Not many people realise that the love and support Tŷ Hafan give their families doesn’t stop when the life-limited child dies. There are a number of initiatives for bereaved families and you continue to be welcomed at all Tŷ Hafan family events.
There is a Memorial Garden within the grounds of Tŷ Hafan which has recently undergone extensive refurbishment. On Saturday 26 January 2019, I attended the launch of the “These Names Will Be Forever In Our Skies” project, or “Birdsong” project as it’s come to be known as, the latest addition to the Memorial Garden.
The project was borne out of a conversation between Sound Artist Justin Wiggan and Tŷ Hafan’s own Head of Community Services and Partnerships Tracy Jones. It aims to remember and celebrate the lives of the Tŷ Hafan children who have passed, through the medium of birdsong. Each child’s name has been translated using Morse code, into the song of the bird which sings the loudest in the month the child passed, and is followed by a silence of one second for each year of the child’s life. The piece currently runs at over two and a half hours and will continue to grow as future children pass. The hope is that, as the piece plays in the memorial garden, the local birds will start to mimic the names and begin to sing them to other birds, so that the names pass from bird to bird throughout the skies.
Lots of families came along to the emotionally charged project launch. I had been involved with the project as it developed and was lucky enough to already have a copy of “my” individual birdsong, a nineteen second piece of a robin singing my daughter’s name, Abigail. I have the song on my phone and take it everywhere with me. But this would be the first time I would hear the whole finished piece.
I stood in the Memorial Garden gazebo listening as the individual birdsongs came from different areas of the garden. Sometimes one bird seemed to follow on almost immediately from the one before, sometimes the gaps were so long it came as a surprise when the next one began. All the songs were very different from each other, unique and beautiful. And a surprising thing happened, it felt as though the emotional downpour lifted and the sun came out from behind the clouds (the actual real rain continued unabated, the weather was horrific and clearly had no sense of occasion). I felt overwhelming warmth and comfort. I was no longer waiting to hear Abigail’s name, that didn’t seem to matter anymore, she was part of the chorus, she was part of every birdsong, the silences celebrated each individual short life, but it felt like all the children were together in the song of each bird. Abigail is not alone, she is with friends and they are joyfully singing.
I’m sure each person who experiences “These Names Will Be Forever In Our Skies” will feel something different. The experience will be unique to them. It’s a beautiful, inspired, humbling, breathtaking addition to the memorial garden, for which I personally feel hugely grateful to Tŷ Hafan, Justin and Tracy for.