Friday, 11 July 2014

Twelve Months On …

Two pairs of slippers sit alone beside the shoe rack in the hall, unworn since the final blood transfusion one week before he left us. During those last few months the brown moccasin pair would get such an outing each week; along with his grey Albion jacket, worn over pyjamas he otherwise lived in. The second pair, closed-toe, open-back, soft and spongy, he wore in America, when we travelled seeking hope one more time; only to return finally defeated and bereft. The football pattern that adorns them would elicit comments and compliments from hospital staff, as he sat in his over-sized pushchair, en-route from hospitality house to clinic.

The jacket, the one he would wear on ever less frequent ventures outside, still hangs on its appointed hook in the under-stairs cupboard. Beneath all the others that have been in and out, taken down and hung up again, over the past twelve months. Much like his blue coat that sits lonely on its peg in the side passage. We bought it in Germany, during the six months that we travelled back-and-forth for treatment. Preparation for harsh winter weather that never materialised. Even so, he wore that coat a lot; it was a good coat. It still is; just destined never again to fulfil the purpose for which it was bought.

Toys, books, games, teddies, consoles, collections of stuff; all as he left them. His key rings; some bought, others acquired from friends and relatives, or sent to him by complete strangers through the Post Pals charity. Sorted one key ring at a time, a few days before he passed, into separate boxes for 'favourites', and 'the rest'. There they remain; just as he sorted them, just as he wanted them.

His bedrooms remain dormant, and mostly untouched.

Bedrooms, plural; for he has two. In the first is a cabin bed with built-in drawers and desk, slept in throughout the time he remained stable. For many months, during which he even joyously returned to school, that we hoped would extend to many more beyond; a hope torn apart as his disease became active again. Thrusting us back into a world of torment.

The second a spare room into which he moved, when his physical condition rendered a cabin bed unsuitable. In there is a single, wooden frame, low to the floor. The first full-size bed bought for our eldest, and which through the years all three of our children have claimed as their own. Whilst the room may once have been spare, it most certainly became his. Small and cosy, decorated in his chosen hues of blue and green; that still adorn its walls today, and which must never be changed.

As time passed, and the cancer took hold, he moved again; sleeping in our bed whilst I took his. In the week of his death a special mattress was delivered, designed to prevent worsening of newly-formed bed sores. It was uncomfortable, made him hot; he was unable to sleep. In the aftermath of a terrible, restless, night, he asked if he could try sleeping elsewhere. We carried him, tired and frail, from our room to his; set him down gently into the bed. His bed.

And there he slept, peacefully, for one final time. Our nine-year-old son.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

In celebration of the life of ...

One of the most undecided things about yesterday's service was what to call it. It wasn't a funeral and neither was it a celebration. In the end, and rather at the last minute, we decided the Order of Service should carry the title 'A celebration of the life of'. It wasn't until after the event that I finally realised what the service actually was, and that there was no conflict in it; a simultaneous celebration of Adam's life and mourning of his death. Mind you, that would have been a rather pompous, and generally rubbish, title to put on an Order of Service.

For anybody who doesn't follow Adam's Appeal on Facebook or Twitter, this is his Chapel Service …


Adam OoS 2


Hey Adam,

After two weeks of not being able to think of what to say to everybody, all of a sudden it dawned on me. It’s not everybody I should be speaking to, it’s you.

I’m very proud of you son. Not for any extraordinary feat, not for achieving this, or winning that. I’m simply proud of YOU. My polite, courteous, kind, caring, loving, smiling, funny, happy, little boy. An ordinary child, with an ordinary child’s outlook on life, despite facing things no child should have to face.

You had every right to bemoan your lot Adam, and yet in four years I could count on the fingers of one hand the times you did so. It would’ve been understandable if you’d grown to hate everything you had to go through, and everyone who put you through it, and yet you never let hate enter your heart. You never envied, you never begrudged, and you never sought pity. You lived each day as best you could; and if today was a rubbish day you didn’t dwell on it, just hoped for better tomorrow instead.

