Dad writes cards for sons he will never see grow up
DAD-of-two Joe Hammond knows he will die within a year, or two in the best-case scenario.
This cold harsh reality means he will not get to see his two beloved boys, Tom, six, and one-year-old Jimmy, grow up.
He will not attend their weddings or clap proudly at their graduations.
Nor will they recall the smell of the deodorant he wears or the hugs he gave.
Joe, who is in his 40s and lives nears Petersfield in Hampshire in the UK, is grieving his death while he is still alive.
So, in order for his much-loved boys to remember him, he has written them 33 cards - one for each birthday until they reach 18.
Now he has shared his brave story
I'm writing all my birthday cards to my sons in one go.
As I finish each one I seal the envelope and place them into an old Clarks shoe box that once contained my eldest son's first school shoes.
Tom is six and his brother, Jimmy, is nearly two.
And in a year or two, I will be gone.
Because of motor neurone disease, I'm already saying goodbye to my two boys; or to the things we used to be and do.
Saying goodbye to dens made out of duvets in the morning or to swimming underwater with Tom holding on to my waist.
Or to even simpler things than this: to helping after a fall or helping scoop peas onto a spoon.
The gentlest of goodbyes
I watch as my part in their lives slowly changes. This is the gentlest of goodbyes.
And I'm saying goodbye to my wife. I look down as she puts my shoes and socks on.
I put my hand upon her head and feel the softness of her strands of hair. I think about the life and dreams she's lost.
The hardship we now face. This life and loss we weren't prepared for.
I think about the life we made and patched together - the unexpected journeys we all take.
It was subtle at first
It started with a foot that wouldn't leave the ground.
It was subtle at first: the sensation that I may have trodden on a piece of chewing gum. Now I can push my fingers through the place where once my muscles used to be.
And when I speak I wonder who this whispering person is. I glimpse my wheelchair in a pane of glass and wonder who this man is.
But shocking as these changes are, they're not my real losses.
My loss is somewhere in the future. It's a quiet scene of a mum and two young sons taking out the bins or unloading the shopping or milling around in the kitchen.
It's strange to know the loss I grieve is something yet to come.
I've done everything I needed
I often think of all the things in life I've done or haven't done - the messes that I made, the opportunities I missed.
I can live with these because I did the thing I needed to: I loved my kids and listened when they spoke, and listened when they didn't.
I noticed who they were and loved the panoramic view of both their lives. I triumphed in the life and role that matters most.
It was a friend who said that birthdays are the lowest point - a friend who lost his father and missed him most on these days.
This is where the drive to write these cards first came from. It's this that made me wonder what my sons might feel and need.
What is it on those special days? What is that yearly pain a child might feel? What is it I could give?
I think it's this: that my two boys will need to know that what we shared was real.
A dad they feel they know and can remember
And so in every card, I write a little memory of something that we did; a place we went to. Because I've learnt that children who lose parents look for a detail that can help them to understand.
The plain old detail of the way we lived: the cheap own-brand deodorant I used, the way I liked to cook our scrambled eggs.
All these little details of our lives because these tell the story of who we are, or were.
And now I'm halfway through these cards. I've speeded up.
My muscles in my legs went first but now my hands cramp up. But I'll write these cards. I'll write them now knowing, in a kind of way, that I will be there for both my boys.
A dad they feel they know and can remember.
This story originally appeared on The Sun and republished here with full permission.