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вторник, 21 марта 2017 г.

‘I lost my wife then had to learn to be a mum’

Andy and the children are closer than ever
  Andy Simmons, 46, went from happily married dad-of-two to widower in just 18 months. Here he describes his struggle to raise his two young children alone

How do you tell a four year old his mum is gone forever?
How do you make him understand she won't be able to tuck him in, or make her special pavlova ever again?
There are no words. That's why, when I woke up one night to find my son Jamie rifling through his bedroom cupboards, desperately searching for his mum, I could only look on in pain.
'Mummy!' Jamie shouted, yanking open drawers and peering inside. 'Where are you?' Sitting down beside him, I took his trembling, pyjama-clad body in my arms.

Andy and Angela's wedding day in 2000
'Mummy's dead, Jamie,' I whispered, carrying him into my bed. 'But she loved you so much.'
He looked back at me with incomprehension. I knew exactly how he felt - because I felt it too.
I never imagined I'd end up a widower with two kids to care for.
I met my beautiful wife, Angela, a management accountant, in 1992. We became inseparable. Funny and feisty, she had a heart of pure gold.
We wed in a civil ceremony in 2000. Natalie was born in 2001, followed by Jamie in 2004.
After that, life was pretty idyllic. Cycling trips in the country, family holidays in the south-west of England, Sunday mornings in bed with the kids at our home in St Albans, Hertfordshire It was nothing out of the ordinary - but it was all I'd ever wanted.
But in January 2007, our perfect world imploded when Angela felt a lump in her breast.
It was cancer. A terrifyingly aggressive kind that resisted chemo, a mastectomy, a course of experimental drugs, and Angela's bloody-minded determination to beat it.

"A family was all I'd ever wanted"
'It won't get the better of me,' she insisted. I believed her.
But it did. In the summer of 2008, 18 months after her diagnosis, the disease spread to Angela's lungs. Admitted to a hospice, she went downhill fast. I never got to say a proper goodbye. She slipped away at 3am one night, just after I'd left. She was just 44.
I broke down when I got the call. But I had to pull myself together and tell the kids. They knew their mum was poorly, but Natalie was just six, Jamie only three. What experience did they have of death? If I told them she was in heaven, they'd ask to visit her there, as if it was on the other side of London.
I found the two of them curled up in Natalie's bed. 'Mummy's dead,' I whispered, trying to stop my voice from breaking. They nodded, but I knew they didn't understand.
I didn't take them to the funeral two days later - I didn't want them to be upset and confused by the tears and grief.
The rest of that summer was a blur. Juggling Angela's treatment and looking after the kids had meant I'd barely had a second to consider life without her. But as the three of us rattled around a house that suddenly seemed so empty, the reality of it crashed into me like a truck.
Everywhere we looked, there were traces of Angela. Her favourite perfume, a scarf that still smelt of her, a tissue blotted with her lipstick Little remnants of our old life.
I didn't have time to grieve though - I had two children to take care of. While I could rustle up dinner and work the washing machine, there were some things I couldn't do - like plait Natalie's hair. She would just sigh as I bundled it apologetically into a ponytail instead.
They're scared I'll die too
With no one to share the load, running the house seemed never-ending, so I scaled back the hours of my research job at the British Library. Gradually we fell into a haphazard routine, but emotionally it wasn't so simple. The kids wavered between normality and bewilderment.
I realised the magnitude of what Jamie had lost after he started school and saw that all the other kids had mums to come into class and read during story time. Picking him up one afternoon, I frowned when I saw his pinched, anxious face.
'Did something happen at school?' I asked when we got home. 'Are you OK, little guy?' He shook his head, then started to cry. 'Too many mummies,' he stammered. 'No mummy to read to me.' I took him in my arms. 'I know, son,' I sighed. 'But Daddy's here, and I love you very much.'
In a way, I knew how he was feeling. At the school gates, I felt swamped in a sea of mothers as I hovered awkwardly. Did I stick out like a sore thumb? Look suspicious even?

