My Story Now
I lost my son, Richard ‘Rich’ Tomkins on 24th July 2008. I spoke with Alison in 2010 about ‘my story’. Does your story have to end there, was the conversation? Alison’s chat confirmed with me that I could add extra to my story at any time.
So here goes.
I lost my only son, Richard, on 24th July 2008. Nearly 7 years later my story is not much easier. My life was turned upside down that morning and everything I knew about the world came crashing down around me. All of my hopes, and Rich’s hopes and plans for the future had just been snatched away from us.
All I wanted to do was walk and just keep going. My husband has had to deal with some of “Wend’s quirky moments” which he has done by letting me go with some of my “ideas” and then gently getting through to me that they were and aren’t realistic. I wanted to walk to the church on Rich’s last day or walk behind the limousine. Only 7mins walk away from our home, but through the village with people looking. Not realistic or achievable, but between my husband and the nice man who sorted everything out for us I eventually realised that I couldn’t do it. But they had to let me have my ideas.
I have not had an easy journey to get where I am today. Which is currently being off work as I
couldn’t take much more.
Something inside was starting to drive me into putting some of Rich’s clothes away. I know that
you don’t have to do these things, if you don’t want to, but something deep inside has been
driving me that I must try and move Rich into my heart and soul and not to bring my physical
Rich’ along with me anymore.
I suddenly realised that my ‘Boy’ of 23 should have turned 30 on the 6th May 2015 and I worked
out that I don’t know, and will never know, this man in this new decade. I will continue to move
through my fifties but Boy will never move through his thirties. It is time to let him go in the
Sounds easy-ish but not at all in reality. Seeing Rich’s clothes hanging on the washing line
blowing in the wind has made my heart smile but the next part of their journey, being aired,
ironed and finally putting them away in boxes in the loft has been incredibly painful. It feels so
wrong, but right all at the same time, to pack away Rich’s life. We should have been packing, all
three of us together, for Rich to move into his own place, to start the next phase of his life as an
independant young man.To me, his clothes can’t go to a charity shop or recycling; they have to
move into the loft where I know they are safe and warm and dry.
I spent the first 2 years, and maybe longer, with my brain being firmly wrapped in cotton wool to
stop the pain. I knew what had happened, and talked a lot, but in reality I had no idea of the
enormity of the situation. It wasn’t until it was suggested that I have counselling did the situation
finally start to hit home.
I still have counselling.
During the last few years I have become a different person. Am I still a mum? That took a long
time to figure out, but the answer is yes, I am and always will be but in a very different way. I will
never have grandchildren, or see Rich marry, or see him officially leave home. And the worst of
all, from both mine and Rich’s point of view, is that he will never get to have his heart operation
which we knew was coming very soon. Sounds odd but we had spent a lot of years knowing
that Rich was going to have to have major heart surgery as he had bicuspid aortic stenosis.
Another twist on life’s road that we suddenly had to swerve away from.
My story has stripped me of my personal confidence. Little things such as catching a bus or
shopping are now incredibly hard to do. I keep my head down and do what I need to as quickly
I know that I look differently too. There is too much pain in my eyes for one person but I can’t
change that. That’s the way it is.
I stutter now, which I never have done before. It came on almost overnight and we all hope
that it will disappear as quickly as it arrived. Just something else to deal with along your journey.
I make myself go out for a wander, 2 or 3 times, a week. Just to the little corner shop and back
home again. I only go for 10 minutes or so but I am finding it very important to do this. I have
accepted now that I wouldn’t go out if left to my own devices. I would find too many things to
do in the garden and could reasonably justify why I hadn’t gone out.
I try and walk to see Rich, at least once a week, on my own. Not easy… but again very
important to me that I can do this.
I have started writing again. it helps just to type down whatever is inside my head. It doesn’t
have to make any sense to anyone, but it is my thoughts that whirl around inside my head
constantly, So far it is proving to be a great aid.
I know that without my husband I wouldn’t have made any of this journey. I would have
disappeared from the world but that wouldn’t be right for Rich. I have had to fight every step of
the way to do the best that I can for Boy. I know that he wouldn’t be at all happy if I hadn’t
continued. Rich was always looking out for me and even on that last night he was still insisting
that we went home, at 3:15 in the morning, to do something nice.
Rich’ now has his own place, it is in a beautiful spot, it is very peaceful and I feel quite ‘at home’
there, but at the back of your mind you know that we shouldn’t be there; but we make the best
of the situation.
