Etta’s Funeral

A year ago today, we celebrated Etta’s life in Cheltenham surrounded by family and friends. I don’t take that for granted now. Sam’s brother Tom led the service for us and there will never be the words to thank him. Finding the words at a child’s funeral must be so difficult, let alone your own niece’s but he did an amazing job. Here are his words spoken that day. The first sentence will stay with me forever.

Well, this is shit.

We didn’t expect to be here. We hoped, we prayed, we trusted, we waited.

Things like this aren’t supposed to happen to us, are they? They happen to other people. To the friend of a friend. To a celebrity. To someone you read about in a book or magazine. Not to us.
I remember thinking that 10 years’ ago, when my, Kim, and Sam’s mum died. And we think it again today, gathered around this tiny coffin. This shouldn’t happen to us. To our dear Emily, Sam, and Ezra.

And yet, here we are.

Why? Why has this tragedy happened? Couldn’t God have prevented it? Didn’t he want Etta to live? If he’s all good and all powerful, why did he allow it?

The Christian faith doesn’t pretend to have an easy, neat, logical answer to such questions – whether posed in terms of an abstract ‘problem of evil’ philosophical conundrum, or posed in the raw terms of a personal tragedy such as that which has afflicted Sam and Emily and, to a lesser extent, all of us here today.

The Bible is realistic – brutally honest – about the sufferings, injustices, and tragedies of life. In its pages, inspired prophets and apostles wrestle with these issues – wrestle with God over these issues – with all their pain, confusion, and frustration with the world and with its Maker plain to see.

God does not expect us to put a brave face on it today. He does not expect us to ‘move on.’ He is neither fooled nor honoured by our exchanging pious-sounding platitudes, sentimental nonsense, empty euphemisms.

This is shit. You know it, I know it, he knows it.
There are no easy answers that make philosophical sense and which Sam and Emily are going to find emotionally satisfying.

And yet. And yet Scripture does put a few stakes in the ground – does put down a few markers that, while not a complete answer to the raging questions we might be asking, do both provide some solace, some comfort, some notes of hope; and do indicate that there may be a good answer, even though it remains clouded to us and known only to God.

As Sam, Emily, Ezra, and other members of Etta’s family and network of friends start now to rebuilt their lives, to adjust to this sad reality, these ‘stakes in the ground’ may be enough – not to recover, not to move on – but may be enough to tether their hurting hearts to, to tie threads of their lives back to together with, to weave a new way of seeing the world with.

Some of those ‘stakes’ are alluded to in the liturgy and prayers of the funeral service. A stake like ‘Jesus Christ knows the pain of bitter loss first hand.’ He experienced the full measure of human sorrow, the full range and extent of emotional, physical, and spiritual pain. He knows and identifies with your grief and comes alongside you in it. He is, Scripture says, full of compassion, able to sympathise with us in our weakness.

A stake like, ‘the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, the Encourager: he promises to be with you and to be in you to strengthen you in your Christian faith and to equip you to live out your callings in a God-honouring way: your calling as husband and wife, your calling as parents to Ezra and maybe more children, your calling to your careers.’

A stake like, ‘God is robust enough and thick-skinned enough to be yelled at.’ He can take it. Just read the Psalms of lament and the book of Job. With a personal God in sovereign control of the universe, including the details of our lives, we don’t need to ‘rage against the machine.’ We can – we should – rage against God; or, better, to God. In Scripture, you have divinely-inspired permission to tell God exactly what you feel, who you think is responsible, and what you think should be done about it. Talk to him. He wants you to, and he can take it.

But a couple more of the ‘stakes’ that the Bible puts in the ground in connection with the tragedy of loss, the suffering of the innocent, are brought out in the two Scripture readings Sam and Emily selected for this sad occasion.

Consider the Psalm Ally read a few moments’ ago, ‘The LORD is my shepherd.’ It contains that famous verse which to most is more familiar in the Authorised Version: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” Here is the promise that with the LORD being our shepherd, we need not fear the darkness even of death, because he walks with us through it. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd; who by his death and resurrection, has walked through the valley of the shadow of death to the sunlit uplands of eternal life in the new creation beyond. Because of his victory over the grave, he is able to walk through that valley with each member of his people. On the 23rd December, he was able to walk though that valley with little Etta as she died in her parents’ arms.

