We made it. I know it’s only one anniversary of many, but it’s another hurdle crossed. The sense of relief, that we didn’t drag ourselves over that hurdle in broken pieces but as a fully functioning family unit, scarred and incomplete but healthy, is so reassuring.
On that day, a year ago, when our boy left us to go on into eternity, and we gathered our things from the place we had lived in for so many months, and got into the back of my parents' car, there were two prevailing thoughts in my head.
The first was “How will we ever manage to do things again?” A whole myriad of things swarmed through my brain – eating meals together at home, movie nights, going on holiday, playing games, birthdays, Easter egg hunts, Christmas – that we would continue to do, and yet he wouldn’t ever be doing them with us. I’d forgotten how we did any of those things before him, and I was terrified at facing them all again without him. I had no idea how our other children would cope, especially the band of brothers who had never known life without him as part of their tribe.
So yesterday when I thought back to that day a year ago, there was definitely a feeling of triumph – that we had faced all those things at least once each, and had been able to get back on our feet again afterwards, no matter how hard it was. There is so much comfort in that, knowing that if we’ve done it the first time, we can do it again.
Somebody recently complemented us on how well we were doing but asked if we ever ‘slip’ into an emotional state about it all. I think the thing we’ve found is that we don’t see any of the emotions that come with what we’ve been through as a negative thing. Obviously we have to respond appropriately in certain times, so sometimes we have to hold back if we know it’s not a good place or time, but generally if we feel sad or angry or depressed, we just go with it. We ring each other up, or wait till the kids have gone to bed, then we’ll have a good cry and a wallow with some photos and memories, but it’s always with the view that we don’t allow it to paralyse us or affect any big life decisions. Sometimes it’s ten minutes in the car and sometimes it’s a week where I struggle to get out of bed and avoid spending time with other people as much as possible, but it rises and falls, and so we let it, and we’ve found that the unbearable moments of grieving always pass, and that eventually they get shorter and less frequent, but we will never expect them to pass completely.
The second thought going through my head that day was simply “It’s over”. From the intensity of sitting by a bed for weeks, being ruled by machines and medication, waiting for the last thing you want to happen, trying to fight it when you’ve got nothing left to fight it with, not knowing what to think, speak or pray, to suddenly find it all behind you, and know that you never have to spend another minute of your life worrying about your son because he’s made it through the worst and now is placed into the ultimate, best and most satisfying existence – there’s a huge, release in that moment.
Riding home to tell the rest of the family the news, replaying the awfulness of what we’d witnessed in the last few days, the sky was the most brilliant blue I’d ever seen, totally unexpected after months of grey drizzle. It was glorious, with barely a cloud and in my blurry, non-sensical sleep-deprived state, I just kept thinking that it was like heaven was having a massive party (that lasted for the next ten days) to welcome our boy and to celebrate that his suffering was over, and that they’d made the sky as blue and sparkly as his eyes used to be.
The surrealness of stepping from the dim hospital room and all that we had just witnessed, into the sunniest, brightest, bluest day I think I’d ever seen was huge. And running parallel to all my other thoughts about how we would cope today, tomorrow and forever after, was this picture of the biggest book you’ve ever seen, and a giant hand turning a huge page with great finality, and the words in my head; “A new chapter is about to begin”. There was a hope and a thrill (like the old-fashioned sense of the word that doesn’t just mean excitement, but like a jolt of mixed emotions that pass through the body all at once) that just couldn’t be explained in that moment. Something was going to happen, and it was going to be big and amazing - the pulling together of so much that had gone before, and the unveiling of things we had never seen. I had no idea what it was, I only knew that it had to be from God because it was the most unexpected way to be feeling on that day in that circumstance.
And it really has been like that. The way people have pulled around us, the physical and emotional blessings we’ve been showered with this year, the way the children have flourished, the new friendships that have begun, the promises that we received in the past that we’re seeing coming to life now – really, it’s beyond amazing. Everything I’ve ever believed has been cemented deeper into me because I’ve seen it now as well as hearing about it.
I never thought we would have moved back to Morecambe and be doing what we’re doing now. I thought the only way to move forward was to move away, but when we decided to give it another go, I said to God (in that naive, self-involved way that we all do, as if we’re in charge and He’s not) that I couldn’t go back if everything was going to stay the same. I felt a real assurance that it wouldn’t be. And it hasn’t been.
He has changed so much in us that we are far more equipped to do the job now than we were before. He has kept people on the ground who have blown us away with their faithfulness, resilience and commitment to the shambles we left them in. And new people have come who have brought exactly what was needed into the situation.
So this is the first anniversary of our loss, our son’s promotion into glory, and the beginning of our new chapter. I wonder what the next year will hold.