Shoot­ing from the heart

Gran for a day

Real People - - CONTENTS -

Dear Mum,

Re­mem­ber when you first held Bella, min­utes after she was born?

‘She has my hands!’ you said. It’s true, she does have the same long, ele­gant fin­gers, which she wraps around mine, just as I did with yours.

The adorable bunny out­fit you gave her is so pre­cious. I kept her wear­ing it as long as pos­si­ble, but it re­ally is burst­ing at the seams now she’s nearly a year old... I’ve had to put it away in a drawer.

Ev­ery day I think of you. You showed me how to be a mum.

I search my mem­ory for all the things you taught me and my brother, James, through the years.

‘Walk on the in­side of the pave­ment, away from the road… Don’t drive, even if you’ve only had one drink. Never let tod­dlers climb stairs alone.’

You worked in an air­port, then as a child­min­der. Our house was al­ways full of kids.

At 12, I got into com­pet­i­tive swim­ming and had to train for two hours ev­ery day. You never com­plained – just sat with your head­phones on, learn­ing French.

You split from Dad when I was 18 and James 15, but our fam­ily kept close. When you had breast can­cer a few years later, we were all ter­ri­fied but, after treat­ment, you fought back to fit­ness.

We’d go on char­ity bike rides, chat­ter­ing all the way. You’d bring a flask of hot choco­late, my favourite tuna sarnies and your leg­endary flap­jacks or le­mon driz­zle cake.

Ev­ery morn­ing, be­fore

my work as a life­guard and swim­ming teacher, I’d call you. Each night, we’d text, Love you.

You made no se­cret of the fact that you longed for grand­chil­dren.

‘I’ll look after them,’ you’d say. ‘I can’t wait for you to meet some­one.’

‘No pres­sure!’ I’d tease.

I was 33 when I met Paul Mcleod, 31, at a friend’s birth­day. When I brought him round to yours for a cuppa, you got on so well,

I hardly got a look-in.

Soon after, you were di­ag­nosed with bowel can­cer. It was caught early and, thank­fully, ra­dio­ther­apy saw it off.

After that, your granny’s bi­o­log­i­cal clock was tick­ing even louder. When I found

I was preg­nant, aged 35, you were the first per­son I called. ‘I knew it!’ you cried.

You said ex­actly the same after my 20-week scan, when

I told you I was hav­ing a daugh­ter.

You were be­side your­self, bought pink wool and started knit­ting. I knew you were stash­ing away lots of presents for ‘Baby B’.

You came over ev­ery day when I had morn­ing sick­ness, bring­ing blueberry muffins, which was all I craved.

As my bump grew, we made the most of be­ing just us. Watch­ing a show at the the­atre, you said, ‘This time next year, Baby B will be with us.’ I hon­estly don’t know who was more ex­cited, you or me.

I kept ex­er­cis­ing. The day after my due date, you took me to the pool. ‘Like old times,’ you smiled.

You told me not to overdo it, but I kept say­ing, ‘Five more min­utes.’

I ended up do­ing 100 lengths, and you had to ring all my aun­ties to tell them about it.

It was all the more re­mark­able as the next day my con­trac­tions be­gan! I called you first of course.

After my wa­ters broke three days later you and Dad met me in hos­pi­tal.

I was only 2cm di­lated and you stayed for hours, rub­bing my back. At mid­night, the nurses asked you to come back in the morn­ing, but I knew you didn’t want to leave me.

I was in labour all night, suck­ing in gas and air, which made me feel drunk as a skunk.

‘Where am I?’ I asked Paul dream­ily at one point.

‘Er, hav­ing a baby!’ he said. I’d wanted a wa­ter birth but, as soon as I got in the pool, my con­trac­tions stopped!

Fi­nally, at 11.40am, Bella Rose was born, weigh­ing 7lb 2oz.

You and Dad were her first vis­i­tors. ‘She’s ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful,’ he whis­pered.

Hold­ing Bella, you were un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally speech­less.

‘I feel like I’ve stepped back in time and it’s you,’ you told me.

We Face­timed James, who lives in Amer­ica. ‘Mum’s very quiet,’ he chuck­led.

Next day, I was long­ing to get home, but it took ages to be dis­charged. Around 4pm, I texted you.

I’ll be over when you’re back, you replied. Found a photo of you at 20 min­utes old.

I asked you to text it. Later, you replied.

Walk­ing to gar­den cen­tre now. Love you x

At last, we car­ried our baby into her home. It was 8.30pm. You’d left us a chicken curry and stacked the freezer with

I swore your eyes flick­ered

home-made food. Bella was cry­ing, so I sat on the sofa to breastfeed.

Then, 10 min­utes later, there was a knock at the door. Paul an­swered and I heard strange voices. I looked at my phone and saw you hadn’t read my last mes­sage, say­ing we’d left hos­pi­tal.

