After a fam­ily ad­ven­ture turns to tragedy, Nor­folk-born Gor­don Dar­roch tries to make sense of the trauma in a stun­ning mem­oir

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell Š PHO­TOS: Gor­don Dar­roch and fam­ily

Mov­ing story of a fam­ily’s loss and heartache

Gor­don and Magteld had a new start planned; a new coun­try and new lan­guage to learn for their boys. But the dream turned to night­mare as they were forced into the ter­ri­fy­ing land­scape of se­ri­ous ill­ness, where the lan­guage they were forced to learn was ugly with symp­toms, treat­ments, dosages, side-ef­fects and sur­vival rates.

In­stead of mov­ing to Magteld’s na­tive Nether­lands, the cou­ple and their two young chil­dren be­came the re­luc­tant lat­est res­i­dents of a par­al­lel coun­try where the main fea­tures were clin­ics, hos­pi­tals, dis­ease and dread.

Gor­don grew up in Ban­ning­ham, near Ayl­sham, and Horstead, where his par­ents still live. He be­came a jour­nal­ist, but the hard­est story he ever had to write was his own.

All the Time We Thought We Had is the al­most un­bear­ably sad, but breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­fully writ­ten, story of a fam­ily shat­tered by can­cer. It is a love story too. The love of a lad from Nor­folk and a girl from the Nether­lands, meet­ing as teenagers and over­com­ing the bar­ri­ers of sea and lan­guage to marry; and the love of a cou­ple bat­tling to do their best for their two autis­tic sons.

Gor­don and Magteld,and their boys, then aged 10 and eight, were about to move to the Nether­lands when breast can­cer struck. De­spite Magteld un­der­go­ing a mas­tec­tomy, chemo­ther­apy and ra­dio­ther­apy, the can­cer clung on and spread. But the idea of mov­ing hung on too and, as Magteld ne­go­ti­ated what is some­times called the can­cer jour­ney, she was also plan­ning a com­plex move to The Hague, or­gan­is­ing a hospice for her­self along­side a home for her fam­ily and schools for her dis­abled sons. She sur­vived just long enough to com­plete the move.

To­day Gor­don works as a writer and trans­la­tor and has writ­ten

All the Time We Thought We Had for peo­ple go­ing through sim­i­lar trauma, and for their friends and fam­ily won­der­ing how to help.

“It wasn’t so much about want­ing to write it as need­ing to write it,” said Gor­don. “So much hap­pened in such a short time that after Magteld died I had trou­ble un­tan­gling it and mak­ing sense of it all. At some points I couldn’t even work out what or­der things had hap­pened in – if I hadn’t had her Face­book posts to re­fer to I’d never have put the mem­o­ries back to­gether.

“So I wrote it partly as a kind of ther­a­peu­tic ex­er­cise, but also be­cause I re­alised there weren’t many me­moirs about can­cer writ­ten from the carer’s per­spec­tive. It’s ag­o­nis­ing to watch the per­son you love die, in so many ways: firstly, there’s the sheer aware­ness that they’re not go­ing to be with you much longer, then the phys­i­cal de­mands of push­ing wheel­chairs round and fetch­ing medicines in the mid­dle of the night and, above all, the emo­tional toll. You’re both tired, anx­ious and per­ma­nently star­ing into the abyss and there’s very lit­tle any­one can do to re­lieve your pain.

“Peo­ple feel help­less when they’re con­fronted with this kind of deep de­spair and grief and their first in­stinct is to run away and hide and my main mes­sage is: don’t. Any­thing you can do, how­ever small, makes a huge dif­fer­ence, even if it’s just a phone call or a cup of tea.”

Since then Gor­don and the boys, now teenagers, have con­tin­ued to live out her dream, although they reg­u­larly re­turn to Nor­folk to see grand­par­ents.

“The first year and a half was very hard and there was a phase when I re­ally doubted if we’d done the right thing,” said Gor­don. “But look­ing back I have no re­grets.”

All the Time We Thought We Had by Gor­don Dar­roch is pub­lished by Poly­gon for £9.99.

‘All the Time We Thought We Had is al­most un­bear­ably sad, but breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­fully writ­ten’

FROM LEFT: Magteld and Gor­don; Magteld with Euan and Adam on Cromer beach; Magteld with Euan and Adam at Bewil­der­wood

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