In the Shadows

There are those moments that stop you, make you gasp and ache like the early days of grief.

In the early days I existed on Netflix, physiotherapy, warm blankets and blocking out the world.  I lived in a fog of loss.  Loss of what to do with myself, loss of my girl, loss of self and loss of soul.  With painstaking slowness those things begin to ease and life forces you out of the haze.  And even now, four and a half years later, I still get slammed back into the fog and cutting pain of grief by life.

It is like being put back in a deep, black hole of pain after spending time in the clouded light.  An abrupt, unwelcome and sickeningly comforting pain that speaks to the fact she was here and now she is gone.

We went to the cottage last week for a family holiday. Although much of it did not go as planned (so much so I believe a second post will be in order) the highlight and heart salve of the trip was going out to my brother’s farm for the day.

My brother has a farm on a lake in the middle of flipping no where.  Drive 20 km into the bush and when you think, yup, there is nothing out here, drive 20 km further and that is where my brother lives.  He has an idyllic farm set beside a small and picturesque lake.  Truly a little kids paradise, with soft sandy shores for Lillian to wade around for hours, a barn filled with ducks, chickens, goats and dogs.  One of the hottest days of the year we set up lawn chairs in the lake and sat up to our chins in water while Lillian played with her cousins catching frogs and learning to swim.

We do not see my brother and his wife Lynn* very often because they live so far away.  So much of Ava is in my brother, she is named for him, he adores her in a way that is sacred and often times it is easy forget the connection forged between him, myself and our spouses over the loss of our beloved girl.  And then I see them with Lillian and it all rushes back.  It all hit me watching Lynn and Lillian stand at the kitchen sink together, washing the vegetables picked from the garden.  Lynn patiently teaching Lillian to wash and spin the lettuce, how to cut the tomatoes for dinner all the while breathing in who Lillian is and genuinely wanting to know and love her.  I felt the back of my throat tighten with grief and my eyes well with tears knowing that is exactly what Ava is missing.  Ava is missing cooking lessons with Auntie Lynn, she is missing Uncle’s swimming lessons, she is missing how to feed the barn animals and the look of adoration from her family.  Lynn is missing loving on Ava, getting to know her, as is my brother.  When Ava died we were all robbed of each other and the potential love and joy we could have had together with her.

Standing there, watching the two of them the grief hole swallowed me and I was transported back into the fog and haze of loss.  The bewilderment of wondering what would have been, anger of why it is not and profound sorrow that pulls you under.  Four and a half years later she is still gone and I still grieve, I am still learning about this life without her, still immeasurably changed by her and missing her just as I did those first few days of grief. Having a living child after loss has shown me that I will witness my loss along the way of her sisters life in a twisty and sweet way.  It is twisted that I cannot see this beautiful moment for just Lillian’s experience alone and rather that I take her sister along in her life.  I have always maintained that Lillian will not grow in Ava’s shadow but it is suddenly apparent that it is the other way around.  Ava is in Lillian’s shadow.  Standing beside her and along for the ride beside her sister.  Somehow, despite the pain it causes me, there is a comfort in that.  A comfort in knowing she is included, a comfort in seeing glimpses of her where I can and salve in the recognition of both of my girls.