Friday, 27 December 2013


Prayers can be answered in disconcerting ways. Progress can be more harrowing than stasis. Our Advent hope was for my mother to wake from her coma. And, one day, she opened an eye. But the eye  fixed on us unseeingly and unnerved us so thoroughly that the 9-year-old now needs a nightlight to guard him from the ghost of Grandma.

We longed for words. And one day they came. But the words are frightening. My mother thought the 11-year-old was Boudicca. She reckons fellow patients are Russian spies and the nurses Machiavellian conspirators. The woman who was planning the redecoration of her kitchen that night she walked home from work now clings to my neck and implores me to release her from a prison cell.

I sometimes wish again for the coma for, in that peaceful figure, I could imagine my familiar mother waking. I try to comprehend how a vivacious career woman can, through the inattention of a stranger, be transformed in a second into this. And yet I know that we are lucky. It is the harsh lessons that best teach us our blessings. And the car that felled my mother on that November night has, most harrowingly, reminded us how much we are blessed - in the casual acquaintance who turned up with a roast chicken one suppertime; in the school mothers who bought me 'magic' pyjamas to restore sleep and lipstick to gladden my mother's critical eye when it sees again; in the friend who filled my children's stockings when I couldn't face the shops.

We are blessed in the tweets from people I've never met offering their prayers; in my mother's colleague who arrived after work to cook for my father and in the stranger who offered her free physiotherapy if she leaves hospital.

We are blessed by the miracle that she is alive and talking when her heart stopped on the roadside. Above all, we are blessed in my mother. We may not get her back as she was; we may not get her back at all. But her absence has made us realise what we once took for granted: that her love and her strength and her generosity have infused every aspect of our lives. And for that we are so very lucky.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


My mother was returning from work. She called my father to ask him to record The Archers and she started walking from the station. Then, a few hundred yards from home, she stepped onto the zebra crossing.

It was a doctor who hit her - outside the hospital where he worked. Her shredded clothes have been returned to us in a carrier. Her handbag now sits in its usual place on the hall chair, the shoes she was wearing packed inside by police. There is her favourite sheep mug on the draining rack and parcels she had ordered for Christmas arriving in the post. She is absent, yet the house is full of her. We can think of nothing else and yet we forget. My father finds himself putting her towel to warm on the radiator for morning like he always does and nearly calls from the bottom of the stairs to ask if she wants tea before bed.

I used to tune out sometimes when she chattered. Now I bend over her, listening raptly each time her lips move. 'Suffering' was the first word I heard her mumble. Then 'Family'. Her voice isn't her voice; it's become an unnerving baritone. Her face isn't her face; it no longer lights up when she hears us. But I know that deep in that changed body a familiar spirit is battling.

The last weeks have taught me that miracles can happen. I saw it in the face of the surgeon who had doubted she'd last the first night. I saw it in my father's joy when she shifted a bandaged hand. And I know it from the prayers of friends and strangers which are powering us all on.

Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation, and this year doubly so. While others shop for Christmas, when a Child was given, we wait in patient hopefulness - for my mother to be given back.

Thank you for all your messages of support. Each one was greatly appreciated.