My darling Joanne,
I still remember the conversation we had just a month before our baby daughter Ilaria was born.
Out of the blue you asked me how I’d look after her if anything happened to you. I remember telling you not to be silly but you were serious. “I’d just want you to tell her often how much her mummy loved her,” you said.
“And to tell her what sort of person I was. And make sure she’s clean and tidy and eats her vegetables!’ Now I’m so glad we had that conversation. And I hope I’ve done things as you wanted.
I just wish with all my heart that you were here to enjoy all the special moments we’ve shared since you were taken from us.
The memories of our time together are so treasured for me now.
You used to laugh when I said I fell in love with you the moment we met but I did. I saw you in a nightclub and finally gathered the courage to ask if you’d like a drink. I couldn’t believe my luck when you said yes.
I asked you to be my wife in Venice.
We splashed out on a gondola ride, giggling to ourselves. I remember you tilted your head up to the sun and told me that this was one of the best days of your life. And when you walked down the aisle I knew I’d married my soulmate, ‘the one’.
When we found out you were pregnant we were ecstatic and soon we discovered it was a girl and spent the months running up to the birth getting the nursery ready.
Every time our baby kicked you’d grab my hand, put it on your tummy and say, “Can you feel her Christian? She’s so lively!”
You wanted to call our daughter Ilaria after a family friend you’d met in Venice. You found out that in Latin it meant ‘always happy.’
We saw Ilaria before she was born. We had a 3D scan where you can see your baby’s face – she was beautiful.
I am so thankful we did that now. When you went two weeks past your due date the hospital near our home in Bolton wanted to induce you. It’s hard for me to think straight about what happened next.
When Ilaria was ready to come the midwife told you to push but Ilaria’s heartbeat dropped – she was in distress.
You looked at me in terror as we were surrounded by doctors trying to get Ilaria out. When she was born she was blue and nurses rushed her to the special care baby unit. You screamed, “Is she OK?” and all I could say was, “Yes, she’s beautiful, just like you.”
It breaks my heart you never even saw your daughter, let alone held her. Then your heart rate started going up and your blood pressure started going down. Doctors said they had to get you into theatre straight away.
As they wheeled you out I grabbed your foot and said “I love you”. It was the last time I saw you alive.
Minutes later a doctor took me aside and told me Ilaria was was showing signs of major brain damage and they didn’t expect her to live. I didn’t know which of you to turn to first.
I went to see Ilaria in her incubator. Half an hour later doctors told me the news that would change my life forever. There had been massive bleeding and as they tried to operate you’d had a cardiac arrest.
My world fell apart. I remember shouting, “Why?”
You were just 27, healthy as can be, and now you were gone. An aneurysm had caused the bleeding.
No-one could have foreseen it, the doctors did all they could.In the chapel of rest you looked like you were sleeping peacefully. I kissed your face and stroked your hair as I sobbed.
I felt totally lost. Then a nurse came to find me and said something amazing had happened and led me to Ilaria. She’d pulled all the tubes out of her chest and nose and was breathing on her own. The nurses said it was a miracle.
It seemed our Ilaria was determined to stay alive. A nurse laid her in my arms and she began to cry. “Don’t worry, Daddy’s here,” I told her, and she immediately stopped crying.
Our daughter was going to live.
It was as if you’d said, “God, you can have me, but you’re not having my daughter.”
Suddenly, from feeling I had nothing left to live for, I had Ilaria. I changed her first nappy, gave her her first bottle – I thought about how you’d have done it and tried to do it the same way.
But then it was back to the terrible reality – your funeral.
Four hundred people attended as the vicar who’d married us buried you just three years later.
And then, two days later I brought Ilaria home from the hospital.
That first night I lay in our bed, Ilaria beside me in her cot and I talked to you. “Jo, you should be here, I need you,” I said. I so desperately wished you were lying beside me.
I spent my days in tears. At night I’d lay Ilaria next to me and tell her about you – how, beautiful, good and kind you were.
Photos of you were all over the house and I’d hold Ilaria close to them so she could see you.
And as she gets older, I do other things to bring you into her life. I try to cook things I know you’d have made to make our beautiful Ilaria know her mum, even if she doesn’t remember you.
I hope you can hear me when I say: “I miss you Joanne but thank you for our wonderful daughter.” I just wish you were here to enjoy her.
When Ilaria was a year old she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy which means she is unlikely to walk. She’ll never speak properly and will require constant care. That’s when I pulled myself together. I needed to, to give Ilaria the best life I can.
Although it’s hard it’s wonderful too, we‘re like two little mates. She’s nearly four now and looks just like you.
And what a personality. Although she can only say a few words – “Hiya!” is her favourite – she gives me so much love and affection. She’s a real cheeky little thing, and can wrap me right round her little finger.
I gave up my job as an area sales manager so that I could devote my time to Ilaria. Every morning she attends Rainbow House, where they specialise in helping children like her.
Every time I look at her I get comfort because she’s a living part of you Joanne, your legacy.
I just want you to know that whatever happens I will bring up Ilaria in a way you would have been proud of – and she will always know how special her mummy was.
I love you my darling,
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