The 29th June 2004 is a day that I will never forget!! The previous day I had left my fiancée to go home to my parents for the night – this was nothing unusual as we were waiting to move into a new home together. It was about 10pm when I got a text message from Deb saying “I am going to bed now darling, love you, speak to you in the morning”, I replied almost instantly with “Love you too, I am going to bed too, got work early tomorrow”. We both went to bed happy, expecting to speak to each other in the morning.
My alarm went off at 5:50am. I struggled out of bed and the first thing that I did, as every other day when at my parents house, was text Deb. I wrote the text message, “Morning Darling, how are you today? I really don’t want to get out of bed!!” I found it unusual that she had not replied within a couple of minutes of me sending this – we were textaholics and were always texting each other when we were not together. Usually the responses from both of us were literally a couple of minutes apart so when five minutes had passed I found it strange.
A thought passed through my head that maybe one of the kids (she had 2 girls and a boy) were playing up and she had not had time to reply. I carried on with my morning routine and decided I would ring her to see if she was OK after I had a shower. As I stepped out of the shower and walked back to my bedroom my mobile phone started to ring. I did not recognise the number on the phone but thought I had better answer it. It was my step-daughter, Catherine, she had got a new mobile a few days earlier and I had not stored the number. She sounded in a state of panic as soon as I answered the phone. I knew something was not right. She said in a rushed voice, “Dad, I can’t wake Mum up, you need to get round here”. Catherine was only 13 at the time, but as the oldest child I told her to keep the younger two downstairs and I would be there in 2 minutes. Deb’s house was only about a mile away from my parents so I jumped in the car a rushed round there. I ran in and straight up the stairs. As I entered our bedroom the alarm clock was still going so I knew that she had not woken at all that morning.
I pulled back the quilt, placed my hand on her shoulders and said, “Morning babe, you OK? Wake up”. At this point I noticed that where I had pulled the quilt off her, her legs and back were blue. She was lying on her side facing away from me. So I pulled her on to her back and noticed that her face was blue too. I checked her pulse and her breathing, both were not there. I grabbed her mobile from the bedside cabinet and called an ambulance. In what seemed like a split second the ambulance crew were there and I left the bedroom. I was praying that they would resuscitate her. Later a police officer turned up, together with a second ambulance. This was the point that I knew she was dead. The kids went in with a neighbour and the ambulance took Deb and her mum – who had run round the corner from her house – down to the hospital; they were still working on her at this point.
The police officer wanted to inspect the bedroom so asked me to stay and go to the hospital with him in a couple of minutes time. Just as I was locking the house up, Deb’s brother Rob turned up and I told him what had happened. I jumped in the car with him and we caught the ambulance up. As soon as we arrived at the hospital they took Deb in. In what seemed like an eternity but was only in fact a few minutes, a doctor called us all into a room. Deb’s other brothers, Steve and Paul, were there by this point – the doctor announced that she had passed away. This was the moment that shattered my world.
They prepared her body in a side room for us to go and see. The whole family went in, they all went in twos. All the time one of the nurses was asking me when I wanted to go in. I did not want to go in. Deb worked at the hospital, and a few days earlier she had to dress her first dead body. Later that day we had a conversation about death; I told her I would be useless around dead bodies and never wanted to see one. I tried justifying not going in to see her body, constantly thinking to myself, “She will understand, she knows I don’t like the thought of dead bodies”.
We were all about the leave the hospital and go to collect the kids when something clicked inside me; I had to see her before I left her. I asked a nurse if it was still possible, she said it was and asked if I would like her to come in with me. I thanked her for the offer but refused. Everyone in the family offered one by one to come in with me but this was something I needed to do alone. We had so many great times together in the short 2 years we had been together, and we were planning to spend the rest of our lives together so I needed it to be just us 2 in the room for a while.
I can’t remember what I said but all I know is that I was in the room for ages holding her hand and talking to her. It hurt me so much to walk out of that room and leave her for good.
The next 2 weeks were very hard. The hospital had done lots of tests and still came back with “no cause of death”. This enraged me, how can there be no cause?? We had to wait till all the tests were done before we could have a funeral, therefore for 2 weeks all I had to do was sit and think. During this time I was drinking heavily and really did not care about myself at all, I hid this from my family and Deb’s family – especially the kids; they needed me to be strong for them.
