Father-of-six newsreader COLIN BRAZIER opens up about the healing power of family love

We celebrated Mother’s Day as we always did. Jo propped up in bed, wreathed in smiles and surrounded by her brood.

Tea served from a pot and toast with Marmite. Handmade cards, rough-and-ready painted pottery made at school by the younger children, shop-bought gifts from the older girls. All carried in on a tray, finished off with a couple of daffodils, just picked from the garden, in a tall glass.

This year all of us will gather again. But like so many families for whom Mothering Sunday becomes a moment to re-register loss, we will cling, not to her bedside, but to her graveside. Their darling Mummy. My magnificent, bolshy, big-hearted wife. Taken from us after a six-year struggle against cancer.

The children — Edith, 19, Agnes, 16, Constance, 14, Gwendolyn, 13, Katharine, 11, and John, nine — what do they miss? The physicality, the hugs, the time for each of them, the domestic soap opera in which we were all extras, but Jo was the star

The children — Edith, 19, Agnes, 16, Constance, 14, Gwendolyn, 13, Katharine, 11, and John, nine — what do they miss? The physicality, the hugs, the time for each of them, the domestic soap opera in which we were all extras, but Jo was the star

The children — Edith, 19, Agnes, 16, Constance, 14, Gwendolyn, 13, Katharine, 11, and John, nine — what do they miss? The physicality, the hugs, the time for each of them, the domestic soap opera in which we were all extras, but Jo was the star

When she died last summer, 600 mourners came to her funeral. For what would have been her 56th birthday, in December, we invited a few close friends. But tomorrow will be just for us. The husband she guided and humoured. The children she nourished and forfeited a career for to bring into the world. Her legacy of love.

How do we cope without her? I miss her irrepressibility, her everyday theatricality, her almost supernatural ability to soak up everything life could throw at her — and keep smiling.

She believed that children — first and foremost — need parents to be parents, not their best friends. To her mind it did no harm for naughty children to realise how close to the edge of madness Mum or Dad were sometimes pushed

She believed that children — first and foremost — need parents to be parents, not their best friends. To her mind it did no harm for naughty children to realise how close to the edge of madness Mum or Dad were sometimes pushed

She believed that children — first and foremost — need parents to be parents, not their best friends. To her mind it did no harm for naughty children to realise how close to the edge of madness Mum or Dad were sometimes pushed

And the children — Edith, 19, Agnes, 16, Constance, 14, Gwendolyn, 13, Katharine, 11, and John, nine — what do they miss? The physicality, the hugs, the time for each of them, the domestic soap opera in which we were all extras, but Jo was the star.

And we miss her judgment, her infallible moral compass. Recently, I tweeted a picture of our dining room balcony, from where I’d just thrown one of my daughter’s smartphones. It was a clumsy way of expressing my frustration at the leaching into family life of social media expressed, you guessed it, via social media.

When she died last summer, 600 mourners came to her funeral. For what would have been her 56th birthday, in December, we invited a few close friends. But tomorrow will be just for us

When she died last summer, 600 mourners came to her funeral. For what would have been her 56th birthday, in December, we invited a few close friends. But tomorrow will be just for us

When she died last summer, 600 mourners came to her funeral. For what would have been her 56th birthday, in December, we invited a few close friends. But tomorrow will be just for us

After she died, I spent a lot of time running things past her — posthumously. I felt her presence, if not her wise counsel, constantly

After she died, I spent a lot of time running things past her — posthumously. I felt her presence, if not her wise counsel, constantly

After she died, I spent a lot of time running things past her — posthumously. I felt her presence, if not her wise counsel, constantly

The tweet was picked up by several newspapers. I was hailed a hero by advocates of robust parenting. A bully by those of a less forgiving bent. Having known her so long and so well, I can say with conviction that her reaction to a story about a dad losing his rag over phone use in such a kinetic way would have been to tilt back her head — and howl with laughter.

She believed that children — first and foremost — need parents to be parents, not their best friends. To her mind it did no harm for naughty children to realise how close to the edge of madness Mum or Dad were sometimes pushed.

After she died, I spent a lot of time running things past her — posthumously. I felt her presence, if not her wise counsel, constantly.

I would talk to her about inconsequential, silly things; the broken shower fitting I never fixed, the latest Brexit twist, the idiocies of a friend.

Lately, the mental hologram of her being at my side has started to evaporate, although there’s no fooling my subconscious. Jo appears in my dreams a couple of times a week. Sometimes the dreams are explicable, occasionally unfathomable.

