'Always be grateful you have someone to wait with'

As Emma waits beside her sick son, she thinks about her late husband.

My seven-year-old had surgery recently. Nothing worrying, but something requiring a general anaesthetic. Holding your child’s hand as they are anaesthetised is an unsettling thing. After thrashing against the anaesthetic for a few seconds, he drifted off and I kissed him and whispered, ‘love you’.

A theatre nurse ushered me into a corridor in which I’d last found myself just over two years ago, when my children and I and my sister and her kids delivered several bunches of flowers to a random ward. They were the flowers from my husband’s funeral the day before. It had been the first day of the rest of our lives, and not in a good way…

‘Do you have someone to wait with?’ the nurse asked gently.

'They were the flowers from my husband’s funeral.' Image: iStock.

'They were the flowers from my husband’s funeral.' Image: iStock.

My friends and family were wonderful

Pull yourself together . It’s okay. He’s okay. You’re okay.

I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by people since Jeff died. A close-knit family. Firm friends. A wider community of strangers who came together in astonishingly beautiful ways whenever I reached for help.

One friend had offered to sit with me during the surgery and I’d told her not to worry. If I truly needed support, I knew a person would be by my side, probably within minutes. Probably several people.

Savor the moments. Yes, parenthood is the most exhausting job on the planet. Yes, your house is a mess, the laundry's piled up, and the dog needs to be walked. But your kid just laughed. Enjoy it now - it will be over far too fast.

Never take your friends and family for granted. Image: iStock.

Never take your friends and family for granted. Image: iStock.

Having someone to wait with isn’t the problem. It’s the interminable absence of the specific someone I was meant to wait with during every significant event and milestone as they unfolded in our child’s future. My desire to have Jeff by my side could only be matched by how vehemently he’d have wanted to be there.

Another flashback — this time to the only class assembly item we were ever able to watch together, a month before he died. Our son was in Kindergarten. I’d saved Jeff a seat. He dashed in from work, slid in beside me and whispered something savage about Brexit, because it was the day of the vote and he was politically appalled. ‘Hello to you, too,’ I’d said, with a gentle dig in the ribs, and we’d smiled. The Kindergarten class shuffled on stage, dressed as fluffy ducks with bright yellow feather boas, wearing enormous, webbed, cardboard feet, looking adorable. Brexit was forgotten. Everything was forgotten except how cute our son was, how much we loved him and how nice it was to share this.

'One of my happiest memories is the two of us watching our son perform.' Image: iStock.

'One of my happiest memories is the two of us watching our son perform.' Image: iStock.

Our son gave a speech about his late father

Recently, at the official launch of a commemorative book about Jeff’s career, our little boy gave a speech on behalf of the family. It was a bit of a gamble letting him do it, but he knocked it out of the park.

Bursting with pride, and despite it making no sense at all, I found myself searching the room for Jeff. It was as nonsensical as the time I’d searched for him at the refreshments following his own funeral, but you do that when your brain refuses to accept reality.

Play with your children. Let them choose the activity, and don't worry about rules. Just go with the flow and have fun. That's the name of the game.

I will never stop searching for him and he will never appear. Not when I look for him across a crowded assembly hall or on the sidelines of a sports field or in a darkened theatre, wanting to exchange a glance that says, ‘ Look at our boy!’

Mum diagnosed with cancer after husband's death


Mum diagnosed with cancer after husband's death

My grief has finally softened

He wasn’t with me in the parents’ room at the hospital, either. And it’s okay. I’ve learnt to do this without him. Be a parent. Be in the world.

I’m stronger now than when I was in that corridor two years ago, armed with flowers and bravado and valium. I know I’ve got this, for real now. Grief has softened into something that doesn’t hurt so much and I’m learning to love our new life.

But when it comes to our child, I’ll always wish someone was waiting with me. Watching, worrying, celebrating. I’ll never stop searching the room, hoping for one last understanding glance.