The last post in this week’s Other’s Day series is an interview with Steve Bland. Steve’s wife Rachael died last year from cancer, leaving behind her husband and their young son, Freddie. Before she died, Rachael wrote a book for Freddie, about her life. We’ll let Steve tell you the rest.
So, Rachael sounds pretty incredible. We read the intro to her book and felt incredibly emotional. Is it something you’re easily able to look at yourself, having lived through those moments with her?
I think for me the book is, more than anything, a source of enormous inspiration. To think that she wrote this whole book in little more than two months, when she knew she was unwell and probably didn’t have that long left, is something I’ll be forever in awe of. And when you read it, you don’t get any sense of anger, bitterness, resentment… it’s amazing. I have the front cover framed in my living room and copies of the book seem to be all over the place. It’s just wonderful.
Can you tell us a bit about her book, For Freddie?
When Rachael was told that her cancer was incurable she knew that she wanted to start to leave a footprint for Fred, so that he would know exactly who she was, her life story and her likes and dislikes. We hadn’t been together for all that long – only seven years when she died – so she knew I wouldn’t be best placed to tell him everything. She also wanted to talk to him in her own voice, so in June last year she started writing.
Initially it was just to be a book for Freddie to read but when she told Deb and Lauren from the podcast what she was doing, they both said they’d love to read it. So she started trying to find a publisher and she started writing more with a wider audience in mind.
It’s clear that you’re all about championing Rachael’s memory and spirit – has this helped you come to terms with her passing too? It seems like there’s such strength to be found in who she was (and still is to you).
I’m not sure she’d thank you too much for saying ‘her passing’! She was all about talking about these difficult issues as openly as possible – including saying that people ‘die’ rather than pass etc – and that attitude helped me so much, especially towards the end of her life. If she could face what she was facing with such courage and humour, then how can I, with a whole life left to live, be anything other than positive.
She wanted to take the fear away from death and from cancer, and while nothing will ever make losing her any easier, because we talked so openly about these things, I feel as well equipped as I could possibly be.
It must have been so hard explaining all of this to Freddie – can we ask how much you were able to tell him together, and how you’ve been able to talk to him about it since she died?
I’ve tried as much as I can to be as open and honest as possible with Freddie. But the reality is that he is too young to have any understanding of the finality of it all. After Rachael died I took him to our room where she had been, and explained to him in as simple terms as I could that mummy had died and wouldn’t be coming back. He cried very briefly then ran off the play with his toys. That’s the reality, His grief comes and goes but when he wants to talk abut mummy, or look at pictures of her, that’s what we do. Rachael will always be a huge part of his life and we’ll talk about her whenever, and as much, as he wants.
Rachael talks in her book about the power of denial to help her make the most of her time – was that something you decided on together?
It was something a friend of ours who had also had cancer said when Rach was first diagnosed. I think on reflection that saying we used denial actually does her a bit of a disservice. The remarkable thing about Rachael was that she actually knew and understood exactly what was happening to her and yet she still achieved what she did. It’s pretty remarkable really.
Of course we tried where possible to carry on as normal and I, in particular, loved those times when we could forget all about cancer. But complete denial was very difficult, especially towards the end.
You mentioned that this Mother’s Day you’ll be celebrating her – do you have anything particular planned?
Not really! I know we’re going to be with my Mum and my sister and her family. I’m verge lucky to have a lot of wonderful mums in my life – Rachael’s mum included – and I’ll be doing what I can to celebrate them as well as Rachael.
Did Rachael go all out on Mother’s Day? Has her approach to it informed what you’ll do this year or are you creating new traditions for Freddie in her honour?
I don’t know if I’d say she went all out. She definitely liked presents! Last year I actually didn’t buy her anything because for some reason I had thought that we didn’t do presents on Father’s Day or Mother’s Day… she quickly set me straight and I spent the day playing catchup!
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for anybody reading this who’s experiencing something similar to what you and Rachael went through?
I think the only thing I would say is that it does get easier, and life can and will be good again. It’ll always be different but it can be wonderful again even though, in the first few days, that seems impossible. She’d never forgive me if I decided to pack it in at the age of 38 with a wonderful son and hopefully many years ahead of me. She used to hate it when people bemoaned turning 50 or 60 or 70 because she’d have given anything to reach those milestones. So I guess the other thing I’d tell people is that this should be a reminder that life is very very fragile, and no matter what challenges you face, while you’ve got oxygen in your lungs, make the most of it.