When I look at my life as a parent, it is very sharply divided into two. Life when Jessica was here with us, and life after losing Jessica. There is a huge chasm between the two lives that marks the moment Jessica died. A life before we knew the agonising pain of child loss, and the life we have now where we live alongside grief in all that we do, and our family is forever incomplete.
In those early raw days of grief, I shared a post about grief being like a stormy sea, taking us away from the land we knew; a land that we were now forever exiled from. Four years on, and that analogy is still one that describes grief very well. The stormy sea of time, taking us further and further away from the life we once knew, carrying us forward into a different life.
Two separate lives – and what sometimes feels like two separate family units with four of us. Two sets of siblings. Jessica and Sophie on one side; Sophie and Thomas on the other.
Jessica and Sophie had the most beautiful bond. That time when I was a mummy of two girls was the best time of my life. Life wasn’t perfect, of course, and there were difficult days, but seeing my little girls together, seeing the love they had for each other, watching them beginning to play together as equals was just wonderful. I look back over those days and wish that I could relive them all over again.
Sophie has a lovely bond with Thomas too. There’s a beautiful closeness between them, but it’s very different to the bond that she shared with Jessica. She was closer in age to Jessica. They were playmates together, they talked to each other and shared things with each other. With Thomas, Sophie is very much the big sister. She looks out for him, she helps him, she encourages him. They have different interests. And I know she while she absolutely adores her little brother, she misses the bond she once had with Jessica, and the little moments that they shared.
Tomorrow, Thomas will be the exact age that Sophie was when Jessica died. After tomorrow, Sophie will have had more time with Thomas in her life than with Jessica in her life. And while I’m thankful for the beautiful sibling moments that she and Thomas have, this is another milestone moment that breaks my heart. It’s all wrong that her sibling life is divided into two parts like this. It’s all wrong that she has Thomas instead of Jessica rather than having both Jessica and Thomas. It’s all wrong that her memories of life with Thomas now outweigh her memories of life with Jessica. Of course I want her to keep making memories with Thomas. I just wish that they came with making more memories of Jessica too.
Grief is full of these milestone moments. There are the obvious ones – particularly the ones in the first year. The first birthday without Jessica, the first Christmas, the first anniversary of her death. Those are the ones that others are often aware of and are mindful of. Then there are the other milestones that may be less obvious. The moments when a younger sibling moves ahead; when Sophie did things that Jessica never got to do and the day when she overtook Jessica in age.
Now we have the moment when Sophie and Thomas have had more time together than Jessica and Sophie did. The next major milestone will be the five-year anniversary of Jessica’s death. It feels unbelievable that we could have survived so long without her. Later will come the moment when Thomas has been at school for longer than Jessica was. Then will come the day when we’ve lived more of our lives since Jessica died than we had with her, followed shortly afterwards by the day that Thomas overtakes Jessica in age.
Living with grief is hard and more so at moments like this. That sense of time taking us further away from life with Jessica is heart-breaking. It’s a reminder of all the moments we will never have with Jessica, all the milestones she might be reaching now, all the things that can never be. A reminder of all the secondary losses that are part and parcel of life after Jessica.
But it is what it is. There is nothing we can do to change the fact that time will keep moving us forward no matter how much we wish we could step back in time and relive the moments we had with Jessica. No matter how much we wish we could somehow go back and rewrite our story so we could have kept Jessica here with us. All we can do is keep moving forward, hold on to our memories as best we can, and carry Jessica with us. Making new memories with Sophie and Thomas, trying to give them the happy childhood they both deserve. Keeping the balance of making space for grief but allowing space for joy too.
But just as Sophie and Thomas’s milestones are acknowledged and celebrated, the milestone moments of grief need their time of acknowledgment too. Time to stop and remember the beautiful moments that we shared with Jessica and the joy that she brought to our lives. To remember her smile, her zest for life, her infectious giggle, her strength, her courage and all the things that made her the wonderful little person she was. And to remember the love that holds us together and continues to hold us together, because no matter what else her death has taken from us, it can never ever take away that love.