Telling the Children.


We told the boys. A week before their tenth birthday.

We’d decided we weren’t going to tell them anything until nearer the time. Not sure what the fuck “the time” is, but death, I suppose.

We’d certainly wanted to wait until we’d seen the oncologist, in case some whizz-bang trial had just appeared which would change everything. I can’t begin to tell you how uncomfortable it feels to ask someone to absolutely guarantee your husband will die, but it was important to us that we weren’t about to break the boys’ hearts, only to have to try to piece them together again a few months down the line.

That day, we met with him for the first time since the terminal diagnosis, and we knew it was serious when he did that sort of closed-mouth half-smile thing that people do when they need to rip someone’s heart to shreds, but in the most sympathetic way.

Still, the oncologist (let’s call him Dr Death) was pretty certain there would be no sudden miracle cure appearing on the horizon in time for us, despite the news in that day’s papers (and not just the Daily Mail) that immunotherapy was imminent and showing promising results. It isn’t that simple, apparently.

According to him (and I do trust that he knows these things,) children fare far better when they’re told the truth from the start. We’ve always told our children the truth about everything, provided it’s in age-appropriate terms for them to understand, and hiding the truth about their daddy’s health was beginning to eat away at us. We could barely look at them in case we gave something away. So, with the added assurance that no, there really was no way that my hubby would ever recover from this, and frankly, if by some miracle he does survive, the children are not going to be upset about that, we decided to sit them down and tell them the truth.

We’ll make ourselves a nice cup of tea, some Vimto for the boys with extra ice, put out a few biscuits on to a plate… yes, of course you can finish your game on the xBox, but then just pop in here onto the sofa and we’ll cuddle you and tell you your Daddy’s cancer can’t be cured. The doctors have worked so hard, but it’s gone too far and they can’t reach the bits they need to. Yes, my darling, he will die. We don’t know how long… a year, maybe? Maybe more, maybe less. We’re so, so sorry. I know. Come here.

They cried. My God, they cried. One went very quiet and just wanted to hold his Daddy. The other went outside the room, punched the wall and screamed. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve it. We held them both tight and made all the right noises. We loved them so much – more than we ever have before.

Then, our older twin wandered off and returned with his iPad. Hubby and I looked at each other and wondered which cure for cancer he’d looked up on the internet, and wondered how we might gently tell him that we trusted in the people in charge of his Daddy’s care, and ask him to believe we were all doing the best we could to keep him alive, and please not to tie himself in knots trying to find a cure that doesn’t exist.

“What’s this, my darling?” I enquired, gently.

Through his tears, “it’s” he replied. “We’re going to have to find you a new husband.”

At this moment. I couldn’t be any further from wanting to be someone else’s wife if I tried. Bring on the hair loss, the sickness, the lethargy and the misery. Throw all the chemo at him that he can handle. There’s nobody else I want to be their Daddy, but their Daddy.

Love Fanny x

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