Martha & Paul Sharkey, Founders, Today is a Good Day
In November 2010, we launched into the overwhelming world of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) when our daughters were born at just 23 weeks and 5 days. We faced daily challenges including the loss of our daughter, Mary Gladys, two weeks into our NICU journey. Our daughter, Claire, weighing only 15oz. faced an uncertain future. Suffering from grades 3 and 4 brain bleeds, anemia, and meningitis we were not sure she would survive. If Claire lived, we were not sure if she would be able to walk or talk later in life.
In July 2015, our baby girl, Martha Rose, arrived at 37 weeks with no complications. This was a new experience to enjoy. We thought we had faced our biggest family challenges with the preterm birth of our twin daughters, the death of Mary, 103 days in the NICU, and a stressful pregnancy with Martha Rose.
The Trisomy 18 diagnosis of our baby boy, William Richard, during the summer of 2018 created a new chapter to write in our family’s book of life. This new chapter was filled with similar feelings we felt in the NICU, along with many new emotions. We lived life “one day at a time” uncertain of the future. Based upon his prognosis, we knew William was going to earn his wings in utero or shortly after he was born.
We planned for William’s funeral more than his birth. It was the most surreal and lonely feeling. For 21 weeks, we visited our doctor for a weekly heart check. Each week, we listened for his heartbeat to see if he was still alive. William did not pass in utero. Our sweet baby boy joined us on Monday, December 17 at 9:38am weighing 2lb. 4oz. William lived for 91 beautiful minutes before he earned his wings. He knew only love during his time with us. His sisters showered him with hugs and kisses. They read him books and sang songs to him. Our families met him and loved him so much.
It’s hard to put into words the feeling of holding our second child as he passed away in our arms. This is a challenging road to travel. Two of our four children have died…half of our children is a very difficult realization to process.
We wrote letters to Mary after she died and read them at her service. We were writing letters again and using our daughter’s prayer service program as a template to write yet another funeral program for our son.
Below are the letters we wrote to our sweet William. We read these letters to William at his funeral service surrounded by the love of our immediate family. We wanted to share them here as well.
December 19, 2018
Dearest Baby William,
Your dad and I always said if we ever had a baby boy, we would name him William Richard Sharkey. Named for your grandfathers on both sides of our family, you have been given a strong and wonderful legacy through your name. While I never knew your Grandpa Sharkey, I have heard stories over the 17 years your dad and I have known one another about his love for his family and his dedication to his faith. Your Dida is with us today and someone you got to meet on your birthday. He is one-of-a-kind in so many ways from his incredible work ethic, his willingness to do anything for anyone, his ability to fix whatever needs to be fixed, and his love for family and others. You are blessed to carry his name as your own.
As I sit here at 4:30am on Wednesday morning looking across my hospital room at the table covered in your clothes, blankets made with love just for you, canvases filled with foot and hand prints, ornaments covered in your footprints, a candle with a soft flame flickering since Monday, and a beautiful Christmas tree from your Aunt Christine, it’s hard to believe that I will be leaving here later today not holding you in my arms but hugging a box of memories made during your short time with us on Monday and carrying a joyful yet broken heart full of memories made over the past seven months as your sisters talked about you, gave you kisses through my belly, and made memories with you through all that we were doing as a family. We remember your first time to New York City and the Bay, your first time to the movies, reading books as a family, and so much more.
Hearing your diagnosis over the summer was a difficult one for us; however, we are a faithful family and we believe that good comes from each and every experience in our lives. You proved that right when we chose life for you so many months ago and you stayed with us long enough to cover you with our loving kisses and affection. All you knew was love as you greeted us at 9:38 on Monday morning, December 17, and went on to meet your adoring big sisters, your loving grandparents, Uncle Rooch, Oannie, and Uncle Dick.
Your dad and I have been through our share of challenging experiences when we said goodbye to your sister, Mary, in 2010. We know she was waiting with big, open arms as you ran to her in heaven. I can just see her smiling face standing there with Great Nan and Pop, Grandpa Sharkey, Grandma & Grandpa Benedum, Bud, Uncle Jimmy, and so many others who have gone before us. As Claire said to us just a few weeks ago, “I wish William could stay with us a little longer, but now, Mary will have a sibling in heaven.” That simple statement shows the impact you have already made.
Just like your sister’s life, your short and simple life will be remembered always. After your sister earned her wings, I always described the feeling as a small hole in my heart that is always present and never goes away. While I now have two of those small holes that will be ever-present, my heart is also filled with joy for the time I was able to hold you close, the time you were able to meet your loving sisters, and the impact I know your life will make on so many others over the years. The joy on Claire’s face when she met you for the first time is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you for choosing me to be your mother.
I love you, my sweet boy. Rest well and have fun with Mary. We will see you again.
December 20, 2018
Your Mom’s letter let you know how lucky you are to be named after your grandfathers, William and Richard.
