This morning Ezzie and I said goodbye to our house in Cheltenham for the last time. It’s been a really strange week of trying to say goodbye to our favourite people and places there without really being able to. One of my close friends flew back to America this week and said because of the current situation it just felt like zero closure on this chapter of our lives which is true.
Despite that, there’s no denying the fact that living in Cheltenham the last few months has been tough. There is an Etta-shaped hole in our lives here, even though she never actually came home. And being a teacher, whenever I leave the house I see a family I know from school. I used to love living near work and seeing pupils and their families whenever I went to the local pub or park. But since Etta, seeing families from school has just filled me with anxiety. A letter was sent out to the whole school community telling them that Etta had died. I’m conscious that a lot of the local community knows an intimate part of my life. In one way this was very helpful- I didn’t have to keep telling people what had happened. I recently bumped into a parent at the park whose child had left the school so didn’t know and I still struggled to get the words out without crying. But part of me doesn’t want to be ‘the teacher whose baby died’- I need a fresh start somewhere else.
But it didn’t always feel like this fresh start was wanted. I can’t help but think back to the first time we considered moving house. It was early in January (and a few weeks after Etta had died) when Sam told me the house that we’d looked at last year in Salisbury was back on the market. We’d had a look round in April 2019 on a bit of a whim and for a bit of fun-we didn’t seriously want to leave Cheltenham yet. We were happy in our jobs, I was pregnant with Etta and Sam was due spinal surgery in a few months so it was definitely not the right time. But we liked it and it was only a few doors down from my parents house and next door to some old family friends. It gave us an idea of the sort of house we would eventually want to move in to. Inevitably, it sold and we didn’t think more about it until it was back on Rightmove having never completed the previous year.
Initially, I just cried and cried at the thought of doing anything without Etta with us. If she was still alive, there was no way we would be leaving. I had daydreamed in detail about what our life would look like in Cheltenham with Ezzie and Etta- where Ezzie would go to nursery, what classes I could take both of them to, meeting our friends for play dates who had children the same age. We were supposed to be staying in Cheltenham and further down the line, she was supposed to be with us for our next chapter of moving house. I felt immense guilt at the thought of leaving her behind in the place we should have brought her home. It felt like we were betraying her by ‘moving on’. Really, it was just too soon for me to make an important decision that would mean facing the reality of a life without her in it.
But after a few weeks, I realised that I didn’t want to miss out on this house just because I didn’t feel ready because I don’t think I would ever feel truly ready. We looked back around it and decided that it was the right place for our family. Losing Etta made us really focus on what our priorities were in life and spending precious time with family was number one. It seemed silly to wait to be near family especially when we need their support more than ever now. So we put the offer in and it was accepted.
I thought we would have more time in Cheltenham but coronavirus had other ideas and we ended up in lockdown with my Mum and Dad in Salisbury. It has left me with less time to be sentimental about what we are leaving behind but I still can’t help but reflect on all of our memories over the last four years.
We arrived as a young and free married couple- thinking we would only be spending a year here before returning to London but fell in love with life there. Four years later, we are leaving as our little family. I sometimes look at photos of when we first arrived (looking so relaxed and well-rested!) and want to warn her of what the next few years will hold- I want to tell her that by the time she leaves, her life will be changed forever (and to make the most of lazy brunches while she can!).
We are leaving Cheltenham with some really sad memories- especially in the last few months but overall I’ve loved living here. I found a school with amazing colleagues and pupils. We’ve made friends that we will be friends with for the rest of our lives. I became a mum- I’ve brought my baby boy home and watched him flourish here and I’ve scattered my baby girl’s ashes over the hills we can see from our bedroom window. It will always have a special place in our heart.
I find comfort in the fact that Etta has been in our new house- even if it was only in the womb. No other house in Salisbury would have had that special link to her and so deep down I knew it could only ever have been this house. Next week, we are having a special memorial bench arrive for our garden bought with money kindly gifted by the charity Together for Short Lives. We will put it next to the sunflowers we are growing for Etta.
And so we are moving forward with our lives but not moving on. We are leaving with empty arms but having had so many friends wrap their arms around us in our darkest times. We are leaving Etta’s special place behind with the knowledge she’ll be with us wherever we go. She’ll be with us in every chapter, in every home, in every memory. We are moving forward but we are never moving on.