two griefs, two suitcases

Where to start? I’ve had a very sad few days and I know it will help to write about it but for a few reasons it’s hard to put it into words. So I’ve felt quite weighed down by my inability to express it all.

This isn’t my first experience of loss and as I put across in my blog post A Hopeful Pondering, I have been finding myself feeling the raw pain of this first experience quite profoundly. Perhaps because it’s easy to recall pain when you’re feeling it like when you go through labour with a second baby. You think, “this is horrendous, how did I ever forget this enough to want to experience it again?!” Or was that just me?! I’m still not up for it 18 months later! Despite that moment I lifted Edith out of the water and Joe told me she was a girl and I had done it all by myself (!!) being one of the most magical moments of my life. I still like to daydream about it from time to time…

Anyway, when I was 17 I started dating a guy called Robb. He was my first serious boyfriend and we were together for two and a half years. I met Robb when he was just coming through treatment for melanoma. He recovered and it was roughly a year after that we started dating. Robb had check-ups regularly in London and I often accompanied him. August/September 2006, Robb had a few health complaints that resulted in him being admitted to hospital. I was with him when the doctor matter-of-factly told him that the melanoma had spread to several organs. I phoned my Dad who burst into tears immediately (not normally his style) and came down to hospital. I remember Robb finding it helpful to see him. Just over a month later, Robb died with me there with him. It was a shock despite everything and that’s all I can face saying about it right now. He was 24.

I hung out with the student group from my church last week and found it so easy to be in touch with remembering what it was like to be that age and found it easy to imagine Robb being there and what he would say and do. It made me feel great sadness. Over the years, not wanting to think about him and his death much for self-preservation but also because I am happily married and don’t want to or need to dwell on memories of being in a relationship with someone else, I’ve realised I’ve just blanked out two and a half years of my life and it felt strange to suddenly be in touch with it again.

During that time I passed my driving test. Robb insured me on his white beamer (an old one he thought was cool). He’d put on larger wheels and always had a mega sound system. He wore aviators and even dabbled with leather driving gloves. Ha.

During that time I did my Art Foundation course in Brighton and one year of a Fine Art degree in Kingston, London. It feels good to remember those times again and to remember Robb – he was a great person and I’m privileged that my husband knew him and loved him and we can share memories together and he is also perfectly content to hear anything I want to say about it all. I feel it has taken me nine years to figure out how to remember Robb. To remember him, as a person, what he was like, his uniqueness, funny things he said and did, what I learned from him, and just appreciate them without feeling like it’s somehow wrong to. If you knew Robb perhaps you might like to share a memory in the comments (preferably not about our relationship though).

The last few days I have realised the truth in the line people tend to say at these times…

“You don’t get over it, you just learn to live with it.”

Fact is, I learned not to think about it so much. The initial wound has healed and I have been happy again since. Very happy. But it still is what it is: a painful tragic experience that I still can feel sad about and feel the pain of. It’s like a suitcase that initially felt hugely cumbersome and I carried it everywhere. Over the last nine years it’s found its way to a shelf in a cupboard and I’ve left it. But when it comes out and I open it the same mess of pain and grief is still in there, perhaps with elements I need to work through still.

Now I have two suitcases – this new one bigger than the last.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Prov 3:5-6.

Well, He’s done it before…

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12 comments

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  1. mariascard

    Thankyou for writing this Jenny it is really powerful, keep going I think you are going to help many people carry their suitcases.
    Do you remember the story in the Corre ten Boom book about the father carrying the suitcase/large briefcase for the little girl? It maybe worth rereading?
    The Father said to her when it gets to heavy I will carry it for you, and when the time is right we will open it together.

    I did not know Rob well but I came across a few pictures I had taken of him at Ahsburnham the other day, he was helping with the kids,he was leading worship and had such an amazing smile.

