Here we are, three years on from the worst day of our lives. Three years of having to live without Jessica. If the last couple of years are anything to go by, today will be easier than the days leading up to it. This time three years ago, the worst had already happened. My memories of ‘this time back then’ have moved beyond those last, awful moments, the most painful of memories, and returned me to the world which we have inhabited ever since. Our life without Jessica.
They say that time heals, but it doesn’t – not really. Nor do I want it to. Or at least not in the way that people often seem to think it should. The gaping hole that Jessica left behind won’t close up leaving an almost invisible scar behind. I won’t go back to being the person I was the day before Jessica died. I won’t move on, leaving the past behind me.
Time doesn’t heal exactly, but grief evolves. In those early agonising days when life with Jessica was still close enough to almost touch, our grief was raw, open and bleeding profusely. There was disbelief – so much disbelief – that this was our life now. There was intense longing for just one more moment; agony at the prospect of life stretching before us – so many days ahead, each one of them without Jessica in. And yet, just the other day, she had been here and we had held her and loved her. How could she be gone, how could she leave us so very suddenly and unexpectedly? How could our lives have changed so irrevocably?
Gradually, slowly and yet all too quickly, time moved on, pulling us further and further away from our life with Jessica in spite of all our efforts to resist it. And as time pulled us on, we gradually learned to live alongside our grief. We learned how to navigate the storms. Sometimes we were able to anticipate them. Sometimes we intentionally summoned them.
Three years on, grief is not a brutal, raging beast to be frightened of. Grief has become a companion, a constant presence in my life. I am no longer afraid of the intensity of grief; often, I welcome it. Grief sits with me at times like an old friend, opening up memories and revisiting them, letting me feel the fullness of my love for Jessica, the intensity of my longing for her, the realness of our life with her. Grief gives me unexpected gifts, reminds me that Jessica is incredibly loved and will never be forgotten. I grieve deeply because I love deeply.
That gaping hole in our lives is still there. But our life beyond Jessica has grown around it; created bridges over it. It is no longer a huge black, empty chasm that I am frightened of falling into, but is green with the growth of happy memories. We are learning to adapt to it; to find ways of living with its presence.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t still moments and days when grief is raw and intense and agonising. Those moments still come; they still have the power to take my breath away. There are still times when I look up and scream “Why?! Why do we have to live without you?” and moments when I wonder how I can endure another day without Jessica in it. Moments when I physically ache with the pain of life without Jessica; times when my tears flow and it feels like they might never stop. Moments when I cannot believe that she is not here; that we will never see her again in this life.
But, as she once told me in a dream soon after her death, she is still here with us. She is still very much a part of our lives. Not in the way we wish so much she could be, but she is there. She is there in Thomas’s smile, in Sophie’s gentleness. She is there in the laughter of her siblings, in the space between us as we snuggle together on the sofa. In memories shared, in the moments of imagining life as it might have been and in the little reminders that she is remembered and loved by others. In rare moments, she visits my dreams and for a moment she is there in reality and I can hold her and be with her once more.
Three years ago, life as we knew it shattered into a thousand pieces and changed forever. Time has allowed us to pick up those pieces one-by-one, putting them together to create a different life. Some of those pieces are missing; our family is forever incomplete. More than a family of four, never quite a family of five. We have fallen in the cracks; we live in the ‘in-between’ and the ‘not-quite’ and the ‘what-might-have-been’.
Our family life can never be as it once was. When Jessica was here, we had moments when life felt perfect. Now there are moments when the pieces settle into place and life feels almost perfect, and that’s as good as it can be. It’s a life full of ‘if onlys’ and ‘what ifs’ and questions that will always be unanswered, but there is still beauty in the brokenness. There are still moments of joy waiting to be found and I think Jessica would have wanted us to go out and find that joy.