Missing Liam

A Dad’s Journey (Part 2 of 2), when the unthinkable happens and your baby dies

I have often heard the phrase “a parent should never outlive their child” and like most things in life it takes experiencing something before you understand the true meaning. No parent should ever outlive their child, it is not how the world should work, a parent should be able to live a long and happy life watching their children grow up, go to school, then onto whatever makes them happy for their career. We should watch them find their perfect partner who they love as much as we love our partners and then we should watch them, and more importantly experience the great joy of more children in the family when we become grandparents and get to enjoy the entire process again. Then as we live a long and full life, our time comes for us to pass the baton to our children and we depart this world for another, this is how life should be, unfortunately it is not how my life will ever be now.

Once we left the hospital without my little man, but a car full of flowers instead, we did something I never ever contemplated doing, we had to visit some cemetery’s to determine where we would bury Liam. Seriously can you imagine having to choose where you are going to bury your only son, I don’t even know where I want to be buried let along having to choose the location that I will leave my child. Our first stop was not good, I got out of the car and it just felt wrong, I looked around and just didn’t feel comfortable. I’m not sure what you should feel when choosing a location, but I am a simple person who needs to feel comfortable, I don’t need flashing lights, I just wanted a place that I can visit in peace and have a sense of calm. Amanda was not ok either, I really didn’t want to have to take her to the cemetery’s straight from hospital, and had even gone as far as to organise my parents to look into the cemetery for me as I couldn’t do it. Unfortunately we left hospital on the Friday and needed to meet the funeral home on the Saturday and tell them which cemetery we had chosen so time was short and we needed to choose. I wish we didn’t but this is a place that we are going to visit for the rest of our lives and so it needed to be right for both of us, so I had to take Amanda to these places when I knew she was struggling. Thankfully the second place which is only 10 – 15 mins from home was ok, it felt peaceful, their baby lawn is surrounded by large trees but not enough to block out good light, it feels peaceful and I think I can be at peace here and I can leave my little man in this surrounding.

I can’t tell you how I survived those next couple of days, all I can say is that the mind goes into a state of shock to help you cope and those days are just a blur, I sort of remember being there and some things happening but I was a passenger making sure Amanda and Alethea were ok and had everything they needed. I remember being exhausted, Amanda was still in physically pain so every task was an effort for her and she was just existing, nothing more. I remember on a couple of occasions on that first weekend home being worried that she might try and leave us, I remember taking Alethea to a park with my mum and nearly running home as soon as possible because I was worried about her mental state and I had left her by herself. We had not been apart more than 20 mins for the previous week and to leave her for longer was surreal. It was as if we had become one person living and breathing and surviving together. I’m not sure how she managed to make it through those days, I did some cooking and we relied on other peoples food drops for most of our food but we only ate because it was meal time and that’s what your supposed to do. During those days I know that my taste for life was low, things that had seemed beautiful before had lost their lustre, food that normally burst with flavours tasted more like cardboard, it was like every sense I owned was dulled.

Then the day that I had dreaded arrived, Liam’s funeral. We arrived early due to good traffic and I remember standing out the front unable to go in, it was a really cold morning but I didn’t care, I couldn’t do it, I just wanted to stay outside because maybe that meant this wasn’t real and maybe someone would wake me up from this nightmare. Finally as the time approached it became clear that it was no dream, I needed to go inside and say my final goodbyes to me beautiful son. I walked in last, found my seat at the front between Amanda and Alethea, sat down and took in the sight of the tiny coffin in front of me. I had seen the coffin the day before which helped me prepare for the sight but still the sense that my own son was lying in front of me was too hard to deal with. How had it come to this, how did I have to bury my own son, I had failed as a parent to protect my son which is the first job of a parent, to protect your children from everything. I remember trying to be strong as I was aware of Alethea next to me who was struggling with all this crying and wanted to know why her parents were so upset all the time.

Our pastor was lovely, she had come to the hospital to meet us and then come to our home to help us plan for the funeral and she spoke first but my mind was elsewhere. All I could think of was my little man lying in the coffin in front of me and I could picture him in every detail. Amanda then got up to speak with more strength than I thought possible, she talked about her hopes and dreams for Liam and how he was taken too soon and that he was now in heaven and he better watch out as when she got there she would give him cuddles that would never end.  Then it was my turn, thankfully I had written my speech out as I would never have been able to do that speech without it written in detail. My mind was in lock down, I talked to my little man, the rest of the world disappeared so that it seemed like it was just me and him there. I struggled to get through that speech, as I got up I knew I was in trouble with a big lump in my throat and once I started talking I had to pause to ensure I didn’t break down. I didn’t care if people saw me cry, I needed to tell my son goodbye and say everything that I had written down to him. Then it was over, I held Amanda close and Alethea sat in my lap hugging me tight and when the funeral finished I walked over, picked up my son and carried him to the car that would take him to his grave.