Finally, consider the short reading from Jeremiah chapter 1. Of course, it’s not addressed to Etta directly; it’s not about her specifically. It is about Jeremiah’s calling to be a prophet. But the precious stake in the ground which the passage provides is this: an infant, a tiny baby, even a baby in the womb, is known to God.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the tragedy of having little Etta with us for only a month is that we hardly got to know her. We got to know one or two little things about her: she was born at a minute past midnight on the 26th November 2019, weighing 7lb 8oz (exactly the same as her elder brother); she was beautiful, even despite all the major procedures she endured every day; she was stubborn and perplexing (like certain other Woolford girls) as she confounded the doctors with her struggle to stay alive; and in her short life she achieved as many university degrees as her father has.

But that’s about all we knew about her. We don’t know the girl and woman she would have become. And that’s painful. That’s a profound loss that is now and always will be keenly felt. Etta had a hole in her heart, and her death has left a hole in our hearts. We hardly got to know her.

But the LORD said of Jeremiah, and by implication says of Etta, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”

Etta was known of God. More than that, she is known of God. We barely knew her, and for the rest of our lives we will not know her any better – but that doesn’t mean she is unknown. She is known; and known to the only Person who ultimately counts: she is known to God. God knew her in her brief earthly life, and knows her now in her heavenly life. He does know the girl and woman she would have become, and he does know the woman she will be in the new creation.

As it happens, there are two other things we do know about Etta. One is that she was baptised. In the small hours, about a week before she died, when she wasn’t expected to survive the night, she was baptised, with specially sterilised water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now, her baptism didn’t automatically bring about a change in her spiritual state. It wasn’t so much for her benefit at all. Instead, her baptism was for our benefit – chiefly of course for her parents’ benefit – as it was an outward and tangible sign and seal of the precious inward and spiritual truth we have just described: that Etta Grace Libi Woolford is known to God, and adopted – by grace – into his family forever.

Etta’s christening

And the one other thing we know about Etta is this: she was loved. Her parents attended her cot for between 14 and 20 hours every day (and sometimes more). They could do nothing for her; they just wanted to be with her, because they loved her. Etta was visited by scores of family members and friends who loved her; many more wanted the chance to visit. She became loved by even the doctors and nurses who cared for her.

Hers was a short life, but it was a loved life.

And so this tribute to Etta’s life, about which we have so little to say, actually says everything that I would want said in the eulogy at my funeral, with maybe 80 or 90 years’ more material potentially to go into it: here lies someone who was dearly loved by their family and friends, and who was – and is – known and loved by the LORD.

We didn’t get many photos of her funeral but asked our friend to be a creep and take a few photos during the service. I’m glad we have a couple to look back on.

Thank You!

Thank you for helping us make the world better for Etta ❤️🌍

In a year where fundraising has been difficult, you’ve really dug deep and supported 2 charities that are very close to our hearts: The Grand Appeal and Sands United FC Salisbury. We are very grateful- your donations will make a huge difference to both sick children and their families in the South West and bereaved fathers in the Salisbury area.

This certificate was given to us when we went to deliver the care packages for families in hospital over Christmas time.

We couldn’t just thank you for your kind donations, I needed to thank you for all the wonderful kind acts you did too!

I made this mosaic (I think 158 pictures) to show all the kind acts that you carried out over the campaign.

Can you zoom in to find your kind act?

I wish I could list all of the kind deeds but here are a few:

⭐️Lots of you did litter picks/ recycled more/ planted flowers or trees 🌳🌺

Lots of you did things to make the world a more beautiful place 🥰

⭐️Lots of you gave blood/ signed up to give blood or go on stem cell register 💉

⭐️Lots of you donated food to your local food bank 🥫🍞

I enjoyed working in the Trussell Trust too 👍

⭐️Lots of you donated toys to local Christmas present appeals 🎁🧸

⭐️ Some of you have signed up to volunteer 👏🏻

⭐️Lots of you donated to money to a cause that was important to you 💰💵

⭐️Lots of you bought presents for key workers, domestic workers and those you might not usually buy for 🛍

⭐️ 2 children in developing countries will receive cleft palate surgery and heart surgery 👶👶

Supporting Smile Train and Healing Little Hearts ♥️

⭐️ And a whole load of you smiled more, said kind things and spoke the names of Etta and other children who have died ❤️

A special shout out to my beautiful cousin Verity who ran 28 miles for Etta (a mile a day) to raise money for The Grand Appeal. 💖🏃🏼‍♀️

This was a labour of love!!