I called Dad – he hadn’t heard from you, ei­ther. The voices rum­bled on. Hold­ing Bella, I got up and went to the door.

I saw po­lice of­fi­cers, Paul white as milk. ‘Your mum’s been in an ac­ci­dent,’ a WPC said. ‘She’s in in­ten­sive care.’

I stayed calm. I knew that what­ever hap­pened to you, you al­ways sur­vived it. We strapped a scream­ing Bella in her car seat and drove to hos­pi­tal. Dad met us, grey as a ghost.

He’d just seen you. An A&E doc­tor ex­plained you’d been hit by a car at about 4.20pm. Your heart had stopped. You’d had no oxy­gen for nine min­utes and your neck was bro­ken in two places.

‘Will Mum be paral­ysed?’ I said. He didn’t an­swer. A nurse gave us a room on the ma­ter­nity ward, so they could help with Bella. I fed her, left her with Paul’s mum, to go to you.

At­tached to a life­sup­port ma­chine, your body was cov­ered by a blan­ket. One side of your face was badly dam­aged, you had a split lip, and your fair hair was red from blood.

I held your hand. ‘You’re still beau­ti­ful,’ I sobbed. ‘Get bet­ter for Bella, Mum.’

I swore your eyes flick­ered. I al­ter­nated be­tween sit­ting by your bed­side and car­ing for Bella.

Me and Paul wanted to change her name to El­iz­a­beth, after you, but you’d known her as Bella, so we adapted it to Bella-rose El­iz­a­beth in­stead.

James ar­rived, look­ing as if he’d cried for the en­tire flight. When he held his niece, I could see it brought com­fort.

That af­ter­noon, just a day after you’d be­come the grandma you’d longed to be, the doc­tors told us you were brain-dead.

A Bap­tist priest came to give you last rites. She was lovely and promised we’d see you again in heaven, but I swear you’d have gig­gled, Mum – she was so like Whoopi Gold­berg in Sis­ter Act.

Then she said some­thing strange, ‘What a ter­ri­ble thing for a drunk-driver to take her away.’

Me and James didn’t ab­sorb her words, be­cause we had to say good­bye to you. We sat on your good side, hold­ing your hand, say­ing, ‘We love you so much.’ A tear trick­led down your face. I rested my cheek on your chest, say­ing ‘I can’t live with­out you, I need you to show me how to be a mum.’

It was aw­ful watch­ing you slide away, but we couldn’t leave you alone. At 8.30pm, aged 70, you left us.

Back at home, James came over with a box of presents he’d found in your house – Bella’s bunny out­fit and a pink knit­ted cardi­gan, mugs say­ing New

Mummy and Best Dad Ever.

I was still sob­bing when our po­lice li­ai­son of­fi­cer came to tell us more. You’d been knocked down by a fe­male drunk and drugged driver. She’d crashed into a parked BMW, whose driver saw her car mount the pave­ment, strike you and drag you eight me­tres.

My grief and anger were in­tense. A hun­dred times a day, I’d ask, ‘What would Mum do?’

I could hear you say­ing, ‘Keep go­ing for Bella.’ I made my­self eat and drink in or­der to carry on breast­feed­ing.

When Bella smiled for the first time, I took a pic­ture and found my­self tex­ting it to you.

I ached to tell you about her first solid food, her new tooth, how she’d learnt to clap. I’d reach for my phone – then re­mem­ber…

It was 10 months after you died that Lynsey Wil­liams, 34, pleaded guilty to caus­ing death by dan­ger­ous driv­ing and pos­ses­sion of cannabis in Guild­ford Crown Court.

We didn’t know her, but she lived in your road and had been in the year be­low me at school.

She was two-and-a-half times over the limit for al­co­hol and co­caine when she got into her Citroen Xsara Pi­casso to col­lect her kids from school.

She crashed into you as you walked on the in­side of the pave­ment – just as you’d taught me. You were on your way home from the gar­den cen­tre, head­ing to see your baby grand­daugh­ter. Even the judge looked shocked as he took away Wil­liams’ driv­ing li­cence for five years and sen­tenced her to four years and eight months in jail.

She robbed us of you, but she’ll have a life to re­turn to when she’s freed. I try not to dwell on that in­jus­tice. We talk about you all the time. When I say, ‘Where’s Granny El­iz­a­beth?’ Bella crawls up to your photo and strokes your face. I’m thank­ful me and you al­ways talked so much, Mum, be­cause I can call on so many me­mories when I need you.

I be­came a mother, then lost mother. That’s so hard.

But I’m glad I gave you the gift of a grand­daugh­ter, even if it was just for one day.

Me and you were in­sep­a­ra­ble, Mum 40 weeks preg­nant, this is the last photo taken of us to­gether

You took a real shine to my Paul! You saw this first pic­ture of pre­cious baby Bella So close: James, you and me Drunk driver Lynsey Wil­liams Be­ing Mum to Bella brings me so much joy

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