A letter to… My in­spi­ra­tional hubby

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For our son’s sake, I had to learn to let my hair down

Dear Saleem,

Oone of my favourite mem­o­ries is of watch­ing you race our son Ja­maal, 4, around the track in his elec­tric car. Thick as thieves, both laugh­ing your heads off.

In those mo­ments, my heart felt fit to burst.

You were such a bril­liant dad. Your bond with Ja­maal plain for all to see. Un­til... We were abroad in South Africa, in March 2015.

You had a re­lent­less fever and sore throat, and ended up in hos­pi­tal.

The doc­tors sus­pected menin­gi­tis and sep­sis – po­ten­tially fa­tal in­fec­tions.

An­tibi­otics didn’t work, and that night, I re­ceived a call.

‘You need to get here now,’ a nurse said.

Leav­ing Ja­maal asleep at home with our nanny, I rushed to the hos­pi­tal to see you.

When I ar­rived there, a doc­tor told me, ‘I’m so sorry. We couldn’t save your hus­band.’ You’d passed away at 3am. Just 36 years old. It had all hap­pened so fast. I dreaded break­ing the news to Ja­maal.

I went home with the heav­i­est of hearts, waited un­til 5.30am.

When I couldn’t stand the dread in the pit of my stom­ach any more, I woke Ja­maal up. I held him close. ‘Daddy got re­ally sick,’ I ex­plained, softly. ‘He’s in heaven now.’

Tears flooded down his lit­tle face, sobs tak­ing over from his screams.

It tore me up, see­ing our son in that state.

All I could do was try to com­fort him.

But what could I tell him? A son should never be with­out his dad.

Los­ing my mum Fa­tima when I was just 9, I’d been where Ja­maal was now.

It hadn’t been easy, but I’d sur­vived. I had to help Ja­maal get through this, too.

I vowed, then and there, that I’d be Mummy and Daddy for him.

But it would be no mean feat.

You were im­pos­si­ble to re­place…

So full of spirit, laugh­ter, a sense of mis­chief. I’d al­ways been the more sen­si­ble of the two of us.

For Ja­maal’s sake, I had to learn to let my hair down, and have more fun.

So, one af­ter­noon, I drove him to the go-kart track near our home in Es­sex and helped him into one of the karts.

Ig­nored the snig­gers and the raised eye­brows from the ar­ro­gant dads around us. ‘Ready?’ I grinned. Ja­maal’s smile was as bright as the sun.

I was the only mum there, cheer­ing from the side­lines.

Soon, the other par­ents got used to see­ing me around.

Didn’t bat an eye­lid when I wran­gled with mo­tors or got stuck in chang­ing tyres.

The three years since los­ing you have gone by in a flash.

I’ve had to be strong, de­spite miss­ing you ter­ri­bly.

But Ja­maal and I are man­ag­ing as best we can. You’d be so proud of our boy. Now 7, he’s in­tel­li­gent and out­go­ing. Just like you were.

You’re still with us in spirit, with the pic­tures of you all around the house. We talk about you all the time.

I want you to know, Saleem, we’ll never for­get you and will adore you al­ways. love, Layla xx Layla Che­limo, 32, Es­sex

Our baby driver: with his dad, and kart­ing with me

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