A let­ter to... The son I loved and lost

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You seemed to find peace with your death

Dear Matthew,

As you heaved your bags into the car that day, my heart ached.

You were 18, off to Brighton Univer­sity and leav­ing home for the first time.

Your sis­ter Sarah, then 21, had al­ready moved out.

Me and your dad Bill, then 49, were sud­denly empty-nesters.

‘I’ll be back be­fore you know it,’ you said.

And you were. Three years later, you grad­u­ated, got a job as a lo­cal news­pa­per re­porter and moved back in. My lit­tle boy home again!

You re­ally made a life for your­self. You had a lovely girl­friend, played cricket, golf and foot­ball.

Spent time with your dad at Coven­try City matches, or jam­ming on your guitars.

Only, soon af­ter mov­ing home, I no­ticed you were con­stantly thirsty.

‘An­other squash?’ I asked as you gulped a third pint.

You be­came tired, too, started com­plain­ing of back­ache. De­spite end­less trips to the doc­tor’s, you were get­ting worse.

So, when tests showed you had blood in your urine, I marched you back to the doc­tor’s.

Days later, in Septem­ber 2014, you were ad­mit­ted to Warwick Hospi­tal for tests.

And they found a mass on your kid­ney – it was a 13cm tu­mour. Sob­bing, I’d never held you so tight.

The doc­tors hoped surgery could re­move the tu­mour, but fur­ther tests showed the can­cer had spread to your lymph nodes.

‘There’s noth­ing we can do,’ the con­sul­tant said.

You were only 25. Still, I wasn’t giv­ing up, and we threw ev­ery­thing at that can­cer. Sup­ple­ments, reme­dies, even cannabis oil.

Try­ing your best to en­joy life, you went on hol­i­day, and your mates ar­ranged for you to meet the Eng­land cricket team.

But, even­tu­ally, you were too weak to work, and didn’t have the en­ergy to go out.

Writ­ing down your fears and feel­ings on your blog

and in songs, you were in­cred­i­bly brave.

In Au­gust 2016, surgery to re­move a tu­mour on your spine left you al­most paral­ysed.

‘Mum, you’ve got to be re­al­is­tic,’ you said as I re­searched yet an­other so-called mir­a­cle cure.

I held out hope un­til the end, but you seemed to find peace with your death. Just two months on, aged 27, you slipped away at the hospice.

My grief was im­mense. All I wanted to do was talk about you, but ev­ery­one else was griev­ing, too...and not ev­ery­one wanted to talk. So, I did what you’d done. Pick­ing up a pen and pa­per, I flooded the page with my deep­est emo­tions. Writ­ing you let­ters be­came a way to process my thoughts.

Your fu­neral came and went. A beau­ti­ful church ser­vice, then a cel­e­bra­tion at Stoneleigh Abbey, where you’d of­ten played cricket.

And I kept writ­ing down my feel­ings.

It sounds crazy but, one day as I peeled veg at the kitchen sink, I felt your pres­ence. As if you were giv­ing me a cud­dle.

That’s when I pic­tured the cover of my book, Let­ters to Matthew: Life Af­ter Loss.

‘This is amaz­ing,’ Bill said, read­ing the let­ters for the first time. It was the first time we’d wept to­gether about los­ing you.

The book, a com­pi­la­tion of the let­ters, was pub­lished on what would’ve been your 30th birth­day, this Au­gust.

We all find our own way to grieve. The let­ters are mine.

I miss you end­lessly, but I hope you’re proud, Matthew. Love, Mum x

Louise Bates, 60, Leam­ing­ton Spa

My brave lad in hospi­tal

I found a way to help cope with my grief

I miss you so much

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