More than half of all Her­ald read­ers booked a short break in UK last year

The Herald Magazine - - 16 -

panic-stricken daugh­ter be­side her. Jus­tine’s face, Stephen re­calls, was droop­ing slightly on one side.

“She was smil­ing. I think she knew some­thing dras­tic had hap­pened to her body and was glad I was there to look af­ter the girls.”

Tests soon con­firmed Stephen’s sus­pi­cions. Jus­tine had suf­fered a ma­jor stroke, which hap­pens when the blood sup­ply to part of the brain is cut off. Her only symp­tom had been a slight headache ear­lier that day, which had been helped by a pi­lates class.

“The next day I lis­tened to a voice­mail from Thea and she sounded ut­terly pan­icked,” re­calls Stephen, 48. “They had come back from a walk in Pol­lok Park and Jus­tine had gone for a lie down and asked Thea to put her younger sis­ter to bed, which was un­heard of.

“About 10 min­utes later, Jus­tine had got up, walked through to Thea’s room and just went com­pletely to one side. She man­aged to get to the couch and lit­er­ally col­lapsed. She couldn’t speak and it was as if she couldn’t hear Thea. That’s when Thea knew there was some­thing wrong. She had tried to get hold of me and, when she couldn’t, she called an am­bu­lance.”

The paramedics started go­ing through the FAST test, the mnemonic used to help de­tect if some­one has suf­fered a stroke: fa­cial droop­ing, arm weak­ness, speech dif­fi­cul­ties and time to call an am­bu­lance.

“She couldn’t speak but was mak­ing groan­ing sounds. She was hold­ing her arm and try­ing to move it.”

Jus­tine was taken to Glas­gow’s Queen Eliz­a­beth Uni­ver­sity Hos­pi­tal while Stephen ar­ranged for his mother to come and look af­ter the girls.

“We were taken into a room and I knew straight away it was cat­a­strophic be­cause of the face of the woman who came out to speak to me,” he says. “One of the doc­tors cried when she saw I had two lit­tle girls.”

THEIR mother un­der­went emer­gency surgery to try to ease the swelling in her brain caused by the stroke. Ini­tially the op­er­a­tion ap­peared to be suc­cess­ful. How­ever, the day af­ter the pro­ce­dure Stephen was told the swelling on one side of Jus­tine’s brain had spread to the other side and the doc­tors said there was no real hope.

“From then on in, you just go into a strange sen­sa­tion,” he says. “I didn’t want to lie to the girls. Their aunt was help­ing them get the Christ­mas tree up. I got home and the girls were like, ‘Dad, look’. It was heart-wrench­ing and hor­ri­ble.

“I didn’t know what lan­guage to use to a 10-year-old, let alone a six-year-old. I sat at the kitchen ta­ble and Googled ‘how to tell chil­dren their mother has died’ and stum­bled on a page by the char­ity Barnardo’s which sug­gested us­ing words like ‘death’ and ‘dead’ rather than ‘gone for a long sleep’ or ‘to a bet­ter place’, which will cause con­fu­sion. Young chil­dren need to be told re­peat­edly that when some­one dies they can never come back.

“I spoke to peo­ple who had lost par­ents young be­cause I didn’t want to make bad choices and one of the big things that came

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