I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this you’re already pretty familiar with who I am and my history. If not, I’ll do a TL:DR style paragraph below to catch you up…
In 2007, when I was 24 my daughter Amelia was involved in a car accident. She was 3. She spent five days in Great Ormond Street Hospital but I had to make the decision to turn off her life support after I was informed she’d never recover.
I think it’s pretty obvious to say that her passing feels as if it left a gap inside me. When she died, it certainly felt as if my heart had broken, which feels like a horrible cliche, but there are very few words to depict the actual feeling. There’s a constant absence around me. It’s not physical, although that’s certainly part of it. Amelia not being with us leads us to think differently, to weigh up thoughts in a certain way. An example of that would be when my other daughters move up a year in school or achieve something in life and it leads me to consider how life would have played out. It’s almost a longing for a parallel universe, where Amelia is alive and can sing, dance and play.
When she died, I worked in a retail job I hated. I was a store manager and I was good at it but it kept me away from home a lot. A few weeks after her funeral, I decided that I’d never work in retail again because I’d missed so much of her short life. While she was learning to ride a bike in the park, I was upselling products and attempting to please angry customers. I vowed that I would chase my dreams and passions, but I wasn’t entirely sure what they were. My loves were books and videogames, the latter took priority as I found it hard to to concentrate on reading in the aftermath of what had happened. I felt I’d always been good with words, so writing seemed the best bet. I spent years writing about videogames for several outlets and one day it just didn’t feel right.
Then I spoke to a bookseller who got me back into reading, I thought I’d try my hand at writing about books, instead. I did reasonably well but something wasn’t quite right, once again. I realise now that these pursuits – while I can say with confidence that I was good at them – were distractions or attempts at plugging that gap left behind. I’d flit back and forth between hobbies trying to discover a spark that would inform me as to who I was or what I lived for. For a few years I’d lived for Amelia, I went out at 8am and returned at 6pm so we could eat, live and be happy. When she died that all changed. I have two more daughters now and while I could say I live for them, it wouldn’t be said with any confidence. That void is still there.
I suppose it could be because Amelia was my first born, it could be because I was young; 24 is an awkward age where you don’t quite feel grown up but your childhood days are certainly becoming distant. Of course it’s very likely that other bereaved parents feel the exact same way. They created this small human with someone they love. When that tiny person is born into the world many if not all parents feel a shift in themselves as they realise that everything has changed. They now must be responsible for a child; they prepare for nine months and question everything in order to adapt to the new mindset that comes with parenting.
The void also could be lingering because I was meant to be her protector. I was meant to ensure she lived a full life and I couldn’t do that. Had I have been there during the accident I couldn’t have done anything to change what would happen, but a parent’s instinct is to reach out and catch their child; to cradle them when they’re hurt. I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was then tasked with the ultimate responsibility as a parent and would end up making the decision that meant she would die.
Being told “your daughter will never walk, talk, see, hear or breathe on her own” was enough to tell me what I had to do, but that doesn’t stop it from hurting so much. When I said the words “I think it’s best to turn off her life support” I felt that I had a hand in her passing. Of course, at the time I believed that I was ending any pain and preventing an existence for her that could never be called a life. I still believe that, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that I had to physically say that sentence. It doesn’t change the fact that I had to stand by her bedside and watch as machines stopped which, in turn, ceased her breathing. That moment – those few words – opened a chasm I’ve since been trying to fill.
The worst part is that I can’t fill it. It doesn’t matter whether I try art, writing or any kind of hobby, I can never close that gap and it is killing me. I spend every day of my life as if in constant free fall, not knowing whether the parachute will open or whether I will expire first. I seem to be constantly looking for something that I can enjoy and be good at; something that I can capture and begin to deal with that void. I know deep down I’ll never fill that gap, but maybe I can bridge it.
In a few weeks I will turn 34 and I’ll be getting ever closer to the ten year anniversary of Amelia’s death and I’d really like to be on the road to some form of recovery. Over the past few weeks my depressive states have been worse than ever, leading me to contemplate the worst ways of stopping this feeling. I began to give myself a time limit, ‘if I don’t achieve X, Y, Z by a specific date, then I’d end my own life’. I realised a long time ago that I don’t want to die, I just want things to take a break; to pause so that I can think without being distracted by paying bills and find out who I am now. I want to meet people, see things and discover ways to recover.
I can’t work because of many of the PTSD aspects of my mental health. Hearing another parent call out to their child named Amelia sends me into a spiral of sadness and anger. Seeing similar ambulances causes flashbacks, as do so many songs, pictures or noises and many of these moments result in physical issues such as panic attacks. Not working limits me so much, not just from a money perspective (although that is the most troubling) but it limits who I meet, the experiences I gain. So it seems no matter what, I struggle to do anything about that vast empty spot inside me.
I’m lonely and scared in every waking moment.