“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
When I look back over the last ten years, the first thought that pops into my mind is the above quote by Charles Dickens. The 2010s have certainly been quite the rollercoaster ride. They started off with a very difficult year for me. A year where I struggled with my grief after my dad died in December 2009; a year where I felt incredibly unsupported and judged by some of those around me. It ended with the company I worked for going bust. I found myself made redundant, with no salary, two weeks before Christmas. The less said about it, the better to be honest.
But as the calendar turned into 2011, things started to look up. I followed my dreams and went self-employed and found out I was pregnant. Things were looking brighter. But then our world was turned upside-down at the 20-week scan when we discovered that baby Jessica had a complex heart defect. In-utero surgery gave us hope that Jessica might survive. Her arrival in September 2011 was one of the most joyful days of my life – as well as one of the scariest as she had her first open-heart surgery at just eight hours old. Two further surgeries followed over the next few months, but as we celebrated the new year in the quiet room with a sneaky bottle of champagne with the other parents on the ward, we were thankful to be together and to have hope for the future.
2012 saw another heart surgery for Jessica, but after she’d recovered, we were able to enjoy a period of normality. These were certainly the best of times – watching our beautiful baby girl grow and thrive; enjoying being a family together. When baby Sophie arrived in October 2013, life felt perfect at first. We had two beautiful little girls and I felt I should have been the happiest mummy in the world. And on the outside, I’m sure I seemed to be, but on the inside, I was struggling. Wondering why I couldn’t cope with normality, when I’d been so strong throughout Jessica’s surgery. Feeling guilty because I didn’t feel like I was bonding with Sophie; terrified that God would take Jessica from me because I loved her so much and I didn’t love her sister enough. Post-natal depression is an evil beast. But in amongst the fog of depression that covered much of 2014, I started to blog and find myself once more.
By 2015, the fog had cleared and life truly was perfection at times. I had two little girls who I utterly adored (there were no longer any doubts on that front!) and other than the odd hospital stay here and there, we were able to enjoy a normal family life. Seeing the love that Jessica and Sophie had for each other; watching them grow up together and play happily together. Of course, there were sibling squabbles every now and then, and days when Mummy would have a bit of a meltdown, and a worrying time in 2016 with my father-in-law in hospital, but life on the whole went by and was wonderful.
As we moved into 2017, the unspoken fear that was always there at the back of our minds began to push itself to the forefront. Jessica was becoming more breathless and needing to use her buggy more, and we knew that the next big surgery was on the horizon. We became acutely aware of how precious those little family moments were, lived from moment-to-moment and tried to capture as much of it as we could; knowing that the future was never guaranteed. On Christmas Day 2017, we had a big surprise for the girls – they were going to have another sibling. Jessica was thrilled – she kept telling everyone that there was a baby in Mummy’s tummy. We tried to make Christmas as magical as we could. Two days after Christmas, we were back in hospital to prepare for Jessica’s heart surgery. We saw in 2018 with Jessica on PICU, relieved to be the other side of the surgery and full of hope for the future.
And at first, all seemed well. Jessica recovered and went back to school and we started to dare to look ahead. Then she caught virus after virus and started to struggle once again with tiredness and lack of energy. We were relieved each time she seemed to bounce back. What we didn’t realise until it was too late, though, was that she didn’t bounce back quite so much each time. We took her to the doctors and got checked over at the hospital; were given antibiotics, but nothing quite seemed to be working. Jessica was tired, longing for spring – as were we – the winter was always a tough time for heart children. Surely Jessica would get better in the spring. But spring was so late in coming that year, and when it finally arrived, Jessica was dead. The day she died was the first beautiful warm sunny day we’d had. I still remember how that felt like an additional slap in the face on top of the most unimaginable pain.
She never got to meet the baby brother she was so desperate for. Baby Thomas arrived in July, three months after his biggest sister’s death. Joy mixed with intense sadness. Oh how Jessica would have adored him.
The first year after Jessica’s death was a blur in many ways. Juggling life with a new baby whilst also having to live life without Jessica and ride the storms of grief. All those firsts without her; so many little milestones for Thomas that she would have been so excited about. The joy of seeing the bond between Thomas and Sophie; forever bittersweet because of how much it reminds us of the girls together and how there should have been two big sisters there with him.
And here we are, twenty months on from Jessica’s death, and about to head into a new decade. The last year and a half has been incredibly hard as we learn to live life as a forever-incomplete family. Jessica taught us so much in her short life and we try to find joy in the little moments and carry her with us wherever we go. Happiness may always come with a side order of sorrow, but there are still happy moments and I am thankful for that.
2019 has been an emotional rollercoaster of a year but it has been lovely to watch Thomas grow from a baby into a toddler; to see Sophie learn and discover new things and to rediscover my love of performing thanks to her too. Watching her play Gretl in The Sound of Music and performing alongside her was definitely a highlight of 2019.
The 2010s have taught me the importance of true friendship. I am thankful for the friends who have stayed with me throughout this decade, those who have come back into my life, and those who have become part of my life along the way.
If I was to choose one word to sum up the last decade, though, it would be family. Our family life together has really been at the heart of everything these last ten years. I am thankful for all those wonderful moments that we had and I would relive it all again if I could. Even if I could just have one more moment from it; to have a moment with Jessica once more.
Time is a relentless beast though. It carries us further away from life with Jessica, no matter how much we want to resist it. All we can do is keep moving forward, trying to do the best we can. Into a new decade, where there will be change and huge challenges ahead. My one hope for the decade ahead is that we are able to meet those challenges.