Grief has become part of my life now. It’s a constant presence in our everyday lives. Sometimes grief sits quietly in the background and we are almost able to forget that it is there. At other times, grief comes up and shouts in my face. It grabs my hands and forces me to dance with it, whether I want to or not. If I try and ignore it, it just shouts more loudly. Sometimes I can find space for grief; sometimes it is welcomed in and embraced. Other times I want to run as far as I can, to keep running and running, hoping I can leave grief behind, but it always catches me up in the end. All I can do is try and learn and live with grief as best I can.
I often describe grief as being like a stormy sea. Sometimes the sea rages and roars and I feel like I am lost in the storm and drowning in the waves that crash over me. Sometimes I find myself fighting the storm; at others, I drift along with it, allowing it to carry me where it will. And then there are days when the sea is calm and still, and I can breathe once more and move forward.
My husband describes grief as being like a box. Sometimes we can close the lid on the box and carry on with our daily lives. Sometimes we need to open the lid of the box, just a crack, to remind ourselves of all that is inside it. There are times when we can crack the box open and allow ourselves to look inside, but sometimes the lid just bursts open and the contents of the box go everywhere.
We’re now two and half years on from Jessica’s death and about to face our third Christmas without her. Two and a half years on, I would say that I am still very much learning how to live with grief and I suspect that learning to live with it will be an ongoing lesson for the rest of my life. My grief has evolved over the past two years. In those early days, it was raw and sharp and the pain was constant and overwhelming. Two years on, the grief is still there, the ache is still there. I miss Jessica every moment of every day, but the pain is not always as raw as it was.
There are moments when grief catches me by surprise – when the pain of having to live without Jessica is overwhelming and intense; when I feel like I am drowning in grief. And there are days when I get through the day quite well; enjoying the little moments of the day. While I still miss Jessica and long for her presence on those days, it is not as raw and as sharp as it is on the days when the storms of grief rage around me. On those days when the sea of grief is calm, I sometimes feel guilty for enjoying the moments and worry that I am not missing Jessica enough, that I am not feeling sad enough.
I am slowly learning that it is okay to enjoy life again. Two years ago, people would tell me that Jessica would want me to be happy, and it would make me want to scream – “what does it matter what Jessica would want – she’s not here!!” And now, I am able to tell myself, yes Jessica would want me to be happy. Jessica would want me to make life fun for her brother and her sister, just as I made life fun for her and Sophie. She would want me to love them and make the most of time with them because she had so much love to give.
Christmas is a difficult time of year not just because the pain of Jessica’s absence is even more acute at this time of year. Three years ago, this was the time of year when we were preparing for Jessica’s last heart surgery. When we were in and out of hospital preparing for a surgery that was cancelled twice. It finally went ahead three days after Christmas.
I remember focusing on that last Christmas Day, wanting to make it magical and special, wanting the girls to have a wonderful day and holding the fear of what the future might hold in until they were both asleep. I will forever be grateful that I was able to do that; that Jessica’s last Christmas was a special one and that even though I am now living the life that was my biggest fear, I didn’t let that fear stop us making the most of the time we had with Jessica.
I remember on one of those hospital trips, Jessica saying goodbye to Sophie who was going to stay with Nanny until after Jessica had recovered from her surgery. She held her little sister close, looking into her eyes and telling her to be a brave little girl at Nanny’s, and to have fun and to tell her (Jessica) all about it when they were together again. On the night before Jessica was due to have heart surgery, her only worry was that her little sister would be okay. And I think of that scene now, only I’m the one standing in front of Jessica. She’s telling me to be brave, to enjoy my life and to tell her all about when I see her again.
One day I will see her again. Until then, I’ll try and be brave and enjoy life as best I can. But I’ll also allow myself the space and time I need to feel the sadness of her loss and grieve when I need to. It’s okay to grieve; it’s okay to be sad and to let myself feel what I need to feel. And it’s also okay to feel joy and happiness too. Allowing myself to feel joy does not mean that I no longer grieve. It does not mean that I have forgotten Jessica or love her any less. It’s okay to feel what I need to feel in each moment – whether that is joy or sadness. I know that the storms of grief will come and go, and I’ll keep on learning how to navigate them. This is what it is to live with grief.