Thursday, February 26, 2009


I challenge anyone to get to the end of THIS terribly moving article without tearing up. Ian Birrell is a journalist for The Independent. He and his wife have a profoundly disabled child. They met the Camerons at a dinner party and have been friends ever since. He tells the story of how he and his family have coped with their daughter, Iona, and how their experiences been mirrored by those of the Camerons.

Like most families, we struggled to handle the shock of the diagnosis, our dreams seemingly destroyed and fearful of the future while desperately trying to hold a shattered family together. We went from the joy of birth to the depths of depression at breakneck speed. There were periods of intense brooding and tortured discussions. The Camerons also went through a similarly grim period, sleeping beside their son on hospital floors and endlessly discussing how to cope as the hot spring of 2002 turned to summer.

David has spoken very movingly in public of how "you grieve for the difference between your hopes and reality". Eventually, you do learn to cope with the trauma of living your life on an edge, of having your sleep disrupted and your social life occasionally wrecked. More importantly, you come to adore the child as much as any of your other children even when, as Sam admitted to me, you worry about their welfare every second you are apart. I once asked David if he thought Ivan enjoyed life. He paused for a long time, then looked up and said: "Not really, I think his life is very tough." But he called him his beautiful boy and Ivan meant the world to him and his family...

...Listening to some of the coverage in the media yesterday, there is a common sentiment expressed that Ivan's death will be a form of closure, that there might be a sense of relief that the struggle is over. This is a view that reveals so much about attitudes to people with disabilities. No one should be fooled: the only feeling will be one of numbing grief at the death of a cherished member of a family. People have asked me if the death of a disabled child is less traumatic, given that it is always a possibility. I can't imagine that the trauma is any less intense.

We are fortunate that Iona is still with us and that we can still enjoy her life. But no parent ever gets over the death of a child – and a disabled child, even one with profound learning difficulties for whom life is a struggle and filled with pain, is no different. Our daughter's life brings us sorrow, but it also brings us intense joy and meaning. Ivan's death means only that, beside the happy memories, there will be a scar on his parents' hearts that can never be healed.

It's a brilliant piece of writing. Ian & Linet Birrell and his wife are so clearly devoted to their daughter, who, although she has been dealt a bad deck in so many ways, is so very lucky to have them as her parents.


an ex-apprentice said...

"I challenge anyone to get to the end of THIS terribly moving article without tearing up."

I somehow managed to. Get to the end. Without "tearing up". I must be a callous, heartless, unfeeling bastard.

Or just someone who feels the sad, tragic personal experience of this gentleman, and the Camerons, is just that - personal. Not for public display.

I append a comment by Mr Stanislav, which is pertinent:

stanislav's blues said...

The television is revolting. All across the marshaled, suited ranks of the twitterati is phoney sorrow; maufactured, expert-led grief; crass, vulgar sentimentality collides with the repulsive insincerity which only Gordon the Ruiner can muster; the nation, again, gorges on Death by Association.

Who made us into wailing, breast-beating Arabs; who turned the chamber of the house of commons into an episode of EastEnders -show some respect, you slags - who crashed the levee of taciturn self-restraint and Decency, Death's quiet, dutiful attendants. Who launched a Come All Ye, a national Festival of Sorrow ? Who made jelly of our stiff upper lip?

Time there was when heads would bow, kindly and wisely; this, they would recognise, sorrowfully, was a mercy, for all concerned; this would never endure. The grieving would find comfort in remembrance and among survivors; others would mind such business as was properly theirs.

Here, Ruin at our throats, awash in engineered and inappropriate mourning, we feast on the dead and bereaved, snarling at one another's greed.

26 February 2009 01:29

Sue said...

Iain, you are losing the plot, this is not Dear Deidre...

Jim Baxter said...

Mr Stanislav has great poetic gifts but little sense of history. He might like to research how stiffly upper-lipped the nation was to learn, in the 19th century, of the fate of Little Nell, who was, and remains, a fictional character. Wilde said it would take a heart of stone not to laugh but he was being just a little too glib on that occasion. Grief resonates with us all, whether it is in fiction or in reality.

I have no poetic gifts so I'll hand you over to a man who did.

'No man is an island, entire of itself...'

You know the rest.

Kevin James French Music said...

I hope you don't mind I would like to leave part of my blog peice ......
I was very impressed with the coverage of David Cameron son Ivan's death and sadden. Although I have Cerebral Palsy, I have no idea what it is like to parent and lose such a severely disabled child but I know his death is too large for me to comprehend. My parents' love was my rock I built on.
For once I thought Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister, got it spot on by cancelling Prime Minister's Question Time, his tribute, in the commons, was heartfelt and statesman like!

4x4 the people said...


OscarIndia said...

I do find these comments about how this is Diana-mania all over again misplaced. Cameron is a public figure - the concept that this should be "private" and that it's somehow his fault it isn't is ridiculous. On the basis that it was always going to be a public event, and one which would, of course, bring media coverage of the issue of raising severely disabled children, I think the media reaction has been untypically thoughtful.
To suggest this shouldn't have been "for public display" because it's in the papers and on the TV is a comment of intellectual bankruptcy.

force12 said...

Please, enough already.

IanVisits said...

While I think it a tad trite to try and apportion degrees of loss to the death of a child, especially as people do tend to hint that the loss of a disabled child can be a slight relief to the parents - I heard a very interesting (and in hindsight, obvious) comment on the news.

For a lot of parents with severely disabled children, the loss is often a lot worse as there is now a sudden and largely unexpected hole in their days.

Suddenly, the carers aren't around, the routine trips to hospital no longer happen, the nurses and doctors who were friends are strangers never to be seen again - the whole daily routine is shaken up in a way which simply doesn't happen when a so-called normal child dies.

If we are to apportion degrees of grief, then the loss of a disabled child can be more traumatic in the medium term because of the change in lifestyle that necessarily follows.

Lady Finchley said...

Ex-Apprentice - you and your friend Stanislav make me sick. You weren't here - you have no idea what the mood was in the Commons. Don't presume to judge.