My nephew Parker Fettig was born eighteen years ago (January 15, 1997), at 23 weeks to my beautiful sister-in-law Catherine and my brother Doug. Parker lived for seven days, but his presence in our family and those people he touched while on this earth remains as strong as the days he was with us. He is our little angel who has given our family a great gift; that is to truly appreciate each day. The old cliche “each day is a gift,” rings loud when you lose someone close to you. I have always marveled at the strength of Doug and Catherine, even more so after having children of my own. To find their way out of such a loss with such incredible grace has been nothing but awe-inspiring.
In Parker’s memory, Doug and Catherine went on to start Precious Beginnings: Parents Supporting Parents of Critically Ill Newborns, a nonprofit group of families who have parented babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), in Portland Oregon.
In an inaugural issue of Precious Beginnings newsletter Catherine wrote about their experience: “ Our son Parker was born in January 1997 at 23 weeks old. He only lived for seven days in the NICU. It was where he lived his life...where he was born and where he died. When he was born we did not know what to expect.
“We felt so lonely in this new world of the NICU. We wanted to know our future. We wanted to change the past. We were powerless. So we chose to do the one thing that we had total control over...to love him and to appreciate each moment of his existence. To celebrate his life and marvel in the midst of the unexpected, that here before us was our beautiful son.Through the noise of the machines, from the shock and disbelief that this was happening to us, to the blur of our life having been enveloped by a world we did not choose...somehow, we tried to stay as focused as we could and to remember that this child of ours was a gift.
“We now appreciate those days and those moments. For whatever reason, that was all we were meant to have with Parker in this life. But he blessed us with wonderful gifts: experiencing the power and magnitude of love, and the genuine goodness in others. And learning that life, for however long it is or whatever it may be like, is precious, and we should appreciate each moment.”
This is Parker’s amazing legacy. What we do for others can be everlasting; we plant a seed with every action and word spoken to others. Life is precious, set down your phone (often) and carve out time with those important to you, so you don’t miss out on the precious gift of the present. Keep your heart and mind open to the seeds planted by those people we have loved and have gone before us. My brother Doug lovingly refers to this as the “Ripple Effect,” as he notes below.
“When your child dies you are initially lurching moment-by-moment through the phase of intense grief, trying (and failing, and trying again) to accept a new reality.
“But in those painful early days a beautiful and powerful emotional undercurrent has also begun to manifest itself. I call it “The Ripple Effect".
“When a life, regardless of how brief (in our son Parker's case it was seven days), touches other lives it sets in motion a series of potentially unending ripple effects.
“After 18 years these ripple effects continue for us in many forms; from the life-long friends that Parker has brought into our lives, to the privilege of listening to and helping others going through painful times, to a thoughtful word or gesture of remembrance, or to the powerful reminder that each moment of our lives is a precious gift.
“If you are open to them, these ripple effects can be felt from all those who impacted your life before they departed. Be it a grandparent, parent, sibling, child, close friend - there can be a gentle ripple washing ashore at the most unexpected time.
Be open to it's embrace and let it wash over you.”
Parker's mom and dad, Doug and Catherine Fettig,
and his brothers Pierce (left) and Calder (right).