Your grandfather, Bill, or Mr. B, as I like to call him would have spoiled you rotten. Whether it be eating too many of his handmade milkshakes, pepperoni rolls, and oat candy, or allowing you extra time on the iPad….Dida would certainly have given you whatever you want. He loves his children and grandchildren so much. He always puts the needs of others in front of his own. He can even teach someone how to change an electric receptacle through Facetime…which is no easy task. He is an incredible example of what a father and grandfather should be.
My Dad, Richard, has the opportunity to spoil you rotten right now in heaven. Lucky him! I am sure he is hugging you, keeping you warm, and loving you as I write this letter. Watch out for Grandpa Sharkey. When it comes practicing spelling words, be ready for him to say “No, sir!” when you get a word wrong and be ready to try “again”. For now, rest in his arms and let him tell you about our Irish family history. You will be saying Ballina, Laherdan and Mount Nephan in no time. Let him teach you about sports and what it means to be a long suffering Philadelphia sports fan. Ask him about the Eagles Super Bowl win. I am sure he was cheering loudly. If he takes you swimming, make sure you stay in the shallow end as he is not an accomplished swimmer like you sister, Claire. My Dad left a great legacy of “service above self” which is lived out in your Uncle Hank, Uncle Drew and me.
Not only were you born into a family of strong men, you were blessed to be born into a family of incredibly strong women. Your Nanan, Aud, always has the right words to say. She also knows sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all and just share a hug, smile, or knowing nod. Nanan would also have spoiled you by playing games with you for as long as you want.
My Mom, Pat, would also have been enchanted with you as well. Mom Mom was so happy to get to hold you on Monday morning. She would have instilled in you a deep faith in God, read books with you, bought you clothes from LL Bean and let you go through her pocketbook during every visit. She would certainly get lipstick on your sweet head. You would always know Mom Mom had come to visit once you looked in the mirror.
Your sisters, Claire and Martha Rose, are so strong. They love you so much and did not want to let you leave their arms on Monday. They have loved you and couldn’t wait to meet you since we learned you would be joining our family this summer. Your sister Mary must be so happy to have you with her. I am sure she is taking care of you now the way Claire and Martha Rose did on Monday morning.
The strongest person in our family is your Mom, Martha. I have been lucky enough to date her for the past 17 years. She is smart, beautiful, determined, kind, and selfless. To say she is “others focused” is an understatement. Your Mom is an incredible mother and spouse. Uncle Rooch, Aunt Steen, your Mom and I used to sing a song called “Mother of the Year” and don’t you know she won an award for actually being “mother of the year”! Our family, friends, and the community at large recognize the impact she is making through Today is a Good Day. Your Mom carried you for 34 weeks and 3 days with grace, dignity, fortitude and a love for you stronger than anyone will ever know.
Martha and I wanted the best for you sweet William. The best for you was to be born this past Monday, December 17 at 9:38 am. You gave us your best in return. We were able to see your eyes, kiss your face, and feel the love our entire family has for you. Thank you for coming into our lives. Your 91 minutes with us were so special and powerful.
Your Mom and I were able to do skin to skin care with you. It is something we did not do with your sister, Mary. You helped to heal a wound in our hearts by having this experience with you. We were able to sing “You are my Sunshine” and “Go Lassie Go” and your sister’s were so happy to sing “Happy Birthday” to you. You were baptized into God’s family surrounded by your parents, sisters, grandparents, Oannie, Uncle Dick, and Uncle Rooch. William, you had a very busy 91 minutes here on earth.
Precious William, your greatest gift to me was the time we spent together on Monday afternoon. I was able to paint your feet and stamp your hands to make memories for our family. I will never forget the blue and green paint on your feet and the yellow and silver paint on your hands. I will certainly never forget the mold you and I made together with Nurse Liz and Dr. Julie. You helped me find humor and joy despite my incredible sadness.
William, your life has a purpose. You have inspired many. You have inspired me. Your time with us over the past 35 weeks will never be forgotten. Your life will be channeled into the work of Today is a Good Day to help other families facing difficult prognoses during pregnancy.
Please watch over all of our family from heaven. We certainly could use your grace, peace, and love here on earth.
I will always love you, my son!
Did you know that you are my third sibling?
When you get to meet Mary; I think she will tell you what she did in the hospital too. Mary, Rose, you and I were all born at the same hospital in Abington.
First I thought you weren’t so cute. Then when I saw you I thought you were the cutest baby brother in the world!
Do you know how I will remember you? I have a bear with your heart beat in it from Build a Bear.
I remember trying to read the Bible book to you and reading the Santa Workshop book to you which Santa delivered to our front door.
My favorite memory of you is when I got to hold you and I didn’t want to let you go.
I love you.
As we write this new chapter of our book of life, we have incredibly sad moments. However, we also have joyful moments. Claire summed it up best…our family “didn’t want to let you go.” Letting go was difficult for us, but we believe good has already come from this experience and will continue to present itself in different ways moving forward.
William has already made an impact. We set big goals for our family in 2019…to spend more time together creating fun memories, to ride a bike without training wheels, to write in our family gratitude journal on a daily basis, and many more. This experience brought us closer as not only husband and wife but as a family.