My sister Anna lost her daughter, Dora, not long after she was born on 14 January 2012.
After her birth one of the midwives said Dora needed to go and see a paediatrician and let Anna hold her briefly before she took her away. About three hours after Dora was born, a paediatrician came to say that she was gravely ill and they would do everything they could for her.
The phone calls coming from the hospital to the rest of our family went from delight to despair.
Eventually, we heard the terrible news that Dora had died. I was living in Dublin at the time and expecting, of course, a very different telephone call.
I know that my sister has struggled to find the way to tell people what had happened and that to this day, she is sometimes unable to get the words out. Sometimes this is to protect her feelings, sometimes other people’s.
The months after Dora’s death were awful for Anna and her husband unbearably grim. There had to be a post-mortem, they had to register her death, and organise her funeral.
We all talk about Dora, celebrate her birthday, think about what she would have been like and what she would be doing. Anna had Dora’s name tattooed on the inside of her wrist in her honour and so she is always with her.
My own memories of this time are ones of great sadness and of great hope.
The sadness comes when I think of the grieving parents standing with such bravery and courage next to Dora’s coffin.
The hope comes from seeing this courage, as well as knowing how Sands helped them – as it helps so many who suffer perhaps this most awful of losses.
I wept on the day of Dora’s funeral, as did every other man in the room. And I was in tears seven years later as, holding up a Sands wristband, I crossed the finishing line at the Marathon Des Sables.
And my tears in 2019 were again of sadness and joy. Sadness at the knowledge that Dora had not had the gift of time and would never, unlike me, see the beautiful Saharan landscape. Joy in knowing I had, in a small way, been able to help Sands by raising some money thanks to some incredibly generous supporters.
I believe I also cried because I felt that I had finally done something meaningful to support my sister. I suspect that many men can feel inadequate, or at least unsure, in their emotional response to the loss of a child. After all, we do not carry a baby – it is not physically part of us. Perhaps for this reason we long to be practical, to find solutions, to do things. While it took me seven years to realise this, and ultimately very blistered feet, I felt that every step honoured Dora’s memory and every pound acknowledged the wonderful work Sands does, for men as well as women.