Guest Post by Gordon
When our daughter Vivienne was born at only 22 weeks and died within minutes, I became part of a club to which no dedicated father would ever seek membership. As she was our only child to date, her death robbed me of the opportunity to be a father in the manner I’d seen my father and my friends become fathers.
In the days and weeks that followed, it struck me how completely the privilege of raising, nurturing and -perhaps a father’s most natural inclination – protecting our little girl had been taken away.
The finality of it was stunning.
What followed was a feeling of helplessness and my own perception that I’d failed to protect her. It didn’t matter that I’m not a physician, nor that the circumstances that caused her death were never fully discovered. In those first weeks and months the overwhelming feeling that I’d failed her haunted me.
In time, through the help of support groups, friends and most importantly, my wife, I’ve come to accept that the circumstances surrounding our daughter’s passing were beyond our control. Whether you ascribe it to God, fate or simply the natural order of things, there is a point where it is possible to accept that, in this life, there is only so much we can do.
So, then, how do you parent a child that’s passed on?
For us, it’s been about treasuring the small memories that we do have, and protecting and honoring those. Given the timing of our daughter’s passing, that meant that the few articles of clothing and assorted items that we’d accumulated in anticipation of her birth are tucked away in a cedar chest that holds her cremated remains.
This, along with a number of other little things-a memorial garden, a stocking on the mantel bearing her name at Christmas and becoming involved with support groups and the March of Dimes- work for us. These give us the opportunity to remember her, honor her and share her with our friends and our family. It helps others connect with her in a way that they can see and feel.
Ultimately, it is up to us and us alone to safeguard her memory and make it possible for others to carry Vivienne in their hearts.
We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had so much support around us as we find the ways to do this. I know from support groups that not everyone is as blessed in that regard.
It’s not uncommon, I’ve found, for those who do not understand what it’s like to experience a prenatal or neonatal loss to suggest that there is a time to ‘move on’ as though the memory of a child is something that can be conveniently tucked away.
That is where the father’s instinct to protect can be put to good use. These suggestions may be well-meaning, but nevertheless leave parents in our situation feeling as though our children ‘don’t count’.
By saying Vivienne’s name, tending to her garden and simply pausing to remember how much I love her each day, I’m protecting my daughter’s memory. It isn’t protection in the way that we traditionally view it, but preventing her life from fading away and reminding others that she did indeed matter.
That’s really all I can ask for as a father, the chance to love my child and protect her in whatever manner is available to me.