So much of this grieving thing is about stepping backwards. Retracing your steps and revisiting old, familiar ground. Recalling your previously, well-trodden paths. Its focus is ‘what was’, what had been, your shared past, your memories. Whether triggered knowingly or spontaneously, either way, they spark a light that hurtingly illuminates the past.
In the olden days, before smart phones camera uploads and grieve blogs, someone like me would have sat down with shoe boxes filled with brightly coloured envelopes, each containing a set of 24 or 36 glossy 4×6 inch photos, bundled together like little memory banks, clinging to each other’s glossy front, in a block of about half a centimetre deep. This little wad would always be accompanied by a set of print negatives, machine cut into rows of 4 or 5 and gathered together in a little sub-envelope flap, in case you ever wanted reprints. And inside these little envelopes would be the bombshells of ‘what was’.
Back Before, I came home one day to find Beth had taken it upon herself to rummage through our unordered shoe box of family photos. She’d selected her preference of 4×6 prints from its randomised archive and carefully placed a timeline of her shared childhood into 2 large red photo albums. It must have taken her all day, pulling out the photos memories, selecting the ones that resonated and carefully sliding them into the little see-through plastic sleeves of the photo albums.
Instead of being pleased with her, I was annoyed with her. This was something I was planning to do myself, eventually, when I had time. And I felt like she’d picked the pictures of our family story that she wanted to tell. Despite the fact I would have done exactly the same, but from my point of view. Eventually, when I’d gotten around to it.
(I didn’t get around to it, and still haven’t. Her choices of photos sit neatly bound in the 2 red folders on our cellar head bookshelf, with the remainder of the prints still laying where they were first put, in shoe boxes, to sort out later.)
Another time, a few months After, a friend offered to send a video he had of Izzy when she was little. She was playing with his daughter in their back garden, I think he said. I instantly, hopefully politely, declined. The thought of her back then was not what I wanted to know right now. I’d only spoken to her last week, on another Facetime catch-up. I wanted to hold onto this so recent past- her blurry face on my phone, the sound of her energetic voice, her 19-year-old self. I wasn’t ready to look back at her distant childhood past.
This is looking back. This is normal grieving. This is par for the course.
What’s harder, much harder, is when you walk forwards, knowing that they would have, should have been there, walking with you.
Today we’re at a wedding reception in a local golf club pavilion, for local people. Each chair is covered in white elasticated cloth and adorned with a blue satin sash tied in a bow around its back. A dodgy looking covers band are setting up their instruments and sound checking for the later evening’s dancing. A handful of little kids, overly dressed, spin unsteadily and jiggle in silly circles to the background music. The room begins to fill as evening invite guests start to arrive and form a lengthy queue at the bar.
The problem is, Izzy should have, would have been here. After all, it’s her friend Marie who’s getting married today. It’s Izzy’s equestrian life that’s made this happen. She’s the reason we know the people sat around us, cracking jokes and fooling around in our scrubbed-up finery, drinking Gin and Tonics in the afternoon.
These are her steps that she would have made. She is her future I’m standing on.
Earlier, she’d have been hogging the bathroom and taking ages to do her hair. She’d have been in the cab with us to the registry office, checking the time. She’d have been mingling with the glammed-up guests and been clapping overly loudly and whooping in the ceremony. She’d have clinked a glass of bubbly at the golf club pavilion and got embarrassed again about me talking to her friends. She’d have dragged me and her mum to the photo booth for silly pictures. She’d have written something touching and funny in the wedding book. She’d have suggested it was time we got a cab home.
It’s times like this I find it really hard to live in the moment and be in the present and to not keep thinking ‘she should be here’, ‘she would have been here’, but that she isn’t. By my rights, she should be here, looking glamorous, laughing out loud, circling the room to talk to as many people as possible. She should be 22 now, not forever 19.
And it’s times like this I realise I’m walking her steps for her, filling the space in this world she should have filled. I’m living and breathing her future, but without her.