Kathi and I introduced our girls to our friends and family today, if only to say goodbye. We were so pleased that so many people attended. For those who couldn’t make it, here’s the text of the eulogy I read for my daughters.
Eulogy for Charlotte and Marianne Slee
Thank you for coming. We appreciate it very much. Thanks also to the doctors and the staff of the Mater Mothers Hospital, all who visited and sent flowers, friends and family.
During the 11 and 12 days that Charlotte and Marianne lived, we kept them to ourselves. We were so scared they would die that we couldn’t bring ourselves to share them with anyone else. Now that they have gone, we have lost the chance to share our girls with the world.
The ancient Germanic tribes believed that your spirit was immortal and continued to live as long as you and your deeds were remembered. I want now to introduce you to each of our girls so that they will live on brighter and stronger than if they were remembered by Kathi and I alone.
Charlotte was born at 13:42 on 9 November. One minute later her sister Marianne came into the world. While Kathi was undergoing the final part of the caesarean operation, I was shown the girls. I bent over each and said ‘Hello, Charlotte, I’m your dad. Hello, Marianne, I’m your dad.’ I gingerly touched Marianne’s tiny hand and she grabbed my little finger. At that moment, my life changed forever.
Over the following days, we saw, or thought we saw, or imagined each girl develop the beginnings of a separate and individual personality.
Charlotte, although nearly two centimetres shorter than her sister, had feet more than half a centimetre longer. The second toes on her feet were longer than her big toes and we are still puzzled as to where this genetic trait comes from. She used to wave her big feet and wave her arms in the air all the time. We were unsure whether she was swimming, playing basketball or dancing. Whenever I brought out the camera to photograph her, she would throw her hand in front of her face as if to ward off the paparazzi.
She refused to lie on her right side. Whenever she was positioned on her back or on her right, she would squirm and wriggle her way onto her left side. Was she ensuring that her better profile was available for photographs? This didn’t stop us from taking more than 300 photos of the two of them and Charlotte didn’t seem to mind too much. We could easily imagine that our little dancing princess protested against all the attention she received in order to get more of it.
Marianne was our carefree fighter girl. Premature babies are kept within the confines of a u-shaped pillow similar to how they are confined in the womb. Our Marianne would have none of that. Whenever and however the nurses positioned her within the pillow, she rolled herself onto her belly and threw an arm or a leg or frequently both out and over the pillow to spread herself out. She always looked so relaxed.
Marianne took ill on Sunday 19 November, three days before Charlotte. She was not expected to live more than 12-24 hours from the time she was diagnosed. The disease which eventually made it impossible for her to live seeped from her gut into her bloodstream and eventually into her brain causing a lesion which grew and grew. Throughout all this, she fought for life. At every change of fortune in the progress of the disease in her little body, the doctors expected her to die but she hung on and kept hanging on until the lesion had eaten away a large portion of her brain. All the doctors and nurses looking after her were amazed at her stamina and called her ‘our little fighter,’ and I hoped I could inspire in her an interest in historical fencing.
During this time that was at once the best and worst experience of our lives, Kathi and I felt like we had become real parents. We took an almost unholy pleasure in finding out and comparing how much each girl had fed, peed and pooed during the day. Kathi helped the nurses with the girls’ ‘cares,’ that is changing their tiny nappies, washing and feeding them.
Then, twice in two days, we had the agony of choosing whether to allow Charlotte then Marianne to continue to live in pain on life support with no chance of recovery or to allow each to slip peacefully from this world into the next. No one, especially no parent, should ever be put in this position. We did the right thing by our girls and allowed them the peace that they were refused in life.
Buddhists say that the reality of material existence is suffering and that suffering is caused by attachment to dreams and illusion. We and our girls know this only too well. Part of the tragedy of their passing is that dreams and wishes are all that remain to us. We will never know what sort of people Charlotte and Marianne could have been – all we have are the possibilities. In forty or hopefully fifty years from now when we’re drooling and incontinent in a nursing home, our Charlotte and our Marianne will still be tiny, premature babies with the potential to become anyone and do anything.
The Buddhists also say that suffering can be overcome be refusing to dwell on the illusions, that is, anything not grounded in the ‘real.’. I’m not sure that we are either ready or capable to give up our dreams for our girls. We try to concentrate on the reality of how they felt to our touch, how they moved, and what aspects of personality they showed us but we are always dragged back into the world of ‘what if.’
Our girls in their short lives have taught us valuable lessons. Concentrate on what you have at this moment. Do not live in fear of what may happen. Do not dwell on what is lost. Remember only the positive. Never – ever – forget the people you love.
Although we will always miss our girls and what they could have been – Charlotte the princess and Marianne the shield maiden – we treasure our memories of them and will always remember the time we had with them.