Norwich Bishop's grief over daughter's death
2009: It was a terrible day – one that the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James and his wife Julie will never be able to forget – a day when their lives changed forever. It was the day in February 1984 that their beloved six-month old daughter Victoria suddenly died.
Victoria's life was cut tragically short at the family's then Hertfordshire home – an unexplained victim of cot death.
"She died one afternoon when Julie had her in a pram and brought her home from friends," said Bishop Graham.
"I was working in London at the time. It was traumatic and unexplained in the way that many cot deaths are.
"Julie had been with some friends and had come back to our house with Victoria in the pram. She left it at the back door, went in and came back to get her out. Being a nurse and trained midwife, she knew more or less instantly that she had died."
At the time of Victoria's death, Bishop Graham was working in London and he only found out about it when he was met by someone at the station. "I won't forget it," he said.
"The thing that was difficult was that by the time I got home her body had been removed from the house and was in the mortuary.
"You felt there was this living child at home in the morning and by the time you got home she had already gone.
"It was very strange to come home and discover your daughter had died and her body had already been removed. There was a real sense of loss about that.
"I did go and see her in the mortuary but at the time there was less account taken of a father's feelings than a mother's in all of that. Victoria's death was something Julie managed on her own with neighbours and friends nearby. I wasn't part of it."
In trying to come to terms with the tragedy, the bishop and his wife, a staff nurse at Priscilla Bacon Lodge, have talked about Victoria with other people in similar situations and even helped form a support group where they used to live.
Bishop Graham touched briefly on the tragedy when, as guest speaker at the 42nd annual Service of Remembrance at Horsham St Faith Crematorium in September, he told those who had come to remember lost loved ones how nothing that was said at the time of death could help ease the pain of grief.
"One of the things is that bereaved parents can be of real support to each other," he said.
In the wake of Victoria's death the couple were "remarkably well supported" by family, friends, neighbours, and the church community.
But while most of it was welcomed, some well-meaning offers of support caused unintended distress at a difficult time.
"Our assumption is that our children will be healthy nowadays. Sometimes there are tragic accidents, but you don't expect any unexplained deaths whereas a century or so ago it was more common. People frequently don't know what to say," said Bishop Graham.
"The usual language doesn't work. There were two things that got on my nerves - the assumption that because you're a Christian you don't feel grief. But of course you do. It's a human emotion. This is your child that's died.
"The other thing that's irritating is when people say you can have another child. Dominic was born a couple of years later and of course we already had a child in Victoria's older sister Rebecca, but having another child doesn't replace the one who's died.
"Each human being is unique and you can't replace them. To suggest you can simply have another child is not a comforting thing to say at all."
It is by remembering Victoria that the family has been able to carry on with their own lives, knowing she is not only part of their past, but present and future too.
"Rebecca herself was very young at the time but we talked about it with her and when Dominic was born he realised he had an older sister who had died.
“Victoria that way has always been part of the family," said Bishop Graham.
Article courtesy of the EDP
Pictured top is Bishop Graham James and, above, daughter Victoria.