365 days since we lost our girl. It’s been one whole year. Reaching a year has been a long hard slog but we have made it. It’s strange how so much has happened but so little has changed. Megan has blessed our life with laughter and love. Owen has not stopped growing or being our buddy. Rob has gone back to work. I’ve gone back to work. The world has been hit by a pandemic. All this and part of me is still in 2019. I will always feel like her passing was yesterday.
This year has been an experience. An experience in learning how to live with visceral grief. An experience in how to create a new life when you actually quite liked the old one. It is has been like trying to piece together a broken mirror. You might find all the pieces but you can’t really put it back together and even if you try the cracks will always be there and your reflection distorted. Our life is distorted.
At the beginning of the year I had no idea how I would move forward. Waking up the day after Eleri died I didn’t even know how to get out of bed. I don’t mean that figuratively – I physically couldn’t move. I had to take myself through the process of getting out of bed step by step. The first step was to sit up, then it was stand, then walk to the bathroom, go to the toilet, turn the shower on, take clothes off, get in shower, wash body, wash hair, turn shower off, put towel on, get out of shower…the list goes on. I did it. I made it all the way to getting dressed and then my friends, family and the staff at the hospice took over guiding me through the day. I couldn’t see how I would ever function again, but each day I have got back more and more functionality. I can’t call it anything else because I have learned that you function with this kind of grief, you move through the days relying on learned responses. You do things because you remember that’s how you should do them. You do them because that is what you have always done.
You get better at looking normal. You get better at living. The tiredness begin to pass. Routines start to come back to you. You follow them, but it feels like an out of body experience. You are doing and saying the right things, but inside your are numb. You are still broken and always will be. It is this that I have had to come to terms with. I came to the realisation that I’ll never be ‘fixed’. There will always be a crack no matter how many times I paper over it.
Where does that leave us? Well, it means creating a new life. A friend who lost a brother to cancer at a young age now describes having two lives; one before the death of his brother and one after. That is exactly how I now feel. We built a life around Eleri from the moment she was born. We had plans and dreams. She had plans and dreams. These plans and dreams will now never happen. In order to move forward we have to adapt and create a new world for us to live in. It’s not just me and Rob, but Owen too. He has gone from being the little brother to being the eldest sibling. For anyone that has or is an elder sibling, you know that it is a very different role. It comes with expectation and responsibility, two things Owen has never had to deal with. He has stepped up. He has become an amazing big brother. He is also finally singing and laughing again. There were weeks and months where we worried that he wouldn’t ever be happy again. But he has got there. As adults we always underestimate the resilience and adaptability of children. We really should give them more credit.
Part of creating a new life has been accepting that you can’t just get up and get on. You have to adapt. I’m a dust yourself off and get on with it sort of person. I’m really good at powering through. I’m really good at sticking with something even when I feel unhappy with it. Translate that to this situation and I found myself trying to do all the activities that I did before Eleri was poorly – a lot of which revolved around or were linked to her in some way. For some reason I believed that sticking it out would mean I would get better. If I did the normal things that I would feel normal again. How wrong I was.
You can’t power through this sort of grief. You have to make changes. I have had to avoid doing things or seeing people that are closely linked with Eleri. I can’t just keep doing them in the hope that I will overcome the pain. The pain is never going away. I’m never going to be able to shrug it off. Grief is now a part of my soul and I can’t ignore it. I have to be kind to myself and mindful of what I need for self preservation. I can’t break down all the time as I have two other children that need me. To be there for them I have to turn away from people, places and situations that are triggers.
It has taken me all year to be ok with life moving on. For so long I was angry that we had to leave her behind. Now I realise that we aren’t leaving her behind, I’m leaving a part of me with her. We will always be a family of five, there will always be a seat at our table for her. Now we have to make new happy memories, we have to find new traditions, new favourite places. I don’t want to do any of that, but we have to.
This weekend it feels like we have started to rebuild. We had a mini holiday in the south coast and then came back to mark Eleri’s passing by planting a tree in her favourite park. It has been, without doubt, them best thing we could have done. I feel happy and content that we have managed to remember her as well as making new memories. We have blended our two lives. I don’t feel guilty for carrying on. We now have a positive association with this weekend and we will keep on building on that. Hopefully year on year it will become a celebration full of happiness and joy. Happiness and joy is what Eleri was all about and I couldn’t think of a better way of honouring her.