Now Or Never

Recorded recollections: Robin Summerfield on the letters, stories and advice left by her late husband

Robin Summerfield's husband passed away almost two years ago. Their son Will was only 4 years old at the time. That has Summerfield looking for new ways to keep his memory alive for their son.
Robin Summerfield, Mike O'Brien and their son, Will O'Brien. (Facebook)

Standing in her living room, surrounded by photos, toys and a family portrait drawn in green marker on an easel, Robin Summerfield is telling stories about her husband. 

Will O'Brien's family portrait. (Trevor Dineen/CBC)
Mike O'Brien died almost two years ago after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Their son, Will, was only four years old at the time. Summerfield said she is left looking for ways to keep O'Brien's memory alive for their son. 

"I want to keep Mike alive for Will. I just want it to be part of this whole process of talking about daddy, remembering daddy ... so that Mike will be a part of his life for the rest of his life," she explained.

After his diagnosis, O'Brien, who worked as an actor, writer and broadcaster, started recording stories. "He wrote letters to Will as if he was a baby, a little kid in school, as an adult, getting married ... everything you can imagine about life and some of the struggles you might have, Mike wrote Will these letters," Summerfield said.

He also spent hours in the studio, recording stories for both of them on a range of topics.

While she has read some of the letters to their son, Summerfield hasn't been able to delve very deeply into the recordings. "I haven't been able to listen to them yet. It's such a gift but I just haven't been able to listen to them," she said, her voice breaking.

The family outside their home. (Facebook)
After her now six-year-old son experienced a few bullying incidents at school, Summerfield decided it was time for Will to hear from his dad. 

"I think Will could really use some advice about kindness and standing up for yourself."

She found a recording where O'Brien addressed bullying, standing up for the little guy and making friends. Preparing to sit down with Will to listen for the first time, Summerfield is optimistic about how she'll react to hearing her husband's voice again. 

"It feels a little like ripping off a Band-Aid. It feels like this big scary thing. So maybe if I do it, if I start listening to these stories, it'll take a bit of the sting out of them. And maybe I'll find joy in listening to the stories, rather than pain."

Click the Listen button above to hear how the first listening session went.