As I opened my eyes later that morning, there was a star shaped beam of light around the bedroom window. The central ray travelled across the bedroom and went directly over my head. A part of me knew it was the way the curtains fell but it hasn’t happened since. It filled me with love that Esme was with me. She was looking after me. I lay in bed for a long while, cuddling and smelling Esme’s sleepsuit and watching the rays of light dance on the ceiling. I didn’t want to move in case the light disappeared; Esme disappeared.
I had a look at my Facebook page. Connor and I had posted about Esme before we had gone to sleep. I felt so loved. There were so many kind messages from all our family and friends. However as I read through all the messages I began to feel sad that everyone else felt so sad and sorry. I didn’t want people to feel this way. Esme had taught us so much and I knew, I still know, that she is happy and free. I posted my favourite picture of Esme and wrote:
“Esme has already told us she is safe, at peace and in her element. We saw a tiny shooting star last night and a ray of sunshine which shone through the curtains and went directly over my head this morning! Please don’t feel sad. Esme was a gift to us and has shown us how to be strong, courageous, brave and selfless xxx”
The messages I received after that made me feel much better. They were how I wanted Esme to be remembered.
The only thing I wanted to do was to make Esme proud. This has remained true for every day since.
I stole away from the dancing light and had a shower, washed my hair and put on a full face of makeup. This was my brave face. I wore my horseshoe jeans (I had bought them for my honeymoon) and a new pretty pink top I had bought from French Connection on a previous shopping trip into Leeds. I felt ready for the day. Connor too, looked very smart in a shirt and shorts.
We discussed over breakfast what our next steps were. Neither of us shed any tears. Connor wanted to bury Esme in the cemetery at the top of our village. I hadn’t been to many burials but it was something that Connor’s family did. He felt very strongly about burying Esme and he couldn’t bear the thought of having her cremated. He explained why it was important to him and I agreed. He started googling local funeral directors.
Before we went over to my parent’s house for lunch, we decided to go and look in the church where we wanted the funeral to take place. I walked out of the front door of our house and a white butterfly flew into me. I was captivated by it and watched as it fluttered away into the allotment. I spent a moment watching it. It looked so pure, free and happy.
Connor opened the church gates and as we walked up to the church, the white butterfly started fluttering all around me. It made me smile and filled me with happiness. I had a feeling it was Esme being very giddy that we were doing the right thing for her. We tried the door and we were in luck. We stood inside the church entrance in silence. It was the most beautiful church I have ever been in. It was so still, calm and peaceful. It was perfect. We sat down on a pew towards the front. I wasn’t aware of this but as I was sitting there, with my eyes closed, praying, Connor later told me the sun’s rays beamed through the stained glass windows and shone just on me. It felt very special. I wanted to imagine what it would be like on the day of the funeral. I haven’t been to many. Would I be ok? Would I be able to hold it together in front of my family and friends? I tried pushing these thoughts away and focusing on the moment. One day, one step at a time.
We walked to the graveyard which was a stone’s throw from the church. I had passed the graveyard over a hundred times before but I’d never been into it. The gate creaked as we opened it. We stood at the top of the graveyard, looking at it. The sun was beaming down and I felt I was being hugged. To this day, whenever I walk into that graveyard, I feel the same. It is one of my safest places to be. I’d always been a little spooked by graveyards but this time felt different. The white butterfly came to join us. As we walked around, reading the headstones, a comforting but strange sensation came over me. I no longer felt afraid of death as I knew I would then be reunited with my little girl.
Later we arrived at my parents’ house and I was greeted by my Dad, who hugged me in tears. He cried, “I’m so sorry, darling, I’m so sorry.” I felt stiff and numb. I shared no emotion, no tears. I wasn’t able to let my guard down, it had been built too high. I had wanted to be by myself. I had wanted to shut the world out and just be with Charlotte but Connor reminded me it was important to have our family around us at a time like this. This is what he did back home whenever any of his family passed away.
We sat down for lunch. My parents, my sister, her husband, my brother, his girlfriend and Connor’s mum were there. My Mum had put on a good spread but I could barely eat anything. I went along with the awkward conversation despite feeling like there was an enormous elephant in the room. I vacantly stared out of the window and I saw a single white butterfly flying along the fence. Esme was here with me, she was helping me through each step of the way. Looking back I am glad Connor persuaded me to go for lunch. A reminder that my family are always there for me, no matter what, and that they will support me in every way possible.