The funeral came and went and the whole day is really a blur. There are only two points that stick out visibly. The first one was waiting for everyone to enter the crematorium so that Deb’s three brothers and I could carry her in. While we were waiting, the brothers had their partners to come up and kiss them on the way in, where was mine?? I needed Deb!! I know that sounds stupid but the only person that could have got me through this whole experience was Deb. I needed her to hold me and be there for me like she had been after my Granddad’s funeral two months earlier. The other memory I have of that day, is that once we had placed the coffin down we were directed to a row at the front of the room that was saved for the four of us. Two of Deb’s brothers walked off in opposite directions to sit with their partners. I sat down and really did not want to sit on my own. My three best mates were upstairs in the crematorium so could not get down to sit with me, however, Deb’s brother Steve saw that I was going to be sitting on my own so came and sat with me. I am so thankful to him for doing that, he could have easily gone and sat with his wife but he got me through that day.
There are a few people that have got me through the whole experience of this. Obviously all of Deb’s family and my family have been there for me, but it’s been some of my closest mates that have really helped me. The day that Deb died the first person I called was my best mate Andy Cooper; we have been through a lot together but never anything like this. He was the rock that I needed. I cried on him so many times and I knew he would not think any differently of me for doing it. The other two are Roger McClaren and Craig Johnson. I have not known Roger for as long as I have known Andy and Craig but in the time I have known him we have become really close. He came to the funeral to give me support and after the funeral he came on holiday with me and the kids to help me look after them and to give me some adult company. It was a break that I and the kids needed. Craig has always been a good mate, we have had our differences like most mates do, but when something like this happens it proves who your true friends are and he came out and gave me all the support I needed, not only on the day of the funeral but whenever I needed to talk or if I wanted to go out and take my mind off things, Craig was always there.
All this time I was still drinking quite heavily, especially at the weekends but was still hiding it very well from everyone. I refused counselling from the doctor and from work, I felt like I was losing if I accepted this. It then started playing on my mind that I would never have an answer to why she died so I started looking up “adult cot death” on the internet; this is what the hospital had finally told us she had died from. It was then that I came across CRY.
About a year after Deb had died I kept thinking how could I raise money for CRY?? It looks an amazing charity and I really want to get involved. That week whilst driving home from work and listening to the Scott Mills show on BBC Radio 1, I heard him announcing a new BBC1 documentary that was going to be filmed and they wanted volunteers. It was a show that wanted people who had a traumatic past and wanted to get fit. They asked the listeners to nominate friends. Andy heard this too and within minutes we were on the phone to each other; he phoned the number and nominated me. I agreed to fill in the form but never thought I would get in. I was interviewed and sent to a medical by the production company and was then told I was in the final 13 that would be appearing on the TV show.
I was thrilled that I had been selected but very worried at the same time, I was still drinking a lot at the weekend!!! I told my mates and both families (I have two families now – Deb’s family accept me as a brother). They all got behind me about this and started supporting me. I found out at the beginning of October 2005 that I was weighing in at 24 stone and 6 pounds. I knew that I had put on weight since Deb died, and I had always been big (around 19 stone) but I did not realise how much I had put on.
Meeting up for our first training weekend on the programme was very nerve-wracking for me. I did not have a clue as to what the other people were going to be like or what was in store for us.
We met at the beginning of November and everyone was great, I can’t believe what a nice bunch of people they put together. I was the biggest out of the group and have obviously had the most to do!! Everyone was really supportive and we really clicked as a group and helped each other through the first weekend.
We have met up monthly over the following six months and travelled to Hong Kong and Australia together. On the first weekend I could not even jog half a mile, but in April 2006 I completed the Flora London Marathon and in October 2006 completed the BUPA Great North Run. I have lost 5 ½ stone in the 6 months the TV show was filmed and am feeling really good. I have stopped drinking and only have the odd pint every few weeks. I am sure that some people interested by running or that actually run have seen this show which was on BBC1 in March and April 2006 and called “Run For Glory”. I have had reports that I have inspired people to run. I am happy to say that I am still running and am still attending the gym. I am not down to the size I ideally want to be yet, but with the start that “Run For Glory” gave me and completing the Flora London Marathon I now realise that anything is achievable if you set your mind to it. If I can do it then anyone can!!
I am now looking to complete the BUPA Great North Run 2007 and really want to raise the most money possible for CRY by doing this, and hope to raise my profile as much as possible. Anyone that would like to support me, either as a fellow runner, supporter of CRY or just if my story has touched you, then please visit www.justgiving.com/gnr-dale. I can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone would like to offer me any advice, training tips or support. Also please feel free to contact me if you watched the show and remember me, or are interested in seeing it / having a copy. I will be happy to answer any questions or just have a chat, just drop me a line.