There’s a prolonged time after a significant death where you wonder whether you’ll find the same joy in anything, ever, again. Everything feels and tastes bittersweet, a bit off. Or worse, flat and tasteless.
As time and things move forward, life inescapable, joy and happiness start to pierce through. Yet, the guilt of giving into that, takes the shine off those moments. A smile that doesn’t quite reach the eyes, or a laugh from the throat- too loud and sudden- rather than erupting from the belly.
Three years ago, in the midst of our really, really shit year, I booked a holiday for Wolf and I. Just Wolf and I. Call it wilful ignorance, or wild hope. Or just the fact that we needed a break. After two miscarriages, and worsening news with RD’s health, we really, really needed a break.
Four months later, I was begging for refunds from Ryanair and Airbnb, I was asking consultants to write letters to explain that as RD could now die suddenly, we weren’t able to travel. And at no point in the future could we see a time when we’d be able to. I’d felt so embarrassed at my naivety, that life surely was going to be okay and get better.
After RD died, I couldn’t imagine my anxiety easing enough to leave my children ever again. That I’d ever not need to lean my face close to their cherubic sleeping faces and feel the warm, sweet sleep breaths.
Yet here I am, at an airport, just Wolf and I, readying to head home after 4 days in Croatia. I’ve travelled with work since returning, but having shared such a tragedy with my husband, he is my everything on the ground and at home. I know implicitly how the fear never leaves his heart too. For us both to go away, it’s felt monumental.
It’s a significant birthday for Wolf, and marks the end of our decade of being married and starting a family. It deserved something monumental. So on a cold January day I booked this surprise for us- childcare and all- to a place before that decade began we had always talked about going to.
Mostly I forgot about it in the lead up- that’s what domesticity and hectic work schedules do- but in the final week before we flew I swung between excitement and the guttural stirrings of panic. It didn’t help that the day before we left DD was beyond challenging.
In a bid to get her out of the house, and try and placate whatever was making her that way, I asked her if she was worried about us going away. “Yes. Will you come back?” And I remembered that in Disney films, parents frequently go away and don’t come back. I felt her fear, unvoiced properly, but acted out in the turmoil of emotions she was going through that day.
I can’t believe I’m able to say everything went to plan. The sun shone, Dubrovnik showed all sides of its beauty. We drank, held hands, swam in the sea, explored. We laughed from our toes, we had barrages of inane conversation. We spoke openly and honestly about the things we had endured. And how, in spite of how at times we barely clung together, we did. And how, in the dark, we found each other to be our true lights.
We, like so many parents, spent time talking about our children. All of them. How relaxing it was just to care about our own needs and follow our own choices. Yet, how we missed their demands and needs.
The truth is, we wouldn’t have had this holiday had RD not died. Whilst that’s immensely hard to swallow, I can only view it with some gratitude. For if anyone taught us how to breathe in the good moments, and let your senses guide you, it was RD.