In short my story is this:
“I have a son who is extremely kind, generous to a fault, exceptionally good looking, could
defuse situations, whilst he was out with his mates or girlfriend, with a smile and a friendly chat.
And someone who loved to travel and made friends easily with people from different countries.
And he was taken away in an instant. And somehow you keep moving. You keep fighting.
Fighting to try and give yourself a bit more confidence, to enable you to try and sit up from the
floor a bit instead of scrabbling about at the bottom in the dirt.”
I know that I will never recover from this and I am very much a changed person, but I can
fight. And always will do. And with my husband I enjoy our life tremendously.
I am enormously proud of Rich’, and especially that night, when he found the strength to fight,
the sense of humour that he kept throughout that awful night. The caring that he shared for
myself and my husband when he spotted tears on my face.
Rich’ touched a lot of people with his easy going manner and smile.
I miss him so much it hurts.
Love you Rich. Always. xxx
Rich’, or Boy as he was affectionately known – the best son you could ever wish for was cruelly taken from us, on the 24th July 2008, age 23. We lost Rich from undiagnosed Infective Endocarditis which is the one infection that for 18 years of Rich’s life I had always been acutely aware of – as without prompt diagnosis it would take his life.
Rich’ was diagnosed with Aortic Stenosis at the age of 5 and I was told that Rich’ must always look after his teeth and be careful when he cut himself because of the risk of Endocarditis. He had the most fantastic teeth ever – with not one filling in his mouth and at age 23 he had now just about stopped falling over and cutting himself. Although when he’d had a few beers with his mates that was always debatable.
Rich’ loved to enjoy himself with his mates and had an eye for the ladies and a smile that even the most strong willed person couldn’t help but be drawn in by. Telling him off when he was going through his teen years became difficult with that smile and twinkle in the eyes. As Rich’ got older he learnt to diffuse many a situation with a bottle of sparkly wine and a bunch of carnations; mine and his favourite flowers.
As Rich’ grew older he discovered that he loved to travel and he and his girlfriend had some fantastic holidays together. It became a competition almost between myself and my husband and Rich’ and his girlfriend to see who could be the brownest. Invariably Rich’ would always be the winner. He tanned so easily and it stayed most of the year round. He always managed to look as if he’d just stepped off a plane.
Even when Rich’ was so ill the hospital staff were commenting on his wonderful colouring. I am so glad that in his short life he travelled well and saw some fantastic places.
Everyone who knew him described Rich’ as the kindest, most gentle and generous person you could ever wish to meet. Rich’ never complained about his condition and lived life to the full.
I married my husband in 2005 and Rich’ and his girlfriend at that time were sworn to secrecy and the date was arranged for when they would return from their holiday in Egypt. Rich’ was so proud that day as at long last he could, legally, make Pete promise to look after me. It was always a joke between the two of them that Rich’ had looked after me for years and now it was Pete’s turn. They have a fantastic relationship and I count myself very very lucky that they get on so well.
Even on that last night, when we had taken Rich’ to hospital, we still managed to talk and laugh with each other. Rich’ was in complete heart block when he was eventually admitted and we were told that “we were in trouble” and did I, mum, “trust a ginger shaven haired doctor who had the whitest skin you ever did see”. The answer of course was that we trusted him with our lives and he set to work to help Rich. Everything they did that night to help Rich’ another obstacle appeared. At first we were told that they would have to put a permanent pacemaker in to kick-start his heart but very quickly they found an abscess around Rich’s Aortic valve. The pacemaker would rupture the abscess and pus would have flooded into Rich’s heart so they couldn’t go ahead with that.
Atropine did not work at all, although he had enough to bring an elephant back on line again. The doctors and nurses that night kept us all calm and never once did we think that the outcome would be anything else other than Rich’s long awaited valve replacement. Rich overheard our Cardiologist discussing with The John Radcliffe hospital that he was to be sent there and was going to have a camera put down to see the extent of damage the infection had done to the valve and then for his valve to be replaced. How he heard that I will never know as I was struggling to hear all that was being said.
