Denny Meek

Book Excerpts

Rare Heart Abnormality​

We follow staff as they rush Joseph’s humidicrib through the passageways.

Striding down a corridor of the Mater Children’s Hospital, I’m disembodied – one of those mothers whose baby had to be taken to a large city hospital. Into the darkened children’s ward, passing large windowed rooms, small children pop up from their beds to watch. Toddlers on the other side of the glass, attached by tubes to drip stands at their sides. Three and four-year-olds, large newly stitched scars right across the top of their small shaven heads. Each step we take pulls us further inside this other world of seriously sick babies, alarm bells screaming. Where in this scene do we belong?! What’s in store for us? Don’t think! Breathe deep. Look straight ahead.

Joseph’s humidicrib is wheeled into a square well-lit room, monitors, sockets, leads, medical equipment packed around its walls.

Donna turns to us. ‘All the best!’ …and the only person who knew our names leaves the big Brisbane hospital.

Domestic Abuse

The violence from each of my partners was different. Each was being directed by inner core beliefs that they should be in charge of me, that I should do as they said. My husband wasn’t verbally abusive. Even his rarer physical violence was from a different place – almost as though driven by volatile biochemistry. It was explosive, it was terrifying. But he was a spiritual man. Right through our marriage, he loved me and I knew it.

Rob’s violence rose suddenly too. More predictable, it was way more frequent. His verbal assault far exceeded his physical abuse; it was shocking. ‘Don’t kid yourself I love you!’ he’d jeer. ‘I’ve only got you here because it’s the only way I can live with my son.’ He no longer looks at himself, doesn’t seem to know how.

Explanations are not excuses.

I’d learned THE worst feeling in the world was to let a string of abusive comments go by, or a violent incident, and do nothing to stand up for myself. When you’re being attacked, it’s a fine line between asserting yourself and attacking back, and I didn’t always return respect for abuse. Sometimes I let myself fight like a normal person. It’s tough to interface, especially when your attacker speaks no other language, although such venom doesn’t flow readily from my mouth. Self-protection in the home was something I had to learn, followed by standing up for myself, and eventually fighting back. I hated living like this; I didn’t like fighting, and didn’t like being the person I had to become. It was an empty existence to me. I was staying because this was our second chance, many days being faced with the decision: which was worse? My children living amidst the abuse, or growing up without a dad?

Anorexia Nervosa

Mum’s Journal 9 May 2001

A fortnight since Allie came home, a new grief emerges. She’s sicker than before admission. Her rituals are a little more extreme. She used bowls instead of plates before, and teaspoons – now she uses the smallest bowls and the tiniest teaspoons. She walks round the house, now openly taking the longest way, from bedroom to kitchen, to bathroom, and back, eyes downcast. I don’t know if she’s aware it’s more obvious to us. Anorexia’s rituals are supposed to be a secret. They’ve increased. Before she eats, she prays over her food, hands clasped, for longer periods – up to 20 minutes. She just obeys anorexia on auto now, like a robot. Although technically her organs are all fine (except her heart, but her pericardial effusion doesn’t compromise the function of her heart), and four-and-a-half months of nasogastric tube-feeding has rebuilt her body and she looks physically good, she has a pallor which hasn’t been adequately explained to me. A worrying look. I saw these behaviours as manipulation when she first came home, but it seems half the time she’s just not there.

This is such a shock, after the five months we’ve been through. A shock that reverberates through me, bringing grief close. I’ve cried every day this week.

I feel I’ve lost my daughter, perhaps for a very long time.

A Teen’s Death

And here, the lifeless body, the beautiful face so familiar, communicating with me only hours before, animated, loving… now cold, unmoving on a mortuary trolley. My gasps tear at the police officer’s shoulder. I sign his papers. Yes, this is my son.

Simon! Where are you? What pushed you??
I know the Charger crash was a blow. I saw how anxious it made you. We’d talked about life, speculated about this, but I didn’t think you’d do this.
The thought of his pain is unbearable.

The telling. The shock. The re-telling, over and over. Gasps, whimpers, stunned silences, as vulnerable humans interface with Death. In that first week, through exhaustion and the impossible new reality – ‘Simon has died – we’re laid bare in ways we never are any other time; humbled, mortal after all, the profound closeness it brings with others, a rare deep comfort.

Perhaps this is manageable?  whispers the Shock.
Perhaps it’s Strength?  Hope plies.
Maybe Death isn’t as big a deal as everyone makes it out to be?  Denial’s soft tones echo.

She's Gone

When Simon died, and I’d told the story of opening the door to three police officers, some replied, ‘You must’ve known as soon as you saw them.
’‘No – I didn’t.’‘
Well…’ they’d reconsider, ‘…yeah… Why would you?’
I’d had four years to ponder that.
Why would you assume three police officers had come to deliver such news?

Because you’d seen it before.

I look at all three of them heading, with unrelenting deliberation to my door, my eyes settling on the policewoman.
‘Oh no,’ I blurt. ‘Oh no. No. No! Oh god, No!! Oh God, NO!’ My protests don’t budge their beeline into my life. ‘Oh No! NO! Where’s Allie?’ I gasp at them. I look out at their cars, vain hope she might be there. ‘Where’s Allie?’ The somber air around them tells me she’s not there. ‘No! No! Go Away! GO AWAY!’ They’re undeterred. ‘NO! NO! GO AWAY!’

That’s how I know.

Allie’s gone.

Multiple Losses

I could only grieve one loss at a time, not two or three at once. This was not a choice; it happened naturally. They’d take turns. And as it was in birth, the one who’d died last each time was my baby in spirit. I still sometimes worry about them, occasionally suffering motherguilt if I don’t ‘adequately’ acknowledge them.

From the other side, my children have seemed to want me to know they’re together.

I believe that losing several children is not about plumbing the same depth repeatedly, but is a worse psychic pain than the loss of one child. A deeper more complicated psychological journey, especially in a country where multiple losses is uncommon, it’s asked more of my sanity, and in additional ways, stretches me further.

Many assume the death of a baby hurts less because ‘you didn’t get to know them’. For many parents, it is like that. It was because I didn’t get my lifetime with Joseph that I grieved him so much – no less the loss of a son because I’d had him for only two months, not 18 years. The disenfranchisement of a baby’s death is a difficult hurt.

No two griefs have been the same, each death is impossible, each brings its own sets of challenges.

Spiritual explanations lost their relevance for me down in the Valley. ‘You chose this before you came.’ ‘You won’t be put through more than you can handle.’ ‘We manifest 100% our own reality.’  The explanations were not the reasons. Most were an irritant to me, an assault on deep suffering.

I’ve come to see that my deeper grief journey was my spirituality.