I don’t generally like putting pictures of my kids on the internet, but I feel like those who are reading this should see Amelia…
The day after Amelia died I wanted to see her again. I wanted to spend some time with her body in the hope that it would make everything feel a little more real. Following the routine of the days preceding, I walked onto the intensive care unit to speak to the nurses I’d become so close to. During my time in GOSH I’d grown to love the nurses who took care of the kids. They were working with a passion that doesn’t end when the working day does. I always thought Amelia had a favourite nurse. Her name was Aimee. Whenever she was on shift Amelia’s pressure monitor would lower and the whole area had a sense of peace.
I entered PICU (Paediatric Intensive Care Unit) to find Aimee who seemed at a loss. When she saw me we hugged and cried. We had a connection that stayed for some time and it was clear to see that Amelia’s death had an impact on everybody (something I’ll come back to). She found a doctor to take me to see Amelia’s body.
Thankfully not many people will ever see the inside of Great Ormond Street Hospital and even fewer will see it as a bereaved parent. It’s quite the maze inside. I was led to a corridor that looked like all others by this doctor who then reached out and activated a hidden door in the wall. Inside was a room decorated like a child’s bedroom. There was a fireplace, a wooden bedframe, a bedside cabinet and chair. The walls were covered with colours and a rug on the floor added a comforting touch. Amelia was in the bed, the lights were dimmed and I was told I could spend as long as I needed with her.
To see her in that setting was both wonderful and terrifying. To know that my child laid there with no life in her body, but was seen in such a familiar setting added an eerie tone to my visit. However, it was a relief to see her without wires and tubes covering her body and the staff had placed her in pyjamas. She looked more human than she had for days and yet this was the furthest she’d been from just that.
I talked to her for a long time. I was proud of how much she’d fought against her injuries and I was proud that she made the journey into death on her own. It’s odd to write that sentence. Although we gathered around her bed as she died, only she could take that last step. Something irrational inside me saw her as a lonely figure travelling to a place where I couldn’t exist. I’d bought an A4 lined notebook and a pen in the shop to write her a letter. I’ve always expressed myself better in writing than in speech and I wanted to tell her everything I felt inside. I can’t remember one single word that I wrote that morning, but – weeks later – I placed the letter inside her coffin with the crazy hope that she’d know of the words I wrote.
I also wanted to write to two of her nurses. Those words I can remember. I told them I loved them for how they’d cared for my daughter. I told them I was proud of them and that I hoped their dreams would come true. Over the nights we’d talked about their goals in life. I wanted these people to achieve everything they could imagine for the acts they showed my family. Yes, it is their job, but with every movement they made you could see the care, the passion and the belief they personally held towards the kids they cared for. Never have I seen such strong and caring women who face adversity each and every day.
I left GOSH later that day to travel back home. Amelia’s body would be transported to the local hospital where I’d visit her every day until her transfer to the funeral home. Even in death I read to her each time I saw her. I found myself buying books that I could read to her and would later in life read to her sisters. I never made it through a story without crying. A favourite was The Gruffalo, which she’d enjoyed in life and my favourite was The Velveteen Rabbit, which I still read on the anniversary of her death each year.
I want to skip forward here. I could talk about sleeping in the hospital bed next to my partner for the following week; I could talk about her father’s funeral. But, I want to write about Amelia’s funeral and the planning it required.
The first time I walked into the funeral home to see the undertakers I knew what to expect as I’d been around the arrangements of my partner’s father’s funeral. I knew I’d have to talk about whether Amelia would be buried or cremated. I knew I’d have to choose a coffin with my partner and I knew we’d discuss how we saw the day take place.
We chose a “children’s coffin”. The outside depicted a woodland scene full of fairies and animals. It was green and brown and pink. I asked my partner’s cousins and my best friends to be her pallbearers. We chose a dress for her to be cremated in. It was her favourite; a white dress with coloured polka dots. We chose an array of stuffed animals that were her companions in life to be her companions in death. Into the coffin went Flopsy, Mopsy, Mr Otter and others. We asked that everyone who attended the funeral wore an item of pink or purple – Amelia’s favourite colours – and that rather than buying flowers they donate the money to GOSH instead.
Her preschool teachers asked if they could help with anything. We asked them if Amelia’s class could make handprint butterflies which would decorate the alter during the funeral. The preschool was later named after Amelia and they have a memorial garden there. We chose songs to be played during the service, I created an Order of Service to give me something to do and I wrote a eulogy. I couldn’t read the eulogy on the day because of the overwhelming emotions. I asked my uncle to read it because he is a stand up comedian and I knew he could handle the pressure… though he struggled to read it, too.
I wish I’d had the courage to read it. They were my words and they should have come from me. If I can find a copy of it I’ll post it on here.
Through all of my experience I later developed PTSD from everything I saw and lived through. One of the most affecting times was visiting Amelia for the last time in the funeral home. We’d been asked if we wanted to see her laid to rest in the coffin. My partner refused and I wish I had too. She laid in the coffin surrounded by her stuffed toys, dressed in her white with polka dots. Her face was caked in make up to disguise the deathly pallor and the injuries on her face. The hair that remained was side combed to cover her surgical scars/wounds and she no longer looked like Amelia. She looked fake, as if all of this was some elaborate joke.
I wanted a last connection with her so I reached out to stroke her cheek. She was cold to the touch. Of course she was, but it came as a shock. I snatched my hand back and noticed that her flesh had stayed imprinted with my touch. Where I’d pressed her cheek, the skin didn’t spring back. I still see that imprint when I think of her now.
One of the things nobody tells you when your child dies is how you will remember them. You hope that each memory will be of them talking or dancing or singing. Maybe for some bereaved parents this is the case. I know that’s how my partner remembers Amelia, but I can’t. It takes a lot of effort to remember Amelia alive and well. Those final days and weeks have overtaken everything else for me. If I think hard, I can remember one moment with her and no others. I can remember her standing by my bed, balanced on the edge as she remarked on the t-shirt I was wearing at the time. She thought I looked like a bumblebee. Other than that moment I can’t remember her any longer. All I see is that imprint, the tubes and wires, the cold feel of her skin, the ambulance arriving, the missing hair.
Her funeral was a bright sunny day. She’d died as snow fell outside and was cremated by the light of the sun. Hundreds of people attended; family, friends, neighbours, teachers, even people who’d only met her one or two times. Even those who only knew of her as a child in a bed in a hospital. Her death affected everyone in different ways. The person I often think of is my sister Chloe. There was less than two years between Amelia and Chloe, they were best friends. After Amelia died it took weeks for me to be able to spend time with my sister. When we finally did see each other again, Chloe put her hand in mine and told me she’d missed me. It was hard not to see Amelia in her and it still is. Chloe is now a teenager and every single time I see her I wonder what Amelia would have been like now.
It never gets easier…