I remember so vividly the day my sister died.
I woke in the middle of the night to see our bedroom door open, her bed empty. I heard voices coming from down the hall. When I got up to investigate I saw the doctor, my parent’s worried faces. She was lying in their bed, pale and weak. The decision was made that there wasn’t time to wait for an ambulance, she must be taken to hospital immediately.
My older sister was meant to travel with my father that night, but I was ready first. I remember holding her on my lap, her little body all wrapped in blankets, shapeless, the seat belt strapped about us. It was the last time I would ever hold my sister.
I remember driving through the night watching the orange streetlights flash overhead. I remember watching as the nurses placed her in an oxygen tent and wrapped her feet in blankets to get her warm. I remember getting upset, and my father telling me she would be okay.
My grandfather arrived some time later to drop my mother off and take me away to their house to be with my sister. The following morning my parents came back from the hospital and took us down to one of the bedrooms. Lizzy had died a few hours ago. It was Christmas Eve.
To lose a child is a parent’s greatest fear. No parent should bury their child.
As I grew up, I always marveled at how my mother got through that. But I never fully appreciated the mountains she climbed until I became a mother myself. From the moment I conceived, I worried every day I would lose this precious gift. The day I held my little girl in my arms, I cried with joy, but my tears were tainted with the sharp stab of fear that I would lose her. Because I knew that could happen. It happened to us. The pain took my breath away.
Now nearly 4, my oldest girl is curious. She asks me about death and what happens to us and where we go. I’m ashamed to say I have turned away from these questions, as the pain is too much for me sometimes and I don’t want to frighten her. I want to be honest with her.
I want to be able to tell her all about her amazing Aunty Lizzy, about how cheeky and bold and funny she was. How I used to plait her hair for her before school, how she used to eat endless amounts of cucumber, how she used to pinch all our stuff and hide it in her ‘Refreshers’ handbag, how she used to jump on the bed and flash her bare bum at us! I want to show her the beautiful spot where she is buried. I want her to be able to speak as proudly about Lizzy as I do. But when I open my mouth, I can’t get it out. Not yet.
Grief never leaves you. I’ve carried it with me for 28 years, and it has changed with me as I have grown from young girl to teenager to young woman to mother. But I don’t think it will ever feel as poignant as it does now. As my eldest fast approaches 5, the age Lizzy died, I see so much of her aunt in her. Please God don’t take her away from me…
Living without Lizzy has meant pain and loss, but it also means we shared our lives with someone pretty awesome, if but for a short time. As parents, we are all trying. We need to remember that, before we judge or make assumptions. We all love our children, and we are all doing our best.
Dedicated to all my fellow M Word ladies who are brave, inspiring and supportive beyond words!