Hospitals, nurses, drugs, scans, transfusions, pokes and prods ... they were a sideshow. Adam’s Appeal and publicity, that was slightly bemusing. Home, family, friends, and having fun that was the important stuff. Remember when we took you to Germany for treatment Adam? You used to cry as we drove away from the house because you were leaving Jake and Jess. We had to refer to them as Thing1 and Thing2 so you didn’t get to hear their names. More recently when you were in America, it was never long before you were ready to return home again.

Things didn’t work out as we’d hoped little man, but know that we always did the best we could, and we always did it out of love.

I knew you Adam. I had the privilege of being your Dad. Others only got glimpses, and some saw only that which I shared with them. Today is your day, and you should take centre stage. So this is my tribute to you - I hope you approve.

Love you son. Always.

Adam OoS 3

Adam OoS 4

Our brother … forever

Your beautiful smile
could light up the room,
like a shining beacon,
the sun, and the moon.

Your infectious giggle
and your cheeky grin.
Your tongue poking out
… well where do I begin?

Loving and caring,
courageous and brave.
You taught us all much
about how to behave.

Gadgets, light sabres,
morphers and guns,
you sure were a boy
who liked to have fun.

That fun and that laughter,
those games that we played.
I really must tell you,
I wish you had stayed.

But you'll be in our hearts,
we are birds of a feather.
Siblings together,
our brother …. forever.

They say there is a reason

They say there is a reason,
They say that time will heal,
But neither time nor reason,
Will change the way I feel,
For no-one knows the heartache,
That lies behind our smiles,
No-one knows how many times,
We have broken down and cried,
We want to tell you something,
So there won't be any doubt,
You're so wonderful to think of,
But so hard to be without.

Adam OoS 5

Adam OoS 6

Adam OoS 7

As I've said to a few people, yesterday was not a day that any parent can look forward to. But thanks to the people who helped put together the service, and those who came and shared it with us, we will always be able to look back on the day with satisfaction and contentment knowing we did it right for our son.

Here is the message I posted on Facebook last night.

Thank you to everybody who came today as we said goodbye to Adam. And thanks for all the messages of support that we have received. It was such a hard day, the like of which none of us have ever experienced before, nor ever wish to again. I would have liked to have gotten all my words out without breaking down, but I always knew that part was likely to get me and having written it I couldn't leave it out.

The day though hard was also wonderful in its own way. The tone was perfect, just as we had wanted it, and everybody who participated made it what it was.

To Roz and the choir for their beautiful rendition of "I wish I knew ..." and for carrying us all in the hymns, Adam and Hels for the perfect music to accompany us in and out, Lisa for preparing the order of service, Martin Ellis for playing the chapel organ, Emily for delivering Alison's chosen reading in her stead. Sincerest thanks to you all.

Thank you to Canon Esdaile who has been brilliant throughout this difficult process, helping us plan the order of service and conducting the services at the Chapel and Crematorium.

Thank you to Epsom College for not only granting us our wish to use the Chapel for Adam's service, but for providing refreshments afterwards in the College and for giving us their total support throughout.

To my wonderful daughter Jess who somehow transformed herself from an emotional wreck to a tower of strength in order to deliver her reading ... I have a heart bursting with pride. As we left the Chapel I said to her how did you do that? She gave me a nod and said cheekily 'it's a gift'. Well it's definitely something special that's for sure.

And to my little boy whose life we celebrated and death we simultaneously mourned today ... thank you for the love that will live on forever in our hearts. x"

Sweet dreams little man. Daddy loves you so much. Always and forever. x

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Service of Thanksgiving ...

DSC 0690  1

A memorial service for Adam will be held at 11am on Tuesday 30th July in the Chapel of St Luke within the grounds of Epsom College, followed by a private cremation for family only at Randall's Park, Leatherhead.

All are welcome to attend the Chapel service. There is no preferred dress-code.

Refreshments will be served in the main school following the Chapel service.

We are requesting no flowers. Anybody wishing to make a donation in memory of Adam, or in lieu of flowers, is asked to do so in favour of paedeatric services (Casey and Ebbisham wards, and the community care team) at Epsom Hospital who looked after Adam with such care and diligence throughout the course of his illness.

