The holidays can be a painful time for grieving families and families of special needs children. A unique charity in England is offering visits from Father Christmas to raise funds to support bereaved families who have lost children before or shortly after birth. The founders of the Ava-Marie Foundation know firsthand the pain of losing a child, and are bringing comfort and hope to families like theirs.
Parents Daniel Thompson and Georgina Wills of Newton-le-Willows learned heartbreaking news at their daughter’s 12-week ultrasound. The scan revealed that their preborn daughter had exencephaly, an extremely rare condition in which the brain develops outside the skull. The condition is almost always fatal with babies passing away before birth or living for only hours after birth.
Ava-Marie’s dad told the Echo that even though they knew they would only have a short time with their daughter, they wanted to “give her every chance at life.” Although pressured to undergo abortion, unfortunately a common experience for parents facing a difficult diagnosis for their preborn child, Ava-Marie’s parents chose to carry her to term and love her as long as she could be with them.
On July 11, 2018, Ava-Marie was born and proved to be a “miracle baby,” living for 11 days with her parents and two older siblings. While the family anticipated mere minutes or hours with their baby, they enjoyed 11 days and even said they started to live like a “normal family” during that time. Her dad said, “We were prepared to say hello and goodbye at the same time but it was an amazing experience to make those memories with her.”
Since their precious and treasured 11 days with Ava-Marie, the family have kept her memory alive and made her a part of their daily life. In early 2019, Thompson and Wills decided to reach other grieving families with assistance in preserving precious memories and treasuring the lives of children whose lives ended all too soon.
The Ava-Marie Foundation works throughout the United Kingdom to send memory boxes to bereaved families at no charge. Each box includes two identical teddy bears, one to remain with the child and one for the family to keep, as well as materials for preserving the baby’s hand- and foot-prints.
Thompson explained, “Ava-Marie kept a teddy with her while she was alive and we had an identical one. Then on the day of her funeral we got to keep that bear she had throughout her life and she got the one we had.” He added, “We wanted to put that sorrow and grief into something positive with the charity. It’s helping us to grieve by knowing we’re helping other people who are grieving too.”
In order to expand the foundation’s reach and offer more boxes to grieving families, the group will offer unique visits from Father Christmas during the holiday season. Instead of having to travel to meet with Father Christmas, families will have a personalized visit from Santa Claus in their home. This is especially needed for families who may have a special needs child or other challenges.
Thomas told the St. Helen’s Star, “There are also children who might have limited mobility or sensory issues who may find it all too much. So we came up with an idea that we could have a Father Christmas and an elf come out to people’s homes to spread some festive cheer, all in memory of Ava-Marie, and the money will go towards more memory boxes for bereaved families.”
In a culture that encourages parents to end their child’s life if there may be medical challenges, a life-limiting condition, or an uncertain prognosis, Ava-Marie’s life is an example of the tremendous legacy that can be left by a single human Life, no matter how brief. The love of Ava-Marie’s family for their precious daughter continues to reach families throughout the UK who have experienced a similar heartbreak.
What can you do this holiday season to support families in your community who are choosing Life?