How do you start a blog about an end, a conclusion, a massive, hideous and, frankly, traumatic loss? And actually, this isn’t just about the end. It’s about the beginning: of three lives, touched by a wonderful man, who has left us far too soon, and our adventures forward from here.
In March 2013, my husband, Duncan, went on a short skiing trip with a friend. I had agreed to ‘keep the home fires burning’. In reality, this meant ‘keep our three and four year old boys, Thomas and Sam, washed, fed and preferably out of Accident and Emergency’ (a tall order!). Dunc had an awesome time away. He returned, however, in holiday mode and, after giving him only a few hours’ leeway, I made it absolutely clear that if he did not snap out of it, I might just have a nervous breakdown. A tad melodramatic perhaps, but this solo parenting effort, juggled with a stressful time at work, came on top of a myriad of hospital appointments and procedures for both boys over a three year period. (Think eight sets of appointments in four different hospitals, in the previous four months alone, and you start to get the picture…). Well, cumulatively, it had pretty much finished me off, and I meant every word.
Dunc looked like a scared animal. I’m sure he must have wondered two things: firstly, how had things got this bad in just five days? Secondly, why had he come back?! He was a tremendous husband and a very hands-on daddy (and I was even heard to confirm this regularly before his death). Dunc had always seen it as his responsibility to take an equal share of the night shifts that looking after two small children brings, and we shared the chores around the house. After my outburst, he immediately upped his game: he remembered the myriad of medicines the boys’ required, and usually at approximately the right times; he sorted out my car insurance for the year and he plumbed in the new dishwasher. I reduced my working hours to accommodate the hospital appointments and, for five weeks, life became more manageable.
On 25 April 2013, shortly after his 39th birthday, Dunc went to his weekly game of football, and suffered a cardiac arrest. Prolonged attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful. By 8pm, my gorgeous, dedicated, loving husband had died and I was officially a widow. Not just a widow, but a widow with two little boys at home, who were totally expecting me to come back and say that Daddy was fine. After all, they knew all about hospitals, and the clever doctors who make you better. Except on this occasion, they couldn’t, and my world, and that of our boys, had changed forever.
I always thought I had some inner strength (learnt from losing my dad ten years ago, amongst other things), and the last three months have required every ounce of it. In case you are wondering, I haven’t yet had my nervous breakdown. In fact, I’ve found reserves I didn’t know I had. I have organised Dunc’s funeral, and steered the boys and I through it, and I have completed the probate process already. My lovely friend and I sat watching my boys playing recently and she said, “They haven’t changed. They are still Thomas and Sam.” Ultimately, I know that the sudden loss of their fantastic daddy at such a crucial stage in their development will have a huge effect on them. However, the fact that you can not always see it, is a good place to start. And I feel that this is the start. Not one that we had planned (and I’ve done a lot of planning with a somewhat reluctant Dunc in the last ten years!), or one that we would wish to be making. It is the tragic, early end of Dunc’s life, but the beginning of a new chapter in ours.
I have been absolutely determined from Day One that we will make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves, as a slightly smaller ‘Team Phillips’. Sam told me that first day, “When people die, they are still walking next to you. You just can’t see them anymore.” He then added, “If you can’t see Daddy anymore, he must be a superhero, with invisibility as his special power.” I feel Dunc’s presence strongly, and love the image of him sporting pants over his trousers, with a matching superhero cape. He would be thrilled to be their superhero, although in this life, rather than the next. In moments when I am tired, or feeling low, I imagine him sitting on a cloud, beer in hand, saying, “Come on! Stop feeling sorry for yourself! Get off your arse and keep on keeping on!” In fairness, he was a lot gentler than this, and would have given me a huge hug and lots of reassurance about how well I am doing instead. I hear that voice too, but sometimes I need the kick up the arse that the first voice provides.
I feel we have survived pretty well thus far without Dunc visibly by our sides. We haven’t made any new memories yet, but we have put some building blocks in place so that this can happen in the coming months and years. We have laughed, cried, sung, danced and enjoyed a lot of squeezy cuddles. The boys have learnt to play together more independently, while I cook or answer the phone (again…). Their giggles and laughter reassure me often that we are moving in the right direction. I’m not naïve, and I know that there will be many difficult times ahead, but we feel well supported. We also have a lot of love for, and wonderful memories of a great daddy and husband to sustain us along the way. It’s not a bad place to be at this point, especially when, in March, a few days of solo parenting threatened to send me over the edge!