When it comes to describing life as a bereaved parent and living with grief, there are two analogies I tend to use. The first is that of grief as a stormy sea. It is a sea that carries me further and further away from my life with Jessica, no matter how much I wish it wouldn’t. There are times when the waves feel like they are constantly crashing over me and it is a struggle to stay afloat, and there are times when the sea is calmer and I float along with it.
The other way I picture my grief is as a box. A box that contains all the beautiful little moments of our life with Jessica, all the memories we have. It holds her smile, her laughter, her zest for life. It holds our life as it used to be. And it holds all the emotions that come with those memories.
In the beginning, the box was huge. It was constantly there in front of us and it felt impossible to get around it, to carry on with daily life. All those memories, all those moments, spilled out of the wide-open box. So many moments and memories all around us; reminders of the life that was once ours and was now gone forever. They were everywhere. And we had no idea how to navigate our way through the messiness of this new life that was now ours.
But life had to move forward and we had to learn how to contain those beautiful memories and moments inside the box. Sometimes we sat on the box and forced the lid down; pushed the memories away, because otherwise we were overwhelmed by the contents. Often, the lid would fly off though and those memories would be everywhere once more.
We had no choice but to make space for the box in our lives. And gradually, we adjusted to its constant presence. Slowly but surely, our life after Jessica started to grow around the box and made it seem smaller.
The box is now part of the furniture – part of the things that make up the everyday features of our lives. We might not always be consciously aware of it there. A lot of the time, it sits quietly in the corner as we go about our day. Sometimes we bump into it and the lid bursts open unexpectedly and the contents spill out everywhere. Sometimes we choose to sit on the lid to stop it opening because we don’t quite feel able to deal with what’s inside the box and the emotions that we know will come out. Opening the box can be a messy experience especially when we’re not prepared for it.
There are moments though when the box is like a treasure chest. We might open it just a crack to look at the beauty inside. And at other moments, we throw the lid wide open and look over the treasure inside – all those beautiful moments, all those beautiful memories – and let the emotions that come with them spill out everywhere too. Remembering with love the moments with Jessica and the life that we shared with her.
It’s a funny thing, this box. I’m half-afraid of it at times, but it’s one of the most precious things I own. It’s my connection to the life we had, to the love that I still have for my beautiful Jessica. Yes, opening the box can be messy and exhausting, but it can also be beautiful and wonderful too. It’s a box that holds a lifetime of love.