A retiring collection will be held after the Chapel service.

Cheques should be made payable to 'Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust' and may be sent c/o W A Truelove & Son, 14/18 Church Road, Epsom, Surrey, KT17 4AB.

An online giving page has also been setup at

In view of the ongoing roadworks near the College, those attending the service are advised to approach from Epsom town centre and use the main entrance, or from Epsom Downs and use the Sports Hall entrance on Longdown Lane South.

I can't imagine ...

They are words you see and hear quite a lot after your child dies, in cards of condolence and messages of sympathy. Words that have a certain appropriateness, to convey how unfathomable it all is.

"I can't imagine …".

To those who have used such a phrase, I can confirm what you already knew.

I know this to be true because I myself could never have imagined. I never understood. For as long as I stood on the precipice, knowing each day was a day closer to losing my precious child, I had no idea it would feel like this when Adam was actually gone. I couldn't imagine for one reason alone — he was still with me. You can try to imagine all you like — at times you cannot stop yourself in fact. You can have dark thoughts in your head; they may consume you at night as you drift into sleep, and still be there when you wake in the morning. But these are your fears, they are not your reality. As much as it feels real at the time, it's not. Not when your child is still there, to talk to, to touch, to love, to adore. Not when your child is still there for you to wake up to.

When you know that you have kissed them goodnight for the last time; will never again hear their voice, feel their touch, hold their hand, smell their essence. When all you have left to look at are photographs. When all you have left to talk to is an empty space, or a once treasured something. When there is no more making new memories, only hoping you won't forget old ones. When you think of things you wish you'd done, or said, or taken care of — stupid little things much of the time — and know you're never going to have that chance. When nothing you can do or say can ever change anything. When you no longer have fears only absolutes. When there is nothing left to imagine. When this is reality, from now until your own dying day. Only then do you understand.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The End ...

This morning at five minutes after nine, lying in our bed at home as we held his hand, stroked his hair, and told him we loved him, our beautiful little boy Adam took his last breath and left this world. He will live on forever in our hearts.

DSC 0690  1

I wrote the following a few days ago, but never got round to publishing it …

Letting go …

Monday 8th July

For reasons I do not fully understand an odd sense of calm has descended upon me these past few days. I think perhaps I have finally come to realise, understand, and begin to accept.

There is a time to fight, and we did that, for as long and as hard as we could; perhaps too long though I don't believe so.

There is a time to hold on, to focus on taking out of each day whatever you can within the limits of what circumstances will allow. We've been there a couple of times. After Adam completed immunotherapy, before a single suspicious lymph node was revealed to be the pre-cursor to full-blown progression. And just recently whilst Adam has been comfortable at home, and we've been able to enjoy simply being in his company each day, overlaid with occasional special moments like our trip to Harry Potter Studios, and the school Tombola.

And then there is a time to let go … and now is that time.

It may seem a bizarre thing to say, but I actually feel fortunate right now. In the context of what we are facing to have had the time that we have, over two months of it, with Adam free of pain, lucid and coherent, has been more than we could have dared hope for. That's not to say it's any easier, or less traumatic, or our hearts are any less broken, or there isn't a constant undercurrent of tears in my eyes ready to burst forth at any given moment. But we have been afforded something that many are not, and as a consequence I've gained a perspective that I otherwise wouldn't have.

We have decided the time is right to stop taking Adam to hospital to receive blood transfusions. It's better that he stays at home where he is comfortable, and we continue to care for him as best we are able. Whilst I have no idea precisely what the coming days will hold, my one fervent wish is for Adam to remain comfortable and without pain.

From the very start of this journey, Alison and I have always done what we believed was the right thing for Adam, for the right reasons. So I can't now allow myself to be the cause of unnecessary suffering through my own selfish (though perfectly natural) desire for Adam to remain with us for as long as possible. Letting go, not giving up. Letting go … the easiest thing of all … and the hardest thing of all.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Return of the Tombola ...

