Grief and life after Jessica: Overtaking

Today Sophie is 6 years, 7 months and 8 days old. The exact age that Jessica was on the day she died. Today Sophie is the same age that Jessica will always be; tomorrow, she will become my eldest child. Not my first-born, but my eldest. Overtaking her big sister. The little sister will become the older sister. From tomorrow, we will be treading a new path where Sophie leads the way instead of Jessica.

 

Sophie and Jessica walking in front of me, hand-in-hand with Sophie a little ahead of Jessica - "Grief and life after Jessica: Overtaking"

 

I have anticipated this moment for some time; its shadow has been hanging over us. It will come and go with tears and anguish, like all such moments, and then life will settle back into its new normal again.

 

When Jessica died, in some ways it felt like the clock suddenly set itself back by two years. We went from life with a six-year-old and a four-year-old, to just having a four-year-old.  All the things that Jessica could do that Sophie couldn’t do disappeared overnight. And then, as Sophie learned to do them, there was that bittersweet memory of Jessica doing all those things.

 

In some ways, Sophie has been overtaking Jessica for a while. She’s been doing various activities for longer than Jessica did; she’s already moved beyond the level Jessica reached at school. But this feels like the big milestone. One of many difficult milestones that come with having to live life without your child.

 

There are the obvious ones of course – birthdays, the anniversary of their death and of their funeral, Christmas etc. And then there are the other little dates which others are less aware of – siblings overtaking, the moment when you have lived more days since your child’s death than you had with them – those kinds of milestones. Today is one of them. There will be more to come. And they will all be hard days, days that we wish we could hold off from coming, but still they come – that ever-present reminder that time keeps moving on relentlessly, leaving your life with your child further and further behind you.

 

Living through child loss is something that nothing can ever prepare you for. The things that were normal are turned upside-down and inside-out; broken and battered before being re-formed in a new way. Everything is changed, forever altered as it is now viewed through the filter of losing your child. It colours everything – memories, day-to-day experiences, even the words you use.

 

It’s there in the way I always pause before answering questions like “how many children do you have?” because while the answer is always three, the way I phrase it will depend on how likely I am to encounter that person again. The way that “how old are your children” becomes a hard question to answer. What age do I give for Jessica? The age she should be or the age she was when she died? Do I still say that Jessica is my eldest daughter when Sophie is older than her sister lived to be? Or do I simply say that Jessica is my first-born? Is Jessica still Thomas’s “biggest sister” or is that now Sophie? Because the words, the sibling order – all the little things that many families take for granted – are no longer simple.

 

As with everything else on this journey of having to live life without Jessica, we muddle along and find our own way through. Navigating the unknown as best we can. And here we are again, about to step into unknown territory once more. Acknowledging that while seeing Sophie grow and thrive is a precious and beautiful gift, it also comes with a hefty side order of sorrow because we were denied similar moments with Jessica. Celebrating Sophie’s successes as best we can without allowing our sorrow to take anything from her; whilst also having to allow ourselves space to grieve too. It’s a delicate balancing act at times. Another thing we have to learn to navigate as best we can.

 

Earlier this week, I had a little moment that stopped me in my tracks. I’d ordered Sophie a skirt and some reversible trousers from one of my favourite brands. The trousers were out of stock and they called me to ask if I would like to substitute them with a skirt instead. I didn’t check which of the skirts it was – I knew Sophie would love it whatever the print. And then it arrived; I opened the parcel and pulled out a skirt that I remembered very well. A skirt I’d bought for Jessica for her last Christmas. The skirt that was part of the outfit we chose for her to be buried in because it was one she loved.

 

Jessica and Sophie holding hands and wearing matching cardigans. Jessica is wearing her flowery skirt and Sophie has an elephant print skirt

 

Having Sophie receive an identical one through the post so unexpectedly at the start of the week in which she will overtake her sister, felt like a sign from Jessica in a way. Perhaps it is her way of reminding us that it is okay. That just because Sophie is overtaking her in age doesn’t mean that we are leaving her behind. No matter how relentless time moving on may feel, that is one thing I hold on to. Jessica is never left behind. She is always with us, in every moment of every day, in our thoughts and in our hearts. We keep moving forward, bringing Jessica with us wherever we may go.

 

Thomas and Sophie holding on to the wooden carving of Jessica at her forever bed

 

 

8 thoughts on “Grief and life after Jessica: Overtaking

  1. I’m finding it difficult to find words to reply, Your post has made me cry this morning, it can be the small things that hit harder than the big sometimes. I think receiving the skirt would have broken me, but you have turned it into a positive, a message from Jessica that she’s still with you. You are a true survivor and although I can’t even imagine your pain of losing your child, but I’m sure she’ll always be with you somehow. xxx

    1. Thank you Anne, sorry to make you cry. The small things can definitely hit harder than expected at times. Seeing that skirt again was quite a shock but I know Jessica would have loved seeing Sophie wearing it. It has been a tough week with Sophie overtaking Jessica but I think we were prepared for it and gave ourselves the time and space we needed to properly grieve the moment too which has helped us through. And yes, Jessica will always be with us xx

  2. You write so well Louise. I can’t imagine what it must be like. I never got to meet Jessica but reading about her I feel that I have got to know her well. She has touched my heart. xx

    1. Thank you Pam. She was a little sweetheart – very happy with a sweet nature like Sophie, but where Sophie bounces, Jessica was calm and steady. They were such a lovely combination together. Thomas is like Jessica in many ways too xx

  3. Oh my lovely girl. The language will be hard to get your head round but Jessica will always be there as part of your family x

  4. What an awful milestone to reach, Louise, but beautifully expressed as ever.
    I would never even have considered how difficult it would be to answer the question of how many children you have and who is the oldest. The skirt must have been a shock, but I can see that it feels like a sign too.
    I still think of Jessica a lot and know she would have continued to be a wonderful big sister to Sophie and would have become a wonderful big sister to Thomas too. x

    1. Thank you Sarah, it means a lot to know that Jessica is remembered and thought of by others. The difficulty of answering what seem to be simple questions is something that I don’t think anyone would consider unless they’ve experienced it, or know someone who has. I think I struggle a lot because whereas I’m happy to be open and honest when it comes to talking about Jessica, it can make other people very awkward and sometimes I don’t have the energy to have to navigate through that in face-to-face conversations. Blogging and writing about it is easier in many ways!

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