I managed to sit through lunch. As everyone began to finish, it all became too much. I couldn’t sit there any longer. My strength to keep my guard up was quickly disappearing. I felt nauseous, with an anxiety attack quickly approaching and an urgency to be with Charlotte. We said our goodbyes and left to drive to the hospital.
It was a surreal feeling arriving at the hospital, walking through the ward doors, knowing we were there for Charlotte alone. Would other parents notice us in the ward? Would they see we were visiting just one baby? Everything had changed. The photographs of the success stories of premature babies that had gone home hurt to look at. Despite walking the corridors a thousand times before, I felt lost in the ward, unable to navigate where I was going.
Charlotte had been moved out of the room they were last in together. I couldn’t help staring at the room. I didn’t dare go near it, but Charlotte’s incubator was now only about five metres away from it. The room looked so empty yet I could picture everything. Although it was only a few hours before, I could see my girls lying in their incubators. I could see me holding Esme. I could feel the pain I felt as I knowingly spent my last few hours with Esme and I could picture the photoshoot of the four of us. As I write ‘the four of us’ it hurts so much. I feel wounded that having that family picture will only ever be a treasured memory.
Charlotte was now in the second to last intensive care room that we hadn’t been in before (there are six in total). It was the same nurse looking after Charlotte as the previous day. I was grateful for the continuity. I felt safe with this nurse. She asked if we were ok. I think she was quite worried that we had shown up, dressed smartly and were relatively cheery. She explained that the previous Thursday, Charlotte had been moved from intensive care to high dependency. I could feel tears pricking my eyes. Had Esme been here for Charlotte all along? Had she given Charlotte her strength? Was she always meant to be Charlotte’s guardian angel? I felt immensely proud of her.
All I wanted to do was to hold Charlotte. As she was placed in my arms I clung to her. I never wanted to let her go.
In the incubator next to Charlotte’s was a very tiny baby girl. She reminded me of the images I’d seen when Charlotte’s waters had gone and I had googled babies born at 24 weeks. I couldn’t remember Charlotte or Esme looking that small. I just felt so sorry for the baby, so sad that she was here in the real world and not still safe in her Mummy’s tummy. As I watched her little body working so hard to stay alive, my heart felt like breaking. I noticed the consultant looking at her with a serious look on his face and from experience, I had an idea of what he might have been thinking. As I sat cuddling Charlotte, I overheard the Dad talking to the consultant and being so positive. I prayed she would continue being a fighter and pull through.
Charlotte began to stir in my arms and as I watched her face, I felt my body stiffen. The nurse, who had been watching me closely, noticed and asked, “Is everything ok?” It wasn’t. My heart was in my throat and I felt like I was going to be sick. As I watched Charlotte crying, all I could see was Esme. Charlotte was pulling the same face, that Esme had made the previous day, when she was having a seizure. As I handed Charlotte back to the nurse, I broke down in uncontrollable, panicked tears. It took a while for me to get my breath back and I explained to the nurse what had happened. She understood. I felt awful and nothing but guilt. Would I always be like this? Would I always be reminded of Esme’s suffering through Charlotte? I hated myself for having these thoughts.
That only happened the once. I now feel so lucky that I will forever get to see Esme grow up through Charlotte. There have been times when I look down at Charlotte and all I see is Esme peacefully sleeping. The rest of the time it’s my Charlotte.
My love for Charlotte grew stronger than I ever imagined it could be. I no longer felt nervous about leaving her, I knew she had her little sister looking over her.
My friends had been in touch and asked if they could help in any way, even if it was just making meals for us. We agreed this was a great idea and Connor and I were very appreciative of their help and excellent cooking skills. I arranged with one of my school friends to come and visit me and Charlotte in the hospital the following day. I looked forward to seeing her.
Before I went to bed that night, I stood in the garden, gazing up at the sky and pondering. “Where are you Esme? Are you having fun? What are you up to?“ Just then a bright star shot across the sky. I excitedly raced upstairs to tell Connor. He was having none of it, and wanted to see a shooting star for himself. I jokingly said, “No chance will that happen!” Within five minutes, Connor returned with a large grin across his face; he’d seen one too. “You clever girl Esme” I thought.
That night I snuggled into Esme’s sleepsuit. It still smelt of her but it was fading. I missed her so much, my arms felt empty. I wanted to desperately feel her body in the sleepsuit but I couldn’t. She was gone.