The worst thing that can happen to any parent is the loss of a child, regardless of the age of the child. People are uneasy and reluctant to talk about death and certainly not about the death of a child. Many people will pull away from a family that has suffered the passing of a child as though somehow having a child pass is contagious. Families who have lost children often say that others “Just don’t get it.” They are expected to move on and get over it when we very well know that this will never happen. The pain will wax and wane but it is always there.
With time, the pain will lessen enough to allow the parent to return to the living, but their child is never far from their mind.
Grief does not have a time frame and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
This is a story of one fathers loss, a topic that is not talked about enough and that we strongly believe needs to be heard. This is a reminder that just like the mothers who have lost, fathers too grieve the loss of their children.
July 1987 was the month my world experienced the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.
I write this account as a way of preserving the memory of a life lost. A life that could not speak for itself. But I also write this as a support for all the Fathers who know the loss of a young life, particularly an infant. I have seen many stories in the press about Mothers who have suffered the ultimate loss of an infant, and mostly the husband is in a support role, as he did not carry the child. This is not to discount the worth of the Mother – quite to the contrary,
My son – Keith William Naumann, (named after his 2 Grand Fathers) came into this world on July 24, 1987.
It was a natural birth, and Mum and Baby were doing fine. I can remember going home from St Vincent’s Hospital in Toowoomba almost floating. I had a Son!
This was even more special as being the youngest of 7, I was the last to start having a family. It had been an ongoing point of pride in our Family that to this point, only my eldest Brother, Kerry, had a Son first. All the others had daughters first. I had just knocked Kerry off his throne – or at least shared it with him now. My Family is one that is full of love and support. I am sure we are the envy of a lot of people. Sure we have our arguments but the bond between us is stronger than anything you can imagine. I am the Man I am today because of these bonds.
3 days after Keith was born, and after 3 days of celebrating a Son, I answered a phone call from my wife, who told me that the doctors thought there was something wrong with our baby. Fear did not register at this time, being the eternal optimist I simply thought it would all be okay.
On arriving at the hospital, things had already been put in motion to transport Keith to Brisbane for further tests. The Doctors in Toowoomba thought it may be a virus, or a possible heart problem. An Ambulance was arranged, and Mum and Baby were transported, with me following with a few family members in other cars. I can’t remember who with – it is all a blur still to this day. After arriving at hospital in Brisbane and having many scans, the Doctor called us into a private room to discuss the results.
In the space of 3 short days, my heart had experienced the highest high, and now I was to experience the lowest of lows. Our Son had Hypoplasty Left Heart Syndrome – a condition where the left side of the heart does not form correctly. We were told to take our Son home and enjoy time with him – there was nothing they could do. It may be days, or weeks, but not months. I was numb. It was all very surreal.
We travelled back to Toowoomba in a Family members car – nursing Keith in the back seat for the whole drive home. My Sister Marie and her husband Rick arrived at our home some time before we did, they put on the fireplace to start warming the rooms up for us. I did not know it at the time, but I was about to find out just how valuable my entire family is to me.
As we arrived home, I thought it was odd that our old English Sheepdog, Beau, did not run out to greet us as he usually did. Thinking no more about this, we went inside and simply acted like any other family bringing a child home. Feeding, bathing, changing and above all – loving this little life in our home. It then occurred to me again that our dog was missing. Finally, my sister Marie told me that as they arrived home, Beau (the Sheepdog) ran across the road as he usually does, and then ran back across the road, not expecting a car to have turned around at the end of the court. Beau had run straight into the side of their car and had been rushed to the vet. What else could go wrong!Fortunately, we were to find out later that although Beau had sustained a broken femur in the accident, he would be okay after a few days at the vet.
People’s reactions to our situation were varied and different – but I will never forget how my family kicked in and pulled what they could together. I still remember how my brother-in-law, Rick, simply could not accept the diagnosis. Keith was so perfect on the outside, how could something so sinister be on the inside? Keith survived for 13 days. Right up till the 12th day, he was a normal baby boy. We took him to hospital when we realised he was struggling. He passed away as peacefully as our laws allow.
The generosity and love of many people helped me, and my then wife through some very dark times. Our family doctor – Dr. David Lee, called in every day on his way home to see how things were going and check up. We never saw a bill for this. I even got to talk with the late great Dr Victor Chan, heart specialist at St. Vincents in Sydney. To my surprise when I phoned the hospital, they said ‘Dr Chan is right here, would you like to talk to him?’ He explained the situation and did not give us hope unfortunately, but he took the time to talk to me and explain more. The nurses at St Vincents Toowoomba who cared for Keith in his last hours – I don’t know how they did it. Nor have I ever seen a bill for our dogs’ vet costs and nor did we have the agony of paying for Keiths’ funeral. My beautiful Family paid for these. They believed we had gone through enough.
I still cry on his Birthday, or when I watch TV and there is tragic loss involving a baby. My way of handling my loss – right or wrong, was to run away. I accepted a job in Brisbane and we moved to pursue my career from there. I found it very difficult when I met friends in the street and of course they would ask ‘how is the new baby?’ and I would have to relive my sad story again and again – so I ran away. They say that 60% of marriages that lose a child end in divorce. With that and other reasons my first marriage ended 7 years ago.
I now have 2 beautiful daughters, Helena and Shaylee. Both are beautiful young and strong women. Helena was born 5 years after Keith and we left no stone unturned to ensure that the same tragedy was not repeated, even though the odds said it wouldn’t. As a Father, I became, and still am, ever vigilant and protective of my girls. Recently Helena gave us a Grand Child. A Grand Son. You cannot imagine the memories that flooded back every time she had to go to hospital (it was a difficult pregnancy), or even after he was born with breathing difficulties. My beautiful wife Jacki will attest to the number of times I broke down in fear.
But I have survived, and thrived in my life. Helena has paid me the ultimate compliment, naming her son Cooper Mark – an honour I take very seriously. I am a proud man – but mostly proud of my Wife, Children, and Family. I could not live without them and their love. Although I have suffered a terrible loss, I also am the receiver of ultimate love.
I write and share my experience in the hope that other Fathers who have experienced similar know that life is not always down. There are a multitude of ‘ups’ along the way. And as a man, know that it is okay to be emotionally effected by things that you have no control over.
I am proud to cry for my Son, because then I realise, I will never forget.
And that makes life worth living.