Stephen Teap: ‘The only way I can describe grief is like a tsunami of emotion’

Stephen Teap's wife Irene died in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Stephen and Irene Teap with their two children Noah (3) and Oscar (5) Irene Teap died last year after receiving incorrect cervical cancer screening results. Photograph: Stephen Teap/Facebook

Stephen and Irene Teap with their two children Noah (3) and Oscar (5) Irene Teap died last year after receiving incorrect cervical cancer screening results. Photograph: Stephen Teap/Facebook

 

Stephen Teap was just 36 when his wife Irene died two years ago at the age of 35, leaving behind two young sons Oscar and Noah.

Although he wasn’t aware at the time, Stephen was to learn nine months later that Irene was one of the women caught up in the national cervical cancer scandal.

When Irene died, Stephen didn’t know where to turn. “We don’t talk about grief. When you become a widower at 36, and you have a four- and two-year-old, because we don’t talk about it, there is nowhere to actually find other people who have been in this situation, so you end up trying to piece things back together on your own.”

“When you hear of single parents, it’s nearly always women. I see advertisements down here in Carrigaline for a women’s coffee morning.”

I didn’t plan months ahead. I just took it day by day

“What will I do, go to Starbucks on my own?” he asks, highlighting the unique challenges faced by fathers who are parenting alone.

Oscar was four when his mother died and Stephen told him of her passing on the morning of Irene’s death. “He was very, very upset, for months afterwards and still is today.”

But telling Noah was a different challenge, “because he was two and so didn’t have the vocabulary to understand what was going on”.

One day, three months after Irene’s death Noah asked: “Where is momma?”

Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical smear test controversy, and Stephen Teap with their Jo Cox Award last November. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical smear test controversy, and Stephen Teap with their Jo Cox Award last November. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

‘Day by day’

“As cold as it was, using the only words that I knew he would understand, I said, ‘momma is all gone’. He wouldn’t have understood anything else. That was the first time that he understood in some way, that she wasn’t coming back.

“I’d never dealt with grief in my life before. I had to try to manage my own grief and the grief of two young children. The only way I can describe grief is like a tsunami of emotion. You just don’t know when or where it’s going to hit.”

Stephen spent the month after Irene’s death trying to put structure and routine in place for the three of them. “Oscar was starting primary school for the first time and Noah had never been in creche before. I had to get him settled and co-ordinate his days with Oscar’s days. I work four days per week because I needed to build a family structure.”

“I didn’t plan months ahead,” he explains, “I just took it day by day”.

Stephen recalls one evening, snuggled on the couch, watching television with Oscar, when he thought “Christ we can actually do this”.

“What we didn’t know as we watched Britain’s Got Talent, was that Vicky Phelan was about to appear on The Ray D’Arcy Show. Little did I know, just as I was saying to myself, we’re going to be alright here, that my whole world would completely explode and erupt in a new way. We were pretty much teleported and transported back to the beginning. Now I was a widower, solo parenting, raising two small children, in the middle of a scandal.”

Keeping Irene’s memory alive is important to Stephen, especially as the thing that made her cry most was “that her two-year-old wouldn’t remember her”.

Although milestone days and occasions are difficult they “face them head on, but talking about it”.

Stephen finds platitudes often offered to the bereaved unhelpful and believes language is important. “The correct term for people in our situation is moving forward, not moving on,” he explains, “You literally capture all the memories, all the love, all the pain and you carry them on with you. You’re keeping the memory of the person you love alive.”

Read: ‘Life was perfect and then I was planning his funeral’

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