Dunc was big and strong. He was calm, and laid back to the point of being horizontal. He had time for everyone and a brilliant way of saying the right words at just the right moment. Dunc was extraordinarily competitive at board games and had an infuriating habit of tying his laces very precisely in double bows, even when we had all been waiting for him for at least five minutes. He was warm and kind, and always keen to help others. Dunc had a boyish enthusiasm for sailing down hills on a bike at speed and a cheeky sense of humour. He was confident on the outside and humble within. He was loved and respected by everyone he knew.
Dunc and I planned to grow old together. We explored the world together for over ten years and we had plans for further adventures. We took on the medical profession as a team for the good of our boys. We danced, drank, laughed, and played tennis (badly..) when we got the chance. Dunc was my friend, my partner in crime, the one person who could reassure me with a squeeze of the hand, a hug or a smile from his bright blue eyes. What I wouldn’t give now to hear him say, “It’ll be fine!” I didn’t always believe him when he said it, but I was simply reassured by the fact that I knew that he’d be right there next to me, no matter what. And then, of course, he wasn’t. The shock of his sudden death, on April 25th 2013, has subsided, but the hole in our lives that his death has created remains.
Our boys have lost their daddy who built train tracks, marble runs and lego spaceships with great expertise; a daddy, who might quietly mutter the occasional expletive, but would always get up to them in the middle of the night, despite having already been up three times; a daddy who was fun, and loved running down hills just a little bit too fast, whilst holding them tightly by the hand; a daddy who taught them all about Star Wars and how to bounce up and down noisily on lock gates, to the dismay of the ducks nearby. He was a daddy who took time to play, to cuddle and to sit and watch the Octonauts with them; a daddy who was proud of their slightest achievements and excited about their futures. He is a daddy that they miss every day, despite the fun that they have in between. This time last year, the boys’ worlds were predictable, stable and secure. They knew their boundaries, they loved our adventures and they dreamt of the next building project, rollercoaster ride, or exploration of the great outdoors.
The care-free innocence, to which every four and six year old has a right, has been cruelly interrupted. If I go out now, the boys don’t assume that I will come back safely. They know that they are different to their peers – that they are the only ones in their classes without a daddy. They know it’s not fair and that not every story has a happy ending. And yet, despite all of that, they still laugh and smile their way through their days. Their resilience, their strength and their ability to take joy in the small things is inspirational. Their joie de vivre gets me out of bed in the mornings, albeit an hour or so earlier than I would like, and lifts me at times when I still feel overwhelmed by the thought of facing the future without Dunc visibly by our sides.
The world has carried on turning since Dunc died. It’s just that at times it turns at a slightly more precarious angle, or at a different speed, for the boys and me. The house is clean(ish) – although my mother in law might disagree; the boys are fed, washed and arrive at school on time; I haven’t yet arrived at a hospital for an appointment with the wrong son; and we still take great pleasure flying the kite, riding our bikes and swimming regularly. I can do this double parenting thing (I like this term, for single parenting really doesn’t do it justice), but it requires a monumental amount of energy and effort to parent my two gorgeous boys on my own. After all, they are lively and boisterous – like any other small boys, they continue to have multiple hospital appointments, and their worlds have also been turned upside down without warning, just like mine. Being solely responsible for them twenty-four/seven is simply exhausting. Even if I do leave them for a few hours, I am glued to my phone, in case one of them is taken ill or has another accident. I desperately need a break, but I can’t switch off, even when I’m given the chance to do so. (‘Me time’ is now squeezed into Tuesday mornings, between cleaning the house and getting to work after lunch, in my new role as a teaching assistant at the boys’ school).
Sam, Thomas and I are slowly learning to live without Dunc, for living life is what we must do, and what we want to do more than ever now. The pain of our loss hasn’t gone away though. The boys aren’t ‘over the worst of it’ (as I was asked recently), and we haven’t ‘moved on’. I don’t think we will move on. Life will always be a little bit worse, whether we are revisiting old haunts or making new memories at places we didn’t manage to visit with Dunc before he died. I believe that we are gradually coming to accept that he is no longer right here with us and feel a little more at peace with the situation in which we now find ourselves.
We are extremely fortunate to be surrounded still by lovely, encouraging, caring, patient friends and family. I have also joined WAY (Widowed and Young), (http://www.widowedandyoung.org.uk), a charitable self-help organisation that provides invaluable support and has made a tremendous difference already to the boys and me in our new lives. I like to believe that Dunc is still near us too. At times when everything feels wrong, like it does this week, I feel his presence in a beautiful sunset, a starry night, or through the appearance of a rainbow (and have you noticed how many of those we have had in the last few months?!) They give me comfort and the strength I need to keep on keeping on. I can’t quite believe that the boys and I have been doing that for a whole year already in Dunc’s absence. A whole year… That’s 365 days without him giving us each a big squeezy cuddle at the end of the day; 365 days without hearing a satisfied,”Aaahhhh,” as I sit down in the evening; 365 days without a text message telling me how much he loves me, and 365 days of trying to be responsible for using the tv remote control all by myself.
Dunc, you were an awesome husband and daddy. We love and miss you and we always will. xxx