It’s twenty years today since I headed out of my student house to go to karaoke night in the union bar, turning around to my housemate as I left with the words “It’s great being single. I’m going to stay single for a long time!” Famous last words. Five hours later, I returned with a friend who came back for coffee and left with a few kisses on the doorstep. The start of a beautiful relationship with the man who is now my husband and a wonderful daddy to our three children.
I’d known M for two years. We’d met through the ballroom dancing society; got to know each other through competing in acrobatic rock ‘n’ roll. I’d never thought of him as anything other than a friend. In fact, as that evening had progressed and I’d become aware that friendly banter was becoming flirting, I’d actually told my housemate to stop me flirting with M because he was my friend and it wasn’t fair of me to flirt with him when I had no intention of him being anything other than a friend! And here we are, twenty years on. Who’d have thought it?!
We’ve come a long way from the young couple who got together that night. It was such a different world – those student days. A world before 9/11, before social media. When we were young and innocent, full of hope for the future. Had you asked me shortly after we got together, where I hoped we’d be twenty years on, it would have been a picture of us happily married, raising a family together. There were certainly times in those first few years when I wondered if that would ever happen. We’d been together over eight years by the time M finally popped the question. We got married eight months later and it was one of the happiest days of my life. The first year was a tough one though as my dad died a few months after our wedding and I struggled a lot with depression in the year that followed.
A year later, the dark clouds had lifted, we’d bought a house and were expecting our first baby. That daydream of us raising a family together was about to become a reality. And then we found out that our baby had a complex heart defect and our lives changed forever. The fear and uncertainty that came with life as heart parents brought out strength that we never realised we had. There were battles to face, but we would face them together. And we’ve continued to do so.
What a wonderful gift our little Jessica was. She brought us more joy than we could have ever imagined; she taught us that each day was a gift and to enjoy each moment as it comes. Two years later, Sophie arrived – our little whirlwind. The first year was tough due to postnatal depression, but watching our two little girls growing up together and seeing the beautiful bond that they shared brought so much joy.
We found out we were expecting Thomas shortly before Jessica had her last heart surgery. She was so excited about having another sibling. I will never forget her telling all the doctors and nurses “my mummy has a baby in her tummy!”. It was a scary time with Jessica going through surgery once more, with M and I working out a routine so that one of us was always there with Jessica; working together as a team. We got through it; Jessica came home, recovered, went back to school – everything was going to be okay. We were looking forward to life with three children; a dream that was completely and utterly shattered when Jessica suddenly collapsed and died.
Nothing can ever prepare you for the loss of a child. Living without Jessica is by far the hardest thing we have ever had to do. In those dark days immediately following Jessica’s death, we clung to each other. Neither of us knowing how on earth we would get through the days ahead but trying to give each other what little strength we could. On the day of Jessica’s funeral, I remember turning to my husband and asking how on earth we would get through the day. He simply replied,
“We will get through it the way we always get through. Together. I will be there by your side throughout. We are a team.”
We are a team. There have been many times when our grief feels too big for our marriage to hold, many days when just keeping going feels unbearably hard, but we have got through it together. Supporting each other, grieving with each other, loving each other. We are still a team.
My husband is the one person that has walked this journey with me; the one person who really knows what that journey has been. He has been there throughout the most wonderful highs and the most devastating lows. He was there in those first precious moments with each of our children and those agonising last seconds of Jessica’s life. There is no-one else who understands this journey as he does. He has given me strength when the journey has felt too hard. He has seen me at my most broken; seen me at my worst and at my best. And he has loved me, even when I have not been easy to love.
I’m glad I didn’t know what life had in store for us. We’ve come a very long way from the young couple we were and life is a long way from how I once dreamed it might be. But I am thankful for twenty years with this wonderful man by my side, thankful for his love, his strength, and for our three beautiful children.