IMG 0021 1 Well, I don't entirely know what to say other than an enormous thank you from the bottom of my heart to all you lovely people who ensured that, as a (very welcome) new addition for 2013, there would be a jar tombola at the junior school's celebration evening.

When I woke Adam up just after 4pm and asked him whether he wanted to go (having changed his mind several times during the course of the day), he said he was too tired and didn't think he would. But it was a rather equivocal no, and so me being me, I gave him a gentle nudge … and he changed his mind again! We agreed a plan; drive up, get there early, spend a couple of quid, make sure he won something, and be home again in half-an-hour …

… or not. We parked his chair in the middle of the stall, and there he remained for the next hour. Studiously examining the jars until he found one (or several) that he liked, then draining the contents of my wallet until he'd picked out enough winning tickets to add them to his collection.

I don't know how many sweets he'll actually eat, though I'd wager not that many. I don't even know how many jars he'll open. We could end up spending longer tomorrow sorting sweets than we did today winning them. Equally they could remain untouched in the bag that we brought them home in.

It doesn't matter.

For two hours today Adam was joining in (well actually he was hogging most of the stall), and having fun. In all likelihood he would have refused to go had he known it was instigated for his benefit.

So thank you friends, know that you did a lovely thing. It's too hard for me to describe what it was like to see Adam go along today and really enjoy himself. I can't lie to you and say my heart was full of joy, how can it ever be? But that's alright, it wasn't about me. I can say that today I have experienced something other than sadness and anger. I was happy for Adam, and I was happy for you all too.

And now I must go and wipe my eyes — I seem to have a touch of hayfever all of a sudden.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

It's only a tombola …

It was the Junior School Summer Fair last weekend, the school attended by Jessica and at which Adam remains, notionally at least, a member of Year 4. I had no desire to attend, of course. I seldom have much desire to do anything these days. Content to watch Jake play football or cricket, because (a) the primary activity is watching, and (b) any secondary activity such as talking tends to revolve around what’s being watched. Beyond these simple pursuits I am, at present, not much of a willing participant in social interaction, save for perfunctory acknowledgments.

On Friday Jessica asked if she'd still be able to go even if Alison and I didn't, and of course we said yes. We had a conversation on the landing about whether we could drop her off at school at 12:30 to meet a friend. Meanwhile, along the corridor  in our bedroom where Adam has taken up residence, little ears were flapping; attention briefly stolen away from the iPad he spends most of his waking hours watching.

"What were you and Jessica just talking about?" he asked as I entered the room. I duly explained.

"I want to go to my school fair too."

"You can go if you want to Adam, that's no problem."

"Well I do want to go, but you know, only if I'm well enough to go, and I know I'm not going to feel up to it, so I won't go. It's okay, Dad, I won't go."

"It's entirely up to you Adam. It's not until Sunday so you don't need to decide now."

"But I know I won't be up for going. Ok, Dad? Ok?"

"Ok Adam."

There is a familiarity in this. Things that Adam wants to do, things that Adam thinks about doing, things that Adam's body simply won't allow him to do. One minute he's going to do something, a few minutes later he cannot muster sufficient energy or enthusiasm to actually do it. The moment has passed and we move on. We have come to accept it for what it is, and will give silent thanks for as long as he retains the capacity to even think in such terms.

At his last full blood count (after which we stopped bothering to even do them any more) Adam's haemoglobin (the main component of red blood cells, responsible for carrying oxygen away from the lungs to the rest of the body) was 2.8. Normal level would be above 12, and for a child on active treatment below 7 represents the lower threshold for transfusing blood. Our expectations regarding what he might be both willing and able to do nowadays are limited, to say the least.

On Saturday Adam woke late. His hours are varied these days. He may sleep until midday or beyond, and might then remain wide awake into the hours approaching midnight. We don't try and enforce any particular structure upon him, but instead allow ourselves to be guided by how he feels and behaves on any particular day. Except for the need to stir him in the early hours for essential medications on days where he has woken exceptionally late, it doesn't present any great burden. He mostly drinks alright considering, and eats little amounts as and when he feels like it; his appearance has become painfully gaunt and pallid. Most importantly though, he remains without pain, and in no distress.