Natalie and Jamie
Natalie understood better. 'I'm glad Mummy's dead,' she announced one day. 'She's not in pain any more. And she'll be making new friends where she is now.'
But, of course, she still suffered too. As a bloke, I knew nothing about being a little girl, and sometimes my inadequacies became painfully obvious. Like the time Natalie went to the school disco smiling - and came home in tears.
'Everyone except me had mums to do their hair in plaits and put sparkly make-up on their cheeks. I looked stupid,' she sobbed. I felt useless. If this was what it was like now, how would I cope with puberty? 'I'll have to get her gran and aunts to help,' I realised. After all, teenage girls hardly like discussing periods with their dads, do they?
As for me, I operated on autopilot most days. But when the kids went to bed, I'd slump on the sofa, feeling anger at Angela one minute for leaving me alone, the next missing her more than I could bear.
Now, 18 months on, we're muddling through. I'm even learning to plait Natalie's hair. But I still feel the full weight of being a widowed dad. Should the kids have packed lunches or school dinners? What clubs should they join? Where should we go on holiday?
And they don't like to let me out of their sight - I know they're terrified I'll die too. I also worry, so I try to look after myself.
Sometimes I think about how our family was perfectly balanced before. A foursome - two kids and two parents. But now we're out of whack and out of balance.
I long for Angela to be here to touch and talk to, to share all the triumphs and trials that make up every day. But I try not to dwell on what we've lost - I remind myself I'm lucky to have two wonderful kids.
We're closer now than ever. The other day Jamie brought home a plant pot he'd made for me at school and Natalie gave me a card she'd drawn in Brownies. My heart leapt with love.
As for another relationship, who knows what the future holds? Maybe in years to come I'll be ready to fall in love again.
More than anything, I just want the kids to be happy. I want to keep their memories of Angela alive, so we talk about the delicious pavlovas she used to make, and we watch home videos of family holidays in Dorset.
And when people say she'd be proud of me, I just smile. I don't think I've done anything special. I've just tried to do the best I can for two precious little children, who lost their beautiful mummy much, much too soon."

