Notes from an angel

Your letters have helped us get through hard times. So this one's for you...

Published by: Sue Hardy, Ross Keating and Amy Thompson
Published on: 4th October 2010

Dear Cathy,
I remember when our daughter Abbie was a toddler, and I’d creep upstairs at bedtime, poke my head round the door to watch you reading to her.
The image of you two snuggled up together on the chair, Abbie sucking her thumb while you read from her favourite book the Sleeping Princess and Other Tales, well, it melts my heart even now.
We tried so hard for Abbie, didn’t we? We already had Ross, your 9-year-old son from a previous relationship, and I’ve always felt like a dad to him.
But to have one of our own…
You had three miscarriages before we decided to try IVF, but then you fell pregnant before treatment could start.
‘It’s a miracle,’ I smiled. We felt so blessed, threw ourselves into getting our house in High Wycombe ready. Everything seemed perfect.
Until you were five months pregnant...
'I've found a lump on my breast,' you told me anxiously. 'I've got an appointment with the doctor tomorrow.'
‘Are those things normal when you’re pregnant?’ I worried.
‘Everyone I’ve spoken to says they are,’ you shrugged. ‘But I don’t know.’
But after a string of tests we were told you had breast cancer.
'It'll be fine,' you insisted, squeezing my hand. 'We'll get through this.'
You were so strong, my rock when it should have been the other way round.
‘I’m not having an abortion,’ you told me. ‘That way they can start treatment right away.’
We’d just found out we were having a girl.
‘I can’t loose her now,’ you added.
You weren’t prepared to trade her life for yours.
At eight and a half months the hospital delivered Abbie and she was the most beautiful thing.
‘I feel like the luckiest man alive, both my girls with me,’ I told you that night, as I cuddled our daughter.
But your cancer was a dark cloud hanging over us…
You started chemo, and it must have been exhausting being a new mum and fighting cancer. But you were amazing, tending to Abbie’s every need and making sure Ross didn’t feel left out.
Even when you were sick from the treatment, when you lost your hair, you stayed upbeat, and on our wedding day, after your diagnosis, you looked stunning.
But over the next few months the cancer took hold.
‘I’m going to get better,’ you promised me. ‘I’ll be here to see Abbie grow up.’
You were so positive, so sure, I started to believe it too. But just 10 months after we married, you passed away.
Oh Cathy, I thought saying goodbye would be the hardest thing. I’d never thought about how tough life would be without you.
Ross was 13 and missed you like crazy. Abbie was just three and didn’t understand.
‘When’s Mummy coming back?’ she’d ask looking up at me.
‘Darling…’ I’d say gently. ‘Mummy isn’t coming back.’
Her eyes would fill with tears and she’d nod softly. I think she hoped one day I’d tell her you were coming home.
I went part-time as a heating engineer so I could look after the kids, but money and time were tight. Mum and Dad helped but I couldn’t rely on them forever.
Yet how could I fill your shoes? How could I become Mum and Dad in one?
The hardest thing was bedtime.
‘Read me a story Daddy,’ Abbie would beg, holding out her favourtie book – the one you read her every night.
But I couldn’t do it, seeing that book reminded me of your bedtime routine, reminded me you should have been there, tucking Abbie in.
‘How about I make up a story,’ I’d encourage. ‘It’ll have princesses and fairies in it?’
Poor thing, she’d shrug her little shoulder, place the book back on the shelf and snuggle down beside me.
As the years passed, I’d wake each morning missing you so much the pain was crippling. But then I’d be downstairs sorting the kids’ breakfasts, making Abbie’s packed lunch for school, getting to know all the little things about our children you’d known right from the start.
I’m sure you won’t believe it but I even learned to cook!
‘I like Daddy’s cooking,’ Abbie would giggle. ‘My favourite’s roast dinner…’
‘…with all the trimmings,’ I’d chime in. ‘Like Mummy.’
As she got older, I worried how much she’d miss out on not having a mum, worried she wouldn’t remember you.
Then, last year, shortly after she turned 10, she was sorting through her room when she picked up that book the Sleeping Princess and Other Tales.
‘I can remember sitting on Mum’s lap every night,’ she smiled, opening the book. We were both surprised when a slip of paper dropped onto her lap.
Picking it up, we read it together…
To my darling angel, if you’re reading this, I’m no longer here. I want you to know how much I love you and how proud I am of you. I will always be with you.
Love Mummy
I fought back tears at the sight of your handwriting. That was when I realised, despite how positive you’d seemed, you hadn’t been naïve to the fact you might not make it. You must have been so scared but you never once let on.
Abbie’s face lit up.
‘I’ll keep this forever,’ she beamed, hugging it to her chest.
A few weeks later, she was looking at a framed photo of you and her as a baby when she dropped it.
‘Oh no!’ she cried, picking it up. The back had fallen off but luckily the glass hadn’t shattered.
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘It’s not broken.’
But as we put it back together, I noticed something behind the photo – a postcard with a teddy bear on the front.
Once again, your handwriting was on the back.
‘To Abbie,’ I read aloud. ‘I’ll love you always, Mummy xxx.’
‘Another one?’ Abbie squealed excitedly. ‘Do you think there are more?’
I shrugged, smiling.
We haven’t found any other letters yet, but Abbie keeps the ones she has safe in her room and looks at them all the time. You have no idea how much closer she feels to you for having them.
You were always an amazing mum, I should have known you’d find a way to let the kids know how much you loved them even after you’d gone.
It’s been seven years since you died, Ross is at university while Abbie’s looking forward to starting secondary school. She’s the image of you and such a mother hen, wanting to help around the house.
The letters you left have helped us more than you could imagine. So I wanted to write this letter for you, to thank you for being the most amazing wife and mother.
You’ll always be with us.
All my love,

Gary Stanners, 48, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire