'Why did Mummy die?' Grieving dad creates book of answers

·6-min read
Helga Peeters while she was going through treatment and the family's book about her cancer journey. (SWNS)
Helga Peeters while she was going through treatment and the family's book about her cancer journey. (SWNS)

A grieving husband has turned poignant social media messages his dying wife shared during her cancer battle into a book for their children to remember her by.

Justin Bowen, 49, from Droitwich, Worcestershire, decided to publish his wife Helga Peeters' messages so their children could read their mother’s story in her own words.

Peeters, a financial analyst and parish councillor, died following a three year battle with breast cancer, aged just 36, in August 2019.

Throughout her illness the mum-of-two wrote a series of emotional Facebook posts to keep friends and family up to date on her treatment and health.

Following Peeters' death, Bowen spent 18 months pulling together the messages into a book for son, Bren, seven, and daughter Seren, nine.

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Justin Bowen and his wife Helga Peeters with children Bren, seven, and Seren, nine. (SWNS)
Justin Bowen and his wife Helga Peeters with children Bren, seven, and Seren, nine. (SWNS)

Bowen said he wanted to use the social media updates to explain what had happened to Peeters after his children heartbreakingly asked: "Why did mummy have to die?"

"Helga was such an inspiration," Bowen explains. "She faced this how she faced everything, with positivity, courage and humour.

“She was determined to live as long as she could and she fought with all her might until the very end."

In the weeks after his wife's death, Bowen says the children inevitably had lots of questions about what happened to their mother. 

“I realised that they needed answers and I thought the best way to do it was to print off all the posts we shared about our family’s cancer journey on Facebook and put them together in a folder," he continues. 

“The idea was that one day, if the children wanted to know the whole story, they could read it as it happened.

“I think Helga would be really proud of it and touched that so many people are interested in it.

“If just one family read it and it makes a difference for them it will have been worthwhile."

Bowen originally met Peeters, who is originally from Belgium, while on holiday in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2003 and the couple married in 2007.

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Justin Bowen and his wife Helga Peeters with children Bren, seven, and Seren, nine. (SWNS)
Justin Bowen and his wife Helga Peeters with children Bren, seven, and Seren, nine. (SWNS)

Peeters was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and had to undergo chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

"Because Helga is from Belgium we wanted to keep everyone, friends and family up to date," he explains. 

“It was very hard for her at first. We would put up posts on my Facebook page or hers to tell people what was happening.

“I would do the more factual updates, for example about appointments and treatments while Helga would write about how she was finding it and her experience."

In one of the posts, Peeters wrote: “I am merely doing what anyone in my shoes would be doing, and that’s holding out as long as I can for my family and friends.

“But most of all for my two children who I wouldn’t want to grow up without a mother."

In another heartbreaking post just two days before her death, she put: "I love my family very much and will miss you all terribly.

“Whenever you feel sad look up at the stars and know we'll be twinkling for you."

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Though he found putting the book together difficult, Bowen hopes it might help other families living with cancer. 

“I’ve found it very emotional and therapeutic at the same time," he explains.

“It’s inspiring to recall how courageously she dealt with the illness.

“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but also immensely helpful as I build a new life with the children."

Though the children are excited about their mother's story being published, Bowen admits they all shed a few tears when the proof copy arrived. 

Before it was published Bowen also showed the book to a counsellor at the hospice he is planning on giving a proportion of the profits to.

“She came back to me and said it was perfect, it doesn’t miss a step and tells the whole story how it really is," he says. 

“Although Helga died before going into the hospice, one of the nurses there was very supportive during her illness and the book is also a ‘thank you’ for that."

The family hope the book has captured some of Peeters' qualities.

“Helga was very strong, very loving, with a great sense of humour and I hope that comes across in the book," Bowen adds. 

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Justin Bowen spent 18 months putting together the book after his wife died from breast cancer in 2019. (SWNS)
Justin Bowen spent 18 months putting together the book after his wife died from breast cancer in 2019. (SWNS)

Extracts from the book

In a post on 4 February, 2019, Helga wrote: “Ah, apparently it’s World Cancer Day.

“I can only look at it with mixed feelings.

“It’s brought two extremes to my life.

“One of days filled with happiness as I don’t think I could have ever looked at life and enjoyed it as it is.

“It has also brought me the dark days of uncertainty.

“I’ll never be a fighter or survivor or any of that stuff.

“It will eventually claim me.

“I am merely doing what anyone in my shoes would be doing, and that’s holding on out as long as I can for my family and friends.

“But most of all for my two children who I wouldn’t want to grow up without a mother.

“I am merely at the mercy of the medical world.

“They are the masters of this show.

“Hoping one day something sticks or they find a cure.

“I can live and dream.”

On 20 February, 2019, she wrote: “Define a ‘good mum’.

“After all we all are trying our best and make mistakes along the way.

“There is never a parent manual and for those that are out there… get with it and get real.

“However must be doing something right when after getting Seren out of the shower and wrapping her up yesterday, she says: ‘You’re a good mummy.’

“‘Awww’ I hear you go.

“So I asked her why she said that and she replied: ‘Because you look after us so well’.

“Bless her. Guess I’m doing something right.”

Two days before Helga died, on 5 August, 2019, she wrote: "I love my family very much and will miss you all terribly.

“Whenever you feel sad look up at the stars and know we'll be twinkling for you."

"As my mother once said, make something of your life and I know you'll do well. I am very proud of you. Lots of love xxx "

Part of the proceeds from Fighting for this Life: Our Cancer Journey will go to St. Richard’s Hospice as a thank you for the support they gave to Peeters and her family.

The 140 page book can be purchased for £19 at Amazon.

Additional reporting SWNS.

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