When Samuel died

We knew that Samuel would not live for long. We found out at my ‘normal’ 20 week scan, which happened to be 3 days after Christmas 2018.

We knew that he would never talk, never take his first steps, never start nursery or school.

The cardiologist told us that the average life expectancy for a baby with his congenital heart defect was 2 days. I hoped for a few more, so that he could meet as much family and friends as possible. Of course, any baby can die during labour, so there was that awareness too.

We and other Christians prayed for a miracle,  but myself and Mike both felt that he was never destined for a long life. We would have gladly taken it, of course. Why didn’t God heal our Samuel? Only He knows. I do know that Samuel’s life is just as valuable as someone who has lived to 100, or climbed Mount Everest or became a millionaire. Every single person is loved by God, and that is not dependent on their looks, education or achievements. I do know that thousands of innocent babies and children die around the world every day, from disease, war, poverty, illness, accident, unknown causes and parental choice. So he is definitely not the only child currently chilling in Heaven. I miscarried before Bethany was born, so he has an older brother or sister with him.

When I was about 6 weeks pregnant, and then again at 17 weeks (after completely normal 9 and 12 week ultrasounds that didn’t show any problems); I did hear clearly a male voice in my head saying “There is something seriously wrong with your baby.” I hadn’t been thinking or worrying about my pregnancy at the time either. So I had some warning.

Thankfully we were in a lovely hospice for most of Samuel’s life, called Charlton Farm.

https://www.chsw.org.uk

We had as peaceful and enjoyable a time with him as we could. And it wasn’t just that Samuel’s every need was met. We were looked after as a family too. They were a real blessing, and we will be forever grateful to them.

I remember the last full day of his life, Saturday 11 May 2019. It was the weekend, so Connor and Bethany were with us again, after a few days at school (staying with Mike’s parents.) Being a Saturday, more family were able to visit, which was great. My sister in law, Mary, came to visit us in the morning. My sister, Laura, who had visited from Scotland ‘for just a few days’, more than 2 weeks before, was living at Charlton Farm with us, mostly to look after me as I had had a c-section and was fairly immobile. She was an absolute angel to us all, and I can’t thank her enough for being there for us. My brother Vince, and his fiance Anna visited us that afternoon. So Samuel was blessed to have all of his aunties around him on his last well day.

We went for a walk up to see the horses on the farm at the top of the steep hill with Mary and Thalia (Samuel’s nurse for the day), that morning. It was a warm sunny day. The kids played on the very posh private school nearby’s outdoor play equipment. We noticed that Samuel was struggling to poo, which is a sigh that we had been warned about. It was because his heart was failing, and the digestive system is the first thing that struggles to work due to reduced oxygen. He could still breathe fine on his own and wasn’t in any pain.

That afternoon, Vince and Anna arrived. We had a lovely time sitting in the garden while Samuel slept in his pushchair or was held by everyone in turn, and Bethany played in the nearby sandpit. Everything felt so relaxed and happy. I thought at the time that this was going to be a happy memory to cherish. You don’t always know what you will remember, but I just knew this time. Samuel was ok, if sleepy and not hungry. The exact opposite of his brother at that age!

We knew that his time was probably coming to an end, but didn’t know how long it would take. And there is always hope that you will be given a few more hours and days.

That evening as Mike and I watched a film, strangely I can’t remember what it was, we could see that Samuel was starting to physically deteriorate. He was still comfortable and didn’t need any interventions, but one of the hospice’s regular doctors made the effort to came to check on him anyway at about 11pm, long after she had gone home for the day. A trick of his was to creak at you almost like he was trying to communicate. He was also a surprisingly alert baby who stared at people as though working you out. He got more creaky and more pale. We felt calm, but there was sadness as we knew that we would have to face his death soon.

We told the two nurses on night duty to wake us up if there was any concern about his health. I was downstairs in his room, as the trip to the bedrooms upstairs was too tiring and I wanted to be near to Samuel at night. My sister was in the next bedroom. At about 2am, nurse Sophie woke me up to say that they had tried a little medicine, but he was quite poorly. I had a cuddle, and after a while he picked up a bit. About an hour later, they asked if they should wake Mike and the kids, as Samuel was struggling. I agreed, and soon Mike, Connor, Bethany and Laura came into the room. He was very pale and we told the kids that he was going to die soon. The nurses had given him some medication to make him more comfortable. We had some cuddles, and all said goodbye to him. He was in my arms as I sat in bed when he died. It was all so calm and quiet. I think that he had the best death that anyone could hope for.