This article has 25 comments
When i read the article dated 25th of april in your magazine, It brought back memorys of when i lost my wife due to ovarian cancer (aged 33) in similar circumstances back in aug 1995. I was left with 3 children aged 2, 5 and 7 living in county durham. I was able to continue working full time due to the support of family and friends, at this time widowed fathers recieved no financial support like widowed mothers did. I became involved in the campaign to bring equal rights to widowed men also and this was successfull in approximatly 1997. Having moved to hertfordshire in 1999, i would like to pass a message on to andy, Life can appear daunting and challenging in the bringing up of young children, however 15 years on i now have 3 caring loving young people making their own lifes and this past experiance has only served to make us stronger. Please feel free to get in touch, All Best wishes. Paul 
By Paul.. Posted May 8 2010 at 4:42 PM.
Reading this article touched me very much. I lost my dear Dad to cancer 8 years ago, but as he was 78 it was somehow easier to accept. I too, under different circumstances, was left more or less wholly responsible for my 3 children and it can be a very difficult job to do with little support. I think you're doing a wonderful job from the sounds of things and the only advice I could possibly give you is to focus on all the good things you do for your children and don't beat yourself up about the things you forget or never get round other words, don't sweat the small stuff. Keep in kind your achievements as a Father and give yourself a huge pat on the back for a job well done.
By Janette Kindleyside.. Posted May 2 2010 at 8:18 PM.
Firstly i would like to say if my spelling is poor it's because i can't see the keys properly for my tears.
I was diagnosed with cervical cancer stage 3 today. I am obviously very upset as i have a 6 year old little girl who i am terrified of leaving behind. I go to christies next week to see what my treatment will be and i'm trying to stay positive. I just want to say what a wonderful job all you single parents do! My dad died whe i was 6 and my mum really tried her best. Unfortnately she passed away in 2004 aged just 58 from a heart attack. I really want to say all your partners would be very proud and you can only try your best in life, like i will be doing to beat my disease.
By kate.. Posted April 30 2010 at 12:31 AM.
Hi Andy, after reading your story and all the other comments, I am still crying like a baby an hour later, I understand what you are going through as my beautiful wife Gillian, aged only 34 was taken from us in December 09 from Cancer, I remember speaking to the doctor in the October asking for a straight answer and him telling me 6 – 18 months, 2 months later she was taken from us, leaving me with twin boys aged 2. At this age the boys really don’t understand but I did have to sit down and explain to them that mummy was dead and she would not be coming back, how I managed that god only knows. Thankfully we have been left with hundreds of photos from our trip around the world which I have now put on the computer and we now have a “Mummy day” and look at all the pictures, which the boys love and kiss the screen for hours. Keep up the good work, im sure your doing a great job.
Does the pain ever go away ??? 
By Steffan Santry.. Posted April 29 2010 at 4:07 PM.
Half way through this article the tears appeard as i could relate to Andy's situation not because i have lost my husband because thankfully i have not, but because i lost my Mum when i was 18. She lost her life to ovarian cancer 51/2 weeks after she turned 40, she left not only my Dad and i but also my sister 12years old, brother 5years old and my little sister who turned 3 a month after her death. I selfishly absorbed myself in the arm of my now husband leaving my Dad to deal with it all the best he could and i have to say he did a bloody good job. Now twenty years on all of us have turned out to be good people and are very close, we talk about our dear Mum lots, one because we wouldn't want to ever forget her and two to help the younger two kwow what a kind and wonderful person she was. The hardest times are the special times like my wedding day, the birth of my 3 children, my brother graduating from university, and my youngest sister having her baby and her up and coming wedding day will not go by without me thnking of Mum. I told my own children that their Nanny Christine lives up with the stars and is watching over them. To Andy i'ld like to say i think you are doing a wonderful job and i'm sure your children will grow into happy strong adults. I was told by someone that "all the best flowers are picked from the garden" and that is so true. x
By Debby.. Posted April 27 2010 at 5:05 PM.
This story has touched my heart so much as I can relate to it myself. I lost my partner, Emma, 12 years ago 3 weeks after she gave birth to our son, we also had a daughter aged 4. She died through complications from the birth and after fighting for 3 weeks in intensive care she was taken away from us, Emma was just 26. I like Andy was crushed and all I could think was how do I tell my 4 year old daughter her mum had gone forever, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I had to turn off my grief over the next fews years to make sure our children had the best start in life possible and with the great help and kindness of both my family and Emma's family I feel we have achieved this. My children are my life and I love them both so much, my daughter now nearly 16 is the spitting image of her mum and my son, 12, loves to ask questions about his mum to find out all he can about her from myself and his grandparents, Emma's mum and dad.
I wish you all the love and best wishes in the world Andy and hope you get the chance to read this to know you are not alone in your heartache, there are always people around to help and support you through the tough times
By Alan Brannan.. Posted April 27 2010 at 11:31 AM.
By the time i had read your story i was in tears.I lost my husband nearly ten years ago, i have two children at the time my eldest daughter was 6 and the youngest was 4. my husband had a massive heartattack no warning, he was getting ready for work at the time. Good luck and all the best you have your children they will be a great help to you. by Mrs E Gladwin.
By elaine gladwin.. Posted April 26 2010 at 6:51 PM.
Reading Andy's story truly touched my heart. I lost my darling sister 6 months ago (Oct. 25 2009) of colon cancer. From the time she found out she had stage 4 cancer to day she was gone took only 10 days. My brother-in-law just like andy is soooo amazing. He is looking after their 4 year old daughter beautifully and has not excluded my family from her life. We are so blessed to have him and are so proud of him. I am sure my sister like Angela is so happy to see how my brother-in-law is taking care of their little angel. keep up the great work Andy and be proud of yourself.
By Fay Zadeh.. Posted April 26 2010 at 2:52 PM.
Andy my heart goes out to you, i am in a similar situation although my kids we 17 and 20. even so it was the hardest thing I have ever done was to tell them that there mum was not coming home form hospital.

One of the hardest thijng i have to cope with on a daily basis is being a single partent. Irrespective of what people say Mums and Dads are diffeent, and how do you play good cop bad cop when there is just one of you.

