By Pete Shaw, in memory of my little boy James
A family photo of James
A lot has been written about grief. You can Google it, and you will find any number of guides, or quotes laid on the background of a field, or fluffy white clouds.
You probably haven't Googled grief unless you have experienced it in someway or another... I certainly hadn't. In fact, I would go so far as to say I had no understanding or appreciation for what grief or loss really was, up until the 31st of October 2016. This is despite my job in the police, where I have comforted victims, the bereft and those worst affected by sad events. You don't truly know grief until it hits you, like a meteor striking the surface of a planet.
My happiest moments
On the 21st of September 2016, my wife Emily gave birth to twins, James and Isabel. They were perfect. After a brief stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, we as a family left our local hospital with our older daughter Lexy, and travelled home. I can't remember a time when I was prouder, or more elated... and probably more apprehensive as to what was life going to be like.
The next four weeks were like a blur. I wish they weren't. I wish I could remember it all like yesterday. But with little sleep and a lot of 'jobs', we as a couple kept our head above the water line, feeding, changing nappies and coming to terms with the fact that a small, two bedroom flat might struggle to hold the five of us! Looking back at that time, if I could give myself one bit of advice it would be to savour the moments and not to stress about the future and the 'what ifs'.
Transfer to hospital
On the morning of the 29th of October, James fell ill. He was rushed to our local hospital but he was so poorly he needed more specialist care. The amazing and dogged work by staff from our local hospital, then staff of the Children's Acute Transfer Service (CATS) ambulance team, and finally the intensive care doctors and nurses at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) allowed us to spend two more days with our boy, before he passed away in our arms on the 31st of October at 19:35hrs. We think, but will sadly never know for sure, that James died of sepsis. It was at that point when I began to understand what grief was really all about.
Then, three weeks after we lost James, his twin sister Isabel fell ill. It happened much like it did for James, but Isabel had completely unrelated problems. We repeated the journey to our local hospital, and then to GOSH, where Isabel was rushed into surgery, which saved her life. A year on, my sweet girl has just turned one, and the only mark to tell the story of that harrowing time is a small scar on her belly, in time it might even go completely.
Coming to terms with loss
In my eulogy at James' memorial I said: 'No parent should ever have to bury their child' and I don't think a truer word has ever been said. If I could have one wish, it would not be for James to be back in our lives, that would be a selfish wish. My wish would be for no father or mother to ever have to endure the pain and suffering of losing a child.
So what do you do when you've had the worst thing happen? To be honest, I couldn't tell you, because unlike the explanations on that search engine, your grief is unique to you. All I can say is you will learn to live with the ache, your heart will never be the same again but it will still beat and you must let it. You will find solace in something or someone, and they or it will help you on that path of recovery.
Creating a legacy for James
Our team of runners at the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Photo credit: Alexander Newton
One of our sticking plasters has been trying to give back, and so we started the Little Jimmy Brighter Future Fund in memory of James, to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, in December last year. We set ourselves a target of raising enough money for GOSH to buy two specialist ventilators for the CATS ambulances to take the sickest of children, like James, from their local hospital to GOSH for the very best of care. The machines will support the vital services that the CATS team provides, and they don't come cheap, but in less than a year we have raised over £140,000. That means we can buy not only the two specialist ventilators we set out to fund, but additional equipment that will also be used to help children on their journey of recovery.
'We' is the key word in that sentence. 'We' is friends, family, colleagues and complete strangers donating, running events like the Royal Parks Half Marathon with me and Emily, cycling, baking and many more things to help buy the equipment, but in their words, to help 'try and walk with us on that road to recovery'.
And that is my final point. When you are low, in the darkest of times, people are the one constant in getting you back to some semblance of existence. The family members' hug, the quiet drink with the friend or seeing a donation from a complete stranger... they are the actions that mean grief can be conquered.
Emily and Pete, and over 100 of their friends, family members and supporters of the Little Jimmy Brighter Future Fund ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon, with all money raised going to support Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity in James' memory.