I bumped into Juliette’s best friend this morning. Quietly, Lottie has put a card on Juliette’s grave each and every Christmas, birthday and anniversary that her friend has been dead. It is a poignantly beautiful gesture which has become all the more so as the years pass and she grews up, away from the five-year-olds they once were.
Lottie hasn’t lived near us for a while, and recently her mother knocked on the door to say they were moving up to Yorkshire. The hand-placed, usually hand-made cards were going to stop, and she didn’t want me not to know the reason why. We’ve kept all Lottie’s cards, from those with childish letters she printed at five, to the beautifully calligraphed ones of recent years. Paula didn’t know we’d done this. When I told her, she cried.
Lottie was down in Essex visiting her Dad this weekend, and had booked a ride at the stables where Celeste has just started Pony Club. I knew I wasn’t likely to see her again soon and I really wanted to say something meaningful, to thank her for her loyalty and love. Instead I asked about Yorkshire, standing awkwardly with the horses until it was time to say goodbye to Celeste.
We live in a village so it’s impossible to avoid seeing children that Juliette knew, but Lottie is different. I look at her and see a tall, beautiful, composed young woman that the lost friend she clearly still cares for, should be. This morning I found that hard to bear.
I’ve been sitting on another blog post since we came back from camping on Wednesday. After feeling well for what seems like quite a few weeks, I was suddenly a mass of nerves again, and saw the black dog out of the corner of my eye too. I’ve worked out why, now.
Elodie wasn’t well over the week the rest of us were fending off the rain in the Lake District. My parents were lovely with her. She ate well and got lots of sleep, but there were many more bad days than good ones and she was feeling pretty low with it all.
Months ago, before she was ill, we agreed that she could go to V Festival this weekend as a post-GCSE, pre A Level treat. Three nights camping with friends and 24 hour live music seemed like a good thing back in March. The mother I was back then thought she’d be OK, trusted that nothing bad could happen to one of her children ever again.
I dropped Elodie at her friend’s house on Thursday night, so that they could stake an early place in the campsite queue. As we drove there I kept looking at her, grim and grey through the make-up; a scared little girl in a woman’s body. She wants to be the fun girl her friends knew, and I’m so afraid of how these few days will affect her poor body and mind. I used to feel sorry for mothers who worried. I wondered how and at what point their faith in human nature and good providence had evaporated, but I’ve become one of them.
I packed Elodie’s ruscksack with as much nutritious food as I thought she could carry, and when she reluctantly returned my hug as I bit back the words and tears saying good bye in front of her friends, I am painfully aware of how it all looked. I don’t want to be this mother suffering an agonising stretch of the umbilical cord. I want to be confident my birds will fly, and that they will be safe without me. This feeling resonates too much.
When Juliette started school, she was nine months into her chemotherapy programme. She was four and a half; a baby with experiences that break most adults. Pale and vulnerable, she still wanted to be the same as everyone else. She didn’t want the other children to notice the Hickman line tucked in a blue aquarium print bag on a red ribbon round her neck, or the fact that she had no hair. I took a photograph that morning. Juliette stands proudly, flanked by her big sister and younger brothers, one hand on her named school bags and the other protectively over Raphi’s car seat. A pink hat clashes with her red uniform, but it’s her favourite colour and it hides her baldness. I didn’t want to let her go.
Elodie doesn’t want the extra attention either, from me or from anyone. She just wants to feel well again and be the same as everyone else her age. The intellectual part of me knows that she will eventually be OK, physically and mentally, but my emotional side remembers I believed Juliette would be too.