We lost our daughter Grace six years ago. The hospital where we were had a room for people like us, funded by Sands, that was away from the main ward and had everything we needed so we could stay together and spend time with her. That time was the most precious time in our lives. So when I was asked to write about how I found my way through it didn’t take long to say ‘yes’ – anything to help the charity that helped us in our very darkest hours.
As soon as I replied to the email something hit me; what am I going to write about? I don’t know that I have found my way through. How did I get myself to this point?
So I guess I’ll start with how ‘Finding Your Way’ could be seen. On one hand you could see it as you know where you’re going and you have a rough idea of how to get there. On the other, you could see it as holding a candle while walking down a dark corridor – the light only shines enough for you to see your way forward a little bit at a time. I would put myself on the second of these two paths.
In the early days after we lost her there were so many questions: Why did this happen? How did this happen? In our consultants meeting we were told that for some people “it just happens.” An answer that is as baffling today as it was then, but as with everything else you just have to accept where you are and carry on.
It took many weeks of doing the what most people would say were the little things, but to us they seemed big; sorting out the garden, decorating, going to the shops, nothing too taxing – just trying to function in a world that hadn’t changed for anybody else but for us had been completely up-ended. All these little steps amounted to progress but it was progress I was completely unaware of at the time, I didn’t really look up, I just held my candle and took each day as it came.
Around this time I began to read other people’s stories, I quickly learnt that not every hospital had a bereavement suite like ours did. The horror of reading what others had been through stuck with me, no parent should be sent back to a ward filled with other mums and dads enjoying the very thing that you had lost. This is not right, something should be done.
After several months I returned to work and my life to anyone looking on appeared to be back to normal. But it was far from normal for us. I didn’t want my old life back, because as I saw it, to go back to that would be a denial of what happened and it would feel as if I was turning my back on our daughter. She was here, I am still her dad. I wanted to do something that recognised her, something good, something that might help. Again, at the time I didn’t really understand where the desire came from but I decided to follow my very broken heart as it told me that is what felt right.
For me this was writing. During the pregnancy I had a few silly rhymes and short stories that I had intended to finish and read to Grace when she was old enough to enjoy them. I decided to go ahead and do just that, I felt I needed to write them, to get them out of my head. There was still no plan at this point, I just felt I should do it. I was still carrying my candle but now my arm was reaching forward a little.
Once I had some that I thought were good enough I decided to illustrate them, I had always drawn and had produced some illustrations in my day to day job as a designer but these were for her – the most inspirational client I’ve ever worked for. By the time I had nearly finished them my flickering candle had been joined by two bright lights in the form of our wonderful boys – they, plus the unwavering support of my partner helped me see far enough ahead to publish them. I have now published four picture books with 50% of the profits donated to Sands every year on Grace’s birthday – the other 50% goes back into the project to pay for print and website costs.
They say hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s true; all the little steps I have taken over the last few years, the changes, the setbacks, the sidesteps, was me finding my way; though I’m still not really sure whether I found my way or the way found me. What I do know is that I wouldn’t have done any of this without my daughter. So I guess in answer to my own question of how did I get myself to this point; I didn’t, she got me here. My partner got me here. Our boys got me here. Their light keeps me walking.