"Daddy’s body doesn’t work anymore"
RAF Widow, Emma Hendrie, wanted to be honest with her son about how his daddy died, but explaining to a three-year-old that his daddy wouldn’t be returning home from hospital was the toughest thing she’s ever had to do. She explains here how the experience has impacted her son and how he has benefited from Scotty’s Little Soldiers
Emma and Tom Hendrie were over the moon when, in 2014, they gave birth to a beautiful little boy, George. They’d always wanted to be parents and their dream had finally come true. But, just a year later, their lives turned drastically upside down as Tom was diagnosed with a very rare appendix cancer – Mucinous adenocarcinomas, which ended up taking his life.
Cancer ripped through their family for the next four years. Tom, who was a serving RAF Flight Lieutenant, made sure everything was in place for Emma and George before his death, including arrangements for his own funeral. He died on 20th July 2018.
Throughout his four-year battle with cancer, Tom and Emma remained as honest with George as possible about what was happening, explaining that daddy had a ‘poorly tummy’ and the cancer meant that ‘daddy’s tummy didn’t work’ properly.
Having always been together when explaining things to George, Emma found it incredibly difficult to sit down on her own to tell her three-year-old son why his daddy wouldn’t be coming home from hospital this time. She said it was the hardest thing she’s ever had to do. He was so young, but she wanted to ensure he understood as best as he could.
George, now aged 6 years old, is a member of Scotty’s Little Soldiers – the charity for bereaved Forces children and young people.
In this first-person account, Emma, opens up about her husband’s death, telling her son, and how support from Scotty’s Little Soldiers has helped him.
I met Tom by accident really, it’s a tale of mis-identity. We met in a bar and I thought he was someone else. We swapped numbers, and a few days later he admitted to me that he wasn’t who I thought he was but that didn’t put me off.
He was a Reservist when we met. He was living in Lincoln and I was in Waddingham, so we were close to one another.
We got married in 2012, four years after we met, and by that point Tom had joined the RAF full time. As a Reservist he’d been deployed to Iraq as a Gunner with the RAF regiment and was also commissioned into the Intelligence Branch and deployed to Afghanistan with the joint Helicopter Force in 2010.
He impressed his superiors so much on this tour that he was chosen to be the first person to liaise with the United States Marine Corps. It was after his tour of Afghanistan that he joined the RAF full time and he loved it.
Tom was a real family man. My fondest memory of him is when we took George to Canada to visit his brother and family the year before he died. It was such an adventure and Tom made it the trip of a lifetime.
Tom also focused a lot of his energy on fundraising for Macmillan after his diagnosis by rallying our friends and me to run two half marathons!! Tom had wanted to do the 2nd half marathon with us and had been running about 8k even on chemo, but it caught up with him, so instead he walked 15 miles with his best friends. He raised over 20k for Macmillan before he died.
We had George in 2014, he was only one when Tom was diagnosed with cancer. After he was diagnosed, we made the decision to start telling George that daddy had a poorly tummy. We always told George the truth but ‘fluffed’ the edges. We used the correct terminology in the hope that when he gets older it helps him process it. We explained that daddy had cancer which meant his tummy didn’t work.
Tom passed away on 20th July 2018. Explaining to a three-year-old that daddy had died was one of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had. I explained to him that because daddy couldn’t eat it was like his batteries were going flat so his body wouldn’t work anymore, and that he wouldn’t be coming back. It was important for me that George knew what had happened and I feel being honest with him from the beginning has helped him understand.
Because he knew he was dying, Tom being Tom had everything prepared for George and I, from organising the bills to arranging his own funeral at Lincoln Cathedral, he wanted everything to be in place.
It makes me feel so proud of how he dealt with his terminal cancer diagnosis, he did a lot of fact finding and research about how to tell George what was happening. He faced it and fought it all the way and constantly defied the odds. He had such a mental and physical strength and did everything he could to stay with George and I for as long as possible.
Tom is always in our minds. We talk about him all the time; we have photos all around the house and George often writes letters and draws pictures to take to daddy’s special stone.
I knew about Scotty’s before Tom died. As part of his survival guide for me, Tom had asked a friend in the RAF to help research what support was available for me and George after he’d passed. I rang one charity, and to be honest, it was a horrible experience, they said sorry we can’t help you. I then plucked up the courage and phoned Scotty’s Little Soldiers, a charity Tom’s RAF friend had underlined and said, make sure you ring them!
Nikki Scott, the founder of the charity answered the phone and straight away she said, ‘we can help you’. At the time that was all I needed to hear, that we weren’t going to do this alone. They just make us both feel part of a team – a special team.
For George, he sees Scotty’s as Daddy’s work friends and everything about the charity makes him happy and makes him feel special. They are now a big part of our lives and I know that they receive funds from organisations like the RAF Benevolent Fund which benefit other RAF families across the country. We’re so grateful for their support.
When George receives a gift from Scotty’s it always triggers a conversation about his daddy and highlights the happy memories. No child should be put in the position Scotty’s members are, but I am so happy we have Scotty’s in our lives. George and I know we are not alone and that others are experiencing the same thing we are. They are always on hand to help, advise or just listen.