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Personal Stories

Graham's Story

Graham wrote this beautiful account of his experience shortly after running the London Marathon in 2012 in memory of his son Toby.

I've been asked to write something about my experience of losing my son Toby and my eventual response of running London marathon in his memory. And you know what? I'm finding it harder to write this than I found it to run the marathon. Life after the death of one of your children really is an unpredictable journey. I now realise that the process of healing after Toby's death will last until my last breath. Yet, nearly two and a half years after Toby died, I am better able to cope with life again than I imagined I would be. I've no doubt that I owe some of that to the therapeutic aid of exercise and the personal satisfaction of doing something as incredible (for me at least) as running a marathon for Toby.

My journey began when I found out that my wife was pregnant with our second child, Toby. I was more excited by this pregnancy than I was with our first. I was terrified during our first pregnancy, unconfident of my ability as a father. This time though I felt as if I had proven myself to be a good father and so was ready for Toby. I was confident and was able to enjoy the experience. Traumatically that all changed on the 23rd December 2009 when at Toby's 20 week scan he was diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia, a life threatening condition that turned our world upside down. From then onwards the pregnancy was full of hospital visits and fear. The stress was unbearable as we faced such decisions as whether to terminate the pregnancy or not. It was our choice to give Toby every chance that we could. We couldn’t live with ourselves if we hadn’t.

Toby was born prematurely on the 12th March 2010. When I first saw him was the moment that I truly knew how much I loved him and how much it would hurt to lose him. He survived only until the 14th March 2010. By some cruel twist of fate the day that Toby died was mother’s day. Toby’s death was almost unbearable and the days, weeks and months that followed have been the darkest of my life. In many ways it would’ve been easier to give in to depression, to give up on life and to let the darkness consume me. Had it not been for our first son Leon, I fear that I would still be consumed by that darkness now.

Something inside me has driven me to survive this. As much as it still hurts now, especially whilst writing this, something inside me strives for happiness. I want to be positive, I don’t want to feel pain all of the time. I feel that Toby, wherever he is, looks down on me and can see and feel all of my pain and it breaks his heart. I don’t want him to think he has destroyed the life that his parents had, so I continue to aspire for happiness, no matter how futile it feels at times.

I’ve never been a runner, but running became one of my survival techniques. It helped me with the stress and helped me try to be positive. The more I ran the more I began to feel like it was my special time with Toby. I would mostly run alone and I would mostly think of Toby. I started to think I could do something more, turn the running into something positive in memory of Toby. With the support of Sands I secured a place to run in the 2012 London Marathon. By now my wife, Carly, had been through the physical and emotional ordeal of having our third son, Owen. Owen was also premature and so me running a marathon was nothing compared to Carly giving birth twice in 8 months.

With all that had happened in our lives I found it incredibly hard to train for something that was such a vast challenge for me. However, I was stubbornly determined, desperate to do something astoundingly positive in the hope that I would feel that Toby’s death was not in vain. Despite my inadequate training I always knew that Toby would get me across the finish line. I was unable to find the time to run further than 12 miles during my training, so the marathon was always going to come down to shear will and determination. On the day of the marathon I was able to hobble across the finish line in 6 hours 37 minutes and 14 seconds. It was the second most physically painful experience of my life, leaving me virtually crippled and unable to walk properly for nearly two weeks afterwards. However, I did it for Toby and would happily do it all over again. With the help of some friends I was able to raise £2273.75 (including gift aid) for Sands in memory of Toby. In some small way I’m able to feel that Toby’s death was not entirely in vain. I’ll happily take that over the darkness that threatened to consume my life.

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