OSCAR Teap, aged six, and President Michael D. Higgins are good pals. They’re the kind of pals that can say anything to each other.
“What did you say to the President the last time you met him?” dad Stephen inquired.
“I told him that his two dogs were bigger than he was!” said Oscar, scampering back to the sitting room where the Christmas lights twinkle with promises of good things to come.
“Don’t write that down!” says Stephen, laughing, as he puts on the kettle for a cuppa.
But I already have.
“The boys were at the President’s house and they were delighted, playing with his dogs, Sioda and Bród,” says Stephen.
The Teap boys have had a busy few months.
“They were invited to RTÉ in Montrose to look at the set-up for the Toy Show at the rehearsal before the show went live and they had a full tour of the studio. They got to try out loads of toys,” Stephen added.
It was like a winter wonderland.
“They were so excited,” he said.
What is Santa bringing to the Teap household in Carrigaline?
“Oscar has asked Santa for the Nintendo Switch and Noah is getting Iron-Man Lego. That’s nailed down,” said Stephen, smiling.
Noah, aged three, bounds into the kitchen, deciding that Crunchy Nut cornflakes with sprinkles are a good idea.
“Don’t write that down either!” said Stephen.
But I already have.
It’s all go for the Teap lads at the most magical time of the year.
“We’re one of 300 families that Michael D. invited to Dublin for the switching on of the Christmas lights,” said Stephen, when we spoke recently.
“We’re heading up on the train in the morning. Oscar and Noah are all excited about the Christmas lights this year.”
This year, things are no different in the Teap household, even though the presence of the mother of the house is sorely missed.
“For the boys, life goes on,” said Stephen, who lost his wife Irene, in July 2017.
She is one of 221+ women caught up in the Cervical Cancer scandal.
“You have only one chance to make the memories. You can’t re-do it again.”
Stephen continues to strengthen and honour his family’s traditions. The Christmas box, to be opened tonight, before Santa arrives, is under the tree. Inside are two new pairs of pyjamas for Oscar and Noah, along with the Christmas story book telling tales of magic and wonder.
Rudolph’s snacks are all sorted along with Santa’s. There is a special cup and plate inside the Christmas box for the man himself.
“The box is always opened on Christmas Eve and when the boys get into their pyjamas ready for bed,” says Stephen.
“Irene always read them a story before they went to sleep about the magic of Christmas.”
Family tradition continues at the Teap house where Noah was born and where Irene died.
“It is still the same,” says Stephen. “The memories are the same.”
Irene and Stephen were together for 16 years, setting up home in Carrigaline in 2005.
Five years after they were engaged, they were married, in 2011, and Oscar was born the following year. Noah was welcomed into the fold two years later.
“I never Imagined life as a single dad,” said Stephen.
“You never plan to have kids on your own, do you?”
Irene was one of 17 women who died of cervical cancer, not knowing that her cervical smear tests were incorrect. The 35-year-old was one of more than 200 women affected by the cervical smear test scandal.
“We’d hoped to get to the end of the summer,” said Stephen, remembering the hopes he shared with his late wife.
“Irene wanted to see Oscar start primary school at the end of August. That was her goal. That’s what she set herself.”
It wasn’t to be.
“All the other kids had their mum and dad the first day of school. I took photographs even though I felt like s**t,” says Stephen.
“It was a sad day for Oscar. He didn’t have mum.”
Mum is sorely missed every day.
“Christmas is just another milestone without Irene. It’s another day that is like any ordinary day without Irene,” says Stephen.
He never thought there’d be days like this.
“It is all about making memories and keeping Irene’s memory alive. I talk to her in my own way,” he says.
Stephen is dad, day in, day out.
“I do the daily preparations and make sure it’s all good for the boys,” says Stephen, who hopes that his advocacy for improved cancer screening can ensure what happened to Irene never occurs again.
Stephen embraced fatherhood from the start.
“I was always hands-on anyway, ever since the boys arrived,” said Stephen.
“So it is no burden for me.”
He’s an old hand at looking after his sons.
“Irene didn’t put the boys to bed since February the year she died,” says Stephen.
“She was too sick from that February until she died in July.”
He thinks about his first love every day; the mother of his two sons.
“I find making decisions the most daunting thing. I have no one to bounce anything off. Irene was a great organiser, sorting trips and family holidays. She was the ultimate researcher. Sometimes I find myself talking to myself in the mirror seeking answers to things.”
There is no answer to the emptiness of the empty chair, or the hollow echo of shared laughter. Against the back-drop of the happiness Christmas brings, increased emphasis is on the person who is missed most.
Stephen’s life revolves around Oscar and Noah. They kept him anchored during the tumult of losing their mother.
“The boys are my whole life,” he said.
There is no ‘me’ time now that Stephen is a lone parent.
“I used to like running and going to the gym after work.
“During this long fabulous summer we had, I’d love to have put on my shorts and gone for a run of a random evening. I miss that.”
In the time since Irene’s death, the structure and the everyday hum-drum of family life enabled Stephen to cope in the midst of his terrible grief.
“For me, it is the special moments,” he said.
“I have a photo of Oscar after falling asleep in bed while reading. The amount of times I had to take a book from his mum’s hand after she fell asleep reading to him and I had to do exactly the same for him recently and I took a photo of him.”
Old habits die hard.
“I came down the stairs to show the photo to Irene and say; ‘Look at this. Remind you of anyone?” But she’s not here.
“They are the moments you miss the most, the ones you want to share, that no-one else would understand. I have no-one to show that photo now.”
Life is busy bringing up two boys.
“The flexibility of doing things like running after work are gone,” said Stephen.
“Sometimes my head is going around at 100 miles an hour. I wear a lot of hats! The school concerts are coming up and so is the parent teacher meeting in January. I must attend all of those of course.”
He likes hanging out with the lads.
“I enjoy down-time with the boys,” says Stephen.
“I like to hang out with them.”
The threesome is heading to Uncle Harry’s in Grange for Christmas dinner.
“It’ll be a bit of fun, spending the day with Harry, his partner, Toni, and the cousins,” says Stephen.
The milestones without Irene continue to mount up.
“There are some family birthdays coming up, including Irene’s,” says Stephen.
Life is the same, but different.
“There are a lot of widowers and families torn apart by the cervical cancer scandal,” says Stephen.
“The amount of damage won’t be measured for another two years at least.
“Eventually, it will come to a point when the boys are old enough, they will be asking me questions about how this scandal happened,” says Stephen.
“The answer I have to give them is that I fought for accountability and to fix the mistakes that were made so no one ends up in the situation we did.”
That’s worth writing down.