One of my earliest memories of Dunc is of him wearing his Homer Simpson slippers. This seemed anomalous to me, as he owned his own home, held down a professional job and drove a silver saloon. In fact, he was really quite mature, and yet, he wore Homer Simpson slippers. I think they had been a gift, and, thankfully, Dunc soon wore them out because he was extremely fond of wearing them. It transpired over the years that this fondness was not confined to Homer Simpson slippers alone – he just liked wearing slippers generally. He took them to our neighbours’ house when we were invited round for dinner, and he took them whenever we went to stay at hotels. In fact, the only place I don’t recall him taking them was camping! Slippers were indicative of Dunc’s laid back attitude to life and he scuffed them along the carpet as he took each relaxed step. When I returned from the hospital on the night that he died, I noticed his slippers at the bottom of the stairs. They had been cast aside when he had swapped them enthusiastically for his football boots several hours earlier. It was a poignant moment.
Since Dunc died, Sam, Thomas and I have created memory boxes. I could have put his slippers in mine, as they were such a big part of who he was. However, they were also old, holey and, dare I say it, a little whiffy. I chose instead to put in his cap and his woolly hat. Much as I loved spending a quiet night in with Dunc and his slippers (and a glass or two of red wine), my favourite memories are of the adventures that we shared. Due to the fact that he was somewhat follicly-challenged, Dunc was never seen exploring the great outdoors without a hat of some description. His khaki cap saw him through the summer months, and his brown, woolly hat through the colder months. His cap reminds me of strolling through the sunshine, hand in hand, on Cornish beaches before the boys were born (or running frantically after them since!) His woolly hat conjures up memories of kicking beautiful autumn leaves in parks and arboretums, and of laughing as he hurtled downhill with the boys on the sledge just last winter.
Recently, I have begun to sort through drawers of ‘important’ things that Dunc had squirrelled away (or filed creatively out of sight, so that I didn’t complain about the mess). In doing so, I have found a number of old cards that we sent to each other on Valentine’s Day and wedding anniversaries. He was most unusual for a bloke, in that he often wrote lovely, long messages in cards to me, and these are particularly special now. They have been added to my memory box to be treasured forever, as a reminder of how romantic we were, especially in the early days, before we had the boys to look after.
Last weekend, Dunc’s old work friends went camping together. He had been to the annual reunion virtually every year since I had known him. Dunc always looked forward to his weekend of escape from the family and the opportunity to bike, walk and drink to his heart’s content with some of his best friends. It was odd to think of the ‘boys’ (mostly aged 35 – 40), enjoying the activities without him, but many of us are feeling the need to take time together to reflect on our loss, and to make some new memories in Dunc’s absence.
During the summer holidays, I have made a particular effort to plan activities that will help Sam, Thomas and I begin to create new memories. It has been sad to revisit places that hold memories of outings we enjoyed in the past as a family of four, but I am determined that we won’t avoid them. It has felt strange to try new things without Dunc, knowing that he would have loved every minute. While his friends were on a mountain bike trail in North Wales on Sunday, Sam, Thomas and I marked the weekend by cycling five miles around a local reservoir together. It is clear that the boys are growing to love the excitement and thrill of freewheeling down hills just as much as Dunc and I did. (In fairness, I don’t think Thomas had much choice in the matter, as his understanding of braking is still a little sketchy, at the age of just three and a half, but he seemed to enjoy it anyway!) I heard them say Dunc’s favourite phrases, “Awesome!” and, “Get in!” at several points. Whenever we do something new, I glance up at the nearest cloud, where the boys and I like to think that he is sitting, and think, “This one’s for you, sweetheart!”
Our lives will never be the same without Dunc. I owe it to him, and to our two lively boys, to make sure that we cherish the memories of the fantastic times we had together, whilst finding our way forward without him, making new memories as we go. I am totally convinced that this is what Dunc would have wanted for all three of us and would have expected of me. There have already been times when the boys have wanted to go higher or faster than is my natural inclination, and they make me smile wryly. It is then that I picture Dunc giving me a gentle shove from behind, or a quiet, reassuring word in my ear, as he did in the past on the odd occasion when my legs were tired, or my nerves threatened to get the better of me. So far, this has helped me to rise to the challenges that the boys are setting on a fairly regular basis. I am determined that they will not miss out on making these new memories just because their daddy is not here to share his climbing expertise or his enthusiasm for speed in person.
Dunc and Sam reading a map on holiday in Cornwall, September 2010.