What d’you want to drink?” my brother asked.
He was standing at the bar, smiling, clearly pleased to see me. I instinctively looked over my left shoulder, turning to Kate.
What d’you fancy?” I asked her.
It was noisy in the nightclub, and lights were flashing all around us. I could see Kate’s outline against the backdrop of disco lights and dry ice. She looked beautiful in the half-light, but then again Kate always looked beautiful. Her pale-blue eyes twinkled back at me, and I felt her squeeze my hand. A split second later I felt a squeeze around my heart, and I knew.
Kate wasn’t actually there beside me. It was just a shadow of her, a hazy illusion of what I desperately wanted to see. I was so used to having Kate at my side that my mind had played tricks on me.
I felt my face flush as I turned back to my brother, who was staring at me, open-mouthed.
Oh my God, Singe, are you all right?” Matt asked nervously.
It was his girlfriend’s eighteenth-birthday party, and he’d been delighted I’d accepted the invitation so soon after Kate’s death. It was my first big night out with members of my family since losing her, and I wanted it to go well for everybody’s sake.
Don’t worry, I’m fine,” I said, meaning it.
Are you sure?”
Yes, I’m sure. Don’t worry, I’m not going mad! Some habits die hard, that’s all. Let’s have a drink.”
Matt gave me a relieved smile, and I beamed back at him. It was good to see Kate again, I thought, though I didn’t say it out loud. She had died less than a month earlier, and seeing her was a little reminder of just how fresh my grief was and how much I missed her.
As I worked my way around the party, doing my best to put other people at ease who didn’t quite know what to say to me, I felt comforted by the fact that Kate was still so close to me. She was dead, but it didn’t mean she had stopped being a part of my life. How could she? She was my life, even though I now had to carry on without her.
I stood on my own for a while, watching the teenagers on the dance floor. They were so full of fun, just as Kate and I were at that age, and in fact for most of our lives together. The buzz in the air and the youngsters’ laughter made me remember our early dates. I pictured Kate in her teens, dancing in skin-tight jeans, without a care in the world. She looked older than she was and never had any trouble getting into the nightclubs, even at sixteen. She always strutted up to the doormen, giving a confident giggle and a wiggle that never failed to impress, and it was often me who was challenged about my age instead of her, despite the fact that I was five years older. Kate always looked stunning, and through the blinking lights and lasers I couldn’t see anyone but her on the dance floor. Her eyes were locked on mine, and I felt like I was the only other person in the room.
After we’d been clubbing, Kate and I would often take a midnight picnic up to Priddy in the Mendip Hills. I could see her aged seventeen, sitting on blankets under the stars, looking for satellites and listening to the choirs of frogs and insects. It was Kate’s favorite place in all the world. There was no light pollution, and the stars burned so bright it felt like we were inside a massive planetarium, just the two of us. I breathed in the smell of Kate’s perfume mingling with the sweet scent of damp grass, and we talked and melted away together for hours and hours.
The memory warmed my heart. Kate and I were soul mates, and we stayed that way for more than twenty years. How lucky was I? Looking around at the teenagers at the party, with all their lives ahead of them, I felt so grateful I had met Kate when we were both so young, and that we had had the chance to spend so many happy years together. That was something cancer could never take away.
Kate’s diagnosis took the wind out of our sails, to say the least. It came literally weeks after our little boy Reef’s own recovery from an incredibly rare and aggressive form of cancer, and so it felt even more unbelievably cruel and unlucky. I remember how I scrabbled around for positives. At least my feisty Kate would fight like a tigress, I thought. Reef had survived against far worse odds, so Kate would beat it too, no question. Reef’s cancer had left him with a slightly withered left leg, which upset his balance, but he had adapted remarkably well, and most people had no idea he had a disability. I knew Kate would show the same resilience, whatever cancer threw at her and took from her.
We’d always lived life to the max. We’d traveled the world and made the most of every day together. We had no regrets about the past, and that was a huge blessing. The most positive thing of all was that I knew for certain that, however ill Kate became, she would continue to squeeze the most out of every minute of every day.