And my gorgeous friend Emily over in Florida who managed a kind act every day for Etta with her 2 little girls 👶🏼👧🏼

And last but not least my amazing Sister-in-Law @kimberley_alice_strickland who publicly thanked a different person each day for their kindness and drummed up lots of donations whilst doing it! ❤️💬

We are SO lucky to have you all.

And as Winnie the Pooh says… “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

We are so lucky that Etta’s life continues to be our driving force every day- even over a year on.

Better for Etta Kindness Campaign Day 28

Today is our last kind act to mark Etta’s last day on Earth with us. We wanted to do something special to honour our little girl and this seems a fitting tribute.

We have decided to sponsor a child from a developing country to receive paediatric heart surgery via the Healing Little Hearts charity.

Just this morning, we were wondering whether we would have the money to fund this but some of our friends kindly made a generous donation for us to choose to spend on ourselves or a charity that is important to us so this felt like perfect timing.

We are so unbelievably lucky to have the NHS- Etta had 3 major open heart surgeries in her little life, as well as countless procedures and it didn’t cost us a penny. However, for children in developing countries, 90% of babies and children won’t receive the life-saving surgery that they need.

HLH sends out specialist medical volunteers who then set up ‘camp’ for a week in a local hospital in a developing country. They then perform lifesaving surgery for free to save local children’s lives.

If you would like to donate towards this amazing charity then you can do so on their website. Or if you would also like to contribute towards our sponsored child, then let me know.

Our hearts were broken after Etta died and I know they can never be fixed. But there are babies and children around the world right now whose hearts can be. And if we can contribute to fixing just one (and spare a parent the heartbreak of losing a child) then why wouldn’t we? And make the world better for Etta 💔❤️🌻

Me holding Etta just before her first open heart surgery

Better for Etta Kindness Campaign Day 26

Today we went to Bristol to drop off some care packages for the families who are staying in Paul’s House (the family accommodation provided by The Grand Appeal charity) over the Christmas holidays.

Handing over the care packages to the lovely Kate from The Grand Appeal charity

We know exactly how surreal it feels to be in hospital over the festive period and there must be even more challenges this year. Although we were probably the only family last year who were desperate not to be home for Christmas!

The words in our cards to the families

We tried to include a few essentials like cereal bars, coffee and hand cream, as well as treats like chocolates too. My lovely friend Leona also made Christmas decorations for each room. Hopefully these will be a keepsake for Christmas 2020 at BCH.

All the goodies

We also got to see some of Etta’s doctors and nurses too. Of course discussing her death and post-mortem was very emotional but it is hard not to smile when we think of all the staff in NICU, PICU and the cardiology department who treated her with such care. Although being in Bristol brought back lots of sad memories today, there were lots of happy ones too. Bristol was the only home that Etta ever had so we’ll keep returning and we hope we’ll feel a little stronger with each visit.

Better for Etta Kindness Campaign Day 25

Today’s kind act was simply to smile and say hello to as many people as possible today. I think after yesterday’s news a lot of people aren’t feeling cheerful.

Lovely illustration from ‘apeaceofwerk’

We are not in tier 4 here but I know lots of plans have been ruined regardless of what tier you’re in. I didn’t particularly feel like smiling but we set off on a bike ride this morning to make the most of the beautiful weather and smiled and said hello to everyone we met. Ezra knows nothing of tiers or bubbles (or social distancing 🙈) so smiled and waved at everyone he saw- even the people in their cars. I couldn’t take a picture while we were cycling (obv) but he was still waving even when we had arrived home 🥰

Still waving 🥰

My mum said she smiled and spoke to an old man at the park who is now on his own for Christmas after BJ’s announcement. I think a smile/ compliment/ chat can go a long way at the moment. And if you don’t feel like smiling, that’s ok. I’m wishing you a gentle Christmas, if a merry one isn’t possible.❤️🎄

Better for Etta Kindness Campaign Day 24

Today’s kind act began this morning in our pyjamas! Ezzie and I decorated some Christmas cards for the residents of the care home that is a few doors down from our house.

