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 who 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 79 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.

105 responses to “One Life Cut Short; Another Changed Forever”

  1. […] Tom has been on my mind since yesterday’s rugby story, I walked down to Hartfield Crescent (see 17th July).  On Maycross Avenue, from the shelter of a fir tree above, some birds had produced an action […]

  2. […] This photograph was taken by Vivien and printed by her brother, Bernard.  As will be instantly apparent, I was leaning on a rail near the Tower of London.  This was on one of our lunchtime walks from our workplace at Lloyd’s of London during the year we met. Vivien typed my work in the General Average office of that celebrated Marine Insurance establishment.  We would walk around the City during our breaks.  Little did either of us then know that I would, more that twenty years later, run three London marathons which included the cobblestones by that very spot.  Or that she would have less than five years to live (see 17th July 2012). […]

  3. […] Late in the afternoon the clouds cleared and the day brightened.  I didn’t.  This is because I had printing problems.  As my regular readers know, I am working on a project for Mum’s ninetieth birthday.  I began printing my blog at The Firs last week.  When I came to the pages containing colour photographs, I could not get the correct colours.  This turned out to be because I needed a different paper.  I had only printed a couple of days worth in foggy mists before Elizabeth put me right.  I continued the work, leaving those pages uncorrected, thinking I would sort them out later.  In West End I am using my Canon Pro900 printer.  This, without my knowing why or how, had printed the pages in landscape.  I found it rather pleasing and decided to use the format.  Serendipity, I thought.  Until, back in Morden, I tried to do the same thing with my Epson printer.  The first time worked perfectly.  I printed a beautiful landscape page 1 of the ‘A Condundrum’ post.  Whoopee, I was on a roll.  Not for long.  I spent an hour or so trying to do the same with ‘Choosing a camera’.  Nothing doing.  It was either portrait form or blank paper.  After a while, all tense and frustrated, I decided to cook a spaghetti bolognese.  Fortunately this was far more successful than either the printing or the similar meal described on 17th. July. […]

  4. […] married life in 18 Bernard Gardens.  We had two rooms, one of which was a kitchen.  Only later, when I returned alone with Michael, did I move into a flatlet at the top of the house recently vacated by Mr. and Mrs. Egan and their […]

  5. […] always used a square format. Here, I sit on a cast iron and wooden-slatted bench in the garden of 18 Bernard Gardens to which we had moved as a family a couple of years before, alongside my brother […]

  6. 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.

  7. That must have been so hard…I know about losing someone dear suddenly but having to cope with being a single parent as a result of that is something I cannot contemplate.

  8. 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.

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. What a terrible shock and tragedy cutting short what seems to have been an idyllic partnership. You were thrown a fearsome challenge, but rose to it as I am sure you will do with the equally demanding one just thrown at you.

  13. I reread this to honor you and Michael
    It is so sad the tragedy you both suffered. 🙁
    And I know a strong bond developed between the two of you.
    And now he is gone and I know your heart is broken.
    I am so worried about you and about your Mum…as you both knew Michael from the first moments of his precious life.
    I really believe he will always be by your side and in your heart…and he would want you to remember the good memories and continue to live out your life in his honor.

  14. Oh Derrick! I don’t know how I have missed reading this post before – I am truly grieved for your losses and the anguish you have borne in your life. Now both Vivien and Michael have gone and it seems nothing remains of that chapter ……. but you have been molded by these experiences and, forged in fire, come out a strong and kind man. You also have the memories of a young wife and a beautiful son whom you raised to be a good man. I am so far away, yet still I grieve with you. Warm hugs my friend xoxo

  15. I can’t even begin to imagine. I would just emphasise that you are an inspiration to us all. Your WordPress friends above have written such lovely things, I’d just like to echo them all.

  16. My heart breaks for you Derrick as you painfully recall your past. Just remember my uplifting words from yesterday concerning death and it just being another step in our eternal lives. God promoted your loved ones to the gates of heaven ahead of others and now via their spirits overwatching you….you will over time become stronger and realize the true meaning for our “short” lives her on earth. All will be good Derrick. Hang in there. Gary

  17. I hadn’t read this post before, Derrick. I can see that you and Michael shared a special bond born of tragedy, but that you were also strengthened by it. Also, how fortunate you were to have people who helped you through that difficult time–as you have people now to help you again. I agree with Oglach about your strength of character, and that you are deserving of the love and admiration–including from all of your WordPress friends, who grieve with you.

  18. I was especially taken by your response to the question about maintaining resiliency: “I had a very stable childhood; I was fortunate in my genes; I have been blessed since; and I know one can get through stuff.” That describes my life perfectly, although I’ve never seen it put so succinctly and the “stuff” that I had to go through was quite different. Your comment is a wonderful assurance that you will get through this, as well, and you’re offering reminders to us all that we not only have to endure life at times, we’re also capable of prevailing.

  19. I greatly admire your displays of resilience against what are surely the most devastating trials a person can face.

    Dare i say it shows that Indomitable British Spirit?

    Stay Strong and do what you feel will get you through once more.

  20. I’m glad you are able to share these bittersweet memories of love and loss with us – your website really is a remarkable repository. Sending my thoughts, virtual hugs and best wishes to you, Jackie, Michael’s wife and children and the whole family.

  21. Derrick – I knew parts of this story, but I never knew all of this. Thank you for sharing these posts. We all know that you are remarkable, and these stories help to explain why.

    Still keeping you and your family close in my thoughts. Hugs.

  22. Like many others, I haven’t read all your blog so this has filled in a some gaps for me. I’m so sorry. Even though losing your wife was so long ago, your more recent loss of your son must have brought it back. Be good to yourself.

  23. Reading this a second time didn’t make it easier. For all the joys in your life you have also been dealt some blows. Take care.

  24. Thanks for sharing glimpses of this part of your life with us, dear Derrick. I’m struggling to find the right words and likely failing. My heart goes out to you and Michael, though the crucial event is long past. How fortunate to have your parents to love and help you both at this time.

  25. I cannot imagine what you’ve gone through and how you took this all in your stride…. waiting to read the next post soon. Will do so. Wishing you the very presence of Christ, now, always.

  26. My name is Donna. I just want to say, thanks for sharing. Tremendous story that had me captivated. I want to know more. How are you dealing now? I guess that is my main question. If you ever need prayer, I will stand with you in agreement. God be with you.

  27. Thank you for sending me a link to this blog. I had not heard this story of your past before. What a story! Was Vivien your second wife? Were you and Jackie married before that? Did you have children with Jackie? What a storyteller you are! I can certainly see how this turn of event sin yor life helped you define your purpose. Being a single dad under bizarre circumstances must have been really challenging!

  28. Oh Derrick, how difficult and sudden this must have been. Such a tragic shock. It is a mark of your inner strength to collect yourself and move forward in life. Certainly a path that chose you. I suppose you thought about what if…s for some years after?

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