Three years ago today, we were off on holiday to the Isle of Wight, hoping that the break would be good for Jessica and that she would start to pick up again after struggling with energy levels and various viruses in the run-up to it. It turned out to be the last holiday we would ever have with her – two weeks later, she was dead. I still struggle looking back at the memories of that holiday – those last family photos of us together – so many last moments, the feeling of guilt that still haunts me from time to time that we didn’t do enough in those last weeks even though at the time we were back and forth to the doctors and spoke to the cardiac nurses during that holiday.
I try not to let the guilt get to me. We did what we thought was right at the time and no amount of wishing we’d done things differently will bring Jessica back to us. But this is a tough time of year as we come up to the anniversary of Jessica’s death and this third year feels just as hard as the first one did, to be honest.
Three years on, our family looks so different. Sophie is a year older than Jessica was when she died; Thomas, the brother Jessica never met, is growing from a toddler into a little boy. Watching the two of them together often reminds me so much of how the girls were together. I hear them giggling together, see little heads bent close together over an iPad and I see flashes of the girls as they were. I hear Jessica in the way Thomas says certain words and phrases; I see her smile in his cheeky grin. I watch him and I know that Jessica would have adored him and my heart aches for all the moments that she’s missed; all the moments that we’ve all missed.
Family life without Jessica here is forever incomplete. Forever wondering how things could have been; always being aware of that one person who is missing. We carry her with us; we include her photo in our family photos – but her absence is always a huge hole in our lives. It breaks my heart that Thomas will only ever know his biggest sister through photos and videos and the stories we tell and that while we continue to affirm that we are a family of five, we will never experience the reality of life as a family of five.
Three years on, life feels so very different from how it did on that day we headed off on holiday. We were blissfully unaware of how suddenly our lives could change, enjoying a normality that we took for granted. Three years into life as a bereaved parent and a year into living through a pandemic, we’ve learned just what a gift normality really is. All those little family moments that we once took for granted; being able to spend time with our extended family. It’s been six months now since I last saw my family and much longer since I was able to hug any of them. What I wouldn’t give at times to be able to step back into those past moments – if only for a short time – just to be able to be with those I love and miss; just to be able to have moments with Jessica again.
In the meantime though, we’ll just keep moving forward as best we can. Holding on to hope, holding on to our precious memories and trying to be thankful for the moments we have now.