I know it must have been hard writing this but it does help all use other widows out realise we not on our own.

all the best for the future and enjoy the past.
By Ray.. Posted April 26 2010 at 1:51 PM.
Andy i have just read this story and your wife would be so proud. I am also having to be mummy and daddy to my 6 year old son and my 4 year old daughter. I had to break the awful news to my kids that daddy had gone to heaven just six weeks ago. My husband was just 31. It started last April when we got told my husband had a tumour in his right leg and his only survival was to have his leg amputated and within a week of getting this news his leg was taken off. He had done really well to do everything he had to to get home and a week to the day he got his leg removed he was home. Then in November after a flight home from London he took no well. So after more tests he was told his cancer was back and in both his lungs this time. He was offered a trial chemo which he agreed to give a try. First round went well and was a bit unwell afterwards but the second round was the killer. His kidneys started to fail and ended up on dialisis. So after a week in hospial to get treatment to make him better he died and we are all devistated. So take care and treasure the memories and keep up the good work x x x Fiona x
By fiona ferguson.. Posted April 26 2010 at 1:05 PM.
I sit here and cry reading your story.. as I cannot believe how cruel this disease can be!!! I have 2 beautiful children who are fast asleep and pray every day that I will be here for them forever.. but as we all know nobody knows whats aroud the corner... you are doing a fantastic job and just remember your loving wife is watching over you. Look after yourself amd treasure the memories you have xx
By Michele Parsons.. Posted April 25 2010 at 11:19 PM.
Andy, I just wanted to tell you what an amazing job you have done and are doing. Yes, to you it is 'just what anyone would've done', but it really isn't. I can feel the love you have for your children and your late wife, and you should be so proud that you are taking the time to listen to your children, that they come and talk to you, and that you've been honest with them all the way. My husband died very suddenly and unexpectedly last April, aged 34, while away for a boys' weekend with our, then, 3 year old son. Four days before our daughter's first birthday. My son managed to alert somebody who called an ambulance, but his Daddy, my beloved husband, died at the scene inside the ambulance. It then took me 6 hours to get down to where they were and tell him that his Daddy could never come back. I know the questions you've had to face, and know how hard it is to answer them. Some questions can never be answered. YOU are doing an amazing job, and you should be very proud of yourself. Well done Mate. Your children are very lucky to have you. xxx, Elke
By Elke Barber.. Posted April 25 2010 at 9:43 PM.
I am so proud of you being able to tell your story and trying to make the world how hard it is for us to be thrown into this young widow lark.
It is hard and to be thrown in to care for the children when trying to explain to them where mummy or daddy are now is so hard.
I was only 34 when i lost my hubby, again to this cruel disease they call cancer.
I hope that no one ever has to go through what I did but sadly I know they will.
Well done Andy in what you are doing and keep up the really good work.
By anon.. Posted April 25 2010 at 9:43 PM.
As I read Andy's story my five year old was sitting next to me, my one year old was asleep and I just thought, what would I do if that happened to me? I got a lump in my throat and my eyes filled up. You are doing a wonderful job and the best of luck and I'm sure your lovely children will be fine and they will know their mum loves them through you.
By Sarah Swan.. Posted April 25 2010 at 9:18 PM.
i think u have done an amzing job so far your wife would be so so proud of you..she will be looking down on you with a big smile on her face knowing her children are in good hands
and tbh iv just broke my heart reading this story it makes you think how lucky you are to be here with your children 
By anonymous.. Posted April 25 2010 at 9:05 PM.
Dear Andy - My sister died at the age of 23 leaving 2 young children in 1981 - I know first hand what you are going through - do include Angela's family and do keep Angela's memory around as my brother in law met someone who banned photos of my lovely sister Carole from the children and they suffered a lot from it. I was so touched by your comments which proved how much you loved Angela and how much you love and respect the children - but dont forget yourself as I am sure Angela would have wanted you to give yourself a life too - Please feel free to email me if you want to chat anytime - The memory never dies, but that does not mean you should not meet someone - my husband and 2 children have certainly helped me to get over my sister, but missing out on her children and their children has been a real rench! Best wishes to you and your family. Take Care
By Lynne Woodward.. Posted April 25 2010 at 9:01 PM.
Andy your wife will be proud of you and