Look at the carnage that is Ezzie’s playroom!! Ezzie enjoyed putting glitter and stickers on the cards though.

I am really thinking of those that are living and working in care homes this Christmas- it must have been a frightening year for them so here’s hoping the vaccinations will be administered for them soon.

I had to put a glitter warning on the envelopes!

Ezzie posted his cards through the letterbox and the manager waved and said thank you to Ezzie who was very proud of his creations!

Big smile on his face ☺️
I will be finding glitter everywhere for months to come!!

Better for Etta Kindness Campaign Day 23

Today’s kind act is for two very deserving mums who both lost their little boys recently. It’s heartbreaking enough for your child to die, let alone during a global pandemic so I wanted to give them a few little gifts to show they’re not alone.

I managed to have a lovely doorstep chat with one of the mums too after a few weeks of just messaging online- very grateful for social media!

I read ‘The Baby Loss Guide’ while on holiday after Etta’s funeral and I found it really helped. Zoe Clarke-Coates has a way of validating your own thoughts with her beautiful words. I hope they find it as helpful.

My friend Vicky from ‘Cute Bits’ kindly made them each a bookmark with their baby’s initial on it. She even made me a beautiful one for Etta which I can’t wait to use ⭐️💖

Thinking of you both in the run up to Christmas- I wish your boys were in your arms as well as your hearts ❤️

Better for Etta Kindness Campaign Day 22

Today’s kind act is for some of our NHS heroes. I know this year it’s been great to see a new appreciation for our careers who work on the frontline but for Sam and I this definitely started last year after Etta was born.

So many NHS workers were part of Etta’s short life but in particular we want to thank the PICU staff who looked after Etta for 3 out of her 4 weeks with us.

But how do you thank the people who worked around the clock trying to save your child? Took photographs and videos which would become our most treasured possessions? Cried with us and smiled with us through Etta’s ups and downs? Used their own hands to pump her heart when it was trying to stop?

Always a busy bedspace with selfless staff ❤️

Well.. apparently with a Cartwright and Butler Merry Christmas Hamper! 🤪 There are no words that will ever be enough but we’ve sent a Christmas hamper to them again like we did last year to show a little of our appreciation.

I really hope it has arrived and they can enjoy some of the Christmas goodies inside. They deserve it and so much more ❤️🎄💚🎁

Festive treats!

If you’d like to donate towards the PICU then you can visit our JustGiving page to give towards Etta’s star tribute fund ⭐️

Better for Etta Kindness Campaign Day 20

Today’s kind act was a lot of fun! I helped out at the Trussell Trust’s social enterprise warehouse which meant sorting through loads of clothes donations. I was made to feel so welcome and even got a dupe of tea ☕️ Funds made through their charity shops support their aim of stopping UK hunger through their food banks.

Sorting through donations 👍

The Trussell Trust was founded in Salisbury, by Paddy and Carol Henderson (who went to the same church as our family). Although the charity was originally set up to help those in poverty in Bulgaria, one evening a local mother phoned up to ask what the charity was doing to support those like her in the city. And the rest, as they say, is history! It’s an amazing reminder that something as simple as a phone call and some very kind people can change the world!

It’s been a real privilege to see the trussell trust expand into the amazing charity that it is today, although heartbreaking that there is such a need for it- this year more than ever.

A few ways you can support the Trussell Trust this Christmas:

  • Donate to your local TT food bank- there are now collection points all over the UK!
  • If there is a community shop near you, you can donate high quality goods (clothes, electronics, furniture etc. )
  • Visit their eBay and depop shop for some christmas presents 🎁
  • Buy the new charity single from LadBaby
The LadBaby family are releasing their third Christmas single in aid of the Trussell Trust.