Talking openly helps family handle trauma

Last updated 05:00 06/04/2013
Tania stewart
John Kirk-Anderson

HELPING HAND: Bereaved mother Tania Stewart with her cheeky 17-month-old daughter, Eve, who has helped her survive after the death of her first daughter Enya.

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When you tuck your baby girl in for her afternoon nap, you never expect her to not wake up.

But life can be merciless.

And for one Christchurch family this nightmare became a tragic reality.

Tania Stewart was standing on the sideline of her son's touch rugby game when she answered the call that changed her life.

Her husband, Damon, could not wake their 23-month-old daughter. She was found face down and unresponsive in her cot.

Stewart rushed home to find ambulances in her driveway. "It was pretty hideous," she says.

Enya died in October 2010 and the cause of her death is still a mystery.

"There is no explanation and I don't think we will ever get one."

Enya's cheeky smile beams from pictures around the house and a candle burns daily on the dinner table in her memory.

Photographs of the family's four children hang on a wall in the kitchen, Hunter, 10, Carter, 6, Eve, 17 months, and Enya, who will forever remain one month off her second birthday.

Enya was a happy, bubbly "normal two-year-old girl". She had a "tomboy" streak and could keep up with her two older brothers but she also loved girly things and had a passion for shoes - changing her own about six times a day.

There were balloons and party cake at her funeral and her small urn now rests at home: "I can't bear to let her go yet," Stewart says.

She still recalls the "heart-wrenching" moment when her husband carried Enya's tiny body into the morgue.

And as Enya's coffin left their home for the last time, Stewart remembers saying to her sister: "I can't believe we are about to walk out that door with my daughter and that's it. To actually walk her out in a coffin and know that she won't come home."

Stewart credits her survival with the support of her husband, family and friends, the dependence of her two sons and Eve's birth.

"Eve has been extremely healing. I honestly don't think I could have done it without her."

The 17-month-old bears a striking resemblance to Enya and her father often struggles to tell the pair apart in photos.

When Eve came home from the hospital as a newborn she had two monitors to ensure her safety.

One was a sensor pad, kept beneath her mattress, to detect movement and the other was an apnea monitor stuck on her body to observe her breathing.

Cradling Eve, Stewart explains how losing her first daughter changed her not only as a parent, but in every way. "You can't go through something like that and not change," she says.

"You try not to be paranoid and let the kids have normal lives but you still live with a certain amount of fear. Parents always cherish their kids but I really, really cherish all three of them now."

The mother openly grieves and cries in front of her children and encourages them to remember their sister and face their own emotions over her death.

"It is definitely all out there. We choose not to hide it away."

Stewart believes one of the best ways to cope with such a trauma is to "keep talking about it."

"We talk about her every day and it helps to know she will always be remembered."

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