Before Leah became ill I had never driven the 140 mile round trip to Belfast. Leah’s illness obliged me to acquire that skill, but I only know one route – the one from our house to either Belfast City Hospital or the Royal.
I wanted to spend a day in Belfast with our eldest daughter before Christmas. Conveniently for me, she lives quite near Belfast City Hospital.
Yesterday was Friday, the day that Leah and I always spent at the City Hospital from we returned from Bristol until she died. I left the house at the time that Leah and I always left and drove the same roads, only this time I was alone.
Unusually for me, I kept the music off in the car for the entire 70 mile journey – I needed to be alone with my thoughts and memories.
I drove on to the motorway and remembered how on Friday 27th December 2013 Leah suddenly became violently ill at that stage. Once the vomiting had stopped Leah insisted that she wasn’t sick, that she had merely drank some water too fast. She desperately wanted to be able to attend a large family get together in Donegal that evening.
On the outskirts of Belfast I passed the sign for Belfast Zoo and remembered how Leah longed to visit either Bristol Zoo or Belfast Zoo during her illness. Finally on Friday 13th December our Belfast haematologist told Leah that her immunity was now strong enough for a zoo visit. However, by this time Leah had developed a spontaneous spinal fracture and she would have needed to go in a wheelchair. She was in a lot of pain and could only walk short distances. Leah became ill and died before there was time to organise this.
As I drove into the many lanes of Belfast traffic I remembered how Leah used to look at the map that my husband had drawn and how her gentle calming voice ensured that I was always in the right lane.
Yesterday I prayed and asked God to help me.
I passed the turn off to the City Hospital at the same time as Leah and I would have taken that turnoff this time last year.
You might wonder why I do these things, why I expose myself to this pain instead of running away from it? It’s just my way of processing it all, because sometimes I still can’t even believe that all of this has happened. Sometimes I feel as if a part of me is still in shock. The trauma feels too great for my mind to comprehend.
In December 2012, three weeks before her first blood test – the one that changed everything – Leah posted these amazing song words on her Facebook page:
Rachel and I spent a lovely day together in Belfast. The last time I shopped in Belfast at Christmas time was in the 1980’s. Rachel got various bits and pieces. I spent all of £1.99 on a pretty candle holder – I love scented candles.
We had our lunch in Cosmos – I hadn’t been there before but Rachel described it to me as being similar to ZaZa Bazaar, a restaurant in Bristol that I particularly liked. I really enjoyed the main course in Cosmos, but for desserts the rice pudding and whipped ice cream in ZaZa Bazaar wins hands down.
Rachel came back to Derry with me and she drove thankfully – I was feeling quite exhausted at this stage. Once home we did a bit more shopping from the comfort of the couch in front of a nice warm fire.