I would talk to her about inconsequential, silly things; the broken shower fitting I never fixed, the latest Brexit twist, the idiocies of a friend

I would talk to her about inconsequential, silly things; the broken shower fitting I never fixed, the latest Brexit twist, the idiocies of a friend

I would talk to her about inconsequential, silly things; the broken shower fitting I never fixed, the latest Brexit twist, the idiocies of a friend

A particularly vivid example saw the two of us walking along a beach framed by caves. It was night-time, but I could see other people on the edge of my field of vision, also walking on the sand. It felt like a glimpse of Heaven.

These are deep waters and I frequently feel out of my depth. But Jo knew my limitations, what I could and couldn’t cope with. ‘Marry again or you’ll go mad,’ she instructed me six months before she died. Could I have told her that, had our roles been reversed? I’d like to think so, but I rather doubt it.

Such generosity of spirit was all of a piece with Jo’s personality. She was a collector of lost souls, of waifs and strays, of whom I was but one. Our home was a hostel for pets nobody else wanted; a cockerel destined for the pot, a Shetland pony bound for the knackers.

After studying politics at Bristol University, she lived abroad in Africa and the Far East. By her late 20s she was in charge of more than a dozen TV bureaux for Reuters

After studying politics at Bristol University, she lived abroad in Africa and the Far East. By her late 20s she was in charge of more than a dozen TV bureaux for Reuters

After studying politics at Bristol University, she lived abroad in Africa and the Far East. By her late 20s she was in charge of more than a dozen TV bureaux for Reuters

How she stayed sane amid the controlled pandemonium of our home, I don’t really know. It certainly wasn’t on the cards. For many years her life looked like it was following a fairly orthodox — if successful — trajectory. One where work trumped a family, or at least a large family.

After studying politics at Bristol University, she lived abroad in Africa and the Far East. By her late 20s she was in charge of more than a dozen TV bureaux for Reuters.

She came back to London when Sky asked her to be the Foreign Editor of their news channel and always told me that, when still living in Hong Kong, she felt her ‘ears fizz’ when a colleague mentioned my name for the first time.

The daily drudgery got her down. How could it not? But perhaps because she’d had quite severe depression in her late teens, she knew how to head sorrow off at the pass. Pictured, Colin Brazier's wife Jo died from breast cancer on July 6, 2018

The daily drudgery got her down. How could it not? But perhaps because she’d had quite severe depression in her late teens, she knew how to head sorrow off at the pass. Pictured, Colin Brazier's wife Jo died from breast cancer on July 6, 2018

The daily drudgery got her down. How could it not? But perhaps because she’d had quite severe depression in her late teens, she knew how to head sorrow off at the pass. Pictured, Colin Brazier’s wife Jo died from breast cancer on July 6, 2018

She was responsible for a big team of foreign correspondents when 9/11 happened and forever maintained that managing those egos was good training when it came to bringing up recalcitrant children.

She left those offspring late, mind. No fewer than five of our children were born in her 40s.

What brought about the change? Was there a Road-to-Damascus moment when she realised that a working mother couldn’t have it all? That she’d rather be an Earth mother than a toiler at the coal-face of journalism?

Life isn’t like that, is it? There was never a moment when she turned to me and said: ‘Let’s make like The Sound Of Music.’

She was responsible for a big team of foreign correspondents when 9/11 happened and forever maintained that managing those egos was good training when it came to bringing up recalcitrant children. She left those offspring late, mind. No fewer than five of our children were born in her 40s

She was responsible for a big team of foreign correspondents when 9/11 happened and forever maintained that managing those egos was good training when it came to bringing up recalcitrant children. She left those offspring late, mind. No fewer than five of our children were born in her 40s

She was responsible for a big team of foreign correspondents when 9/11 happened and forever maintained that managing those egos was good training when it came to bringing up recalcitrant children. She left those offspring late, mind. No fewer than five of our children were born in her 40s

There was a time after the birth of our first child when she struggled, as so many mothers do, with contracting out the best parts of motherhood to a stranger. But there were other things. Our shared Catholicism, her struggle to get pregnant again after our eldest was born, my career. So when I was offered the chance of a foreign posting in 2002, she quit her job and embraced a future of fecundity.

That’s not to say she was oblivious to what she had surrendered. Jo often reminded our children, in the heat of the moment, that there was a sports car before a people carrier. She always wanted to make them understand that their being around had not been inevitable, but a choice.

The daily drudgery got her down. How could it not? But perhaps because she’d had quite severe depression in her late teens, she knew how to head sorrow off at the pass.

She stopped her mind turning to blancmange by taking a GCSE and then an A-level in maths. There might have been an Indian summer career as a maths teacher, had the tumours not intervened.

She talked to everyone. A dozen or so of the women at her funeral worked on the local supermarket’s check-out tills. To the irritation of some other customers — almost always men — she would take the time to natter. Why should an interaction be transactional, when it could be friendly? That was her one golden rule.

