Thursday 16th November 2017.
My beautiful little Jaffa Cake. Yesterday was your Daddy’s funeral. A day neither you or I should have had to witness for many years to come. You’re too tiny to remember it, thank goodness, and so cooperative that you slept all the way through after I fed you on the front pew of the church for the first hymn and tributes. I was prepared to be breastfeeding in church, on the day I was dressed in black with my yellow scarf for Daddy; playing – being – the (far-too-young) widow. The vicar was prepared too. And, as we’ve had to do, you and I just got on with it.
The tributes were beautiful my darling, and one day you’ll be able to read or hear them yourself. I’ll ask your Grandads and Auntie Debbie and Sarah, Andie, Gavin and Ric to read them for you. And I’ll tell you all of the things I said about Daddy in church, and all of the things I have said otherwise, and all of the things I haven’t said. There’s so much to tell you, and so much we all want you to know about the wonderful man we were lucky enough to have in our lives. He was in your life my darling – literally at the very second it began, and he’s in every cell of your delicious little body. But for the record, here is what I said about him, to a packed church of 200-ish people. I’ve never been one to calmly accept a public presentation challenge, and I genuinely saw myself stumbling and crumpling to the floor with grief, or at the very least sobbing so hard the words just wouldn’t be said. Auntie Katie was ready to read for me. I asked Daddy though to be with me, to give me his strength to do it, because I wanted to do it for him, because I felt like I owed him that tribute. And you know what,my lovely little Cinammon Stick? He must have been there, because I did do it, and the words were said and heard.
In the few days after Steve’s crash, I learnt about the Japanese concept of Ikigai. It means something along the lines of ‘purpose in life’, your reason for being, the thing that you live for.
Well, Steve was my Ikigai.
I knew that Steve and I were going to be something the Christmas Eve we met, and I fell in love with him very quickly after we started seeing each other in the January. We spent just about every evening together, late into the night. He took to my new puppy Maya, and she fell in love with him too – and has loved him best ever since. Steve told me more than once that by the time we went to Kefalonia that first summer he was thinking of proposing, so the falling in love quickly was mutual.
It wasn’t just one ‘falling in love’ though. I fell in love with him every day for the nearly seven years we were together. He gave me butterflies every time I saw him, and I’d be excited about seeing him at the end of every working day. I fancied him always. I’d regularly stand and watch him from the window while he turned the bike’s engine on, then methodically pull on his helmet and gloves. I’d watch as he rode off the drive and down the street. And when I heard the engine rumble when he got home, I’d often open the front door and watch him dismount, turn it all off and remove his gloves and helmet again. He didn’t know I was watching him til he turned round, and then I’d get that stunning smile and the twinkling blue eyes. I loved being on that bike with him, loved being able to share it with him in a way no-one else ever did. Our bike trips round Scandinavia, the Lake District and down to Tuscany last autumn are some of my most special memories of our life together. In his element, just the two of us in our own little bubble, that close together for thousands of miles, talking and singing and laughing. Discovering the most beautiful places together. But now I’m so sorry for not having hated the bike, for not putting my foot down. I trusted him with my life getting on it, but it turns out I shouldn’t have trusted him with his own.
But trying to stop Steve doing the fast stuff would have been an attempt to change who he was, and we all adored who he was. He loved ‘doing stuff’, trying new things, ‘experience’ gifts. We really did spend the last seven years filling them with experience and fun. We snowboarded and skiied; we paraglided off a mountain together; we went shark cage-diving in South Africa, and rode camels in the Moroccan desert. We caved in the depths of Derbyshire. We Scuba dived, went indoor sky diving, and communed with Orang Utans in the Bornean rainforest. We laid in the fields at the end of our road in the depths of a Sunday night, watching out for a meteor shower. Steve started riding the Cresta run and scared the life out of us both when an infected graze on his knee required hospitalisation for three days, and the words ‘necrotising fasciitis’ were mentioned. We learnt about wine and how to wallpaper and about wildlife photography. We learnt to dance, and kept dancing. And then we made a baby.
Steve would have been as close to perfect as a father as it’s possible to be. I spent a long time being scared about the prospect of being a mum, not believing I was a good enough person to do it, but I knew Steve was good enough for both of us. That he’d be fun, patient, gentle and fair. He balanced me out and softened what I used to think of as my spiky self. Steve was the best person I’ve ever known. He was accepting, kind and supportive. He didn’t criticise. He never made me feel bad about myself, or about my anxiety and OCD, even when I was being ridiculous. Once, when we’d been staying near Stockholm, he turned the bike round 20 minutes down the road after having left the airbnb cabin, because my OCD was fretting. I had visions of having left the hotplate on under the wooden kitchen shelves and leaving the cabin to burn to the ground while we rode off to Gothenburg. So Steve, ever considerate and kind, drove us the 20 minutes back and went in and checked. Of course we’d turned it off. We’d always turned it off. But he didn’t make fun of me, or criticise me, or make me feel foolish. He never did.
Another instance that sticks in my mind and demonstrates what a beautiful soul Steve was happened in our kitchen a while back. A friend of mine had begun to come out to a few people as transgender, and had come to dinner with me at home as his female identity. Steve had met my friend in his previous, male, identity in the past, and now knew about the change. When Steve came home that evening, he greeted my now female friend as he would any of my other girlfriends. No judgement, no avoidance. Just acceptance and kindness. It’s what I previously wished for Willow when she was a new bump – to have compassion bestowed and to be compassionate towards others, even if something is out of her own experience. For her to be like her Daddy. The world would genuinely be a kinder place if more people were like him.
