A kiss goodbye

We had so little time to say our farewells...

Published by: Joe Cusack and Jai Breitnauer
Published on: 22 December 2011

Oooh, it was nice to put my feet up at Christmas for once! Normally, everyone came to ours and I cooked, but my sister Angie had invited all of us to her house this year. Me, my wife Kirsty, 32, and our kids Courtney, 11, Chloe, 10, and one-year-old Billy had just landed on her doorstep!
‘I could get used to this,' I winked to Kirsty. ‘Perhaps we can go away next year?'
‘Euro Disney?!' Chloe piped up.
‘Maybe,' Kirsty smiled, getting up. ‘I'm going to make a brew.' Except she wasn't really! Seconds later. the Christmas tree began to shake, and Kirsty leapt out from behind it. ‘Boo!' she yelled.
‘Muu-um!' Courtney cried, leaping off the sofa. That was our Kirsty, a real prankster...
We'd been together since she was 19. ‘We call her our little nettle because she can sting!' her mum Lynn had warned. But Kirsty's wicked sense of humour was just one of the thousand things I fell in love with.
I adored her fun-loving character, cheeky grin and sensitive side, too. I'd had polio as a baby, so walked on sticks, and she always fussed around me.
It was our kids that lit up her heart the most. That was why I'd thought grief would eat Kirsty up two years earlier when our baby Harry had been stillborn.
But I should have known she was made of stronger stuff. ‘There'll always be a special place in my heart for Harry,' she'd told me tearfully. ‘But I've so much love, I need to give it to another baby.'
We'd both been overjoyed when Billy was born a year later.
Life with three kids was a whirlwind. Before I knew it, it was February.
‘I've got some brochures for Euro Disney,' Kirsty said. ‘We need to book early to get the Christmas deals.'
But she seemed breathless and tired. ‘All right, love?' I asked.
‘Got a bit of a cold coming,' she sighed, rubbing her chest.
Over the next few days, the chest pain got worse. Then she found a lump in her neck.
At first, doctors thought she had a blood clot, and she spent the next six weeks having tests. Finally, at the end of March, we were called into hospital. ‘I'm afraid Kirsty has cancer,' her consultant said gravely. ‘A lymphoma.'
I heard Kirsty gasp, and I clutched her hand. Her dad had died of cancer at 35, so I knew she'd be scared.
‘You can treat it, though?' I said quickly.
‘Oh yes! But we need to start chemo by the weekend.'
I helped Kirsty pack a bag, dropped the girls at Lynn's, and took her to the oncology department. It was bleak, sitting there surrounded by the terminally-ill.
‘We should think ourselves lucky,' Kirsty smiled. ‘It's why I want you be to be with the kids this weekend. I'll be home before you know it.'
I spent the weekend texting her, and then she gave me a call on Monday morning.
‘Come in,' she whispered. Something was wrong, her voice was all shaky.
The second I walked on to the ward, I could see it, too. She was tiny anyway, just five feet tall and weighed six-and-a-half stones, but she seemed to have shrunk overnight. Her consultant was standing next to her. ‘I'm sorry,' he said to me. ‘Kirsty had a bad reaction to chemotherapy. It's too dangerous to continue... and scans have shown there are more tumours.'
‘It's everywhere,' Kirsty whispered, tears streaming down her face. ‘Everywhere.'
‘H-how long?'
‘A month, at best,' the consultant said. I felt like I'd been hit with a bowling ball. Stumbling into a chair, bile rose in my throat. Four weeks, and then the love of my life would be gone.
We sat for hours, hugging, sobbing and holding hands. ‘You've given me the best years of my life,' I told her.
Then a nurse explained she could either go home, or be transferred to a hospice. ‘A hospice,' Kirsty said. ‘It wouldn't be fair on the kids for me to die at home.' I was so proud of her then.
I visited her every day at St Ann's Hospice, Stockport, knowing that each one was a step closer to the month deadline. At least she was happy there - they treated her like royalty.
After two weeks, we brought her home for the afternoon, called everyone over. For five glorious hours, we were just a normal family having a barbecue in the sunshine.
When the ambulance came to collect her, Kirsty pulled me and the kids to one side. ‘I made these,' she whispered, handing little packages to the girls and Billy. ‘They're memory boxes. You've each got a letter, photos and some of my jewellery.'
Then she gave me a letter. ‘Don't open it until I'm gone.'
Kirsty deteriorated quickly after that and slipped into a coma. ‘I love you so much,' I said.
The end was close. ‘Bye, my love,' I whispered. The girls said goodbye too, then we waited in the corridor while her mum stayed with Kirsty as she took her last breath a few hours later.
It had been a month to the day since her diagnosis. A few days later, we went to Kirsty's cremation. She'd left strict instructions no one was to wear black. As they began to play Aerosmith's I Don't Want to Miss a Thing, I couldn't help but smile.
‘This was our wedding song,' I whispered to the girls. After the cremation, we placed her ashes with Harry's, as she'd asked.
Back home, I sat alone on our bed staring at the envelope Kirsty had given me. It took all my courage to open it... Don't mourn me when I'm gone. Enjoy life, it read. ‘How do I without you?' I sobbed.
Then I heard a little voice by the door. ‘Where's Mummy?' Billy croaked. ‘I want to have a cuddle.'
I remembered how strong Kirsty had been. I had to be strong. ‘She's with Harry in heaven,' I smiled.
We'll spend this Christmas quietly at home with our thoughts of Kirsty. Next year, I'm planning on taking the kids to Euro Disney. It would be too raw this year but, once the dust has settled, I intend to enjoy life, just like Kirsty wanted.
I still can't believe she was taken from me in just four weeks - I thought we had forever. But with Kirsty, even that wouldn't have been long enough.
Adrian Formby, 34, Stockport, Greater Manchester