It is almost three and a half years since our first grandchild Alexandra was born at Leeds General Infirmary. Tragically, she lived for only 36 hours before dying in her devastated parents’ arms. To see our son and daughter-in-law carrying their dead baby back to the ward to leave her there forever, was the saddest sight, not helped by our inability to stop the pain. The utter helplessness you feel as parents of bereaved parents is almost impossible to bear. You would like to take their pain away, to bear it for them, but you can do nothing.
In fact it was Humphrey the rescue dog who forced Andrew and Claire to keep going during that terrible time after Alexandra’s death. He needed to be cuddled and fed and walked, and did not hesitate to put his own needs first. Having lost my father in a car accident when I was 12, I know how a beloved animal can force you to keep going, however little you want to. In my case it was my pony Rambler on whose comforting back I took long lonely rides, always hoping to find my father. Perhaps because I did not see his dead body and had nobody with whom to speak, I did not really believe that my father was dead.
Nowadays the process of grieving is understood so much better and professional help is widely available. We were pleased that Andrew and Claire were offered and accepted appropriate support in the immediate aftermath. Ian and I found that talking to one another about what had happened helped us cope; the interminable pregnancy, Andrew’s terrible phone call from the hospital, the nightmare journey from Aberdeen to Leeds, the fight to get parked and into the building, the gathering of the whole family, the wonderful staff. Going over and over it – also with Claire’s parents – helped us get through the beginning of our loss. Each morning when we awoke, we remembered, and quickly became aware of how much worse Andrew and Claire would be feeling.
The passage of time and the birth of Ophelia two years ago have certainly eased the pain for all of us. But we know that it will never go away entirely, and perhaps that is the hardest fact for any of us to accept. Close friends know and accept that little things can ‘set you off’, that some topics are best not discussed, that you really might tell them how you are feeling. But others who have never experienced a loss such as this, imagine that it will not take long, that one baby can substitute for another, that you’ll ‘get over it sooner or later’.
It really is not like that and we now accept that we will never get over it. The memories are still as vivid and sore and we just live with them quietly from day to day.