At the grave site I again carried Liam’s coffin,  for the last time and placed it gently above his grave, my little man whom I had so many dreams for, I got to take him on his last ride to where he will rest forever. How did it come to this, only a few weeks prior I had been at the footy with a good mate to watch my team play and as I walked into the ground I had passed a lot of fathers and sons siting out the front with the kids decked out in their club’s gear eating hotdogs sold out the front. I remember thinking to myself that the Dad’s would have told their sons not to tell their mother about the hotdogs and how proud they were to take their sons to the footy to cheer on their team and how this might be me in a couple of years if I was lucky enough to have a boy. Now that will never happen, I will never take my son to our local oval to watch our team play and I will never get to teach him to play catch, never share in the joy of sports with him, and a thousand other things that fathers do with their sons.

When people ask me how many children I have, I proudly tell them I have two, one who will soon turn 4 and another who would be just over 3 months old now if he was still alive. Amanda and I have make a pact not to hide Liam from anyone, he is and always will be our son and we are very proud to have met him, even for only a few short minutes. Our family will forever be the 4 of us…never just the 3 of us.  We were talking recently about the 9 months of pregnancy and excitement only to hold our son for 20 mins before he passed away, and whether if we had known this was the only outcome possible at the start of our journey, would we still have gone through it. We both agreed that we would have, and although the pain that we have from losing him is horrendous, we got to meet, hold and love our perfect, beautiful son, Liam Edward Campbell and it is far greater to have loved and lost then not to love at all. My promise to my little man is that I will live the rest of my life to its fullest, I will live my life like I had hoped he would have lived his, so that when my time comes to leave, then I will have made him proud when I meet him again.

Me, my wife and Liam (One of our Heartfelt photos)

10 Comments

  1. Linda Zuur

    Hi Ryan, thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Our first child was a stillborn nearly 7 years ago and I know that the grief I felt was huge. But at the same time, my husband never really opened up about how raw his grief was – he just dived in to a major depression, and wouldn’t really speak about it. I thought I knew what he would be experiencing, but even when you share the same event, you still both experience it differently, as your own life experiences provide a different slant. He had so many hopes and dreams for our girl that I have only found out about in recent years, as he has finally found the ability to articulate things without being swamped by the grief. He, like you, proudly tells people that we are a family of 4 (we had a son 20 months later), regardless of how they may react to that. Reading your input has helped me realise that although my husband didn’t articulate his feelings well at the time of losing Charlotte, that he did experience his grief in a very real way. Your part of the blog, like Amanda’s, is so honest and raw – I am reliving our experience, but in a positive way. Once again, thank you for sharing such a personal and raw experience. Be kind to yourselves, and forever be proud of your family of 4. Take care. Regards, Linda

  2. Kristy Smartt

    Thankyou both for sharing Liams story. Both of your beautiful children are lucky to have parents whos love for them and each other is so very obvious. After all you have been through, i hope your family knows nothing but joy until you are all reunited. Thank you again for sharing your son with us, and know that he will never be forgotten by anyone who has read his story.

    • Hi Kristy, thanks for reading and sharing in Liam’s story, I hope we have nothing but joy from now on as its been a tough couple of years but we are lucky enough to have meet Liam and we will always love both our children.

      Ryan.

  3. Paula

    Thank you for sharing Ryan. Both you and Amanda will be helping so many people who will have or will have to experience similar situations.

    God bless xoxo

    Paula

  4. Michele

    I love the photo Ryan – Liam is so perfect. Your story, and your son have captured my heart. Much love to all of you xx

    Michele

    • Thanks Michele, we are very fortunate to have some amazing photos of Liam thanks to Heartfelt which we will always treasure, thanks for reading and sharing in Liam’s story.

      Ryan.

  5. Kim smith

    You guys are so brave to tell your story to the world. both your and your wifes versions of the story made me cry numorous times, my brother in law and his wife lost their son (tim) a year ago he was born prematurely and i read this story in the hope that it would help me understand how they were feeling In one sense it did but it also made me very paranoid about my 10month old daughter and protecting her with everything i have. When i started reading this story it was only days before tim’s (my brother in laws son) 1st birthday, on his birthday we went to visit him at the cemetary and all i could think about was your story. Fortunatly tims parents and older sister who is 2 and a half, are expecting again, another little girl. I hope that one day you and your wife are strong enough to try again for another baby brother or sister for alethea.
    All the best in future endevours
    Your story touched me and probably very many other people
    Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Hi Kim,
      I hope our story has helped you understand a little of what your brother in law has gone through, it is a parents darkest moment when this happens, and something that really is very hard to understand unless it has happened to you. Don’t be paranoid about your daughter…of course protect her, but bad things happen to such few people that it consumes too much energy and life to worry that something may happen to your daughter. Let her live and have fun, never worry about what could happen, focus on the now! It is lovely that your brother in lay is expecting another baby, that is lovely news, as for us, that is something that we can’t yet consider
      Amanda x

  6. Kim smith

    Also liam is so gorgeous and all his photos are beautiful

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