with  trepidation, i’m planning to send this letter later today…to the hospital where Finn was born and where i did all the bedrest with O and the legion of ultrasounds with Posey.

i’m struck every single year by the ridiculous way in which this fine institution handles its fundraising. i’m not a fan of telethons in the first place, as the emphasis on “look at the cute little hard-luck children and their miracle stories!”  makes me uncomfortable in that eerie 1950 flashback way…but the annual mailout of miracle stories to a population that inevitably includes many bereaved families seems grievously insensitive, even this year when i’m feeling pretty healed and pretty equivocal.

i could use feedback – how does this come off? i want to make my point while still sounding positive and…um…uncrazy. help? please?  all suggestions/constructive criticism welcome. (deep breath).

and yeh, this is the real institution – the blog has been too public to insert false anonymity now. if you’re local, please don’t consider my critique a reason NOT to support the hospital – rather, i’m hoping to inspire them to revisit their fundraising strategies so that more families can support them without being brutalized by mail every spring.

April 28th, 2009

Dear Mr. Shaw,

I received your PEI Cares Telethon newsletter/solicitation in the mail this week, and needed to write to you to explain why your institution’s fundraising efforts unintentionally but regularly raise my hackles.

Mr. Shaw, four years ago tomorrow my son Finn was born at the IWK. I’d been airlifted to Halifax a few weeks earlier, when my water broke at 24 weeks gestation. Finn was born at 26 weeks and a day. He weighed 2.2 pounds, and had brown hair and his father’s nose. He did not make it through his first night; he died in my arms early in the morning of April 30th, 2005. He was our firstborn.

I was and am incredibly grateful to the IWK for the effort expended to try to save Finn’s life, and for the care shown him and me, both then and in my subsequent pregnancies with his younger brother and sister. We – along with some family and friends – have made memorial donations to the IWK every year in Finn’s name and memory, and plan to continue to do so. I recognize that fundraising is an integral part of the ongoing operations of the hospital, and that it is a significant challenge to mobilize the necessary funds to keep the standard of care at the level of excellence Maritime families have come to rely on.

But, may I suggest that including bereaved parents in your regular fundraising mailout is insensitive and in poor taste? Last year, one of the children featured in the mailout and on the telethon was a little girl from here in PEI who was born at the exact same gestation as my son, at only ¾ his weight, on his actual due date in August 2005. We happen to know this little girl and her family personally, and celebrate with them the fact of her survival and healthy development. But it is painful nonetheless to be faced with the public spectacle of that “miracle,” particularly as part of an emotional appeal designed to raise money. It creates a discourse wherein the children who do not have the happy ending or the camera-friendly story are further negated, in a culture which already treats infant and child death as the last frontier of horror. The telethon only reinforces the isolation of bereaved parents by reinforcing the “Oh, I couldn’t possibly imagine” response.

I give in my son’s memory because he mattered to me, and because I wouldn’t want another family to go through the same grief that we did if it were at all avoidable. But I can assure you that being confronted with intentionally emotionally manipulative mailouts asking me to “imagine” the difficulty of having a child in hospital does not make me at all more generous.

If your hospital were a cardiac facility for adults, I suspect you would not solicit donations among the widows of lost patients by sending smiling pictures of happy heart attack survivors: “This is Fred. He had a massive coronary but what a precious champion – he’s a fighter and today he’s back golfing again! Fred never gave up. His wife Joyce is just so grateful to all of you who made this miracle possible through your generous gifts.” It would be understood, implicitly, that such a mass fundraising strategy would be offensive, salt in the wounds of those whose partners did not survive their heart attacks. Losing a child is no less difficult than losing a spouse. Please show me, my family, and the other bereaved families whose children have not been lucky enough to leave the IWK healthy the same respect you would accord us if our loved ones had been adults.

Perhaps a separate database could be established, Mr. Shaw, wherein families who’ve made memorial donations for their children could have a simple, tasteful, “We’re fundraising and would very much appreciate your continued support in memory of your child, should you feel so inclined” letter sent, instead of the standard telethon-focused “miracle” onslaught?

I genuinely want to support the good work the IWK does, and would be happy to volunteer my assistance in revising your fundraising strategy amongst bereaved families. I ask you to please consider doing so, and in the interim, to please remove me from your mailout list. I will continue to donate, but on terms that respect my son’s memory rather than erase him from view simply because he was not, in telethon terms, a “miracle.”

Yours sincerely,

Bonnie Stewart