British MP Jo Cox, 41, was fatally stabbed and shot by a right-wing extremist on June 16, 2016, in Leeds.
Now, her husband has written about what it was like to “end the charmed innocence” of the lives of their two young children. They were aged five and three when she died.
I told Cuillin and Lejla about Jo at my parents’ house. It was almost unbearable to end the charmed innocence of their lives. I hated what I had to do; I hated myself for having to do it. They absorbed the truth in different ways. I felt heartbroken for my children – but also determined to keep these shattering moments to ourselves as much as possible.
A couple of hours later Stacia, who is the kindest, most thoughtful person I know, and a trained teacher, came up with an idea we all liked. Each of us would write down some of our favourite memories of Jo – of Mummy – on small pieces of coloured paper. We would then hang these memories on the apple tree in Mum and Dad’s garden.
In this way Cuillin and Lejla and I, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and their three sons, shared our most cherished snapshots of Jo. We wrote the words on to the tiny paper sheets and, before we hung each one on a branch, we read our memories out loud.
The kids liked doing it. The apple tree looked beautiful decorated with all our words. It seemed to have taken on fresh life. It was full of Jo, with even more paper memories of her than there were apples to be picked on that summer afternoon. The kids made fun of my awful drawings. We made it through supper and bath time, and then the crash came. The children could no longer hold anything more inside their little hearts.
Cuillin and Lejla cried bitter, painful tears. They were distressed, wanting to see Jo, calling for her, needing her more than ever. I tried everything I could think of but, in my exhausted grief, nothing seemed to work. When I began to sing they became even more upset. They wanted Mummy to sing to them, not me.
Then, something extraordinary happened. Cuillin likes to make up songs. For the last couple of years, ever since he was three, he has loved making up songs with his own words. It’s a gift he gets from Jo who had a vivid imagination and always created new worlds for Cuillin and Lejla at bedtime.
She wove together long stories she dreamed up about her imaginary hero, Finley the Fieldmouse, and enchanted the kids with his fantastical new adventures every night. Finley would be engaged in wild boar hunts in the woods in between dancing with moles and fighting off marauding monsters. Cuillin and Lejla absorbed everything and loved it, especially, when their mum acted out the roles while entrancing them with her rattling yarns.
That night, not much more than 24 hours after her death, Cuillin asked me if he could sing a song. ‘It’s my new song about Mummy,’ he said. I told Cuillin that I would love to hear his song. Lejla, her chest still heaving, nodded. She would also like to hear Cuillin sing about Mummy. Cuillin asked if I would sing with him. I hugged him.
‘Of course.’ Would I record us singing together? I reached for my phone which had been switched off all day. It came blazing back to life with beeps and buzzes, texts and voicemail messages. I could tell that there were hundreds but I didn’t want to look at any of them or listen to a single message.
I just wanted to be with the kids and hear Cuillin sing about Jo. We had talked all day and I’d tried to answer their questions honestly. I had to say, no, I couldn’t dream up a way to bring Mummy back to us.
I explained to Cuillin that his good idea that scientists might be able to inject life into her wouldn’t work. We also couldn’t make a new version of Mummy out of wood, as Lejla had suggested, and we weren’t going to see her in another world. I told them that Jo was gone but that she lived on in our hearts and heads.
We would never forget her because we would always talk about her and we would always love her. There were times when I wasn’t sure if any of my well-meaning words were sinking in – such was our torment – but I would soon see that they had understood. That gift came from Cuillin.
'Are we ready?’ he asked, sitting up in bed. ‘Yes, we’re ready,’ I said softly. Lejla looked up at Cuillin, her face suddenly expectant. Like an instinctive musician, Cuillin counted out the start: ‘One, two . . .’ And then he started.
‘I really love my mum,’ he sang in a husky little croak before he looked anxiously at me.
‘Can you sing it with me?’
We slipped into an echoing call-and-answer routine. Cuillin’s voice was soft but clear, high but strong. My own voice was a much lower burr, thick with tears and love, as I repeated his words in a husky half-spoken sing-song.
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Cuillin: I love my mumma.
Me: I love my mumma.
Cuillin: But now she’s dead.
Me: But now she’s dead.
I took in a sharp breath at the use of ‘dead’ in a small child’s song, but Cuillin concentrated with such purity. He lifted up his head and sang louder:
Cuillin: She used to be so kind.
Me: She used to be so kind.
Cuillin: But now she’s dead.
Me: Now she’s dead.
Cuillin: But she will still be with us.
Me: But she will still be with us.
Cuillin: We’ll carry her in our hearts
Lejla smiled her sweetest sleepy smile. Cuillin kept going:
Cuillin: I love my mummy.
Me: I love my mummy.
Cuillin: I will not leave her behind.
Me: I will not leave her behind.
Hope and belief were now surging through Cuillin. He looked me straight in the eye and sang:
Cuillin: That’s a very big promise to you.
Me: That’s a very big promise to you.
Cuillin: But I really, really promise it.
By now I was so impressed and uplifted that I added my own lines to his as we often did:
Me: Promise it, da do do do.
Cuillin: So we will not leave her behind, will we?
Me: We’ll never leave her behind – she’s in our hearts.
Cuillin: Oh, what a time it was.
Me: Every day, in every way.
Cuillin: We’ll talk about her. We’ll sing about her. All times.
Me: We’ll love her every day of our lives.
Cuillin: So that is a promise. We just love our mumma but now she’s dead.
‘That was a beautiful song. Did you just make it up?’ ‘Yeah,’ Cuillin said, sounding shy. ‘That was the most beautiful song,’ I said again. ‘Can we listen to it?’ Cuillin asked. ‘You want to listen to it now?’ ‘Yeah,’ Cuillin said.
Lejla was slipping away into sleep and, after we had tucked her in and given her a kiss, Cuillin and I settled down. I pulled him close to me and we listened again to his song of truth. Like I am doing now, we both cried as we heard him sing his song for Jo.
This is an extract from Jo Cox: More in Common by Brendan Cox, published by Hachette Australia. You can find it here.