In the very early days of our grief we could do little more than exist. Crushed beneath the weight of our daughter’s death, even breathing felt impossible. In the two weeks that Norah was alive we existed on very little anything; sleeping, eating and living along with the chaos of new life and the brutality of death took everything out of us. Whilst my memory from the first weeks after Norah’s death are patchy, grief and shock are very skilled at forcing your body in to survival mode after all, there are a few things that are prominent to me amongst the numbness that accompanied those early days.
In the aftermath of our return home without Norah, we couldn’t be alone in our house for any amount of time. In the very first days we didn’t go home, instead we hid away from the world in the confines of an anonymous business hotel. Gradually we were able to step out of those four walls and in to the arms of our family, before eventually making our way back home. Everything was just as we left it, the home we had built for Norah was littered with items of new babyhood, from the empty moses basket to the still wet cotton pads we had washed Norah with the last night we were here together. Underneath the layer of relatively new baby paraphernalia our home remained as it was, yet nothing felt familiar. Every morning at 4am we both awoke with a start, looking for Norah in the dark and being hit again and again with the reality of the empty space next to our bed.
Our nights were long and broken, but our days stretched on for weeks. The silence of a household that was filled with pure joy seemingly moments ago was piercing. Between desperate phone calls and scribbled funeral plans, we filled our days with aimless driving, in a vain attempt to outrun the silence. We drove to the places we used to live, to national parks, around in circles down roads we knew well and paths that felt unfamiliar. Driving kept us moving forward within the confines of our waiting place, the pause between our first goodbye to Norah and our final goodbye that lay ahead.
Somewhere in the weeks after Norah’s burial, we stopped driving. We can’t pinpoint a time that we stopped trying to out run ourselves and our grief, but somewhere along the way we did. In the initial tremors after Norah’s death we were told our grief would change over time, it wouldn’t reduce or get better, but it would feel different. Neither of us believed anything close to this, even when we heard it from other bereaved parents. Yet as time has trickled by, we have begun to haul ourselves out of survival mode and in to something more. In the same way I can’t pinpoint when we stopped driving, I can’t pick out a moment where my measure of myself extended past being able to pull myself out of bed and expanded to include everything I am able to achieve today.
When I think about my current days when grief overwhelms me once more, it never comes close to the suffocation and raw anguish that coursed through every fibre of my body in the immediate weeks of life without Norah. Our grief for Norah will persist as long as we are living; it is too entangled with our love to dissipate in any way. An open wound doesn’t remain that way forever though, and the raw devouring grief that smothered us initially has softened as we have grown around it. Breathing and living without Norah’s physical being has begun to feel calmer. The very idea that our grief could soften fuelled my heartache in the earliest days of grief, but the tempering of the raw grief brings with it space to grow alongside Norah in ways I could never have anticipated. We are beginning to allow ourselves to believe in our future, and tentatively embracing our new lives existing in a world entwined with grief and peace, every moment of which is permeated with Norah.