For the last few New Years, my wish at the start of the year was always the same: to end it with my family still complete. As we saw in the start of 2018, I was full of hope that my wish would be granted once again. Jessica was the other side of her Fontan procedure. She was recovering well on PICU and had come off the ventilator that afternoon. I remember one of the nurses brought over a laptop so that Jessica could see the fireworks at the London Eye. We took a selfie of the three of us together, full of joy to be ending one year together and seeing in the next.
We saw in seven New Years with Jessica, three of them in hospital. When Jessica came home in January, we thought we could at last start to look ahead a little, anticipating the excitement of a new baby, looking forward to becoming a family of five. A dream of a life that was never to be. Jessica’s sudden death in April turned hope into heartbreak. Our excitement at the thought of welcoming a new baby disappeared. Our family life had changed forever. Where there had once been four, there was now three. The arrival of baby Thomas, the brother Jessica had longed for, made us four once more, when it should have been five.
The last year feels very divided looking back. There was our life with Jessica – the life we all miss and long for every day. That time between losing Jessica and welcoming Thomas is best described as being like walking across a wobbly bridge across a chasm, with the bridge collapsing behind us as we moved forward. On one side, our family life with Jessica and Sophie; on the other, life with Sophie and Thomas. Two very different family lives. One complete; one forever incomplete.
It has, without a doubt, been the worst year of my life. And yet, it breaks my heart to be coming to the end of it. I would live over this year again and again, if only to have the first few months of it with Jessica all over again. 2018 was a year in which Jessica lived. Tomorrow, we turn the page of the calendar into a new year that never had Jessica in it.
It may be only a date, but each change in month, season, year brings it home that time moving on takes us further and further from our life with Jessica. I have said before that time does not heal; time hurts. It has been eight and half months since Jessica died. The pain of her loss is as raw as it was in those early days. In fact, the festive season has brought some of the hardest days yet. It’s not just the pain of having to get through our first Christmas without Jessica; it is also the anniversary of her Fontan surgery. I remember that smiley, happy little girl who was so excited at the prospect of a “sleepover” at the doctors. We only really got her back for a short time before she became ill.
For me, in many ways, the Fontan marks the beginning of the end. From now on, we start the journey towards Jessica’s “angelversary”. The memories of this time last year now become “last times” and become increasingly painful.
We have survived this first Christmas. In fact, I would say we did more than survive it – we even managed to enjoy it in places. Going away for Christmas was the best thing we could have done. It gave us a chance to make new memories, to try to focus on it being Thomas’s first Christmas and to do something completely different. We couldn’t have spent it at a better place than Coombe Mill. Sophie had such a wonderful time there feeding the animals on the feed run in the morning and going on the train ride in the afternoon. We got out each day, talked to other people, watched Sophie make friends. Sophie had a magical Christmas and I am thankful for it.
Twixtmas has been harder for us. The quiet of the period between Christmas and New Year, the return to more normal routines and the countdown to the start of a new year. Crossing the threshold between this last year with Jessica into a new year without her will be painful. I know though that Jessica is always with us and that we will continue to carry her forward into 2019. There will be many tough days ahead, but we will face them as we have always done. Together. Forever incomplete. But still together.