Thoughts after the first anniversary of the loss of BBC radio producer Simon Willis
by By Hayley Willis – Simon’s wife and mother of their children
Although Simon and I separated in April 2019, before he passed away, he remained very central to my life – we were very close and saw each other almost every day – I only lived a mile away and if we didn’t see each other, we would definitely talk on the phone every day. We remained united in the education of our two children and even went on vacation together as a family.
Simon, a former BBC producer who worked with Zoe Ball, Jo Whiley, Simon Mayo and the late Terry Wogan, was a bubbly, larger-than-life character who beamed with delight and was a devoted father. Simon was godfather to Jo Whiley’s children whilst she is godmother to Bevan and together with her husband Steve, who was also a great friend of Simon’s, they remain close family friends, contacting us often and meeting with us when we all can.
The first anniversary of Simon’s death came on March 3 after we lost him to glioblastoma (GBM) brain tumor, poignantly at the start of Brain Tumor Awareness Month. Honor now 10 and Bevan, 14, and I have to get used to these occasions. We already had the first Father’s Day and the first Christmas without him, as well as his birthday where we focused on positive things. Honor insisted that we still buy dad a cake for his birthday!
Being older children when they lost their father, it was quite difficult. This hit Bevan hard – he lost his male role model and despite having uncles and grandfathers, Bevan now lives in a female household. The sad thing is that it’s really hard to access bereavement support for him. There are many groups for young children, many of which offer artistic activities. He went to one and had to make a bookmark. His reaction was inevitably: “How is that supposed to make me feel better that dad is dead?”
The GP referred us to a local charity for children, young people and their families that supports mental health and emotional wellbeing, but strangely losing a parent does not meet their criteria for bereavement support! I had to go private to get help with the kids.
I watch Bevan and often notice that he begins to become Simon in miniature. Bevan loves 80s music, which they reportedly bonded over, and even requested a cassette player for Christmas so he could create mixed tapes. That would have given Simon such a kick! Bevan also thinks of working in radio like his father.
Since losing her father, Honor has, unsurprisingly, developed some separation anxiety. She always checks in with me where I’m going and how she can get in touch if she needs me.
I am also very aware of the enormous stress on Simon’s parents who live in the North East, which together with the distance makes it harder for them too to see their grandchildren.
Simon and his brother Mark were very close, so it’s difficult for him too. Mark was a rock to all of us after Simon was diagnosed with what was initially Grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma on Christmas Eve 2017. Faced with such shocking news, we scrapped our Christmas plans and Mark hosted Christmas at the square. He continued to watch over his brother and even had Simon live with him for a time after his second surgery after the brain tumor reappeared.
Simon was the funniest person I’ve ever met and he made me laugh more than anyone else. Even doing nothing together was fun. I ache for those moments now.
Cancer and all that went with it wasn’t so hilarious. Our whole lives fell apart and I never saw it coming. I can’t even begin to tell you how scary it is to know that someone isn’t going to get better. If he didn’t pick up the phone or answer immediately when I entered the house and shouted hello, fear would overwhelm me.
How do you even begin to prepare yourself or your children for this? It was agony.
The moment I dreaded came at 5:37 a.m. on March 3. I knew the second my phone rang what had happened. “Are you next of kin to Simon Willis?” » Nothing can prepare you for this moment. Nothing. Although he knew throughout his illness that this would be the result, when it actually happened, it was nothing like I had imagined. I think I expected an eleventh-hour miracle because someone like him couldn’t die.
Day to day, I miss not having Simon’s support and need to plan a lot more. I’m a single parent with no one else around to take over. I don’t like to continually ask people for help, like when I’m late for school pickup.
It’s been an extremely stressful year in so many ways, not just because of Simon’s death, but also having to sell and move out of the family home, being laid off from my job and starting to retrain. as a midwife. I need to get familiar with essay writing, which is very different from the writing I did in my previous role as a social media manager.
I hope that by writing this blog and flagging Simon’s brain tumor story, available to read on this website, I can play my part in raising awareness, especially during Brain Tumor Awareness Month . It’s only when your family is affected that you truly understand the terrible implications of this devastating form of cancer that destroys lives and families. The only way to change that is to improve outcomes for brain tumor patients and eventually find a cure.
Simon participates in the 2019 Hope Walk with the children