“It may seem odd to have written something like this beforehand, but I want it to be there when the children need it,” says Michaelagh Broadbent.
Her husband Harry, 34, is living with an incurable brain tumour – but the young family is living life to the full.
Michaelagh’s just published a book about the adventures Harry’s had with their oldest son, Harry junior, six. It’s a story she’ll read to both their boys, when their dad isn’t there any more. Writing it has helped her cope with feelings of pre-bereavement and focus upon their happy, busy, everyday life together.
The book’s called My Daddy Is My Superhero. Michaelagh, 32, began writing it last summer, not long after Harry had undergone an operation and six months of chemotherapy to manage the brain tumour he was diagnosed with in 2009, at the age of 25.
Michaelagh and Harry in the early days of their relationship
Doctors had advised the couple to get on and enjoy life, after Harry underwent an operation and radiotherapy treatment after his initial diagnosis. They married in September 2011, and son Harry was born a year later. The family became four in 2015, when baby Alex arrived.
Until December 2014, Harry senior’s MRI scans had been showing his health was stable.
“We never went to result days thinking it would be bad news.” says Michaelagh, “and after five years, I wanted to believe the tumour wouldn’t come back,”
But not long after Christmas that year, Harry got the results of his latest scan.
“It’s not good news,” he had said. The brain tumour, which was not benign, had begun growing again.
“Our world came crashing down,” says Michaelagh, “but it was growing slowly, so doctors said that they would watch and wait.”
Not long after, Alex was born, Harry went through another gruelling operation, followed by six months of chemotherapy. Then life, punctuated by six-monthly brain-scans, settled back into the “normal” that doctors had encouraged the Broadbents to live.
Although the family, who live in Edinburgh, have since returned to their regular routine, Michaelagh and Harry are aware that a health scare could happen again – with less time in between.
Harry senior and junior
“Last summer, I decided I really want to write something about it,” says Michaelagh, who explains that the boys are still too young to really understand what is happening.
Unsure, too, about how she’ll cope with bereavement – and support the boys through theirs, when the time comes – Michaelagh wanted something to read together with the boys when Harry is no longer with them.
“As a parent, I’d wanted to find a book to start a conversation with a child,” she explains.
“Alex is so young that I wonder, will he remember his dad?”
Harry and Alex. Picture:Monique Lara-Lise Photography
Unable to find the right book in the shops, she was inspired to write My Daddy Is My Superhero, with much of it based on the adventures that Harry senior and junior have enjoyed together.
“My Daddy Is My Superhero is a celebration of the three special years they had together when it was just the two of them,” says Michaelagh, who is planning a second book that will include the memories Alex has made with his dad.
Harry senior had been unaware that Michaelagh was writing the book, which has had his blessing, until she had completed it.
“I didn’t show him until it was finished, as it’s about his death – eventually,” she explains.
Illustrator Emily Moore brought the two Harry’s adventures beautifully to life in the book
“I think writing it was a coping mechanism for me. I can’t change what is going to happen, but I could show him a book that totally celebrates his life.
“I wanted to show him it as a complete piece, because if I’d summarised it, it could have been upsetting. Although its subject matter may be delicate, the story is intended to be beautiful. The imagery, the metaphors and the simple language are all meant to provide reassurance in a kind, familiar way.
“It’s part a celebration of life and also a way of explaining that although someone has gone, they are still there, in an abstract way.”
When Michaelagh revealed the finished text to Harry, he thought it was something she had found on the internet – and then she told him it was his story.
“He said it was amazing – and it blew him away.”
Michaelagh realised that her story could help other families already coping with loss. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations by artist Emily Moore (aka ‘Foxhat’), My Daddy Is My Superhero was published at the beginning of June. The launch party was held at Edinburgh cancer support centre Maggie’s – which has provided reassurance and emotional support to Harry and Michaelagh, as they live their everyday.
Just weeks since its launch, the book has already made its way into reference libraries in cancer centres around Scotland.
“It makes me really happy, to know it can be used as a resource,” says Michaelagh, adding that a very positive response from cancer support and child bereavement charities has been hugely encouraging.
“The feedback’s really focused on the fact I am not a grief counsellor or professional, but a mother who has written from the heart, with a mother's instinct.”
The Broadbent family. Picture: Carley Buick Photography
Happily, Harry’s latest scan results revealed in May 2018, have shown his tumour is stable. Although their boys have enjoyed looking at the book’s illustrations – and were thrilled to recognise their dad in them – Michaelagh and Harry have decided to save reading the story to them, until they need it.
“I don't want to steal this period of remission they have with their dad,” explains Michaelagh.
“We will sit them down with the book at the next recurrence and explain what might happen next.
“Harry is very proud of what I've been able to do through this book, for our children. To capture his legacy through this book, to tangibly memorialise him through the text and illustrations, it's the best I could do, given the situation.
“Of course, it’s emotional, to know that he will eventually miss out on the memories that I describe in the book. He is only young and it is so sad that my boys will lose him, and he will lose them. Writing the book was sad, but also beautiful and touching. He sees why I am doing it.”
Our Daddy is our superhero – Alex and Harry Photo: Carley Buick Photography
“I think it's a beautiful story,” agrees Harry.
“I'm very touched that Michaelagh wrote it. I think it will be great for Harry in the future to remember me, our relationship, the things we did together when he was younger. Hopefully it will help him – and our younger son Alex – deal with this difficult situation.”
Inspired by her own family’s adventures, Michaelagh hopes that My Daddy is My Superhero will help other young families when they are bereaved, to talk about and take comfort from their own memories.
“The bigger message is that positive memories remain even after a person physically changes, or leaves us,” she says.
“I hope it provides comfort to my own children – and all the other ones out there who can use it, too.”
- My Daddy Is My Superhero is available via Amazon, good bookstores and at Michaelagh’s website, www.michaelaghbroadbent.co.uk, where you can also keep up to date with her blog. You can also follow Michaelagh on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A donation from every book sold is supporting Maggie’s Edinburgh, which provides support to people living with cancer and to their families.