Remembering Stanley


Stanley would have been one today. Stanley should have been one today. You know what that means, don’t you. He’s not one today at all. Because in only 11 days’ time, after marking Stanley’s first birthday, his parents will be remembering the anniversary of his death.

So I’d like to spend a moment just now remembering all the babies whose parents I have worked with, who haven’t made it. There’s another Stanley. And Wilfred and Philomena and Kayleigh and Rohan. And all the other babies close to my heart – Ela and Ruth and Samuel and Alice. Some of them lived to take a breath or two – some even made it few a good few weeks, a year or more, and others were stillborn.

I have learned all sorts of things thanks to these little lives. Actually they’re not little lives – short maybe, but not little, because the baby who dies serves to teach us so much – in some ways far far more than the baby who lives.

I’ve learned that parents never forget. Even if on the surface of it, they go about normal lives after a while, and perhaps even smile again. And even make more babies – ones that live – but the memory is still there of the one that’s absent. One friend said to me, ‘there’ll always be someone missing.’ It means that questions like ‘how many children do you have?’ is fraught with complication, and makes the bereaved parent’s heart lurch when they hear it.

I’ve also learned that every parent deals with such an awful loss differently, and that it is not my place to judge their response to their bereavement. I have experienced the whole range, from not even managing to speak to the mother, to attending a funeral with several hundred others, and all manner of in-between states. And when I’ve stuck around the parents long enough, I’ve learned a bit about the journey that is coming to terms with the loss of a child.

In a clumsy way I’ve worked out how best I can cope with it – what’s best for me to say and do (and I word it that way deliberately because different people are going to best say and do different things). That it’s better to say something – anything – and risk saying the wrong thing, than to say nothing at all, avoid the subject – or even avoid the bereaved parent, as if it’s something catching. I’ve got in a muddle with which tenses to use, whether it’s appropriate to ask to see photos (I tend to, actually). I’ve crassly asked parents how they are (der! Pretty crap, obviously!).

I could go on and tell youStanley’s story here, but I won’t, because it’s not my story to tell. Suffice to say that I still feel honoured that I was among the few to meet him in his 11 days on this mortal coil, and honoured further to have shared his parents’ journey, just a little bit, in the year since that tornado struck, and everything got turned upside down in his family. But the strength, and courage, and resolve, and quiet passion that I’ve seen over the last year from one little boy’s remarkable family is an inspiration.

I will remember a tiny footprint on the order of service, tears at the graveside, a funeral full of bumps, babies and toddlers, photo albums chronicling the story, sitting in the sunshine amidst the tears. Cream cakes and laughing at the crassness of some people’s comments. Dilemmas over headstones, and a visit to the churchyard (arriving late) one wet and windy winter’s day to see it in place. Endless hugs, debriefing, story-telling, and a new sibling now on its way. And a closeness that only tragedy can bring.

Give your own babies – whatever their age – a hug today and thank them just for being there, knowing that but for the grace of Whatever / Whoever go every one of us, and if you’d like to, light a candle for Stanley because today his parents should have been lighting one for him, and singing, not crying.

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~ by Kedi Simpson on May 28, 2011.

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