There was a time after the birth of our first child when she struggled, as so many mothers do, with contracting out the best parts of motherhood to a stranger. But there were other things. Our shared Catholicism, her struggle to get pregnant again after our eldest was born, my career. So when I was offered the chance of a foreign posting in 2002, she quit her job and embraced a future of fecundity

There was a time after the birth of our first child when she struggled, as so many mothers do, with contracting out the best parts of motherhood to a stranger. But there were other things. Our shared Catholicism, her struggle to get pregnant again after our eldest was born, my career. So when I was offered the chance of a foreign posting in 2002, she quit her job and embraced a future of fecundity

There was a time after the birth of our first child when she struggled, as so many mothers do, with contracting out the best parts of motherhood to a stranger. But there were other things. Our shared Catholicism, her struggle to get pregnant again after our eldest was born, my career. So when I was offered the chance of a foreign posting in 2002, she quit her job and embraced a future of fecundity

She could be ferocious. But we held one another in check: there was a balance to our marriage, if not an unattainable perfection.

And so when people ask how I’m coping, I point to the positives. Sky News, where I’ve worked as a journalist for 22 years, have been hugely supportive, particularly since I can no longer drop everything and head off to cover a story who knows where.

Support has also come in the form of the many friends Jo and I made since we moved to a village near Salisbury a decade ago. Jo sang for three local choirs and still found time to deliver the local parish newsletter. If you want something doing, ask a busy woman.

And without her, practically, as well as in every other way, there is an enormous hole to fill. When the former England footballer Rio Ferdinand made a documentary called Being Mum And Dad about bringing up his three children after the death of his wife, he probably didn’t worry too much about the mortgage. I can’t afford nannies or a live-in housekeeper. So we make do as best we can. Our friends help with school runs, an enormous commitment for them.

But the rest is down to us. Second eldest child Agnes, recently turned 16, has become the school uniform tsar. Constance, 14, and Gwendolyn, 13, like to cook. Katharine, 11, and John, nine, try to make less mess than they did and are in charge of the chickens.

My eldest child, Edith, is 19 and studying geology at university. She comes home at weekends more than most students of her age might, her arrival through the front door prompting much squealing and excitement.

Less visibly, she fields calls from younger siblings who feel the need to talk through concerns with her. Everything from homework to body image.

A couple of people have asked if I’ve tried counselling. I haven’t — and worry a little that we might be in danger of medicalising the mourning process. Grief is not depression, even if its symptoms look similar.

Clearly, though, some people feel it works for them and that’s great. But where my relationship with Jo was concerned, I do not feel the weight of unresolved issues.

I’m sorry if that sounds smug or shallow. She and I were happy together. Then she got sick. And died. What blessings we had, we counted. There was lots of time to prepare. She was grateful for the time she had.

Fifty years ago, before all the fantastic advances oncology has made over that time, she would have been gone while our son, now nine, was still little more than a toddler and incapable of imprinting a lasting memory of his mother.

Other than memories, what else did Jo give them? It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to. Partly because, in the first weeks and months after her death, people would rather not directly ask me how things were. So instead of asking after me, they asked me about the children.

Initially, my stock answer was: ‘Better than expected.’ After a while, I started to wonder how true that was. Because, a few years ago, I wrote a book which predicted that a multi-child family has strengths which are increasingly overlooked — including getting kids through hard times.

My researcher and I unearthed bucket-loads of data showing how children with siblings weathered parental loss, be that through death or more commonly divorce, better than those without brothers or sisters.

The book was published by the think-tank Civitas in 2013. In it, I wrote: ‘An older sibling can clarify events for a younger child, correct misunderstandings and help create a sense of perspective.’

Inter-sibling surveillance — being a snitch — also made it harder for kids to hide or slide into ‘risky behaviours’. When I wrote those words I had no idea they would be tested in the laboratory of my own personal tragedy. Nor that bitter experience would confirm the validity of all that theorising.

Jo may be gone, but her children do counsel one another. They let me know if one of their number is struggling. That is her gift to them; each other.

Not long after Jo died, a complete stranger wrote me a long hand-written note, the contents of which I cherish to this day. She was retired, one of five girls in a family of six children, which also included a boy — the youngest, like mine.

Their mother, like Jo, had died in her early 50s. And although her siblings had moved to different parts of the world they remained a formidably strong family unit. ‘We learned to look sideways,’ she wrote.

My children, too, have learned to look sideways, to always look out for one another.

They don’t always appreciate that sense of solidarity, when they can’t find a top that has been ‘borrowed’ by a sister, for instance.

But having lived through an experience that sets them apart from their peers, they share a profound sense of understanding, loss and love. 

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