When we miss someone, all kinds of special memories keep them alive in our heart. Michaelagh Broadbent is determined her young sons Harry junior, five and Alex two, will grow up with their amazing dad in their lives – even when he is no longer there.
My Daddy is my superhero
He’s tall and strong and smart.
He’s funny and he’s nice to me
And he lives inside my heart
Although doctors haven’t said how much time he has left, it’s made the young family determined to make the absolute most of every moment they have.
And with husband Harry’s blessing, Michaelagh has been writing a book for their boys, describing just what a superhero their dad is.
Michaelagh’s beautiful book
Their dad, Harry senior, has a brain tumour and both he and Michaelagh are both aware of just how precious the time the family have together, is.
Harry has been told by doctors that there’s no cure for the cancer he’s living with.
Harry, 34, and Michaelagh met and fell in love in 2006 in New Hampshire, when they were in their early twenties. Working as youth leaders at Camp America, they both shared a love of the waterfront. For Harry it was sailing, for Michaelagh, waterskiing.
When Harry returned to England, the couple kept up a long-distance relationship for two years.
“There were lots of very long emails between us and we decided we really wanted to make it work,” remembers Boston-born Michaelagh, 32.
In 2007 Michaelagh was accepted onto a Masters degree course to study in Edinburgh. When she moved to Scotland, Harry headed up there to join her.
When his first symptoms and headaches began, Harry put them down to panic attacks or the stress of his high-pressure job at a bank. Maybe his eyes were strained, after long hours spent at the computer?
Michaelagh, Alex, Harry senior and Harry junior. Photo: Carley Buick Photography
“He was only 25, so at first wasn’t alarmed when he was booked in for an MRI scan,” says Michaelagh.
“Harry was enjoying a sailing holiday in Cornwall, when doctors called him and broke the devastating news that a large brain tumour had shown up on the scan and that the symptoms he’d been experiencing were seizures.”
With little time to register their shock, Harry was rushed into surgery in August 2009.
“The doctors warned us that it could risk changes to his personality and the way he was.
“It was scary,” says Michaelagh.
In love: Michaelagh and Harry
Signing the consent forms, Harry broke down.
“This is really happening,” he said.
The operation took nine hours and Michaelagh’s heart lifted when Harry came out of surgery.
“When I saw him, he was himself, despite the scary bandages,” she says.
But two weeks later, as Harry was recovering at home from the operation, there was more bad news. His brain tumour was not benign and needed radiotherapy treatment.
Yet despite this, Harry was back at work within two months and he and Michaelagh focused on enjoying life together.
In 2010 they moved to London, and in February 2011, against the backdrop of a spectacularly illuminated St Paul’s Cathedral, Harry proposed.
Their wedding, in Boston, Massachusetts, had a nautical theme – and on their first anniversary, son Harry was born.
A perfect day
His birth was a joy after a difficult pregnancy, during which doctors had warned Michaelagh she might lose the baby.
“We knew he was going to be a boy and always knew he’d be a Harry,” she says.
“I think the idea I might lose him definitely influenced the fact I named him Harry.”
Harry and Harry
Until December 2014, Harry senior’s six-monthly brain scans had been showing his health was stable.
“After five years, I wanted to believe the tumour wouldn’t come back,” says Michaelagh.
“We never went to MRI scan result days thinking it would be bad news.”
But not long after Christmas Harry got the results of his latest scan.
“It’s not good news,” he said.
“Our world came crashing down,” says Michaelagh.
“But it was growing slowly, so doctors said that they would watch and wait. They wanted us to have a normal life.”
New arrival – Harry and Alex. Picture:Monique Lara-Lise Photography
Christmas 2016 was their first as a family of four with new baby, Alex. Not long after, Harry went through another gruelling operation, followed by six months of chemotherapy. Life got back to normal, but this time Michaelagh and Harry knew a health scare could happen again – with less time in between.
“We decided, let’s enjoy life and last summer, I decided I really want to write something about it,” says Michaelagh.
With the boys still too young to really understand what was happening, she wanted something to read together with when they are a little older, when Harry is no longer with them.
“As a parent, I 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?”
Unable to find the right book in the shops, she realised that writing the family’s story could help other families, too.
Michaelagh’s book gradually took shape
Inspired, it didn’t take her long to write My Daddy Is My Superhero, with much of it based on the adventures that Harry senior and junior enjoy together.
A page from Michaelagh’s book
“My Daddy Is My Superhero is a celebration of the three special years they had together when it was just the two of them,” she says.
“I have an idea for the next book, so that Alex doesn’t feel left out.”
Now we are four. Welcoming Alex into the world. Photo :Monique Lara-Lise Photography
Harry senior was unaware that Michaelagh was writing the book. “I didn’t show him – it’s about his death, eventually,” she explains.
“I think writing it was a coping mechanism for me. I can’t change what is going to happen, but I can 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.”
Stargazers: Harry and his boys have so much fun together
When Michaelagh revealed the finished book to Harry, he thought it was a sweet story she had found on the internet and was touched and proud when she told him she’d written it.
“He said it was amazing – and it blew him away,” she smiles.
“It may seem odd to have written something like this beforehand, but I want it to be there when the children need it. Harry sees why I’m doing it. It’s sad, but also beautiful and touching.”
My Daddy Is My Superhero set to be published in May, with proceeds from the book, beautifully illustrated by artist Emily Moore (aka Fox Hat), going to cancer support centre Maggie’s – its Edinburgh centre is where the book launch party is going to be held.
The whole family is looking forward to celebrating the book’s publication together. Proceeds from it will go to Maggie’s.
Our Daddy is our superhero – Alex and Harry Photo: Carley Buick Photography
“The hospital part of cancer treatment is scary, but Maggie’s is not scary,” explains Michaelagh. “It’s comforting and loving.”
And that’s exactly how she hopes readers will find her book, too.