One Life Cut Short; Another Changed Forever

A much more pleasant day today was cloudy with occasional glimpses of sun.  I decided to visit 18 Bernard Gardens and 79 Ashcombe Road in Wimbledon.  On Maycross Avenue someone had spilled a bag of gems, and in Woodside, SW19, a child had lost a little bear.  In Mostyn Road I met a man exercising a ten year old white German Shepherd dog.  Passing Building Blocks nursery in Dundonald Road I heard the taunting chant: ‘Nah nah ne nah nah’, and thought of the infant on the receiving end.  Walking up Hartfield Crescent I passed the childhood home of Tom McGuinness, mentioned on 10th. July, who warrants a post of his own sometime.

My days in marine insurance featured in The Drain (6th July).

This was where I met Vivien whom I married in 1963.  We began our married life in my parents’ house at 18 Bernard Gardens.  This was where she proudly brought Michael home and we lived for a few more months until we bought 49 Ashcombe Road for £2,500 (no noughts missing).  In Ashcombe Road we did our own decorating and I transformed a rubble heap into a reasonable back garden mostly laid to lawn for our little boy to play in.  As a recent toddler he helped me push a roller over the turfs we had laid.  This was not to be our home for long.  In September 1965 I went out one evening window shopping for a present for Vivien’s 23rd. birthday which was to be in a couple of weeks time.  Forty five minutes later I returned home to find her dead on the floor of the sitting room.  In less than an hour I had become a single parent.

Years later I was queueing for soap in Floris in Jermyn  Street when the young man ahead of me was offered products from Duchy Originals.  ‘I don’t want any of that stuff.  It goes to charities like unmarried mothers doesn’t it’, was his response.  I leaned forward and said: ‘I’ve been a single parent as it happens.’  ‘I’m bringing mine up on my own’, said the shop assistant.  He was gone.

Now I must return to my awful night.  Deep in shock I collected Michael from his bed, where, thankfully he had been sleeping; gathered him up in his blankets; and carried him up the road to Bernard Gardens.  My mother took us in and eventually put us both to bed.  In my case that was not to lead to sleep for another three days, when I had stopped crying.  Dad came home a little after our arrival.  I can still hear his teardrop hitting my bedding.  I will be forever grateful to the gentleman; doctor, official of some sort, I have no idea, I was past taking it in; who visited me the next morning to tell me that death had been instant and Vivien would have known nothing of it.  My wife had died in an epileptic fit.  I had always known that she could possibly have an accident, but never dreamt that the condition could produce a fatal collapse.  To this day I don’t know whether he said it was her heart or her lungs.

Returning from the funeral I was to find a Health Visitor on the doorstep.  She had not visited before but was making a check up call following Michael’s birth.  He was now fourteen months old.  She fled and never came again.

Michael and I were to stay at Bernard Gardens for the next three years.  Until he was three Mum cared for him alongside my brother Joseph, just three years older.  When Michael was considered old enough he attended a day nursery, where he met his lifelong friend Edward Blakely, and he and I moved to a studio flat at the top of the house which had just been vacated by the Egan family.  I could be sole carer with the advantage of family below who babysat when I went out.  I was able to continue working, collect him from nursery at the end of the day, and, I thought, cook us a meal.  On the evening I began my new routine, never having cooked before, I decided we’d have spaghetti bolognese.  I cooked up some mince in a saucepan.  No herbs, no spices, no onions, no carrots, no tomatoes, just mince.  Hopefully I used some sort of cooking oil, but I wouldn’t be sure.  I boiled the spaghetti until it was soggy and served up.  I don’t remember whether either of us ate any of it, but I do remember thinking, after I’d tucked Michael up in bed and turned to face the washing up at 9.30 p.m.: ‘Blow this, he gets a meal at the nursery, I’m going to the caff at midday’.

I had, by now, realised I could never stay in an office job.  All I needed was a direction.  How I found that direction is a further story.

This evening we had another excellent meal in the China Garden where we went with Becky, Flo and Ian.

36 thoughts on “One Life Cut Short; Another Changed Forever

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  15. I am sorry for yours and Michael’s loss, Derrick. My respect for you has increased multifold (and I didn’t think there could be room for more). I can’t go through your 1000 posts but I am happy you are using pingback so I can glimpse into your past while keeping an eye into your present.

