Kirsty and Freya’s story
Kirsty and Freya are remembering Chris with a Snowdrop for St Christopher's. Read their story.
Freya was one week old when her father started to feel fatigued. Chris had just started a new job and was having to leave early, recalls his wife, and Freya’s mum, Kirsty.
“He was 33, sporty, and fit, we knew something wasn’t right,” Kirsty says.
Nine months later, in September 2017, Chris died of bowel cancer.
It was only eight days before Chris’ death that his family were told he was dying – this meant they had little time to make plans to leave messages or letters for Freya, says Kirsty.
Chris loved writing and would’ve done so much for Freya if he’d had known
Kirsty met Chris in 2006 when they both worked at Chislehurst Golf Club. He was a golf pro at the club and she worked in the clubhouse when she came home from University for the holidays. They soon hit it off and when she returned from her studies for good, they started spending all their time together. After a couple of years, they bought a house and Chris proposed a few years later.
They got married in Whitstable, their home away from home. Prosecco was plentiful at the wedding after they drove to Italy in the lead-up to the big day. “We went in my little Corsa and there were bottles just everywhere, in the footwell clinking together,” remembers Kirsty, smiling. “We visited little Vineyards and bought what we liked.”
The couple had been open about wanting kids and Kirsty fell pregnant almost immediately after they’d both completed a marathon in 2016. Freya was born in early 2017. Although over the moon, Chris had started to feel really unwell.
Doctors initially diagnosed piles and then Irritable Bowel Syndrome. When he developed a severe cough, Kirsty decided to use the private healthcare service she received through her work and they found a blood clot on his lungs and cancer that had spread from his bowel to his liver, lung and stomach abdomen.
“The blood clot would have killed him, we had to get him straight on blood thinners,” says Kirsty.
The oncologist was pretty positive, she says. “He said we’ll do six lots of chemo, then we’ll do another scan. He didn’t mention that he only thought Chris had 12-18 months to live or to start planning, so we thought ‘OK, we can do this’.”
Chris died five months after the diagnosis on a private ward at Guys Hospital. “The oncologist should’ve been more honest with us,” Kirsty says. “Chris loved writing and would’ve done so much for Freya if he’d had known,” she adds. “I managed to get him to record a couple of messages and write his name in some special age cards for Freya for when she grows up.
During his illness, Freya spent a lot of time with her grandparents or friends of the couple. So, when a friend of Chris’ asked Kirsty if she’d like to start a charity or foundation – a plan Chris had been involved in before he’d got ill – she knew she wanted it to be focused on children.
“There’s so much support for people who are poorly, but what about their children or the siblings?”, she says. “As they start to get a bit older, they might be thinking is my mum going to die or my dad going to die … or why am I not the centre of attention?
“For us it was five months but for some people it could be two years or five years. They’re having to deal with their parent perhaps going into hospital constantly or every few weeks or not feeling well.
“They don’t get that time to be a kid or if it is their parents are really poorly they don’t get that opportunity to get that time together.”
The Chris Aked Foundation was launched the April after Chris died and focuses on providing support to children of families dealing with cancer and other life affecting illnesses, offering help through physical and sporting activities, counselling and memory-making days.
“I’m really conscious that I have a child who has no memories of her own of her dad,” says Kirsty. These memory-making days and experiences help others to create them.
For Freya, Kirsty focuses on sharing her own memories of Chris’ and also ensuring they both take time on the special occasions to remember and spend time with him.
This included buying a Snowdrop in 2021 as part of St Christopher’s Snowdrop installation at Down House. “I’m always thinking of ways that I can bring something in for her to remember him,” she says.
They planted the Snowdrop next to a pear tree in their garden and Freya knows she can go and spend time with her daddy when she wants.
“We always talk about him, so she’s building up an image of him and we look at photos and share memories. His parents talk a lot to her about what they remember from when he was little and it gives a different insight into him.”
The act of getting a Snowdrop – or taking time to remember with a ritual or lighting a candle or an act of remembrance – is a helpful way of having conversations about the person who has died and reflecting on your story, says Kirsty.
“And whether it’s a friend or a grandparent or whoever it may be who has died, you can use a Snowdrop to tell your story and talk about those people.”
“Because the days we don’t talk about them are the days they’re forgotten and they shouldn’t ever be forgotten, we should always talk about them.”
For 2023, St Christopher’s has commissioned another 1,300 unique and handcrafted Snowdrops which will become the Snowdrops for St Christopher’s installation in the beautiful gardens of Down House. Once the display ends, you’ll receive your Snowdrop to keep forever in your garden or place of remembrance. Like it has for Freya and Kirsty this can become a place to remember, reflect and treasure.
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