Yesterday Martin and I made the train journey to London and the long trip down the Northern Line back to St George’s for their annual neonatal remembrance service.
Hugo was born, cared for and died in the neonatal unit at St George’s. Attending the service was very important to me, despite the four hour round trip. It is wonderful that the unit holds the service to remember the babies who did not make it home – I understand not all units do so.
St George’s neonatal unit holds two events a year – the graduates’ Christmas party in addition to the remembrance service (graduates are babies who made it home – they ‘graduated’ from the unit).
During our stay on the unit I had set my sights on attending the graduates’ party. In the parents’ room are books from previous years’ parties. The books contain photos of proud, smiling parents with their graduates – some still babes in arms, some teenagers and all ages in between. Parents include details of the gestation their baby was born at and/or the reason for being in the unit, and details about their journey. The books are a great gift as they give so much hope – I envisioned proudly taking Hugo to the party, and his story of triumph against adversity being included in the book.
But that was not to be.
Instead, I had the opportunity to write a piece about Hugo for the book of remembrance.
I wrote the piece yesterday morning, having procrastinated for a while. The procrastination was unusual for me – I love talking and writing about Hugo – but in the context of the purpose, understandable.
Arriving at the hospital, I felt a sense of panic. It made no sense, as I have returned numerous times – including to speak at a study day – and those visits did not have the same impact.
Thinking about it, during the other visits I was in control – during the other visits, I was there to talk about my super champion boy, to focus on his life, not just his death.
Entering the Chapel, it was a relief to receive hugs from some very special people, because I had not anticipated how distressing going back to the Chapel would feel. My first visit to the Chapel was during the fourth week of Hugo’s life, to seek the chaplains’ support after receiving the news that Hugo was unlikely to survive. Not being religious my visit felt hypocritical, but I felt so helpless that praying felt like I was doing something.
During the last week of Hugo’s life, I made daily visits to the Chapel to pray for Hugo, each time sitting in the same seat – that became another of the superstitions I had developed during Hugo’s life. All of those things were like a bargain for my son’s survival – I would have done anything that would mean Hugo could have come home with us.
The chaplains were wonderfully supportive to us during those desperate days – and Martin and I are immensely grateful to them.
Sitting in the Chapel, I could not help but recall how disconsolate I was the last time I had been in there. That the last time I had sat there, I still had a live son to visit. That last time, I had hope – only a glimmer, but still.
Martin held tightly on to my hand to reassure me.
The readings were beautifully poignant, and included secular as well as prayers from each of the major religions.
Parents were invited to light a candle and place it on a picture of a dove. As I lit mine, I said in my head the words I would say to Hugo when I said goodnight to him in the unit: “I love you Hugo, to the moon and back a million times.” The lit candles looked beautiful.
I had expected to be in floods of tears during the service but I think I had steeled myself so well – too well – I became numb.
The number of other bereaved parents in the room was sorrowful, and the number of babies’ names that were read out heartbreaking. So many dreams shattered.
A particular memorial on the wall caught my eye – for a beautiful little boy called Leo, his blond face smiling out at the room. During the past few months, I have got to know his lovely Mummy through Twitter because of the St George’s connection. I realised I had seen Leo’s memorial when I was praying for Hugo. We both wish we do not know each other this way.
Thank you to the unit, and the unit’s charity, First Touch for holding the event to remember our precious babies. It is a small comfort to know they will always be loved, and never be forgotten.
I will conclude with a prayer read by the Chaplain just before Hugo died. The second part of the prayer in particular was so resonant because we feel that Hugo’s spirit is everywhere, we asked for the words so they could be read at Hugo’s funeral service:
Hugo, go on your journey from this world,
In the love of God who created you;
In the mercy of Jesus who died and rose again for you;
In the power of the Holy Spirit who breathes new life in to you;
May you be surrounded by God’s love and peace now and always.
Into the wind and sunshine, we let you go,
Into the dance of the stars and the planets, we let you go,
Into the wind’s breath and the hands of the starmaker, we let you go.
May you rest in peace and God’s loving embrace. Amen.