She just couldn't cope!

Summer kept me going...

Published by: Amy Thompson and Kim Willis
Published on: 13th July 2010

They say having kids changes your life forever. But cradling my baby girl Summer just three months earlier, I could never have imagined how different my life was about to become…
Staring at the piece of paper in my hand, my girlfriend Sarah’s handwriting scrawled across it in blue ink, I wiped away tears.
Dear Ellis, I read. I can’t cope. I’m sorry to end it this way, but I know Summer will be safe with you. Look after her as best you can. I love you both xxx.
It must’ve been the hundredth time I’d read it, trying to make sense of what had happened.
Since I’d met Sarah 18 months earlier, I’d known she suffered with bouts of depression, and she didn’t have a close-knit family like mine to support her.
But when she found out we were having a baby a few months after we’d met, she’d been thrilled.
I’d hoped it was the turning point she needed to be truly happy. And for a while, it’d seemed that way.
So, when I’d walked into the lounge one morning to find Sarah collapsed on the floor, I couldn’t believe the doctor’s diagnosis – she’d died from an overdose of antidepressants. The police found her suicide note.
Now with it clutched in one hand, and three-month-old Summer wailing in the other, I’d never felt so helpless. How could I be mum and dad to our baby? Rocking Summer gently, I choked back tears.
‘It’s okay,’ I soothed, gazing into her warm brown eyes, so much like Sarah’s. ‘Daddy’s here.’
Gripping my little finger, she squeezed it tight, her face brightening into a grin.
‘It’s you and me now,’ I told her. ‘I’ll never leave you, I promise.’
That was when it hit me just how much having a baby would change my life. Without her mum, it was down to me to make sure she grew up knowing how much she was loved.
I had to keep going, for Summer.
I gave up my job as a builder, and me and Summer moved into a new place after Sarah’s funeral.
I couldn’t face going back to the flat where Sarah had died.
Luckily, I’d always been a hands-on dad, helping with nappy changes and feeds. Still, getting to grips with being two parents rolled into one was tough.
While the lads I used to work with on the building site popped out for a pint after work, I was making up bottles and changing nappies.
Whenever I started to feel sorry for myself or miss Sarah, though, Summer would do something to remind me of what I still had.
The first time I heard her laugh, I couldn’t help chuckling, too.
And her first words sent a rush of love through me.
‘Dada,’ she gurgled happily, grinning up at me and reaching out her chubby hands.
‘That’s right,’ I beamed, carrying her to the windowsill to pick up a framed photo. ‘And this is Mummy.’
Summer gazed at the picture, running her fingers over the glass. Then she looked back at me and smiled the biggest smile I’d ever seen. Just a few days later, she was gabbling the word Mama every time she saw Sarah’s picture.
As the years rolled by, I made sure she knew all about her mum. I’d even kept a memory box for her with Sarah’s jewellery and pictures.
‘This was your mum’s favourite bracelet,’ I told Summer when she was four. ‘She wore it all the time.’
‘Can I keep it, Daddy?’ she asked, holding the gold bangle.
‘It’s yours,’ I smiled, kissing her forehead.
Every day, I watched as Summer grew more like her mum – the same dark hair, her eyes, her bright smile. She even shared her mum’s stubborn streak.
‘Your mum used to stick her bottom lip out like that when she didn’t get her own way,’ I chuckled at Summer one day.
Suddenly, her mouth turned up at the corners into a huge smile.
‘Really?’ she beamed.
When she started school, and the other kids asked why her daddy always picked her up, she didn’t get upset. ‘My mummy’s up in heaven with the angels,’ she explained simply.
I knew Sarah would’ve been so proud of our little girl. It broke my heart she was missing out on seeing her grow up, and I vowed not to take a second of it for granted.
Only, when Summer was five, I faced devastating news. I’d had a lump in my neck removed a week earlier, and was going in to have my stitches removed after doctors told me it wasn’t cancerous…
‘I’m sorry Ellis,’ my consultant said gravely. ‘But there was a mistake. Your tumour is malignant, you have cancer – and you’re one stage away from being terminal.’
My world came crashing down. My body went numb as one image flashed before my eyes – Summer’s face.
She’d already lost her mum, I wasn’t going to leave her, too.
‘I don’t care what it takes,’ I said. ‘I’m going to fight this.’
Starting radiotherapy, I explained to Summer how poorly I was. I didn’t want to lie to her.
Sitting on my lap, her brow creased with concern as she wrapped her arms around my neck.
‘Daddy’s going to get better,’ I promised. ‘There’s nothing to worry about.’
She nodded, but didn’t loosen her grip on me.
For six gruelling weeks, I dropped Summer off at school before heading off to hospital for treatment, then went home to clean the house and get tea ready.
When my hair started falling out from the treatment, I sat Summer down. ‘Want to help me cut my hair?’ I grinned, pulling out my clippers.
‘Yeah!’ she nodded with glee.
It might sound brave letting a five-year-old cut clumps out of my hair, but that was the thing with me and Summer, we’d been through everything in life together.
I trusted her with my life. And that’s exactly what I was doing – trusting that the bond we shared would pull me through.
On the days I felt too tired to carry on, I forced myself to get up and make breakfast, to take Summer to school. I wouldn’t let anything disrupt our routine.
Then, last December, I got the news I’d been praying for.
‘You’re all clear,’ my consultant smiled. ‘The cancer’s gone.’
Breaking down, I hugged him with relief.
I’d fought my way back from the brink of death – I’d kept my promise to my little girl.
Now Summer is seven and thriving. I still think that without her I wouldn’t be here. She’s given me the will to carry on when I’ve felt like giving up.
They say having kids changes your life. It does – Summer’s made mine worth living.
Ellis Wilde, 42, Cannock, Staffordshire