Every time I switch on the computer my husband Matt’s smiley face stares back at me. Little did I know when I took that photo that he wouldn’t be with us much longer. It’s now the fifth anniversary of his death and I thought it appropriate, for myself and others, to put some of my thoughts down about how myself and my two lovely (most of the time!) teenage boys, Jack, 14, and Luke, 16, have coped with our devastating loss.
In September 2011, Matt, then age 43, went to the doctors complaining of flu like symptoms he couldn’t shake off. After numerous tests he was rushed to the Royal Free Hospital in London with a diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). The thirteen months that followed involved long stays in hospital for Matt, and a succession of visits for myself, and our two boys, then just 8 and 10. It was hard for them to accept or understand why their dad was ill with cancer but they took it all in their stride and together we were always hopeful he would recover. Sadly, that was not the case and Matt passed away on Tuesday, 20th November, 2012.
It was hard for my boys to accept or understand why their dad was ill with cancer but they took it all in their stride and together we were always hopeful he would recover
We live in St Margaret’s Bay, a beautiful village nestled between the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. When Matt and I first discovered it we fell in love with it instantly. It was our oasis and, for Matt, an escape from city life. And I have been lucky to be surrounded by close family and friends who have, in the aftermath, been here to support us, acting as role models to the boys, and giving invaluable help and advice when needed.
Sport has especially been a saviour for us. We have always been what you call a ‘sporty’ family. In fact Matt and I first met in Cornwall when we were both on a windsurfing holiday, and we have instilled in our two boys a love of the water and the great outdoors. It was especially important to Matt that we all continued with our adventures and I hope that I have lived up to his expectations.
Being on my own hasn’t always been easy. The hardest thing is not having somebody to share your dreams with
At 52, I have certainly got fitter with age as I no longer have any excuse not to do something. Shortly after Matt’s death my youngest son Jack, then 9, wanted to try road biking. We were lucky that there was a very good local club so we turned up and he gave it a go. He was hooked. We took our first challenge together, participating in the Great Notts bike ride with my brother-in-law, completing a distance of 50 miles. We all trained hard and it wasn’t long before both the boys were racing ahead and commenting that their uncle was a bit slow! We then went to Newport velodrome with the cycling club to have a go at track cycling. I hadn’t done it before and the idea of having no brakes, fixed gears, and pedals that if you stop pedalling you fall off, filled me with fear. In fact, it turned out to be an amazing experience – I felt like Victoria Pendleton. The boys also had a go on the Olympic velodrome – a crowd of onlookers were watching and as Jack completed his lap they erupted into a wonderful spontaneous applause. It was probably because they hadn’t seen a small person on the track with such skinny legs. They aren’t much bigger now but the power behind them is quite incredible.
Cycling has kept us all going and we have completed many challenges for ourselves and charity. I have taken on the London Ride 100, and cycled from London to Paris with Bloodwise helping to raise over £20,000. The boys have completed 130 miles in one day too. It’s Jack’s dream to become a professional cyclist so I am hoping it becomes a reality. Our motto is dream big, work hard.
Being on my own hasn’t always been easy. The hardest thing is not having somebody to share your dreams with or discuss the important things, like the boys, with. Matt and I always had a close and easy-going relationship. He was my best friend as well as my husband.
On the other hand, I may not have tried some of the things that I have done had this not happened. Losing someone you love makes you realise that you really have to live for the moment. We got a dog called Jet, which we probably wouldn’t have done before. He really is the best thing that has happened to us since Matt died and I would recommend it to anybody as therapy and help coping with loss. When he arrived it was like having a new born baby in the house but without the nappies. It was quite difficult training him to go to the toilet outside but lucky for us we have a tiled floor. I was beginning to wonder what we had let ourselves in for but we persevered and we now have the most adorable friend, always pleased to see us with his wagging tail and always happy to be cuddled and made a fuss of.
If I’ve learnt anything from this situation, it’s that life does go on and it is important to be strong. You just have to find new ways of drawing on that inner strength and, as you might say, B Positive!