After having a little breakfast he announced that it was time for him to have a bath.

"I need to be clean and fresh for my school fair tomorrow," he said.

I looked at him through sceptical eyes. He'd been in the bath once since we last returned from America, and lasted about fifteen minutes before he was asking to get out again. But he seemed pretty determined, so away I went. For bathing we cushion the bottom of the tub with the biggest towel we’ve got, and use further towels to provide head and neck support. I filled the tub with water, and then as carefully and as gently as I could, lifted Adam up and into position.

And there he lay. Relaxed and content, enjoying the warm soapy water. When the water was no longer warm, but Adam wasn’t yet ready to come out, I refilled the tub with him still in it. After 40 or 50 minutes I lifted his fragile little frame out of the water and onto a chair, wrapped him towels until he was completely covered up, and left him to dry in the warmth of the bathroom.

“Dad, look at my hands, they’re like prawns,” he said, opening his palms towards me.

“I think you mean prunes, son. And yes, they do.”

Clean pyjamas, clean bed sheet, I returned him to our bedroom where he settled back down to his iPad. Normal service resumed.

On Sunday our plans for the day comprised dropping Jessica off at school at 12.30, driving Jake to friends at 1.15 so he could get a lift to his football tournament, and me possibly driving over later to watch him play. The only ‘plans’ we ever have regarding Adam revolve around transfusions on Mondays and Thursdays.

He woke sometime after midday. “Dad, where is Jessica?” he asked.

“She’s gone to the school fair.”

“What time did it start?”

“It started at 12.30, Adam.”

“Dad, I need to get there as soon as possible.”

This was even more unexpected than his request for a bath the previous day. We were not at all prepared. He’d had nothing to drink, no food, no medications, he wasn’t dressed; Jake still needing dropping off.

"I want to get there for the sweetie tombola," he said, struggling with my help to sit himself up into a position from which I could get him dressed. The last time he wore clothes other than pyjamas? I can't remember. Days tend to blend into each other, to be honest, and I don't remember very much of anything.

By the time we were ready to leave the clock had ticked round to 1.30. In the car as we approached school I told Adam not to get upset if there were was nothing left on the on the tombola stalls as they were always the most popular. "I'm sorry Dad, but I will get upset," he said, "That's the only reason I wanted to come." I got Adam out of the car, transferred him into his pushchair, covered him with a blanket, and off we went.

As we entered the playground and saw the two empty tables it was apparent this was not going to be the happy outing for Adam that I so desperately wanted it to be. The only thing he really wanted to do and it wasn't going to happen. Sure we wandered around, he spent a little money elsewhere, but he didn't enjoy it very much. At one point he even pulled the blanket up over his head and had a little cry because he'd missed out. At that point I just felt utterly useless, and completely full of hate about everything.

For those people who came and said hello during the brief time we were there, I say two things. Firstly, thank you. I don't like conversation, but neither is it nice to be avoided (not that anybody obviously did that). Kind of makes things awkward, doesn't it? I know how we must have looked, and making a point of coming and speaking to us wasn't the easy option. Secondly, my ignorance and general demeanour wasn't a result of us being there, it wasn't a consequence of seeing Adam's schoolmates running around having fun whilst he no longer retains the ability to walk, it wasn't heartbreak over the situation we find ourselves in. No, it was none of these things. Instead, it was all down to the bloody tombola having finished before we got there.

For his part Adam didn't dwell on things. We didn't stay long before he wanted to return home, and he hasn't mentioned it more than once or twice since. For my own part I was in an awful mood for the rest of the day, and most of the next. Something that Adam had wanted to do, something that Adam had attempted to do, something that Adam had failed to do — but not because of a lack of anything on his part, but simply through circumstances. That was all I was consumed with, and I was so full of anger and hatred about it.

But I've gotten over it now. It's not so much that I've let the anger go, more that I've put it back in the box along with everything else.

Because after all, it's only a tombola … right?