As I begin to write this book, a year after losing her, I can tell you that Kate certainly didn’t let me, or the boys, down. She did us all proud until her dying day, and beyond. Even when she was desperately ill in her final few months she took the boys on trips to Disney World and Lapland and insisted on taking them to see the Snow White pantomime in Bristol just days before she died, even though getting her there in a wheelchair with oxygen tanks proved to be more of a pantomime than the show itself!
She also produced Mom’s List, which she added to right up until the end of her life. Kate wasn’t trying to be immortal and she’d have been humbled by the huge media interest it attracted, which led to people asking me to write this book. The list was for us, not for her, and it was I who unwittingly prompted her to write it when I cuddled her in bed and asked: What if you leave me?”
Kate was a devoted mother and loving wife, and she wanted to give me a helping hand to make sure I raised our boys as best I could without her. When I read the final list after she was gone, I felt less alone. Kate’s spirit lived on, and I was so grateful to her for the massive effort she put into completing it on her deathbed. I still had a link to my fantastic wife and I took great comfort from that.
I think some people worried about the impact the list might have on my life. What if it made Kate’s presence live on so powerfully my grief would never end? What if it tied me to the past so closely I could never move on?
For me, there was never any doubt in my mind. Kate’s list was an incredible gift, no question. I felt sure it would guide me and reassure me and help me build a fantastic future for our boys.
I still have no idea how long it will take me to fulfill all of Kate’s wishes, or even if I ever will. Some may take a lifetime. Only one thing is certain. I am taking every step as best as I possibly can, in memory of my wonderful wife, Kate.
Kiss boys two times after I have gone”
We made it!” Kate giggled. That giggle. That blonde hair. Those cornflower-blue eyes. I looked at my beautiful wife and laughed. She had a knack for making me laugh. Even just hearing that cheeky giggle of hers set me off. That day, once I’d started laughing I just couldn’t stop. I lay back in the wet sand and pulled Kate down with me, cracking up laughing. It reminded me of the day I proposed to her more than twenty years earlier. Then, I’d deliberately made her crash off her skis into a mound of powdery snow. I dived in on top of her and produced an engagement ring from my pocket. She giggled, and we kissed, just as we did now. Back then I laughed with relief that she wanted to be my wife, and with excitement at the prospect of spending my life with such an amazing woman. Now I laughed with relief and excitement again, but for different reasons.
I could feel worry seeping out of me, through my back and into the sand, and I felt a surge of joy and optimism about the future, something I hadn’t felt in a long while. A wave washed over our feet, and Kate and I shrieked and huddled tighter together. As the water ebbed away I felt the terror and the darkness of the past three years wash into the sea and drift away from me. The sun beamed brilliantly, shining light and warmth back into our lives.
We lay back on the sand, holding hands. I thought about how life had changed in so many ways for Kate and me; but in so many other ways it hadn’t. We had two children now, our precious little boys, Reef and Finn, but at heart we still felt like two giddy teenagers, on the lookout for the next adventure. Now, I felt sure, nothing could hold us back.
Propping ourselves up on our elbows, we watched the boys chase each other along the beach. It was summer 2008, and Reef’s fourth birthday was just weeks away. We are very sorry, but Reef may not survive for more than a few days.” I remembered the shocking chill those words brought when he was eighteen months old, and we were given the devastating news that Reef had cancer. It felt like a bucket of ice had been tipped onto my chest, freezing my heart and crushing my lungs. When I tried to come up for air, I was winded with yet more unbearable news. Doctors warned that if he did survive, our little boy would be disabled. We are very sorry, but Reef may never walk again.”
Thinking about it now was like remembering a script from a film or a story about somebody else’s life. It was incredible to think that the child we’d held close and cried over each time he needed a blood transfusion or another dose of chemotherapy was this same, carefree little boy running along the beach. He was our miracle.