Geoff Norcott, comedian and TV presenter, has shared with Sands his thoughts about his baby daughter Connie, who died seven years ago in July 2014.
This is the first time Geoff has written about his loss and hopes this will help other bereaved men to reach out and find support that's right for them.
"As a comic, even though I don’t need to, I’d like to apologise for the lack of jokes in this article. It’s the seventh anniversary (always an odd word to have to use) of my daughter’s death. In July 2014 my wife and I were 34 weeks pregnant when our child stopped moving and we were devastated by the news that her heart had stopped beating.
"There isn’t much in the public domain from men regarding this issue. Over the years I’ve taken huge solace from anything similarly bereaved men have been brave enough to write and put in the public domain. I’ve sat down many times to try and write an article about my own experience but – despite imagining myself good with words – I felt like anything I put to paper wasn’t good enough.
"It’s taken me until this year to even broach the subject at all. To begin with I took the option of discussing my loss on podcasts, whose lo-fi intimacy seems well suited to something so sensitive. However, I still had the nagging feeling I should share something written.
"As the date approached, I knew the signs that my mind was drifting back to that summer. The headaches, the brutal lack of self-esteem, all the while noticing that my wife is going through the same and more, given the additional burden of the physical trauma women experience in stillbirth.
"However, for all the familiarity, this year has also felt different. I suspect there are two reasons. One is that last year the pandemic was so new and all-consuming that grief was just another thing we weren’t having a normal experience of. It felt difficult to be sad and grieve in the normal way because nothing else was happening in the normal way. Yet this year, with crowds back at sporting events and a sense of a forward trajectory out of this nightmare, some things that have laid dormant are returning to normal.
"It’s important to recognise this. One thing I’ve learned after a run of loss in the middle part of the last decade is that feeling sad is one thing, but the feelings we can’t explain can tip our experience into the realms of being unmanageable.
"The other dimension which has made things feel different this time is the number of years that have now passed. The entity or idea of what I’m grieving is changing shape. In the early years I – like many fathers trying to make sense of a partially abstract idea – focused my mind on the idea of a small baby girl. That was the thing I had not been able to hold, love or protect.
"For many years this remained stable as I would periodically sit with her things. The photos, trinkets and clothing that I suspect are a common source of comfort to many families who’ve lost a child in this way. It’s surprising how powerful such objects can be. Before this experience, a bloke like me would never have imagined he could be reduced by the sight of a tiny dress or cardigan, but these are the accoutrements of having a daughter; the things I was subconsciously expecting and looking forward to.
"But Connie (that was the name we’d already given her) would have been seven this year. I’ve held on to one version of her for so long, but I know that the parallel existence many grieving parents keep a subconscious eye on suggests a different version now. It’s scary because I don’t have as many reference points for that experience. I can guess what she’d have been like as a baby or even a very small child, but I don’t know what kind of girl she’d have been at this age. Bright, I suspect. Feisty, I presume, especially based on the strong lineage of formidable women in mine and my wife’s family.
"But the truth is I just don’t know. And never will. That is the hard thing about losing a child in this way. With parents or a best friend you can speculate with some certainty as to what the advancing years would’ve done to them. Whether Dad would’ve been pro-mask. Whether mum would’ve liked my new dog or how my best mate would’ve savoured the progress of the England team in the Euros.
"As grief goes, stillbirth can feel like a void. You have to put things into it rather than take from what was already there. It becomes harder still when you’ve established a method for your grieving then discover that your subconscious knows it’s drifted out of date.
"There’s an episode of The Crown which touches on Churchill’s loss of a daughter. It’s put to him that his constant painting of a particular pond is in fact a tribute to this lost girl. He never stopped painting that pond. I repeat that to myself sometimes ‘He never stopped painting that pond’. It’s an idea I find both tragic and noble. Sad that this will be with me forever, but also that I will love the memory of the daughter I never had until my dying day.
"Not every day, not all the time – god knows I have enough blessings in my life to distract me, not least the blessing of a wonderful son who illuminates every space he occupies - but when I do go to that place, if I want to do the feeling justice, I must be mindful that grief, like all things, also changes with time."
- Geoff Norcott
Sands is here to support anyone affected by the death of a baby. Our free Helpline is available on 0808 164 3332 10am to 3pm Monday to Friday and 6-9pm Tuesday and Thursday evenings. You can also email email@example.com for support.
More information at www.sands.org.uk/support