Saturday 18 November 2017

'I had to tell my boys that their mum was never coming home'

Darren Clarke's autobiography, An Open Book, which will be published next Thursday, includes an emotional account of the devastation he and his two young sons felt in 2006 when he lost his wife, Heather, to cancer at the age of just 39.

Telling the boys that their mum was so ill she would not be coming back, he says, was the hardest thing he ever had to do. Even though doctors had given Heather less than a year to live, he was advised against telling the children while she was in no imminent danger. The boys had been into the hospital a few times to see her. But now she was much worse.

"I didn't want them to see her with wires and tubes coming out of her," he writes. "They didn't need to see her slipping in and out of consciousness with her mind not quite functioning."

Darren says the care team in the hospital were very sympathetic but also very straightforward. Eventually, they told him Heather had only a few days left, and that it was time to tell the boys that their mother was going to heaven.

"They stressed the importance of me telling them that they were never going to see her again. There was no softly-softly approach, they said. I basically had to get the two of them beside me and tell them exactly what was going to happen," Darren writes.

"I would not wish that on my worst enemy. It was as horrible and difficult as it gets . . . I sat Tyrone, who was eight, to my right and Conor, who was five, to my left. I told them exactly what I had been advised. They both broke down screaming. It was the worst thing I have ever had to do, but I had to do it. This time they grasped that she was not coming home."

Darren pays a warm and emotional tribute to Heather's courage in his memoir. She had beaten breast cancer once before, in 2001. But when it returned in 2004 she remained positive, encouraging him to keep playing and competing even as her condition worsened. The progress of the disease was quite swift, however, and when it spread to her spine he bought her a four-wheeled motorised mobility scooter.

But she was not impressed. "You know exactly where you can shove that," she told him. Whatever she was losing, it certainly wasn't her pride, he writes.

Two days after Darren told the boys, Heather died in a London hospital, in August 2006. The funeral was back in Northern Ireland and Darren and his two young sons walked behind the hearse, as is traditional.

"It was hard, but they coped well," writes Darren. "Conor burst out screaming in the church, and Tyrone held on as best he could, but we were all bad."

In his tribute to Heather, Darren writes that "she never felt sorry for herself, never once. I don't know how she did it. I just don't know how she could not wonder why she had to be the one. She had a lot of things going for her, two wonderful kids, a husband who could be an idiot -- but sometimes was OK. And she had a nice lifestyle.

'At 39, it should have been a case of Why me? Why did she have to be the one in 10,000 who fell to this type of cancer? She never said it and I doubt that she ever thought it."

After the funeral, with intense media interest that made it all even more difficult, Darren says "the whole world came crashing down".

But eventually life moved on after the tragedy, and Darren found happiness again with Alison, another Northern Ireland woman, who he married in April this year. He says simply that he is "very lucky to have found her".

His book, of course, also goes through his golfing life in great detail, including his poignant triumph at the Ryder Cup in 2006 when he somehow summoned the courage to call up his best golf, helped by Heather's insistence in the months before she died that he should play.

And there is more than enough in the book to justify his reputation as a man who likes a pint and a bit of a party. The memoir opens with a hilarious prologue describing the morning after the night before following his win at the British Open last year. It was 5am on the Monday when the party wound down and standing in the kitchen at home he realised he could not remember where he had left the famous Claret Jug trophy.

"I have never sobered up so quickly in all my life." A search of the house bore no fruit. He and Alison were starting to get desperate -- "I'm supposed to have it for a year, not just a few hours" -- when he remembered that at some point they had been out in the garden. And there they found it, "at the bottom of the garden".

"You have no idea of the relief," he writes.

An Open Book -- My Autobiography, by Darren Clarke, is published next Thursday by Hodder & Stoughton at £20.

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