Oh my Belsie, my darling daughter
How I have dreaded this day… for weeks and months now…the day 1 year ago that you left this earth. Each day this week prior to today has been almost unbearable, the anticipation of today almost eating me alive. In all that I have read they say that apparently the build up to the day is generally worse than the day itself? And I must say, I woke up this morning with a sense of calm and peace, not as distraught and devastated as I have been the last few days. I can now feel the heaviness starting to come over me again but I am also trying to hold onto that sense of peace.
While the last year seems to have gone by in a blur, with not much retention of anything that has gone on around me, I remember those few days before you died and the day you died with absolute clarity. You hadn’t been well on the weekend, battling with temperatures and a chest infection. And yet, you were still just as good as gold, always smiling and just an absolute pleasure. I remember on the Sunday morning that we all went for a walk on the promenade early in the morning. You had a short nap in your pram as we walked, and your brother and dad went to explore the rock pools. We then went to Tasha’s for breakfast and you sat in the highchair, eating your snack and pounding the table with your toys, chatting away with your dad, while I ran around after your brother trying to ensure that he didn’t destroy the restaurant. In the afternoon, you and I went and sat outside under the tree in the garden, you in some of your summer clothes for the first time, and we had some good quality time together.
On the Monday evening, I took you up to bath at 6pm like I normally did, while your dad stayed downstairs with your brother. You had seen the doctor that morning and were starting to feel a lot better. You were kicking and splashing in the bath, screeching in delight at me, and I took a video of you enjoying yourself. It’s the last video or photo that we have of you. I haven’t watched the video for months now, finding it just way too hard. It’s the same thing with photos. We have photos of you up in our home and on my desk, and it is hard but also comforting. But to see any “new” photos, any that I haven’t looked at in a while, that’s too hard right now. It feels like being punched in the stomach.
On the day you died, Tuesday 15 September, I had to be in Bellville to give a presentation at 9am. I remember getting you and Murray all ready, giving you your breakfast, and then running out the door at 8am, leaving you sitting in your highchair “chatting” away to Connie and your brother. And that was the last time I saw you alive. Every single detail of the rest of that day is crystal clear in my mind. I remember what I wore, what time I got the phone call, the drive home, who was there that day, it goes on and on. I play it over and over and over again, obsessing about it, unable to get away from it, unable to soften the harsh reality of it. We are still so very very grateful to everybody who helped us through that day and the days that followed, many people strangers to us until then. Their lives also forever changed by what happened. As we said a year ago, the value of community truly came to the fore over that time.
I have thought so much about this day, how we would “mark” the day in which you left us, 1 year ago. Because it isn’t a celebration, it’s a day we are marking the worst thing that could ever have happened to any parent, the loss of a child. And to be honest, absolutely nothing feels right. When I would think about it a few months ago, I always imagined that I would have your little brother Thomas, just 7 weeks old, and that this would in some way comfort my broken heart. But I don’t have that comfort today. So your dad, brother and I have gone to hide on a farm. I wanted to be away from the house, where I could physically play everything over and over again in the space that it happened. I also just wanted to be able to “be”. Not to have to feel strong for anybody, not to have to hold myself together. We lit 2 candles this morning. 1 single column one just for you, and another with 3 wicks in, one for each of our beloved children. And we will leave these to burn until they burn out. We have just released balloons into the sky to you, with messages attached, in some way trying to feel closer to you, closer to where you are; hoping that our messages reach you.
Today I choose not just to mourn you, and there will be lots of that, but also to celebrate the amazing 7.5 months we were blessed to have with you, because I would do it all over again, exactly the same way, just for the privilege of bringing you into this world and knowing you. We can’t make sense of a loss like this, I never will and have stopped trying, but I know that I will always always be grateful for the short time we did have with you.
