First of the month …
I would hate to intrude on the 12th of the month thing that Milly has going on, but just now, I was passing Alice's room and I automatically whispered, "pinch, punch" to her … sadly, she can't reply "first of the month", but you get the drift. Anyway, it got me thinking that maybe I should do an update.
Quite how we have survived for almost nine long months, I can't answer.
All I know is that our strength and endurance has been pushed and tested to the extreme.
In exchange for our precious daughter, we have been handed a lifetime of obstacles.
At times, I wonder if we will ever feel truly happy again?
And by 'truly happy', I don't mean a fleeting, six-hour stint of happiness.
Is it strong to wear a mask and continue, pretending things are as normal?
Or is real strength removing that mask and allowing everyone to see what's within?
And how does one move forward when, in doing so, we must leave Alice behind?
Alice was rather proud of herself for making it to 17. Sadly, as was all too frequent in Alice's short life, she spent the entire day in bed after yet another seizure. As friends and family gathered downstairs, the birthday girl was bedridden and mumbling, incoherently about "yappy dogs" to three friends who, despite the lure of cupcakes, remained in Alice's darkened room, arranged around the hard, wooden floor. Exactly four weeks later, she was gone.
Is it strong to celebrate the milestones and achievements of Alice's friends?
Or is it strong to admit that it breaks my heart to watch them experience things she never will?
Of course, there are no answers. No wrong and no right. Just what we feel. The death of a child is such an overwhelming event that you can't begin to understand it unless you've experienced it. No amount of professional training will get you close to the reality.
There are triggers everywhere. We watch each of her friends reach the 'next' birthday, learn to drive, buy a car, get a boyfriend. Each time we drive our cars (which we also have an attachment to), Alice's seat is empty. We go to the beach and there's the ice cream hut with her favourite strawberry ice cream. We open random computer files to discover long discarded video clips and then we have to replay them several times, just to listen to her voice. We scan restaurant menus, automatically looking for something suitable for Alice. We book four seats on a plane, forgetting we only need three. We go through the motions and cling to each other in the hope that strength really does come in numbers.
There is little we can do to remove the pain. We're coming to realise that grief takes its own course and we are but pawns in the game; powerless to dictate direction. But, we have some amazing friends who are still standing beside us and they will forever have a place, deep in our hearts. The friends who aren't afraid to speak Alice's name; the ones who can laugh with us and also cry with us. The ones who know that even though time has passed, the pain hasn't. Our true friends.
My most hated greeting (and the reason I still haven't completed a full supermarket shop since losing Alice), is "How are you"? Do people really want to know (have they got ALL day?), or are they hoping we'll say "fine"? At which point they'll feel better because we're obviously 'over it'. I've responded truthfully just twice in almost nine months. It was a catastrophic mistake. There was huge embarrassment on both sides, followed by an awkward silence. Clearly, the reply should always be "fine" … but those of us in this club already know what that stands for!
Life is equally at odds for Milly and she too has had much to contend with. In just the space of a week, she has had to expand an English storyline about a parent, desperately battling to save their child's life; write and deliver a piece about herself for French; give a newspaper interview about scattering her sister's ashes and deal with the fact that her father is 6,000 miles away on a forced, extended business trip to Japan (I now have strong views that his company are also of the ilk that we should be 'over it' and unaffected by such absences). Each situation is not a deliberate one, but nonetheless, one we have to face.
|Me & Milly, Great Gable - Sunday 29th Sept
(photo taken by a very happy climber we met up there)
Of course, we still have lots to be thankful for; it just means less without Alice being here to share it. Her bone marrow campaigning continues and in the not too far future, I hope to be up and running, visiting everything from the smaller work place to the larger colleges and enrolling in her name. Her charity remains busy helping families in need of an escape and we are on track to buy our second holiday home very soon. We spend a great deal of time outdoors with Alice's beloved puppy dogs … the mountains feel good and we feel free and close to Alice when we're wandering on top of the (Cumbrian) world. Of course, walkers are a happy bunch and smiling is infectious, so it's great therapy too. On Sunday's walk up Great Gable, Milly and I spoke to over a dozen people, one of who we walked a fair distance with … "hello" to Stuart! In just over two weeks time, we fly off to climb Kilimanjaro in Africa and, hopefully, we'll tick another of Alice's wishes off.
Sadly, we'll only be filling three seats, but they'll most definitely be four of us onboard.