At about 4am, we had said our goodbyes and the nurses made us all a hot chocolate while we sat in the nurses’ station where Samuel had spent many nights in a nurse’s or my arms. There are sofas and a big window. We watched the sun come up.

Samuel had a happy life and a peaceful death. He was hardly ever in a cot or pushchair as everyone fought over cuddling him. He made such a big impact on our and many other people’s lives in his 11 days on Earth.

We are sad, and sometimes angry; and it is incredibly unfair. We will never stop grieving our son. But what happy memories we have with him. He has helped me to think about life differently: about what is really important.

Hope when it’s hopeless

I am going to come right out with it,  something that’s been bothering me for a while: Christians are not always that helpful. Christians are not always great when you are having a terrible time. Sometimes they say stupid, ignorant things. Sometimes they ignore you because that’s easier for them. Sometimes they throw inappropriate and out-of-context Bible passages at you like so many bricks, then walk away smugly, thinking that they have helped, when in fact all they do is make you want to stop going to church, simply to avoid people like them.

Yes, it’s harsh but it’s true. Thank goodness that I put my hope in Christ, and not people. That’s the problem with putting all of your faith in someone human, no matter how much they love you, one day they are going to let you down.

Before I get lots of defensive replies, let me also add that sometimes Christians are literally a God-send. Sometimes they are the perfect friend at the right time, and even though they don’t know what to say; even though they may have never been through trauma, they are still kind. They still give you a little bit of joy or peace.

And, of course, non-Christian friends are wonderful too. If you haven’t got any friends who are not believers, you are missing out. People don’t need to have faith to be kind, honest or generous.

I am in the club with the most expensive membership fee, the club that nobody wants to join: people whose child has died.

Meeting other people who have lost a child can be helpful, tiring and sometimes really sad. I found myself recently in a bereaved parents’ group, and honestly I felt so sad for them. A bit sad for myself certainly, but mostly for them. I was thinking about why I felt this way, amd I think that it’s because even in the most hopeless of circumstances, I have hope.

People who don’t believe in God think that they will never see their child again. If you haven’t had a child die, you have no idea what this is like, but try to imagine it for a second. Most people won’t, because our brains try to protect us from harm. And the death of a beloved child is the most harmful thing that our bodies, minds and spirits will ever have to face. I have had life-threatening cancer at a fairly young age, and I can confirm that this is a walk in the park compared with holding your baby as he breathes his last.

The thought of never seeing your beautiful child ever again for me is the definition of hopelessness. It is sadness, dismay, emptiness, fear and pretty much all of the bad things, rolled into one.

But I do believe that I will see my Samuel again. I did not want him to be ill, I did not want him to die. I get cross with God for putting us through this. It is completely unfair. Please do not tell me that this will work together for our good. But I do know, as much as I know anything, that one day I will see him in Heaven. I will hug him, I will be overjoyed. I have to, probably, want a long time for this meeting. But I look forward to it.

I have hope in the hopless situation, because I know God.

If I did not believe that God loves me and gave up his only son to die on the cross for me, and that he is looking after Samuel for me, I would be inconsolable. I would fall into the depths of despair. Nobody’s kind words or saying that he is a star or a butterfly or an angel now, would help. Superstition and traditions ring hollow. The only person that I put all of my hope into is Jesus. The only thing that shouts truth to me, is what is written in the Bible.

I have faced my own mortality head-on, and it does not scare me. I know where I am going. I know where my baby is. No popular culture or secular academic argument will ever sway me. I must either be completely deluded, or right.

How do I have hope? Even though I am traumatised, harrassed, been physically and mentally ill, grieving, incredibly sad and sometimes very angry? Because I know that God loves me. I don’t know why life has to be so flipping  hard, but I know that he will never let me down.

 

 

 

 

Samuel’s move to the hospice

Our youngest son Samuel was diagnosed with an unfixable congenital heart defect when I was 20 weeks pregnant, in December 2018. He was born on 1 May 2019.

We had a lovely first day with Samuel and some close family and friends. I was still confined to a bed, having had a planned c-section. That night, a fabulous senior nurse offered to hold Samuel for a few hours, after her long shift, so that Mike and I could get some sleep. I wasn’t able to get out of bed yet, so couldn’t pick Samuel up from his cot or change his nappy. Mike and I were staying in a suite that we had to ourselves, with a lounge, kitchenette, double bedroom and en-suite. It is tucked away from the delivery suite, and used for families who have lost their baby during or soon after labour.

