stepped out of the car. We walked along in silence until we arrived at a peaceful open space of green grass with several rocks covered in memorial plaques. ‘Mum, this is the place where she was buried’.
Mum placed the bouquet of roses in water and started talking aloud to her baby. ‘I love you and I’ve never forgotten you. I hope you haven’t felt abandoned because I haven’t visited you until now’. We stood there in silence.
Mum eventually walked over to a nearby tree and tied the ceramic angel around a branch with some wire. She thanked me for having given her such a wonderful present. I smiled back at her. When she was ready to leave, we walked back to the car and drove home in silence.
My stillborn sister will not be forgotten. Her name lives on through my daughter, named in honour of my baby sister.
This piece was first delivered live at a MJBW event. We love collaborating with MJBW and many other organisations to broaden the reach of our fabulous writers.