Mac Hicks' family would have been preparing to celebrate the second birthday of their "happy, easy going" boy next Saturday. Instead, they are organising to help other parents cope with an unimaginable loss. Sally Kidson reports.
Just three days before Christmas, Rebecca Malthus and Adam Hicks faced every parent's nightmare. Their beautiful 14-month-old son Mac died in a freak accident after he got tangled in a blind cord.
"Last Christmas when we should have been unwrapping presents and eating turkey we were actually dealing with coroners, autopsies and police," Ms Malthus says.
Now the Nelson mother and a dedicated group of friends have launched a new group, Project Butterfly, they hope will provide some comfort and support for other local families suffering the same loss.
"They say ‘if you lose your husband you are a widow, and if you lose your parents you become an orphan', but there is no word if you lose your child. You are speechless," she said,
"Your whole world shatters and you need a lot of help, for a long time, to pick up the pieces.
"We're still healing, and we know there is a long way to go, but we have had fantastic support from our friends and family and we are so very grateful we live in a caring and generous community like Nelson.
"But there will always be a hole in hearts, and that's something only other families who've experienced the same loss can understand."
Ms Malthus said Project Butterfly was launched in the hope it could help ease the load for people who were struggling to carry on while dealing with unimaginable loss.
The project has a number of long-term plans, but currently it is working on creating a special memorial pathway in Nelson where families can go to remember their lost child.
"Cemeteries can be difficult places, especially for children and young people," Ms Malthus said. "We have the council on board to help us create a pathway to the children's playground at Fairfield Park, where families can go to reflect and remember in a peaceful and more friendly setting."
Families will be able to create personalised stamped pavers as tributes for their child.
"The path is a way of making our children become part of the history of Nelson. I think every parent's dreams are shattered when a child dies. They no longer get to make their mark. But the path is a way of making their names part of our history. They will never be forgotten because they are now a permanent fixture in Nelson."
The pathway could be a positive place for families to help fill the "big void" the death of a child left.
Long-term, Ms Malthus said she hoped Project Butterfly could offer practical, emotional and financial support to bereaved families, such as helping to pay for counselling sessions and help pay for headstones and other expenses. She had other ideas to remember the children such as sending out birthday cards on the child's birthday.
"Our GP Dr Steven Neas was great, and we had some very short-term services from the PHO, but that quickly dried up and after that we found there was not a lot of formal support available locally at the time when you're most vulnerable."
"I found it really hard to get in touch with other people that this had happened to.
"There are a lot of closed doors because it's such a painful subject."
Families might not be able to afford counselling or may have to move house to help to deal with their grief.
"No-one can bring their baby back, but there are practical ways that caring people can offer support."
The project is named after butterflies because the family associated the graceful insects with Mac.
"After he died there were just so many butterflies around, even in the middle of winter."
Mac, short for MacAuley, was "such a happy baby".
"He was turning into a really beautiful boy. He was a pretty easy-going child," Ms Malthus said. "He was just happy being himself and pottering around. He was born after an hour's labour. He just came into the world so easily and left it so easily too I suppose."
His older brother Tasman loved him and misses him. Next Saturday would be Mac's second birthday.
Ms Malthus said Project Butterfly also hoped to break down the taboos around death. Because the death of a child was so sad, many people did not know what to say to parents as they were worried they might say or do the wrong thing.
"Nelson is a really supportive community, but nobody knows actually what to do. Hopefully Project Butterfly can break down some of those taboos."
She was blown away by the generosity of those who had offered to donate to the project. The cause touched all parts of society, she said.
A lot of other parents want to take part or be involved in support groups. There was a huge need out there, she said.
"I like to say Project Butterfly has got its own wings."
PROJECT TAKES FLIGHT
Project Butterfly is a group set up to support families with children that have died.
Following the death of baby 14-month-old Nelson boy MacAuley Hicks, a group of Nelson craftspeople and parents wanted to make a tribute to baby Mac. It was decided to make it for everybody who has lost a child in Nelson.
Project Butterfly wants to build a pathway through Fairfield Park where bereaved families can engrave a paver in tribute to their lost child.
It wants to create a space where people can go and remember their child in a peaceful setting that is not a graveyard.
It believes it might cost $15,000 to make the pathway.
Anyone who wants to get a paver for their child, no matter how long ago it may be, is welcome to contact the project.
In the long term the project also wants to offer practical, emotional and financial support to bereaved families who have to deal with huge costs in a time of immense grief.
To kick-start Project Butterfly the group is holding a variety and auction night at Old St John's Hall. They are looking for goods, services, or experiences to put up for auction.
If you want to help you can find Project Butterfly on Facebook or at projectbutterfly.co.nz. The auction evening is set for November 2, starting at 7.30pm. Tickets cost $15 from Everyman Records.
- © Fairfax NZ News