Eight years ago today, we were in Oxford for the in-utero heart surgery that gave Jessica a chance of life. A milestone moment at the start of our journey as a family. A miracle that helped to give us six and a half amazing years with our beautiful girl.
What a journey we have been on as a family in those eight years. I will always be grateful for the medical care that Jessica received and the time that we had with her, whilst always, always wishing it could have been so much longer. Always wishing that I could have experienced what life as a family of five would really have been like. I know we are a family of five and Jessica is always a part of our family. But we never got to experience the joys and challenges that come with three living children. Jessica never knew Thomas as Thomas. To her he was Peanut. She didn’t know he would be the baby brother she wanted. And yet sometimes I believe that she does know; that she is watching over us and watching Thomas grow and sometimes it feels like a little part of Jessica lives on in her baby brother. I see her in his smile; I hear her in the little sounds he makes.
Time brings so many changes. Every so often I look at Sophie and realise what a big girl she is becoming; how very little she was in the photos of her and Jessica together. She’s now older than Jessica is in many of the photos that are on display around the house; in another year she will be older than Jessica ever was.
Life post-child loss is always divided into before and after. Our family life before our world was forever shattered and our life as a bereaved family. Two different worlds. Life with our girls and life with one girl, one boy and a constant ache for our biggest girl who should have been there too. A life where the colours are more muted than they once were; where there is a constant undercurrent of sadness beneath the smiles and the happy moments. Of course there are happy moments. We laugh, we enjoy time together – but the ache of missing Jessica is always there and with happiness often comes guilt and fear too. Guilt that life can continue without Jessica in it; fear that we will forget what life with Jessica felt like. Not that we will forget her – we could never do that. But fear that those memories will become soft and fuzzy and we will lose the realness of what life with her was like.
We’re coming up to the end of that first year with Thomas now. I can’t believe that this little boy of ours is about to turn one at the end of next month. He’s on the move now – crawling about, sitting himself up, pulling himself up to stand. Hitting the milestones in the middle of when his sisters did. It fits their personalities. Sophie – my whirlwind, the quickest to crawl and I suspect will stay the quickest to start walking (although there is time for Thomas yet to beat her!). Jessica – the gentle one, doing things at her own pace and time. Thomas – laid-back and placid and in many ways similar to Jessica. Taking his time too but without having to fight the battles that Jessica did before reaching all of her milestones.
We’re doing okay on the whole. Life is very up and down – there are moments of normality, occasional small highs and times when the storm of grief rages all around us and all we can do is hold on to each other and take it moment by moment. This is our normal now. Living with grief, learning to walk with it, trying to honour Jessica and carry her with us wherever we go.