This half-term is proving to be quite an emotional one. As I dropped Sophie back at school on the first day after the half-term break, I couldn’t help but remember the last time I dropped off a little girl at a year 1 classroom after the February half-term break. How excited Jessica was at being able to go back to school and see her friends. How full of hope I was at our return to “normality”; at the thought that her surgery was behind us and had been successful and perhaps we could start looking ahead again. Not knowing that this would be the last time I would take Jessica to school on the first day after the holidays.
She didn’t quite make it to the end of term. I brought her home early after the Year 1 performance on the Tuesday before school broke up for Easter. She was too unwell and exhausted with a cold virus to manage the whole day, but so desperate to take part in the show that the teachers let us bring her in just for the performance. We hoped that the Easter holidays would give her the break she needed to recover, but she died two days before term started again. On the first day back after the Easter holidays, I watched the children passing by my window as they headed to school. It broke my heart to see Jessica’s friends going in without her; knowing that she would never be among them again.
One of the things that happened when Jessica died was that our experiences of parenting suddenly shifted back two years. We went from life with a six-year-old and four-year-old, to just having a four-year-old. All the things that Jessica could do which Sophie had not yet learned to do disappeared from our everyday lives. The school community that we had been part of, all the little everyday moments that were part of our life with Jessica, all of it just disappeared.
And here we are again.
Back to life with a child in year 1. Dropping Sophie off at the same classroom door that we last dropped Jessica off at. Preparing for another Year 1 Easter concert. All the while knowing that we are coming to the end of the shared experiences. These are the last weeks where Sophie will follow in her big sister’s footsteps. When the Easter holidays come to an end and a new term begins, I will do something that I never got to do before – drop a little girl at school for the start of the summer term in Year 1.
From then on, it will be Sophie leading the way. Doing things that Jessica never got to do. And in a few months, she will overtake her sister in age too. Jessica will no longer be the big sister. The first-born sibling, yes, but no longer the eldest. My middle child will leap-frog into being the oldest one. Jessica will be the “little” big sister. She will stay forever six, whereas Sophie will (I hope!) grow up and celebrate her seventh, eighth, ninth and hopefully many more birthdays. And we as parents will experience new things with her and new stages of parenting.
This time of year is hard. We are now heading towards the second anniversary of Jessica’s death and once again the memories are becoming increasingly painful. The ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’ and ‘why-didn’t-I-do-mores’ are rearing their ugly head once more. This time last year was very much a countdown to that first anniversary of Jessica’s death. This year feels more of a countdown to another significant, and difficult milestone – the moment when Sophie overtakes her sister. And while of course I want Sophie to grow and thrive and do all the things she should do and to be able to celebrate them, it utterly breaks my heart that Jessica never got to do those things too. It feels so awful and so very wrong that Sophie will do them without a big sister by her side.
This last half-term of shared experiences is so hard, and yet part of me wants to linger over it as long as I possibly can. To hold on to this time when Sophie is still the little sister with a big sister having once trod the same path. To look at Sophie and be able to see Jessica as she was at the same age. And to be able to put off the moment when everything shifts forever.
It’s a reminder once more that time is relentless; that I cannot hold back the tide of change no matter how much I want to. Once again, there’s that feeling of being forced to keep moving forward; the tides of time taking me further and further away from life with Jessica. Once we cross that threshold into a life we never got to experience with Jessica, everything changes once more. And once more it feels like we are leaving Jessica behind. And as much as I tell myself that we never truly leave her behind; that we always carry her with us wherever we go, it doesn’t make crossing that threshold any less painful.
I am thankful for all the milestone I get to experience with Sophie (and Thomas) and for being able to watch them both grow and thrive. I just wish that I could still be doing it with Jessica too.