BBC Radio Ulster's Kerry McLean on heartache of losing dad so soon after Eve's arrival
'Dad lived for his grandchildren. Some days I can cope with his loss, others I really struggle'
Ahead of her return to Radio Ulster, popular presenter Kerry McLean opens up about the anguish of losing her beloved dad Shaun who died just six days after being diagnosed with cancer - and on the joy of the 'surprise' addition to the family, baby Eve, writes Stephanie Bell.
BBC Radio Ulster's Kerry McLean has made a lot of people very happy by announcing her return to the airwaves after a six-month maternity break.
Fans have been showing just how much the popular presenter was missed, with dozens of posts on social media asking when she will be back.
The phenomenal support from the public has helped Kerry deal with the understandably difficult prospect of leaving baby Eve to return to work in 11 days' time on June 6.
The mum-of-three has built up a large and faithful following since she took over the afternoon show on Radio Ulster two years ago.
Married to fellow Radio Ulster presenter, Ralph McLean, the couple live in Ballymoney with their children Dan (7), Tara (9) and baby Eve, who is six months old.
Throughout her maternity leave Kerry has kept in touch with her loyal listeners through social media on both Facebook and Twitter where well-wishers have recently been urging her to announce her return to work. A typical post reads: "Can't wait until you are back".
The glowing new mum says she is naturally delighted that her absence from the airwaves has been missed.
"It is really nice," says Kerry. "There is always that fear that if I'm away for too long people will forget about me and to know that people - who we already know are loyal to Radio Ulster - are also loyal to me is really touching.
"I'm lucky that I have been off during the era of social media as I have been able to stay in touch with listeners through Twitter and Facebook and that has been really lovely.
"Either I have a very distinctive voice or a very loud one but it is rare for me to go out and not bump into someone who, when they hear me speak, asks, 'Are you that Kerry McLean off the radio?'. I then usually bend their ear for half an hour but it is really nice that happens."
Kerry is looking forward to getting back behind her microphone for her usual two hours of chat and music although she readily admits it will be a wrench leaving little Eve behind. Still, she is happy in the knowledge that she has plenty of babysitters in her family, all of whom are eager to step in and care for Eve when she goes back to work.
Behind the smiles and genuine friendliness that have made Kerry such a hit with listeners lies a deep sadness. For if her maternity break brought the joyful arrival of baby Eve, it also saw the shocking death of her beloved father Shaun Turner in March. He passed away just six days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and it is obvious that Kerry and the family circle are still very much coming to terms with his loss.
Described by Kerry as a fun man who adored his grandchildren and played a big part in their lives, she says both she and her family have been devastated by his passing.
She says: "I'm just taking it day by day. We have a very close family and you do feel it when you lose someone close so unexpectedly and so suddenly.
"Some days I am coping okay and then other days something daft will come up and it just hits me.
"Dad was always playing practical jokes and always laughing and giggling and playing tricks on the children and just some days the plaster comes off and you are back to struggling through like most people.
"Since dad's death so many people have been in touch, including so many other families who have lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer. Some have had a very rough ride and I wasn't even aware of pancreatic cancer before or that it has touched so many lives.
"I know all cancers are cruel but this seems to be very cruel as there is such a low survival rate.
"It is a very painful illness and having heard from so many people who have suffered, I am grateful that daddy didn't have to face that elongated painful period.
"The child in me wants him to be here for ever but the adult in me is pleased that it was so quick and he didn't suffer."
Kerry said her dad had no symptoms and had been on holiday just three weeks before his death when he had looked tanned and healthy.
He had a sore stomach which he put down to something he had eaten. Neither he nor the family was prepared for his diagnosis and how quickly he was taken from them.
Kerry says: "Three weeks before he was sitting there, tanned and looking fantastic, and he had no idea that he was ill and I am pleased about that."
As a doting granddad his loss has left a huge gap in the lives of his grandchildren and Kerry has been concerned about how her children and their pal and cousin, nephew Sean (12), have been coping.
She says: "We have just been trying to give them the space to talk if they want to and the space to listen as well.
"My dad lived for his grandchildren. He did the school runs, took them fishing and to their clubs and was the one who sneaked them chocolate and fizzy drinks.
"They miss him too and it is hard for them, and with kids it is hard to know how it is affecting them. They could just play away and then when they are going to bed they will suddenly say something."
Kerry has the perfect baby in little Eve who has slept through the night since she was three days old. All of which has come as a considerable relief ... she and Ralph were initially rather shocked - and delighted - when they discovered that another baby was on the way.
Kerry, who had just turned 40, found out that she was pregnant only a few weeks after deciding to get rid of all of her baby equipment in the belief that she was not going to be a mum again.
"Eve was a very pleasant surprise," she admits. "We had always intended to have another baby but it just hadn't happened. We had accepted that it was not going to happen and that we had got our wee family and that was that. I had turned 40 and reluctantly decided to give all my baby stuff away.
"I have a wee boy who was very rough and broke our cot in three places - but even though it was broken I couldn't bear to part with it.
"I finally decided it should go to the dump and I remember a friend joking with me at the time, saying that as soon as I left it at the dump I would find myself pregnant."
At first Kerry felt ill and thought she had a flu which she couldn't shake off.
As it continued to drag on, she considered pregnancy and, although convinced she couldn't possibly be expecting, she bought a home test kit and carried out the test in secret.
She recalls: "I didn't tell Ralph, because for me it was so far from probable that I didn't want him to get excited for nothing.
"We were due to go out that night when I nipped upstairs to do the test, not expecting for one minute that it would be positive.
"The next thing I was screaming Ralph's name down the stairs. It was a real shock.
"The two of us were stunned but delighted and we just giggled for about 40 minutes."
Conscious of the risks involved in pregnancy as an older mum, Kerry and Ralph decided to keep their good news to themselves and told no one for five months.
Little Eve, who was due on Boxing Day, surprised her parents by coming into the world almost three weeks earlier than expected on December 7 - just three days after Kerry left the airwaves to start her maternity leave.
The couple's delight was shared by their respective radio audiences and they were inundated with messages from well-wishers.
Kerry describes baby Eve as a little girl who already knows what she wants and adds: "She has a loud voice just like her mother."
Her brother and sister adore her and at just six months she has them and her cousin Sean eating out her hand. "The three of them have become like her courtiers," laughs Kerry. "She sits and shouts and they entertain her; they sing and dance and keep her happy."
While leaving Eve will be hard, Kerry is excited about going back to work, especially with so many people expressing their desire on Facebook and Twitter for her to return to the airwaves.
It is support that she doesn't take for granted and while she will be returning with her usual format of informal chat and music she does have a few surprises up her sleeve.
She says: "It will be the same craic and the same fun and lots of great music suggested by listeners. I always wanted it to be like a club rather than just me sitting talking into a microphone.
"One of the good things about being off was that I was able to listen to all the other radio stations and I have picked up a few new ideas. There might be a few extra wee quizzes and fun bits and pieces introduced to the programme.
"I am so grateful for the many emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter from people asking when I am coming back and saying they can't wait for the fun and games to start.
"It makes me feel excited about going back. I do get such a laugh in my job and there are days when I think, 'Surely I can't get paid for having this much fun'."
Kerry adds: "It is wonderful to think the listeners are as excited as I am. I would also like to thank Stephen McCauley who stood in for me for the great job he did. I have really enjoyed listening to him."
- The Kerry McLean show returns to Radio Ulster, Monday, June 6, 3pm