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Absence of Heart

Poem by JLZ after her illness resulted in her children being taken into foster care.

Here is her heart-breaking prose account of her experience:

The Day the Music Died

Being frequently ill is normal when you're HIV positive. However, with my HIV under control I knew the frequent bouts of severe illness I was experiencing were not normal. My consultant applied every possible test he could to find the answer, from pelvic scans to chest x-rays, and when all else failed, he repeated the test for Hepatitis C. Result: positive.

It seemed I had contracted it whilst trying to get pregnant with my third child. Unfortunately for me, my hepatitis C was extremely aggressive. I needed treatment and I needed it immediately.

At this time, the treatment was an injection of Interkron once a week and two tablets taken at night. Many people experience bad side effects for a small duration of time, at the start of the treatment.

Others have little or no problems at all, and a very small percentage experience severe side effects for the full duration of treatment. Unluckily, I was in that small percentage.

My health deteriorated rapidly. My ability to give my children the life they deserved diminished along with my health. It broke my heart to see their little faces full of confusion and fear. With each passing day I became more ill. I needed admitted to hospital. With no one in a position to take my three children I made the decision to sign them over to Social Work for temporary foster care. It broke my heart, but i was dying. From hospital I was sent to respite for two weeks. The kids were brought to visit me, even staying overnight one at a time.

My kids were returned to me when I got home. Unfortunately my health deteriorated further and I was hospitalised again. My children were returned to foster care for the second time.

By this time I could hardly walk. I needed two walking sticks and became so ill I was passing out at the kids' feet as I was getting them ready for school. The treatment ended but my health got worse. Coughing up blood, I realised I had pneumonia. This was the third time within a year that my children had to go into foster care. But this time I was told I would not get them back on my return from hospital.

It was January 10th, 2011. Franca's fifth birthday. They turned up to take the kids away just as we were eating his birthday cake. They wouldn't wait. With their little suitcases packed, the kids were huddled away into the waiting car. I still remember their faces, questioning, tearful, beautiful faces. At that moment, my heart broke into pieces. This was the day the music died for me. My music was their laughter. And it was gone.

To begin with I managed to hold it together, had a great mask which I used daily. But behind closed doors I was a mess. I couldn't bear the silence. The absence of their clothes drying on the radiator. No bathtime. No fun. No cuddles. No love. I broke down completely, relapsing heavily. I started missing my contact times because I was totally dysfunctional. My purpose in life was gone.

At each opportunity, Social Work put me down. They could not understand my hurt. My pain. They stigmatised me at every turn. Three years. Three years I have been without my children. In that three years I cried a billion tears. A court has just awarded permanency to the foster carer. But they are my babies and I won't let her keep them without a fight. I'm gonna fight and keep fighting. I cannot give up; I need my music back.

It may take years. It may be a fight I never win, but when the records are released to my children in their fifteenth year, they will see mum fought for them. She never gave up. If I have to wait intil they are sixteen, then so be it, but if I could have just one prayer answered it would be to have my children back. To wipe their tears when they cry, to clean their knees when they fall. To hold them, hold them tight and never let go again.

Writing Prompts

Keeping a journal is an excellent way of recording and processing difficult experiences. Going a stage further to craft your words into a poem, fictionalise them in a story, or polish them into a memoir (it can be just a few pages or paragraphs, as here . . . or a whole book) for others to read can be even more helpful - both to the author, and others who are then able to read an account which may resonate for them. American poet Mark Doty, who wrote a memoir following his partner's death from AIDS, has described the crafting of one's memories and experience in this way as creating a 'margin of aesthetic distance' - creative writing can give useful, and healing, perspective on difficulties and problems.

1. Read JLZ's poem and prose account. How does she achieve the atmosphere and impact she creates? What do you think are the most successful aspects of her writing?

2. Try keeping a journal for a week, a month, a year, the duration of a stay in hospital, or prison, or any other difficulty you face, if you do not already do so.

3. Re-read some of the entries. How do you feel about them now? Are there words, phrases and ideas you would like to copy onto a fresh sheet of paper, or paste into a new computer file? Take a fresh look at them - is there the making of a poem here, the start of story, or material that can be edited or arranged into a new account now that time has passed?

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