Fathers of Loss Support Series: Craig Heatley’s story
Fathers of Loss Support Series:
Meet Craig Heatley, dedicated father of five children and Chairperson of Red Nose. Sadly, his eldest, Charlotte was stillborn at 35 weeks, and then son Cameron died at 22 months.
It had been an uncomplicated pregnancy, and we had no reason for concern when we arrived at the doctor’s office for a routine checkup at 35 weeks. But as the doctor conducted the examination, it was clear something wasn’t right.
After a flurry of doctors and midwives went through what felt like an endless battery of checking and rechecking, we were given the devastating news.
Charlotte’s heart was no longer beating. She was gone. And there was nothing they could do.
Within an instant, we had gone from excitement and anticipation to heartbreak and despair. Lara was induced and gave birth to our beautiful daughter Charlotte – she was perfect but born still.
I will never forget the moment I began to dismantle Charlotte’s cot. Only weeks ago, I had set it up and imagined putting her to bed and kissing her goodnight.
An empty cot still has a different meaning for me than it does most people.
story continues with the excitement that Lara was pregnant again – with twins, a boy and a girl. We were so happy but also very anxious throughout the pregnancy.
Thankfully, in early 2008 our son Cameron and daughter Addison arrived safe and well. We were ecstatic, and quickly settled into the joyous commotion that comes with raising twins.
But tragically, in December 2009, our family was shattered again – we found Cameron in his cot, unresponsive and not breathing.
He passed away, from what we later learned was a suspected febrile convulsion, at just 22 months old.
To say Lara and I were devastated is an understatement. To lose one child is every parent’s worst nightmare. To lose two children in under three years is beyond nightmarish.
The one thing you feel as a father is that your job is to protect your children. Here you are, and you lost two. I kept asking how could this happen?
Things now are still hard. I have moments where I want to celebrate all of the kid’s lives and their achievements but having a surviving twin is a reminder that you should have someone else achieving the same things.
When Charlotte was stillborn, we were living on our own in a foreign country. My wife’s mother came over. To have that extra support was very helpful.
When Cameron passed away, people came to help. They rallied around us. We know this was difficult for them because everyone has to grieve at the same time. They’d lost a loved one as well. Having people who spent their time just being there and being supportive as much as possible was helpful.
There were some things people did that were unhelpful. None of it was intentional, though. Some people did shy away from saying Charlotte’s and Cameron’s names.
The most unhelpful thing people seem to do is to pretend that it didn’t occur. It’s difficult because it is uncomfortable, and people are trying not to upset you.
If you’re a friend or family member of someone who has lost a child, be there. Don’t fill in the uncomfortable silences, just be there. Let them know that you know they’ve done everything they could. There’s no blame.
To the dad who’s thinking, how did I let this happen? Let them know that sometimes these things happen and that they are beyond our control.
Grieving differs for everyone. Everyone has to find their own space. I felt like I needed to get on with something. I needed some normalcy back. But everyone processes information differently.
Looking back, I wish I’d spent more time processing rather than trying to get on with it.
To other families, you need to make sure you take the time to grieve. Stay close to your partner and family. Don’t shut yourselves off. Let people in.
Red Nose 24/7 Bereavement Support Line 1300 308 307.
Last reviewed: 17/10/21