After the nurse had gone, Mike had been sitting in the lounge for a while, and was knackered. I said that I could hold him for a while, so that Mike could get some more sleep. I didn’t think that it would be for long, as I couldn’t walk him round the room, make up a bottle, or anything like that. I think it was about 2 hours in the end, that I held him. He was so settled, that although he was awake a lot of that time, he didn’t cry once. He just seemed to peaceful. Anyone who knows me, knows that this would have been a very different experience for me after my two older kids! I never knew that a newborn could be so content.

At about 5:30 that morning, I texted my Mom, who was staying with Dad and my sister Laura a few minutes away. I asked her if she could come round soon to help with Samuel. About half and hour later she was there.

A nurse came to our room soon after breakfast and said that she was going to remove my catheter, and I needed to get up and have a shower. They wanted me to be able to be discharged as soon as possible, so that we could get Samuel to the hospice. We wanted to make some memories with him, without his whole life being lived in a hospital. The average time to stay in hospital is 3-4 days after a cesarian section.

I had a shower and got dressed without any help. I was very proud of myself. It was painful, but managable. I hadn’t realised that my painkillers from the day before hadn’t worn off yet. I was discharged soon after lunch.

Samuel and I were being transported by the ambulance, so we said goodbye to Mike at the ambulance door, and climbed in the back with a paramedic and a nurse from the hospital. Samuel was in a little baby pod, which they use for transporting little ones. He seemed quite happy for his first and last journey by car. We went over the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which gives great views over Bristol. It was the first time on that bridge for both of us. Soon we arrived at Charlton Farm Hospice. Mike was already there.

The hospice is a precious place, set in countryside outside of Bristol, and just what families need who have a child with serious illness or disabilitiy and a short life expectancy. The nurses, (well) sibling team, volunteers, food, bedrooms, garden and communal areas are just amazing. It really was the lovliest place for us as a family to live for Samuel’s short but sweet life. It is a charity, set up by a couple called Eddie and Jill Farwell, who had two children with life-limiting illnesses.

Here is a link if you would like to donate directly to Charlton Farm, in memory of Samuel:

Donate to Charlton Farm Hospice

We unpacked our bags in the family accommodation upstairs; bustled around the huge estate, met some staff and said hello again to others we had already met, and introduced them to Samuel. Connor and Bethany arrived, as well as our parents, and siblings Laura, Phil, Vince and Anna. And then my body decided that enough was enough. I was in so much pain that I could only curl up in a ball in a chair and whimper. It’s a bit of a blur, but the nurses were great and I got painkillers soon enough. My family enjoyed the privilege of changing Samuel’s nappy as a team task.

Our friends Ryo and James visited us that night. We wanted as many people as possible to visit him, so that they would have memories too. Later, Samuel went a little blue and I thought that he was going to go downhill fast. I was relieved that we had been able to spend a day with him at the hospice, but it felt too soon. He started to get better after a while though, thankfully.

That night was hard: Mike, me, Connor and Bethany were sleeping upstairs, while Samuel was in the poorly kids’ accomodation downstairs.

Every ill child has a large room with en-suite bathroom downstairs. The rooms have CCTV, which is monitored by at least two nurses all through the night, in a comfy area called the Meadow. They are on hand to make sure that the children are looked after while their families get some much-needed rest. For many parents of disabled children, the respite care offered by the hospice is more valauble than gold. It’s the only time they get to sleep through the night, have a stress-free meal, and spend quality time with their well children. The parents can watch a movie in the cinema room without constantly worrying about their child. The siblings can have fun going out on day trips or doing art with the sibling team, while the disabled child is cared for. I can see how it must be a precious thing for every family who has a child with a life-limiting condition.

Anyway, the reality of having had major abdominal surgery the day before, and then rushing around all day pretending that it was ‘just a scratch’ hit home that night. Trying to get out of bed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night was agony. I needed Mike to help me, but didn’t want to wake him up. A couple of hours later, I did anyway as I had a panic and needed to see Samuel right away. I wasn’t physically strong enough to walk all the way downstairs by myself, and knew that I would collapse in pain if I did. So I woke Mike up, feeling pretty guilty. We knew that the kids were safe, so we went to  Meadow to visit our baby.

He was happy, with four nurses seeing to his every wish and taking turns to hold and feed him. He was treated like a little prince: everyone wanted a cuddle. I sat with him for a while, gazing at his gorgeous face and watching him practise his facial expressions. He especially liked to pout. A nurse made me a hot chocolate and gave me a biscuit. I felt much better.

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