Another year has rolled around since Abi was last here… on 6th February we were forced to remember the day she collapsed. On 10th February, we thought of the moment we sat by her bedside as the doctor turned off her life support and said goodbye. But mostly, we were reminded of the time when she was ‘ripped’ from our lives.
Three years since we last saw her, heard her, held her, smelt her, laughed with her, kissed her…
Each anniversary has been quite different.
The first was maddening, filled with panic and desperation to cling onto every single moment of grieving her. But then the hope of a new baby was just weeks away to distract us from our misery. Our rainbow baby arrived just two weeks later.
The second anniversary was full of mixed and deeply troubled emotions. I felt stripped bare. Vulnerable. The realisation came in the second year that this departure was permanent. Living with constant anxiety as the responsibilities of being a new parent again took its toll on my vulnerable heart and mind. Not wanting anything to happen to our other children. Living on high alert, every second of the day. All blended in with the immense love and gratitude for our new baby son and the joy he had given us all.
This year will be different again. I’m expecting another baby, what will be our fifth child, and a girl too. Our family feels more settled and I’m feeling kind of OK with our ‘new normal’. The medication is helping to keep most anxiety symptoms at bay. The months of regular professional therapy has been hugely beneficial. The grief is still there, and the trauma memories can return at any time, but it is more an accompaniment to our life rather than the controller of it. And I should point out this is only because we have deliberately intended it to be this way. We were not going to allow grief, no matter how painful, to sink us.
For three years after the sudden death of our child, I feel that’s pretty good going!
The anniversary of Abi’s death is always a confusing time for us, quite naturally as we are forced to remember the pain of the loss and to see others remember that too, yet not really know what we should do with ourselves. There is no easy way through it other than to be as kind and gentle to ourselves as possible, and do what the mood takes us.
We don’t want to start every year with weeks of mourning (after the difficulty of getting through Christmas without her, we next have this to ‘look forward to’). We want to mark the occasion, but to do it for us as well as for Abi, as we have been through so much together yet barely have time or occasion to talk about it.
Shifting the perspective
This year, I asked my hubby if he would like to go away for a night (considering we’ve been on a handful of dates in the last three years and still spend every evening upstairs with our children, this is a big deal!). So I was surprised when he agreed. He asked where we would go. We both, seperately, thought of Bath.
We visited Bath a number of times during the first couple of years of our relationship, pre-children (and there weren’t many as we got together in 1997, were married in 1999 and had Abi in 2000). The last time we went away without our children was for a night to a posh hotel in Bath for our fifth anniversary. That was over ten years ago.
Whereas nearby Bristol reminds us of those last days with Abi in the hospital and the times we have visited since… Bath reminds us of our young love. The love we had when we met. The love of wanting to be together always. The love of planning a wedding and talking about how soon we could have children… It’s the love on which the last 19 years have been established, the love that saw us create our first child, Abigail.
As the eldest child, Abi naturally reminds us of that new love. The love and happiness of starting our family together. That’s not to say she was any more important than our other children, but that she was simply given as our first.
So, why not mark the anniversary of the end of her life by remembering and rekindling the memories of how she came to be? How she started the hope of having more children and having the happy, busy home that we have now?
I didn’t book the hotel until a few days before we had planned to go. After my son had been quite suddenly ill a couple of weeks before, I didn’t want to risk having to cancel and lose money if one of the children was poorly, as of course there was no chance of us leaving them if they were. It’s a part of grief that we have to accept. Never making plans too far ahead, always expecting something to go wrong. I even go so far as to delay buying a new outfit, always at the back of my mind is a nagging doubt. Why bother? And with my baby due in May, I’m not looking at any clothes or baby things until much nearer the due date. It’s not that I feel something bad will happen, it’s just not expecting too much. Trying not to get too excited, to protect my weary heart.
I looked on Laterooms.com and there were a handful of hotels available, knowing most options would likely be gone. We wanted just one night at a weekend (usually a minimum of 2 nights is required at a hotel) and the weekend before Valentine’s (likely busy!), we also needed to be in central Bath so I didn’t have to walk (waddle!) too far. Out of the five or so hotels offering a room, one stood out. The Abbey Hotel. Obviously!
It ticked all the boxes and I chose a nice room and breakfast.
The weekend went well. We left the children with my hubby’s parents and while we found that hard, again we knew we had to do this… for us. We didn’t do much exciting while we were there – eating out (a lot!), shopping (treats for the kids) and a bit of sightseeing including a visit to Bath Abbey where we lit a candle for Abi.
We had time to talk. About the distant past, the recent past, the present, and the future. It felt strange without the children in tow but also was nice for us to not have to think about keeping an eye on them. A little bit of headspace in our hectic world.
One thing we agreed on, is that our home, while changed in many respects and with new children, is lacking the voice of a teenage girl. Abi. The house could be filled with 10 children and still we would notice the absence of Abi’s voice and personality. Having other children, yes, has distracted from the silence, but still the presence of the silence is always there for us. The dynamic has changed and will remain so, and we’re gradually adapting, but not forgetting.
Home from our weekend, we had some lovely and thoughtful cards and beautiful flowers from friends along with lots of messages on social media and text to catch up on. Knowing others remember Abi in their own ways is always a comfort to us. My family even clubbed together to buy us a bunch of flowers that replicated the flowers in my wedding bouquet – again, a way of remembering the early days of love, hope and future plans.
The time was still hard, we were still both a little subdued, on edge and weary, but also it felt like a good way to remember the girl who helped us begin our life together. Who has left such a mark on us, and others in the short time she was here. It would be nice to try to do this ‘get away’ at every anniversary if we can, to remember Abi for who she was not how she died, and to remember all that we are to each other.