Two days ago, we returned home from Spain. Not a holiday, but a trip to visit family. We last travelled there together in early July 2014, with Romy. Last year I couldn’t bring myself to visit Spain, where my husband’s mother lives and where his sister, who lives in the US, visits each summer with her family. Although by then pregnant with M, the idea of being where Romy had been so soon before we lost her was unbearable. This year, D went ahead and booked himself a solo flight knowing that I wouldn’t be able to face it. Our youngest is now nine months old and the parallels are many.
Despite this, two weeks ago I gathered my resolve into both hands, took a deep breath and told my husband to cancel his flight and book new ones for all of us. I knew there were demons to face and I am so tired of running and hiding from them. Needless to say, my mother in law and sister in law were thrilled and D was delighted for us to be going together – it’s always been our preference to do things as a pack.
Now returned to the safety and familiarity of our home, I have had a day or two to reflect on that trip, which seems like a huge milestone, and to think about the difficulties and the positives:
- Sorting out the contents of the children’s wash bag while packing and finding little bottles of baby shampoo and toiletries; a kind gift sent to us for Romy. Anything else like this of hers has been long disposed of, but I decide to keep these to use for the children. One of the bottles has been opened; used for Romy on that trip. I stare at the level of the liquid. It makes me cry.
- Retracing the footsteps we took with Romy, almost to the same day(s). The same journey, the same destination.
- My paranoia that something about the air cabin pressure somehow triggered the haemorrhage (of course, it didn’t). If we hadn’t taken that trip, if we hadn’t put her on a plane, would she still be here? Does baby M have the same condition (we have been repeatedly assured that it was a freak anomaly, not a genetic condition)? Is it tempting fate to put him on a plane?
- Sitting in my mother in law’s apartment, looking at the sofa where Romy fell asleep with her daddy on a hot afternoon. I can still see her lying there. I have a photograph of that moment. When everyone is out, I finally put my head down on that spot where she lay and howl.
- Watching my baby son sleeping in his nappy in the heat, so like her that I sometimes confuse them. My daughter tells me spontaneously that she sometimes calls him Romy by mistake. I tell her that I do too.
- Seeing my daughter with our niece, just three months older than Romy. They love being together and it’s sweet to watch them playing. Tears sting my eyes as I smile at them, thinking, ‘It’s not fair. You should have had a sister.’
- Seeing ‘all’ the children together: at the poolside, at a cafe laughing and enjoying churros, around the dinner table after a day in the sun. There is a huge gap. Romy is not there. We do not say her name.
- Two years ago we made this trip and then we came home. Four days later, Romy was dead. Superstitiously, I am on alert for history repeating itself. I will breathe a sigh of relief once we have consumed those four days.
I remind myself of all the positives. The kids had a great time. We spent time with dear family members who live far away. It was sunny. It was a break from routine. The depression that’s been plaguing me for some weeks has lifted a little. It’s another big challenge conquered; a slap in the face for PTSD. Of the job lot of paper bags I took with me in case of panic attacks I only had to employ one, at the airport, when I somehow managed to convince myself that my husband and all the children were going to die in a terrorist attack. I know, random, right?
I have used techniques I learned from my many hours of counselling: ‘It’s just a number on a calendar.’, ‘They are just ghosts, fears, past memories. They are not real.’, ‘It’s July 2016, not July 2014. Everyone is fine.’
My husband is pleased that we made this trip together as a family. Except, I tell myself, it’s not as a family. We will never do anything together as a family again because Romy is not here.
Still, in many ways I do feel as if she were there; like an echo or an evocative scent. I have felt her in the warm breeze, heard her laughter in the waves, seen her in a lone hibiscus flower. For so long it has felt that a part of Romy was left behind in Spain, frozen in time. Now, we have come to bring her back. It’s difficult to describe, but I feel strongly that some of my daughter’s essence has been returned to me and some ghosts from the past left in Spain in return; laid to rest. Another piece or two of the complex jigsaw which now makes up my mind have slotted into place.
And now we are home. She is home. She is wherever I am.