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  17. I’m understanding better now. I didn’t realize Michael was yours and Vivian’s child, I had thought he was yours and Jackie’s child. Oh my friend. I was brought up as an only-child by my father, I have especial respect for fathers who do right by their children especially in those days, it was so rare and so underappreciated.
    It brings to mind the death of that red-haired girl in 4 Weddings And A Funeral, who died suddenly from an epileptic fit. It is without words. I cannot find words for how it could have been for you to discover her as you did. It is a wonder truly you did not completely lose your mind. It shows your fortitude and strength but also in time must have been one reason you are the person you are today, with the depths of compassion you have, because of such a terrible, terrible suffering and loss.
    To lose someone at any age, at any time is insurmountably horrific, and stays with us as a stain in our soul forever. But to lose your young wife at such a tender age with a new born – it’s beyond awful.
    I am truly – truly – saddened and so sad by this and also so respectful of your courage though of course you had no choice and yet, you did and the choices you made were incredible.
    It is not fair (life) that goes without saying but more so in instances like this. There just is nothing that makes this acceptable or natural.
    Michael had one heck of a wonderful father.
    I so wish he had been able to know his mother, she must have been a very lovely lady.
    It is not surprising you were struggling with relationships after this experience, who wouldn’t?
    I am glad that later on the fates reunited you with Jackie but I also understand better, why it would have been so hard the first time around.
    Many people would never have been able to cope with this or have any type of happiness or relationships afterward and it is really a testiment to your love and goodness that you were.
    I so wish somehow I had known you then, if that were possible, and I so hope that your mum and others were there for you at that time, so you did not have to go through this all by yourself.
    I cry for you, I hurt for you, and I am glad to know you better, because all that I find out, only makes me like you more.
    May you never ever experience that pain ever again. Ever.
    Your friend. C

    • Many thanks, my friend, Candice, for your heartfelt words. It was surely a life-changing time, and I have ever been grateful for my stable childhood and close-knit family, and the genes that enabled me to cope. I knew you would have empathy. XX

      • You were a social worker, I was a therapist, very sympatico, yet there are many who work in the field who have no empathy whatsoever, and maybe having too much can be a downfall (as in my case, I couldn’t hack the sadness aspect). Eitherway I understand you on a level some people never want to touch. It is very, very good your family is close-knit, without that we are truly rudderless in such times of angst and great pain and suffering. You have thrived despite this awful set-back and so unfair event. It is so strange to imagine Becky and your life would have been quite non-existent and different had things been fractionally changed. How odd that is – how very strange to imagine other pathways, and yet, not want them, but never embrace the pain leading to the eventual path you were on. So much we shall never truly be able to comprehend. You do a very good job of expressing what is so very, very hard to express and we learn from this, not to ever presume to know what someone else has gone through or how they survived.

  18. Derrick, I can’t even imagine the shock and pain of that time in your life. Thanks for sharing this with me. I had a “good” cry. Earlier this morning I was reading Anne Lamott’s new book, “Hallelujah Anyway, Rediscovering Mercy” and it helped me begin grieving. I have been in shock for three weeks, but now the healing will start. 🙂

  19. Thank you for sharing this story with me. How we overcome the things we overcome in life is always by something much larger than us, or what I like to call the Grace of God. It also never ceases to amaze me the people who come along on our journey to assist us. In your case your parents, neighbors, and nursery.

    As far as the young man at the store who turned his nose up at charity, I applaud you for setting him straight. I know you follow my blog, and perhaps know I have started to check the bargain bin thanks to a kind stranger. In short, I get some looks that clearly say “You are stealing from the poor”, or if I shop after my morning run the looks say, “Poor you”. How we all must continue to educate those around us and learn from one another. I look forward to reading your other links in the post when more time permits.

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  21. Thank you for sharing about this most tragic time in your life, Derrick. And for linking it to your current post, so we could read it. To become a widower and a single dad all at once has to be so very difficult. 😦 That you kept going is an inspiration to us all.
    (((HUGS)))

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