First published in Portsmouth News, 20th May 2014
On the 22nd of this month, five years ago, a very special little baby was born: Albert Campbell. All babies are special, but Bertie has his very own nook in my heart. He was the eldest son of one of my closest friends, Ruth, and her husband Andrew, but he passed away when he was 7 days old.
The unfathomable shock and finality of death is all the more poignant when linked to a child. The sheer hope and potential for life, the birthdays and milestones, the first days of school and the celebrations, are lost; stolen from under the feet of the families who have nurtured them since the earliest days of pregnancy.
Parenting is always tinged with fear: fear that we will mess up, fear that our kids will mess up, fear that we cannot always provide the happy ideal. The Fear perches on your shoulder, brushing its bony fingers along your spine. It capers in dark corners on the nights when you walk the Calpol Trail, it lurks in the recesses of your tired mind as you lay awake listening for your teenager’s key in the lock. Parenting is an endless ride on the merry-go-round of love and fear: the two are inextricably linked.
Ruth is the bravest person I have ever met. She has experienced, and continues to experience every day, the loss of the child she created, but she has refused to crumble. The courage with which she has carried three further pregnancies, and the dignity with which she treats those who, out of their own fear, ignored her after Bertie’s death, astounds me.
It is often hard to know what to say when faced with someone else’s grief, and in the days of social media we can all too often put our foot in it, but we should never ignore it. I always remember Ruth telling me that not everybody wears their grief on their sleeve: when we feel as though we are the only ones, it’s worth remembering that we don’t always know each other’s stories, or how we deal with them in private.
Once any of us is gone, the place in which we continue to live is memory, and Bertie thrives in mine: sunflowers, Brighton, white butterflies in the garden, Sophie the Giraffe and The Killers on the radio. That special little boy continues to sparkle in the lives he touched, and he always will.