Softball player Andre Costigan adjusts to life as a single dad after wife loses battle with cancer
Andre Costigan, a Harbour Main native in town to play in the national senior mens fastpitch championship, is adjusting to life as a single dad to his two sons, Kaleb, 5, and Levi, 3. His wife Christy died in May 2006, after a 20-month battle with cancer. Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
Andre Costigan wants to win next weeks Canadian fastpitch championship as bad as any player, but losing the tournament isnt something hed develop ulcers over.
Thats because Costigan knows what it feels like to lose someone you love.
But life goes on, no matter how tough your circumstances.
A little over a year ago, on May 15, 2006, Costigans 32-year-old wife Christy died after a 20-month battle with cancer. He was left with two young boys, Kaleb and Levi, to raise by himself while trying to adjust to life without the woman he loved.
What are my options
Lots of people have said, I dont know if I could go on, or I dont know if I could go through what youre going through. The first thing I do is ask them, What are my options? said Costigan, who will play with the Stony Plain (Alberta) Twiliters during the national senior mens fastpitch championship next week in St. Johns.
I tell them, I have two small kids. Do you want me to pack it in, let the boys go to social services?
There are people out there who are worse off than me. Right away, there are two people worse off than me Christys parents. Anyone who has kids knows what true love is, and how awful it would be to see them suffer and die. ... Let me tell you something, I could have it a lot worse I could be watching my children die.
Costigan, who grew up in Harbour Main before moving to Calgary for work in 1996, displays both pride and sorrow when he discusses his wife of
5 1/2 years.
At times, he flashes a big, bright smile when talking about the way she baked cookies for their sons and threw the type of birthday parties you normally only see in Disney movies Cakes, balloons, a hundred guests, the whole deal, he recalls.
But Costigan, 37, also struggles to hold back tears when talking about the woman he planned to grow old with, the mother of his children and, clearly, his best friend.
Despite his sorrow, Costigan insists that talking about his wife is the best way to move forward.
Its healing, it really is, he said. Theres no reason not to talk about her. Talking about her is a way of celebrating her life.
Costigan moved to Alberta to work on an oil rig before later accepting a position at the Calgary Young Offenders Centre as a correctional services worker. It was there the MUN graduate met Christy Robertson, a native of Stouffville, Ont., and within 18 months they were married.
They had their first child, Kaleb, on March 30, 2002 and on July 17, 2004 welcomed Levi into the world. They were a happy, successful, loving family, completely unaware that their lives were about to be turned upside down.
Christy discovered a lump in her breast shortly before Levis birth, but doctors assured her it was her body preparing for breastfeeding. After further tests following Levis birth, Christy and Andre were called to the hospital for the results on Aug. 30, 2004 and went into the meeting assuming there was nothing to be alarmed about.
They planned to make a day of it with their new baby, but, instead, began a journey that ended in heartache.
Knew something wasnt right
We work in a jail and a big part of our job is reading people, reading body language and telling when something isnt right, said Costigan.
As soon as the door opened and I saw the look on the doctors face when he saw a five-week-old baby ... he looked at Levi for a split second and then looked up at me and Christy. ... I knew right there and then, just by the expression of his face, that he had bad news.
Christy had breast cancer and required immediate treatment. Five months later, after she and Andre took a cruise to celebrate her good health, doctors discovered the cancer had not gone away despite chemotherapy. It had spread to her clavicle, sternum and two ribs.
Christy began radiation therapy shortly after, but then had severe headaches that alarmed her doctors.
It was then they discovered that the cancer had spread to her brain.
When they told us ... I remember thinking, they cant do anything for brain cancer. At that point, I was thinking ... shes not going to get better, said Costigan. I was trying to be solid, the stereotypical rock that keeps everyone together. But I was just frozen in the doctors office, not being able to react or talk. I was just zoned out.
More treatment followed, but with each step forward Christys health seemed to take two steps back.
In the fall of 2005, doctors called Christy and Andre into a meeting where they were informed that Christy wasnt going to get better and likely only had one Christmas left.
You want to have hope ... but he said the best-case scenario was six to eight months, Costigan said. We discussed what her memorial service was going to be like. That was ... that was just tough.
I mean, who plans their own memorial service when theyre 32? Who plans their own memorial service when theyre 32? Nobody really thinks of that ... you just dont.
Christy died seven months later.
Costigans world was shattered, but he knew he had to pull himself together and focus his attention on Kaleb and Levi. For starters, he wanted to make sure they remembered their mother and feared that since they were so young theyd grow up without any memories of her.
I tell them, Mommy was very sick and unfortunately the medicine didnt work, but shes in heaven and shes in your heart. ... Mommys not here, but you do have a mommy, Costigan said.
Theres a big difference between Mommys not here and You dont have a mommy. ... Its ground Ive never broken before.
When you read stories to kids at night, how many stories are there with the mommy doing this or saying that? Well, one night I was reading to Kaleb and his eyes were welling up.
I stopped reading and said, Are you OK, buddy? He looked up and said, Mommys dead, isnt she, Daddy? I said, Shes in heaven and shes in your heart.
Speaking about his boys brings a smile to Costigans face and its obvious Kaleb and Levi have helped him through the past year. Costigan leans back in his chair and speaks with a new level of comfort when talking about his favourite moments of each day, the moments he spends with Kaleb and Levi.
I just do the best I can. I try to do as much face-to-face family stuff as I can because thats important, he said.
Theyve only got one parent, so lets maximize that time. I bought a trampoline the first week of May it was the best $450 Ive ever spent. Were on it in the morning for 15 or 20 minutes. Come on, Dad! Lets go, theyll tell me. Come home in the evening, theyre on the trampoline while Im cooking supper. If its nice, well eat supper on the patio and after supper well ride bikes or theyll ride bikes and Ill go for a run.
Out of necessity and out of love for their father, Kaleb and Levi have become fixtures at his softball games this summer. Whether hes playing for the Senior A club in Stony Plain on the weekend or the Salt Walter Cowboys (a team of Newfoundlanders living in Calgary) during the week, Costigan brings his boys to the field every time he plays. Hes bought them their own cleats, bats and helmets and they sit in the dugout with the team whenever their dad takes to the field.
Theyre part of the team, Costigan said. They both have their own equipment. ... They dont want to use the batting tee, they just want me to pitch the ball to them so they can hit it.
The guys on my team know the situation and theyre good with the boys a big group of big brothers and uncles. Some of the guys on the team are bigger kids than my boys, Costigan said with a laugh.
Its a family event for us. When they go to the ball park, they just cant wait, because they get a hot dog and a pop and maybe some candy. ... Theyre playing with other kids, theyre running around, and when the game is over theyll tell me, Wow, good game, Dad that was awesome. I really appreciate that.
Costigan offers a genuine laugh when describing his boys rounding the bases and sliding into home plate after his games end, but theres also an underlying tone of sadness.
Devastated by the loss of his wife, he moves forward because he has to, and wants to. He knows he has the strength to persevere, but also knows there are still sad times ahead.
Christmas, birthdays ... theyre really tough, he said.
We spent this Christmas with good friends of mine (Newfoundlanders Todd and Donna Croft) and I remember a couple of times during the day feeling really low. I was on the brink of crying, but didnt want to cry in front of the boys. Those days ... are just tough to get through.
There are nights the boys are in bed and Im just watching TV and I look at a picture of Christy and think, Is this really happening?
At those times, Im alone and also feel alone. And theres a big difference in being alone and feeling lonely.