It has been five years since I last heard her voice, received one of her handwritten notes, or exchanged a hug with her. In some ways, this feels incomprehensible to me. When friends and work colleagues ask “How many years is it now?” I generally reply “She died January 2014”. I struggle to actually say out loud that it’s been five years. My mind cannot process the fact that I have lived five years without our brown-eyed, second-born daughter, with her heart-shaped nostrils and her infectious laugh.
The other night Leah was alive in my dreams and we were again a family of six, laughing and talking together- it was so lovely. I awoke to the stark realisation that she is not here. It reminded me of those early days after Leah died when I woke up each morning to a fresh awareness of grief and loss.
This academic year Leah’s friends are celebrating their 21st birthdays and several of them are graduating from university. Many of them still keep in touch with me and I really appreciate this. I enjoy seeing their posts on social media and I’m happy to see them doing well.
Looking back over the years since Leah left us, I would say that the first year was awful. The second year was, if anything, even more, awful than the first. The third year was also really, really, hard.
However, by the fourth year, we as a family had begun to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. I wouldn’t say that we started to “move on” or “get back to normal”, as this will never happen. However, we have gradually found ourselves more able to have fun and enjoy life together again. Activities and destinations that had felt too painful before, gradually began to feel possible again. This past Christmas we stayed at home together on Christmas Day for the first time since Leah died, and it was good. Previous years this would have felt too painful – we have been spending Christmas Day with our extended family since Leah died.
Every grieving person’s timeline will be different. There is no magic formula for grief. I still have no-go areas; activities and destinations that are just too painful to attempt as yet. We are blessed with a large supportive extended family, some of whom gather with us each year, for Leah’s anniversary and her birthday, to help us celebrate her life. I have fabulous friends and work colleagues. Being a Christian helps, knowing that I will be with Leah again after I die. We as a family have also benefitted greatly from the support of organisations from within the voluntary and charitable sector.
Nevertheless, there are still some days when it feels like nothing helps, some days when the littlest thing knocks the scar off the wound of grief and there I am, raw and bleeding, completely distraught yet again. The really bad days are much less frequent than they once were, but my tears are never far away and it doesn’t take a lot to bring them on. Tears can be a release though and sometimes it’s good to let the tears flow. I draw comfort from what a blessing Leah’s life was and how fortunate we were to have had her in our lives for sixteen years.
Leah loved being involved in Children’s Ministry and her plan for when she left school was to train to work with children and young people. I will never forget her face lighting up as she attempted to do all the actions to a popular children’s Bible song that I played on YouTube during one of the days that she was critically ill on a ventilator in ICU. In church last Sunday we sang a catchy children’s song that was new to me. I immediately thought about how much Leah would have enjoyed this song and how she would have probably sung it around the house. Have a listen, maybe you will find yourself singing along too:
I am special, loved, accepted and forgiven
I am the apple of God’s eye
I am special, loved, accepted
Special, loved, protected
And I don’t even have to try
He loved me before the world began
He calls me by my name
His love will last for all time
And will never, ever change