I think of all the things I have missed out on the last year with you
- Your first birthday
- Watching you learn to crawl and walk, and then run after your brother
- Cutting your teeth
- Learning to talk
- Seeing that little personality grow and develop
- Watching the bond between you and your brother grow. He misses you so very very much
- Dressing you in all your sweet little girl clothes
- Thinking about schools for you
- Watching you interact with your little friends as you start to play with each other as opposed to side by side
- Watching you wrap your dad around your little finger
- Observing and being absorbed in the chaos of our home on a daily basis
- Bathing you and reading you your bedtime story, that beautiful quiet time together
- All my cuddles and kisses from you
- Walking in to check on you every night before I go to sleep
The list is just endless. It’s just every single moment of every single day that I no longer get to spend with you.
In amongst the enormity of my grief I have certainly learnt a few things about myself, about your dad, about our marriage, my family and about people in general.
- I have learnt that I am strong and resilient, even stronger than I thought. But I have also learnt that I am not bulletproof and that sometimes things just do seem like too much. That I need to learn to listen to my body better and that I need to sometimes just take “time out” even when it seems to contrary to what I think I need to do to cope.
- I have learnt that no matter how bad things seemed, there was always something worth living for, there is always a silver lining.
- I have learnt that life isn’t fair – it isn’t meant to be. I have learnt that there is no point in asking “why me?” and being bitter about things, this will only lead to self-destruction. Instead be grateful for the real gift that life is, and try and find things to celebrate every single day
- I have learnt that I am not good at voicing my feelings to those that are closest to me, and that I need to be better at this. This is part of the wonderful power of our blog (which I was absolutely horrified about when James initially told me he was setting it up). Every time we post something it is terrifying to so openly share ones feelings, but it has seemed to help to inform people “where we are” without me having to find the energy to deal with each person individually. It has also helped others who have experienced loss in parts of their journey, and its helping to keep your memory alive.
- I have learnt the power of therapy and finding someone or something that you connect with and what a healing process this can be. I have learnt that no matter how much I dread going because I know how exhausting each session in, its good for me. Self-care is vital – you can’t put this in a box and run away from it – it will come and bite you at some stage
- I have learnt that a father having to watch his daughter endure such pain and not be able to “fix” it is perhaps the hardest challenge for any father to face
- I have learnt of the power of community. The power of family, friends and strangers. The inherent kindness in people. I have learnt of the endless patience people have had with me, the endless want to help, how some have just known so intuitively what to do to help me and us. I have learnt what it means to be a true friend and I am so grateful that I have so many.
- I have learnt how to say yes (and no) and how to accept help. I was terrible at doing that before!! Let people carry you when you can’t carry yourself. Being able to accept help graciously is a very important life lesson.
- I have learnt not to persecute people that don’t act appropriately – who swear loudly under their breath when they see me, cross the street to avoid me, don’t acknowledge our loss. It is their stuff, not mine and I can’t take it on and let it make me upset. I rather try and educate in whatever way I can that not knowing what to say is okay, and that “I am sorry” perfectly suffices. And I am certainly different with how I personally interact with people now
- I have learnt that in a marriage its often not 50/50! Sometimes one person has nothing to give and you have to carry them, and how just as quickly the strong one can become the weak one. That as long as you remain truthful, loyal and communicate, committed to those marriage vows of “through sickness and health, through good times and bad” you can get through almost anything. Every day we wake up and remember to be kind, patient, loving and forgiving and remember that we are a team.
- I have learnt not to sweat the small stuff. In fact most of the time the small stuff doesn’t even feature on my radar anymore. Life is just too precious and too short to spend time worrying about the things which don’t make a difference at the end of the day. Take time to be in the moment and to just appreciate every day. Sit on the floor and play with Murray, build towers, play cars. Jump on the trampoline and chase him around. Dinner can wait.
- Remember that everybody has their own stuff and even though it may seem inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things, its important to them because its happening to them. So be kind and compassionate and take the time to listen
My darling Isabella Lindy Blanckenberg, while you are no longer physically on this earth anymore, you continue to impact my life every day. To mould me and who I am, to make me a better parent to Murray and a better wife to your dad. You help me to realise how precious life is and how to appreciate each and every little opportunity that we get to live it.
Bella, we will continue to keep your light alive in whatever way we can. Through writing about you, talking about you, looking at pictures and videos of you, through being the best parents we can be to your brother, to keeping our marriage together and loving each other and being kind. And most importantly, by loving you.