Last month, my little girl would have turned five. I’ve lived 60 months without her, 261 weeks and 1825 days. The journey from our goodbye to today has been along a treacherous path. I have stumbled often, I have become lost in the dark, but I have also seen more light and witnessed more beauty than I ever could have imagined.
Five years feels like such a milestone. Perhaps because it’s half a decade since I held her? Or because this would’ve been the year she started school? It’s hard to know why it is so poignant, but reflecting on the last five years made me realize how much I have learned, about myself, about loss, life, and mostly about love.
So here are five things I’ve learned in five years of grief:
1. Grief has not gone.
I’m not through it, over it, or healed. Where there was once a constant, agonizing, raw pain, now there is more of a dull ache, an ever-present “I miss you.” The intense pain still comes in waves, sometimes predictably, often unexpectedly. I am perhaps better equipped to deal with them now, the years of grief giving me a quiet strength, a stubborn resilience. The trauma of her death is still there beneath the surface, but deeper now, below layers of new life, of celebrating Maeve and her impact on this world. Grief is mostly more manageable, but it has not gone.
2. So much has changed, and that change is ok.
I am never going to be the ‘old me’ again. I am a mother of two more children to love fiercely. I now live in a new house, drive a different car, do a different job. Change hasn’t meant leaving Maeve behind, though I have felt that panic, worry and sadness in varying degrees with each transition. Instead, Maeve has traveled with us into each new chapter in her own special way.
Maeve made me a mother and in that instance of both welcoming her into my arms and saying goodbye, I became irrevocably changed. There is no going back to who I was before and, as much as I miss my naivety and my unmarked joy, I wouldn’t want to. I have been changed for good and I wear my grief scars with pride.
3. Having more children has not made my grief disappear, or get ‘better’, but it has made my life infinitely brighter.
Maeve’s siblings give me purpose and so much to celebrate. They have not replaced their big sister, but they make living with her loss easier. They also offer a beautiful window into what might have been, how she might have looked and sounded, what it might have felt like to love her here. And they are teaching me so much about grief and about how to turn darkness and sadness into hopeful beauty. I will never tire of watching my 4-year-old send bubbles and flowers and wishes and kisses up into the sky for her big sister (though yesterday’s spoonful of ice cream was perhaps a step too far).
4. Grief has woven itself into all of my relationships.
Some it has strengthened, others it has destroyed. Though Maeve’s daddy and I sometimes find ourselves miles apart in our grief, our paths eventually intersect again. It has been hard work, living and grieving together, but we are forever bound by what happened that night and by our love for our little girl.
My friendships have evolved too since losing Maeve. Grief has revealed loyalty, kindness and compassion in those I have known for many years; and understanding and acceptance in friends I have come to know in my life without Maeve. Other friendships have been lost, some I still mourn, others I accept weren’t meant to endure, for grief and I are a package now, our bonds forged over five long years, so that loving me means loving my grief too.
5. There is so much beauty in this world.
This has been Maeve’s greatest gift. She has indeed opened my eyes. In striving to keep her present, I find her in things of beauty: a sunset or rainbow, fresh snow or the golden light of a summer’s evening; a lone flower or butterfly fluttering by. In my moments of missing her I seek out beautiful things and it stills the anxious beating of my grieving heart. “She is with me; she is here.” And so my world is brighter and more beautiful than before.
Five years without Maeve has taught me many more things, but the most important lesson has been to hold tight to what makes my heart sing, to the people I love, and to keep my eyes and heart open to beauty, for then even the darkest of days can’t consume me. I won’t ever stop missing Maeve. I won’t ever stop grieving, but that won’t stop me living my best life either. I owe that much to my little girl, the one who made me a mother, five whole years ago.
Image: Author’s own.