‘I’m so grateful for Mum’s courage’
When Helen Hill’s husband was murdered just days before Christmas she made a heart-rending decision that helped save Christmas forever for their then five-year-old daughter
This Christmas will mark the end of a cracker of a year for Mollie Irwin-Hill. After celebrating her 21st birthday with a big bash in April, she went on to pass all her exams and gain a coveted university place to study history in Liverpool. Since starting her degree in September, she’s been working hard academically and at her part-time supermarket job.
Mum Helen (45) couldn’t be prouder of her only daughter and, like Mollie, is looking forward to a relaxing family Christmas at their home in Hale Village, Merseyside. As usual they’ll tuck into turkey and all the trimmings, play Monopoly and watch their favourite festive film, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’ On one of their laps will probably be Bailey, their beloved pet dog, wearing her Christmas jumper.
‘I don’t know how my mum did it but I am so grateful to her. I think my dad would be as proud of her as I am’
“I’ve always loved Christmas and have so many lovely, quite magical, memories of it – all thanks to Mum,” says Mollie.
“One year we spent it in Austria and there was snow everywhere. It was like a scene on a Christmas card! We even had a sleigh ride.”
The festive season could so easily have been a time of dread and it’s only because of her mum’s ultimate Christmas sacrifice, when Mollie was just five, that she can enjoy the festivities today.
Helen’s husband, David Irwin, was murdered on December 23, 2002, aged just 30. It was on leaving hospital after his life support machine had been switched off, that Helen made the heartbreaking decision to push her own raw grief aside and somehow get through that Christmas without telling Mollie, then five-years-old, her beloved Daddy was dead. “As a family,
we’d always made such a big deal about Christmas and I remember thinking that if Mollie sees it as a bad time now, it will ruin Christmas for the rest of her life. She was so young with hopefully a whole lifetime of Christmases before her and I really didn’t want that to happen,” recalls Helen, who has since remarried.
So when the only white lie her friends were telling their small children was Santa would be coming down the chimney, Helen wiped her tears, bravely put on a smile and went home to give Mollie the happiest Christmas she could manage.
“I just told Mollie Daddy had bumped his head and had to stay in hospital,” she recalls.
So when Mollie woke up at 7am on Christmas morning, none of the excitement of opening all the surprise
‘On Boxing Day I explained that the angels had taken Daddy to heaven to make him better because the doctors and nurses hadn’t been able to’
presents they had so thoughtfully bought and wrapped together for her was spoilt.
“I can remember that Christmas quite vividly. We spent it at my nan’s house and I got all the presents I wanted, including a bike. I was spoilt rotten!” says Mollie.
Even when she repeatedly asked throughout the day, ‘When is Daddy coming home?’ Helen didn’t break down. Choking back her tears, she replied: ‘I don’t know; we’ll just have to see how he is Mollie.’
“I don’t remember Mum crying in front of me but I can remember her seeming subdued and that my nan nearly started crying and had to walk away. But I still didn’t put two and two together.
When you’re that young you don’t question what your parents say,” adds Mollie. “Looking back, I don’t know how I did it,” admits Helen. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was all so surreal but Mollie was my priority. I think I just switched into protective mode and went through the motions of Christmas. I’m sure any mother would have done the same in my shoes.”
But by Boxing Day, she knew she had to tell her little girl the truth – or at least half of it.
“When she woke up, I explained that the angels had taken Daddy to heaven to make him better because the doctors and nurses hadn’t been able to. I’ll never forget the look on her little face when she said, ‘so I will never see Daddy again…’”
Though she was sad, Helen’s timing has meant that Christmas wasn’t ruined forever for her daughter, though Helen admits that the following year when Mollie asked, after they decorated the tree together, “Who is going to lift me up and put the star on?” (something her Daddy always did) she broke down in tears.
“I couldn’t help myself,” she recalls. Nevertheless, her original sacrifice had already made a difference and they enjoyed that Christmas and many more together since.
“I don’t know how she did it but I am so grateful to Mum for doing what she did otherwise I think Christmas would be tainted for me,” adds Mollie. “As it is, we get our sadness out of the way on Dad’s anniversary, December 23, when we always light a candle for him and go to his grave. Then we move on and enjoy Christmas. I think my dad would be as proud of my mum as I am.”
Mum Helen and Mollie pictured today with their pet dog Bailey
Precious moments: Proud dad David lovingly holds new baby Mollie; the happy family of three and toddler Mollie enjoying time with dad