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  2. the messy mama

    I keep wanting to reply and bottling it… I watched a friend lose her husband two years ago to cancer, and watching her live through her grief over the past couple of years has been hard enough from a bystander’s perspective. It’s hard again as a bystander seing you grieve, my heart breaks for you… My friend has (I think) found love again. Like you found love again. She posts things from a lady whose online handle is one fit widow but something she shared the other day came to mind reading your post today. Love is love. People don’t get replaced. Love doesn’t get replaced. The grief never fully goes away, but the waves stop crashing over you with such violence and ferocity. Your capacity for love grows, just as it grows with a new child joining your family. Just because somebody is no longer there physically doesn’t mean they simply cease to exist so they can be replaced. Another friend’s mum wrote, about losing her grown up son, was that it was like learning to walk without a leg. A piece of you is missing and will always be missing. But you eventually learn to live with the loss even if it is a daily reminder of the loss. Love you Jen. I hope and pray that your suitcases become easier to carry, that they aren’t just closed cases of painful memories, but open cases of memories that you can remember with love. I pray God continues to lead and carry you through these times, with tenderness and grace and as much space and time as you need x x x

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    • Where I Write

      Thanks Jeni, I really appreciate your heartfelt comments, encouragements and prayers. It’s people like you that are helping me through. Much love to you, hope you’re not getting too wet! Xx

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  3. Bel

    Thanks for sharing Jeni.

    I often think of Robb, more than you know. I find small things remind me of him… Bright canvas shoes, sideburns, big sunglasses, long legs and apples. Apples? I randomly remember him telling me that eating an apple could wake you up as well as a cup of coffee. Some odd fact from the internet for a cell group icebreaker he pulled out of the hat for us. There’s also an annoying thing he once said to me about my washing up never being put away from my draining board in my kitchen, so when I look at that I sigh and smile.

    There’s a young boy at church who when I see I remember how Robb used to be the only one on the crèche team at church who could console him as a baby. There would be big tears and sobs as the toddler saw Mummy leave the room. Robb sat with him patiently and lovingly and the boy would attach himself only to Robb. It was beautiful to watch tall cool Robb, unfazed by the snot and tears calm him down with a book or toy.

    His laughter was infectious and he knew how to have fun. I loved spending time with him because he was honest about who he was and how he was. Andy and I could banter with him and laugh and laugh and yet there was a real depth to Robb.

    He seemed to do things he loved regardless of what people thought or said, abandon himself to God and be honest about where he was at… All good things he taught me looking back and one more thing… Quirky is definitely cool.

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    • Where I Write

      Thanks Belinda, that made me smile – a lot!

      It’s funny the things that can prompt us to think of someone. I think of him often when making a coffee as he liked his strong and milky and I remember first hearing that and saying well it’s not strong if it’s milky! I wasn’t a coffee drinker yet and he explained why it was different to a weak coffee and it stayed with me as a rather insignificant revelation. Ha. Now it’s how I like to have my coffee – although maybe not especially strong, like you and Andy!

      I forgot that he did crèche, seems kind of out of character but that was Robb… A bit unpredictable and definitely quirky, in a cool way.

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  4. Nicola

    Firstly Jeni this has reminded me how incredible you are, how loving and strong you are, and how humble you are. I will never forget those tragic days immediately after Robb passing away, but I was glad to share a bit with you.

    My best memory of Robb was one time when we were doing crèche and every time we would roll up the big carpet at the end of the session. One time Robb started rolling and was joined by about 10 under 2’s either side attempting to help. It was comedy gold especially as he looked like a giant compared to them!

    Also, perhaps on a odd fond memory, was at his funeral, when Bob Dylan’s ‘knockin on heavens door’ was accidentally left on in the background during Colin’s address. We all found it funny even though it felt wrong to get the giggles at such an event; but Colin after pointed it out and assured us how hilarious Robb would have found that!

    Also I remebered a time soon after when we were praying for you and someone gave you a word that God had a blanket around you, that in Him you were totally safe and didn’t have to have the pressure of being strong all the time. You could be totally vulnerable in his presence and do/think/feel whatever you liked in the safety of his grip.

    Sorry I haven’t been around this time, but know I’m thinking and praying for you, and sending loving vibes in the Sussex direction
    Xx

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    • Where I Write

      Thanks Nicola, lovely words. I don’t remember that happening at the funeral but I don’t remember a lot of details other people seem to remember!

      Hope you’re doing well. Thanks for commenting, it means a lot. Xx

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  5. Where I Write

    […] different voices on one’s blog I decided to include Robb’s (background on Robb is in this post). He had a blog and re-reading it just now I realise how he was the first person I knew who had a […]

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