A specialist Cardiac paramedic crew were called to take Rich’ to the John Radcliffe. Whilst we were waiting for the red tape to be completed we caught the look on the face of the lady paramedic. It is a look that will haunt us forever. A look that rips you in half thinking about it. The look that said ‘he is so young’ and you look such a nice family. She came over to chat briefly and then excused herself and drew the curtains around us. The thoughts that go through your head then – mine were “”I’ve seen Casualty, I know what happens when the curtains are pulled””. So I left a gap in them.
At 3.15 in the morning Rich’ decided to ask what we were going to do for the rest of the evening. He told us to do something nice or go home and get some rest. We did explain that it was 3.15 in the morning and when he had got to Oxford we would be looking for a room in the hospital to wait while he had his operation.
Rich’ then decided to announce to the world that he didn’t want to go to another hospital but would if it was what was best for him.
As they were preparing to move Rich’, about 4.10am, he suddenly spotted two tears escape from me and wanted to know why I was crying and told me to go home because he was ‘alright’. That was Rich’ all over – always looking out for me.
At the same time his heart rate and blood pressure plummeted to 30 and 35/30, respectively. Everyone so calmly went about their work and still we were not asked to leave the room. We did though and it was the only time that night/morning that I realised things were not good and slid down the wall feeling mentally exhausted.
My husband Pete had been keeping positive too until this time. Just thinking, “”Yes, Rich’ will get his op’ and will come through””.
At 4.50am the Cardiologist and senior anaesthetist came out. When you see them walking towards you, you know something is going badly wrong.
We were told, “If we don’t move Rich’ he is going to die and if we move Rich’ he is probably going to die. But there is a million to one chance that he will make it and we are taking it”. Pete heard such a scream from me but the calmness of the pair of them and the reassurance that he was in the best hands possible and a team of experts were waiting for us at the Radcliffe, help calm you. All you have to do is the journey.
We were told that the ambulance would do the hour journey from Northampton to Oxford in 25 min’s but it would take us an hour. I was not allowed to go with Rich’ and was told that I had to travel with Pete and make sure that we got there safely as by this time we were exhausted. We were then allowed to leave with the words “have a safe journey; Rich’ will be half way there by now.”
He wasn’t. We walked out through the A&E doors and saw an ambulance sitting there. The funniest things come out of your mouth and mine was “Surely no-one else is going through the same as we are” then realisation struck the pair of us that the people in the ambulance were the same ones that had been looking after Rich’ all night. You then just stagger into the nearest door and then realise that you can’t get in the car and drive because Rich’ hasn’t left yet – so you stagger back past again.
The panicked voices from that ambulance when they realised that we knew Rich’ hadn’t been moved yet was overwhelming. Of course it’s now obvious that Rich’ had taken it badly just being moved to the ambulance. A nurse shouted to us and ran to fetch us and told us that “Rich’ wants to say goodbye to you and wants to see you”. We were pushed into the ambulance and Rich’ was sitting up conscious. I kissed him and told him to sleep because he was so tired and to be a good boy for everyone and we’d see him in an hour. Pete did the same and then we were ushered into the family room and given very hot sweet drinks until they knew that Rich’ was now definitely on his way and we were allowed to leave.
It was the last time we saw Rich’ alive. We arrived at Oxford at 6.30am; we lost Rich’ at 6.24am. We were told that he’d hung on for us for as long as he could but lost his own fight at 6.24am.
He tried so hard to fight and was so brave. Never did he complain that night. He knew us all the way through. And I am so thankful for that.
We were told that we had lost Rich’ to Infective Endocarditis, Pericarditis and an Abscess in his Myocardium.
We have nothing but praise for the Resus’ unit at Northampton General hospital. They let us stay with Rich’ for the last 8 hours of his young life and they are the most precious 8 hours that Pete and I will always treasure.
How life goes on we haven’t worked out yet. The pain of losing your only child is indescribable. No amount of well meaning “I know how you feel” helps because you can’t without having gone through it.
We are struggling with the funny questions from people “how are you?” and my favourites – “are you better yet?” and “it’s not any better yet then?”
CRY has been wonderful to us. Rich’ was one of 3 with heart conditions to complete the CRY London Bridges Walk in July 2007. He was too ill to walk in 2008 but next year Pete and I will be walking again, without Rich’ this time, yet also with him again.
The festive season is approaching and I think we are going to shut the door, and other than going to see Rich at his new home, we will not be leaving the house. Rich’ always said that it was the three of us together, nothing else mattered, and he always made me and Pete promise to look after each other.
We are keeping that promise Rich.
Love Always, Mum xx