Baby born as father's body lay in PGC rubble

DATS DADDA: Becky Gane with her sons Jack and Ashton.
DATS DADDA: Becky Gane with her sons Jack and Ashton.

Almost two years old, Ashton Fisher symbolises what was lost on February 22 and how far we have come since. The toddler was born 10 days after the earthquake - while his father's body lay in the rubble of the PGC building. His mother shares their story with Olivia Carville.

How do you find joy in a time of utter despair?

''You cry as you smile'', Becky Gane says.

BITTERSWEET ARRIVAL: Ashton Fisher as a newborn, with a photo of his father.
BITTERSWEET ARRIVAL: Ashton Fisher as a newborn, with a photo of his father.

The term bittersweet means more to her than most. 

The 30-year-old mother was nine months pregnant when her partner was killed in the February 2011 earthquake. 

Becky gave birth to their second son while his father's body was still lying in the ruins of the PGC building. 

It was 10 days after the quake - a time when Becky knew he was gone but was desperately clinging to the hope of a miracle. 

"Here was this new life; a gift. A tiny baby all happy and healthy, but I didn't have my partner to share him with. I just can't describe how that felt," she says.

Adam Fisher, 27, died just days before his son, Ashton Jeremy Adam Fisher, was born.

His death notice ran alongside his son's birth notice in The Press.

Becky was planning a funeral for the man she regards as her soul mate, while holding his newborn son in her arms.

Ashton may be small but what he lacks in size he makes up for in noise. The toddler's chuckle is loud and his energy infectious. 

Speaking from their Christchurch home, Becky says it feels as though the quake could have been yesterday but "it's when I look at Ashton that I realise how long it's truly been".

The two-year-old can now talk, draw pictures and climb the six steps up to his slide in the backyard. 

Although he never met his father, there is no doubt that he knows who he is.

Photos of Adam sit framed on the tables and hang from the walls.  

''Who's that Ash?'' Becky says, pointing up to a picture.

''Dats Dadda,'' he replies. 

Even without knowing him, the first word Ashton ever spoke was 'Dad'.

Adam is still a big part of his sons' lives and always will be, Becky says. 

Ashton has his one dimple and cheeky nature. His five-year-old brother Jack has his sense of humour and likes to style his hair like his dad's.

"I will tell Ashton all about him and I won't ever let Jack forget," Becky says.

Her grief cuts deeper when she recalls how Adam "idolised the ground" Jack walked on and his euphoria in the lead up to Ashton's birth.

"He used to come home from work give me a kiss, rub my belly and say 'Hi Bubba'.''

Adam was "the best Dad ever", she says, and he used to bathe Jack and read him bedtime stories every night.

"I know he would give anything to be able to be here with them. Jack and the thought of the new baby were his whole life."

At Adam's funeral, a heartfelt message from Jack, who was only three at the time, was read out by his Poppa: "I will miss our bike rides, our cuddles at night and your bedtime stories. I look at photos of us together all the time. You are the best Daddy. I love you."

After his death, Jack slept with one of Adam's t-shirts for comfort. 

When people ask where his father is now, Jack says he is in heaven. 

The 5-year-old believes the clouds continuously move in the sky because his Dad is "pushing them out of the way to see me and Ash grow up".

Raising the boys without Adam overwhelms Becky at times.

"Everything is hard without him here. We had a plan for the future; it was always going to be forever."

She misses the companionship, someone with whom to discuss the big decisions and share the milestones, such as Ashton's first steps or Jack's first day at school.

"It's still happy, but it's a bittersweet kind of happiness," she explains.

A feeling that weighed heavy on the day of Ashton's birth.

Becky's hope for Adam's survival slowly diminished as the days wore on after the quake.

By the time she went into labour it was a mere glimmer.

''On the day, I knew it wasn't realistic but I still couldn't give up that little bit of hope,'' she says.

"It was horrible driving to the hospital without him, knowing I would be coming home with a baby and he wouldn't be there."

Her parents held her hand in Adam's absence. 

''Everyone was trying to be happy, but it was sort of sad,'' she says.

Ashton was a healthy baby and his birth brought a ray of light into an unbelievably dark time for the family. 

She doubts she would have been able to get herself out of bed each day without the newborn's dependence on her.

Adam's death was confirmed when Ashton was just three days old and Becky had to call on her mother, Sherryn Gane, to help explain to Jack why Daddy wasn't coming home.

She would not have survived without the support of her family and Adam's family in the early months after the quake, she says.

Gane and her two sons only started living alone in September last year.

Bringing up Adam's children has now become her sole purpose in life and helps ease her grief.

She hopes she can make her partner proud by raising the boys as he would have wished. 

"I feel really lucky that I have boys because I see Adam in them all the time," she says.

"It's easier knowing he left two children in the world because I know he will always live through them."

Sunday Star Times