Shooting from the heart
Gran for a day
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