I was always in awe of Steve – his abilities, talents, strength, focus. And of his beauty. He was absolutely gorgeous. He was competitive, and good at pretty much everything he tried, but never ugly about it. He was infuriatingly good at Boggle (last Christmas he got ‘bromine’ and ‘bromide’ in one shake), and he was great on the slopes. In the past he got to brown belt in Ju Jitsu, and he was obviously a wizard when it came to the coding world he worked in. But he was gracious in his abilities, and always encouraged mine. He found me an app so I could practice boggle when I asked, (although he then started practising, which somewhat defeated my purpose!). He was patient and encouraging when I lost all my skiing confidence and simply couldn’t turn right down the slopes last year. He taught me to snorkel and how to dive off a boat properly and he was sweet and solicitous when I got terrified at the size of the quad bikes we drove up a mountain in Iceland.
Recently I discovered just how modest he could be. He used to play badminton after work with his work bunch, and he always told me how much of a good player one of the others was, but that it was fun to play anyway. That other player in the last couple of weeks told me, “First time Steve came out to play badminton, we were amazed! He would get every shot and made some unbelievable drop shots. He would always do it with a smile on his face and even though he was so tough to play against it was fun!” Steve had never suggested that is was he who was the demon to play against.
He never assumed he knew it all, or had nothing to learn; he was always up for learning more and new things, and for sharing the knowledge he did have. I loved learning from him, and learning with him. About pregnancy, babies, engine maintenance, a bit of Russian via Duolingo. I remembered the other night how we learnt to play backgammon together by candlelight with a glass of wine during Earth Hour last year, and then how every so often of a late evening, he’d close the laptop quite decisively and ask, “Shall we play backgammon?” We’d sit on the living room floor and play together. Last time was only a few weeks ago, when I was constantly fidgeting around the size of Willow’s bump. That seems so recent that it can’t possibly be something we’ll never do again; it’s one of the realisations that made me utterly miserable this last week. Steve pretty much thrashed me every time we played backgammon, but I loved playing with him, and would happily have lost against him for the next fifty years.
(I did thrash him once at Star Wars Monopoly; he was playfully annoyed, and I was probably more gloaty than strictly necessary. But it was rare, so I made the most of it, and he happily let me).
This last year and a half in particular Steve demonstrated every single day how amazing he was. He supported the meditation I started; he’d happily let our plans for even our busiest days include a protected slot for my meditation. He read the ‘Mindful Pregnancy’ book I asked him to read, and I even caught him on a flight to France doing the meditation exercises himself. He not only agreed to the hypnobirthing course I wanted to do, but he threw himself into it wholeheartedly. And again he not only listened to the relaxation scripts we were given, but he read and recorded some of the scripts himself. I’m so glad he did – now I can listen to his voice when I’m feeling brave. Ironically it’s called the Fear Release script…. Steve was the same with the NCT classes – he joined in completely, wanting to learn and wanting to know. Our NCT teacher told me recently that it was blindingly obvious how devoted he was. I felt it every single day we were pregnant.
Steve also supported me to write. He enabled me to resign from the day job, and asked regularly how my day’s writing had gone. It was Steve that got me writing the Letters to a Small Baby blog. I never thought of writing a blog, but Steve the techie had me thinking in a different way. It’s partly why I’m still writing it, to Willow, and to Steve.
One of the readings at our wedding was from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It says that when the temporary madness of love subsides, “You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part…..Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.”
That’s how Steve and I were. We were a team, completely entwined. And now I can’t conceive of my life without him. This life with Willow…it’s unimaginable that it’s not the three of us on this biggest of adventures together.
So what do you do when half of yourself is gone? When every tiny little thing you do in life is so bound up in your coexistence with someone else, that you just can’t do anything without feeling the enormity of their absence. From cleaning teeth to peeling a banana (we had that ongoing debate about which was the correct end to open). From sitting on the sofa to trying to figure out the app to control our heating. I can barely go in the kitchen because we spent so much time cooking and eating and talking and dancing in there. Steve is in every single little thing. And then the big things. Will I ever be able to watch Strictly again? We’d laughed because this year, given our impending new arrangements for a social life, we were anticipating being able to watch more than one episode live. We could actually vote! There’s one series of Game of Thrones left next year. I might never find out though what happens with Jon Snow, given that watching either of these series with anyone other than Steve would feel something like cheating. And the even bigger thing. Our dancing. Dancing with Steve was utterly magical. We laughed and kissed and sang along as we held each other. I knew from the point that he danced our first bachata with me that he’d be ‘The One’, and he spent the next seven years making me feel like the centre of the universe when we danced. He was certainly the centre of mine. There are so many tracks that will bring back so many joyous memories of Steve when I’m feeling brave enough to listen to them. So many tracks that will help me share her Daddy with Willow. “Some people move our souls to dance”. Steve really did.
I was always so proud of Steve. Proud to show him off, proud to be with him. I have always felt, and will continue to feel, privileged, honoured, the luckiest woman alive, because he chose to be with me. I will always be grateful that he chose to share himself, and the rest of his life, with me.
I love you my darling Steve. I will always love you, for the rest of my life. You are the other half of me, and you are half of Willow.
Eternally Yours, my darling.