Real-life reads Widow’s grief: Heroin destroyed my family; We’re NZ’s wildest twins!;
She gave birth the day her husband was buried
Vivien Leishman’s last week of pregnancy was physically her easiest and emotionally her worst.
Unexpectedly thrown into planning a Friday funeral after the shock death of her husband, the heartbroken Kiwi widow barely moved for six days, sitting in her lounge watching people roll in and out to pay their respects, while telling everyone, “This baby cannot come on Friday.”
But baby had other plans and while hundreds of mourners gathered outside a Sydney church to farewell 35-year-old “gentle giant” Richard, Viv was in labour at a nearby hospital.
Numb with grief, the first-time mum took some comfort in the fact her late partner probably would have found the situation funny.
“Through each contraction, I thought Richard would be laughing, ‘My son is upstaging me at my own funeral!’” recalls Viv, whose baby boy Jake was born just after the proceedings finished.
News of the birth was announced during the afternoon tea, where a massive cheer erupted.
“Not many funerals get that,” she muses.
While the 37-year-old smiles at the memory – and has gone on to build a new life for her and now threeyear-old Jake in Tauranga – she is still processing the events leading to Richard’s death from an accidental heroin overdose.
“When he died, all of our current friends were completely shocked,” says Viv, a former legal secretary. “But I knew he would never want his cause of death hidden from anybody.
“Looking back, I wish I had tried to acknowledge his fight with addiction more. I didn’t share my concerns because it can bring shame and you don’t want friends to think less of them. Richard was a beautiful, loving husband and that didn’t change because of his struggles.”
Tearfully, Viv admits her naivety to understanding the depths of his addiction, until after his death, where she also discovered there were numerous helplines she could have rung.
“Many people were angry with him when he died. Like, how could he do drugs when he was about to have a baby? But unless you understand the psychological side of addiction, it’s really easy to make that judgement.”
Viv, who was born in Wellsford, says it was after Richard immigrated from Scotland to Australia as a child that he was bullied at school and started doing drugs at 13 in an attempt to fit in. Training as a chef and working on cruise ships around the world only increased his experimentation.
By his mid-20s, though, Richard decided to get clean and returned to Australia.
The couple met online and prior to their wedding in 2014, Richard did a stint working in Cambodia, where he ran a café for girls who had escaped
the sex trade and needed a safe place of employment.
“We had planned to return to Cambodia, but Richard contracted a superbug and spent a month in hospital, needing two surgeries. Around the same time, I fell pregnant, so we decided we’d stay in Australia and Richard picked up work as a courier.”
It’s hard for Viv to pinpoint when Richard began using heroin again. It was only 10 days before their baby was due when it became obvious to her.
“We went to a music gig on the Saturday night and he slept through the whole thing. We had a rule that I was allowed to ask him about drugs at any time. So I confronted him afterwards and he was honest about using something, just not what. He told me he wanted to be drug-free before the baby came.”
With her parents arriving
from Auckland the next morning ahead of the birth, the topic wasn’t brought up again. But four nights later, Viv knew something was wrong when Richard didn’t come home from work or respond to her calls.
“We had spoken that afternoon about some medical tests I’d had done that day, and he sounded really upset and stressed about it,” she recalls. Sadly, that was their last conversation.
“By 8pm, I was really worried,” Viv recalls. “Deep down, I knew his absence was something to do with drugs. The police arrived and one of the officers told me they’d found him deceased in a servicestation toilet, with a tourniquet on and a needle nearby.
“I dropped to my knees in disbelief. I knew how much he was looking forward to being a dad. He just thought he was invincible.”
In the following weeks, meals were delivered to Viv every night and friends set up an online fundraiser so she could move back to live with family in New Zealand.
While she misses her husband terribly, Viv describes her life as “full of hope” and now works part-time as music director for her Bay of Plenty church.
“I love being a mum and Jake reminds me so much of Richard, who was a crazy adventurer with a very caring nature. I want him to know that his dad was simply a humble man who was broken.”
Marrying in 2012, Viv and Richard were excited to be parents. “He wanted to be drug-free before the baby came,” she says.
Viv wants son Jake to know his dad was a good man, “just broken”.