Writing The Mud Baby

by Marlene Winberg
(South Afirca)

My book, The Mud Baby, singing into the silence of losing a child, bears witness to the personal sense of sanctuary I created while in mourning for my sister's boy, my 8-year old nephew, Kyle. In my search for solace, I turned to my life-long love for traditional stories as sources of wisdom and to writing as a spiritual practice. This beneficial experience inspired me to develop this book for other women who, like me, need to work with grief’s narratives of transformation. Please visit my blog, http://marlenewinberg.com , where you can read more about it - and download my audio story.
Knowing that storytellers have told tales of loss in different scenarios for time immemorial, I set out to identify those stories that would enable me to make meaning from the anticipatory grief that surrounded a child’s life lived on the edge of death. My search eventually yielded a compendium of what I came to call my “healthy grieving stories”. As I became more skilful at applying the stories’ multi-layered symbolism to my own growing practice, I took to giving one or two to friends who had lost a partner, child or parent. They in turn enriched me with their own insight on how the stories were relevant to their own experiences and helped broadened their perspective.
What had been a silence in my life became living stories shared with other people, because like me, they had also struggled to find a way out of unexpressed grief. As a result, my awareness of the impact loss has on human lives increased significantly. I began to reimagine grief and found a language for loss in this conversation between stories, friends and myself. Seen in this light, The Mud Baby is testimony to my own practice, and brings into focus a timeless human way of making sense of loss through storytelling.
The stories in this book are but a few from the world’s memory. Among our oldest of a parent’s grief is an ancient Nordic poem, Sonnatorrek, composed many centuries ago during pre-Christian times, when child mortality was very high and modern life-saving medicine did not exist. In this poem, the bereaved father, Egill, struggles to find words to express his grief for the loss of two sons. Towards the end of his long and epic lament, Egill realises that the god who took his children had given him the craft of poetry in compensation. As a result, Egill is finally able to reconcile his losses and finds a sense of tranquility with which to live the rest of his life. This ancient storyteller knew that some things cannot be spoken of unless in the language of poetry.
My meditation on early deaths also brought into focus a number of children’s life stories that we would never have known if it were it not for their family or friends’ memorial work. Many of these stories do not only relate to personal loss, but also how history has been shaped by children. The Swedish Millennium Project, The World’s Children’s Prize Foundation, honoured three such childhood stories by publishing it in more than 100 countries where it has been read by millions of children and adults.

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