Life isn’t bloody fair. It just isn’t. Some of the loveliest people I know, who’ve played life by the rules, been kind and generous to their fellow man and done no harm, have had the worst things happen to them. Some of my closest, dearest friends have had to say goodbye to their babies. That shouldn’t happen and I hesitate to say it because it sounds like whining, but it especially shouldn’t happen to good people.
I did a stupid thing last week. I opened an old address book – one that had all the numbers for Juliette’s hospital contacts: wards, community nurses, consultants, and blood labs. It was strange, but nice to see the familiar but half-forgotten names. We were part of a whole world for quite a while, until suddenly we weren’t.
Then I saw the names of two other people. A mother and a daughter we met at Addenbrookes. Katy was admitted on Christmas Eve, two weeks after Juliette. She was a similar age, and the girls had the same type of leukaemia. Over nineteen months of parallel lives, the girls bonded. Often they got into each others beds to watch TV, or do some arts and crafts together. Sometimes they spoke on the phone about recent hospital stays, their latest blood counts and what drugs they were on that week. Katy was four and Juliette, five.
Katy’s mother came to Juliette’s funeral. I knew how much courage that took, because to me I was still the mother of a seriously ill child. I hadn’t caught up with the fact that I was now the mother of a dead one. I remember frantically reassuring Katy’s mother that just because Juliette died, it didn’t mean that it would happen to Katy. I still felt the fear of the tribe of mothers I’d been a part of. The full force of my loss and my new, worse situation hadn’t hit me yet.
Katy’s mother and I saw each other and spoke on the phone for a while, but I think it got harder for both of us. Eventually we fell out of touch entirely. Over the past few years I’ve asked once or twice after Katy when I’ve seen hospital staff we knew. The last time I heard she was about to be discharged completely; no more at risk of leukaemia than anyone else. Of course I’m happy.
I don’t know what possessed me, but after seeing Katy’s name, I went looking for her on Facebook. I found her, of course. Bronzed and smiling with her family on holiday, side by side with her sister, pubescent and beautiful, mucking about with her two older brothers in the swimming pool. And safe, in the arms of her mother.
I feel guilty. I looked at those photos and thought, “That should be my family. Those smiling teenage girls should be mine. Why did Juliette die, and Katy lived? Why didn’t Juliette live too? What did I do wrong?” Those aren’t real questions because there are no answers – the types of question I’m encouraged to avoid, in therapy. I might as well ask, why not my daughter? It’s here that I start to plunge, and ask whether life is just randomly meted out misery and luck. I’m no philosopher and have lost my faith in all-powerful God, so I can only conclude that it probably is. The positive people I try to surround myself with would probably say it’s not what happens, but how you deal with what life hands you that makes the difference. Right now, tonight, I’m not dealing with it very well. Thinking about those happy pictures of Katy and her family I’m feeling short of luck, and I hate that. I want to remember the things I’ve got to be glad about.
My lovely father is convinced you make your own luck. Using that philosophy though, you must also create your own misery. I’m not a good person. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of, so did I then somehow bring this on myself? Another answerless question. Better to take it back to small acts of gratitude for what I do have. In my case, a loving husband; four beautiful human beings I am lucky to call my living children; another glorious girl who streaked colours over our world for five years; my family and loyal friends, and the fact that I feel and can find words to express love, every day.
I promised in the last post I’d write a positive one next, but I’ve been brooding about this since last weekend so perhaps having written about it I can finally put it and myself to bed. Who knows what will happen to change everything tomorrow? In the meantime I’ll look for ways to describe how Juliette lit up a room, making everyone in it feel like the most special person in the world. I was lucky enough to be that little girl’s Mummy for a while.