just read all the comments, and I think peter craven.. you need to contact The Way foundation(see end of article) as soon as you can, good luck to you.
By nk.. Posted April 25 2010 at 6:39 PM.
What a lovely man. He's had to cope with losing his wife young and bringing up 2 young children. I cried when i read his story. It can't have been easy for him and i admire his strength in all he has had to cope with. Stories like this make you think about things that happen to yourself that seem so trivial now. I will never complain about anyone again, life's too short. Good luck Andy, your beautiful children are a credit to you and your wife would be so proud of you.
By jools.. Posted April 25 2010 at 4:21 PM.
Andy you are doing the best job and your wife is proud of you, no matter how many times you hear this its true. Cancer is evil, my dad, grandad and my sister all died of cancer and it is horrible to see healthy family members going through this illness. You have two very lovely kids and I hope and pray that God will give you the strength to continue doing what your doing for your family. NM
By NuM.. Posted April 25 2010 at 4:03 PM.
hi just needed to comment on this .... im a 41 mum to 2 little girls, i met my husband 4months after his wife died of cancer , we dated and had the kids got married and life could not have been better , then on the 11th feb 2008 he went to work and just died leaving me and a 3 and a 4 year old daughters i never said goodbye ... i wish my daughters had there daddy ... always wonder why me but life has to go on x
By nicky.. Posted April 25 2010 at 3:35 PM.
i cried reading andys story,my wife died last year aged only 44.she was diagnosed with a very aggresive form of lung cancer at the end of last april,we were told she had a couple of long mths.and sadly she died on 1st july.i stuggle every day and still cry most days.the cancer didnt just kill my lovely wife it has destroyed me.i even considered suicide but im not prepared too put my daughter and my stepchildren through that.all i can do is struggle on.
By peter craven.. Posted April 25 2010 at 2:12 PM.
God love you all, i lost my mum to cancer 3yrs ago and i was and still am devastated,its the most horrid thing in the world to feel and i know only to well. What a brave man,and what a fantastic father he should be really proud of himself. Those 2 children are well loved and to lose ur mum at such a young age, well, words cant describe how you feel!!!. I am a mother myself to 5 wonderful loving and boystrous children and that is my biggest fear,to leave them in this world.I know that deep down inside andy must have been angry,coz i too was angry,but you just have to let that go,when your little boy was looking for his mummy in his closet that made me cry and laugh too,because kids just dont understand but yet they sometimes make better sense of things than we do. Your kids are beautiful and your wife would be very proud of you,please keep strong and know that you are a fantastic daddy that deserves happyness,good luck:)
By MEG.. Posted April 25 2010 at 1:11 PM.
I could so relate to Andy's story, it made me cry reading it. I also was one of those children that lost my mum when I was 10 years old, my mum got cancer when I was 6 years old, my Dad also had 2 young children to bring up (both girls) he to also had to learn to be both mum and dad and was there when we got our periods, he done a fantastic job of bringing us up and I love my dad so much, yes it does hurt not having had my mum around, I am now 35 and it has been nearly 25 years since my mum passed away but I always lay flowers down for her and will never forget her but am so proud to have my dad and could not have asked for a better dad. Andy I know it is probably hard at times but I am sure you are doing a great job bringing up your children who when they are older will be proud of you just like I am of my dad. Your children look very happy, always give them plenty of cuddles even when they get to my age as I still love to get a cuddle from my dad.
By Sarah Godwin.. Posted April 25 2010 at 12:37 PM.
i have just read this story i lost my husband to cancer a year ago he was 69 but i am only 32 we have 2 sons 14 and 10 it does get easier but it is hard my sons had counselling just after their dad died it helped them alot talking to someone outside the family circle. keep your chin up you will never forget cherish the memories you had together. take care take one day at a time
By mrs diana downes.. Posted April 25 2010 at 11:25 AM.
Have just read this and it was just like reading my life story. I lost my wife to cancer in November 04 when she was just 41 and i was still 40. She had been diagnosis with end stage cancer of the bile duct a rare cancer that kills 4 out of the 5 people that are diagnosis and only 475 are diagnosis a year.She to only had a little time as we were told that she had the cancer at the end of May 04. She went through chemo in the hope that she could be the 1 in 5 that it works for but it failed. Good luck mate and remember that you have the living memory of her looking upto you everyday in hers and your children and you will see her in their eyes everyday.

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