Leah was an avid reader. Her earliest favourite books were a series by Usborne Books, where she had to locate a tiny duck hiding on every page. Leah loved ducks.
Other favourites that soon followed, were the Spot Books and Kipper Books. Each page was soon memorised – by both of us.
Then Leah discovered the beautiful Maisy Mouse Books by Lucy Cousins. She fell in love with these too.
After this it was Enid Blyton – by the bagful. Leah’s shelves became laden with Enid Blyton Books. I wonder if there’s even one Enid Blyton title that Leah didn’t read.
I remember many years ago, the Annual Book Fair came to her Primary School and Leah asked me for money to buy “Happy Christmas Maisy“. In my naivety, I gave her £5 to take into school the next day. A rather forlorn looking Leah returned home from school with the £5 and a note from the teacher to say that she hadn’t enough money to buy the book that she wanted.
As a parent of four children, living on a low income, with a house already full of books, the idea of spending more than £5 on yet another book seemed ridiculous to me. But Leah was desperate to become the owner of this lovely Maisy book, with it’s sparkly pages. Leah loved glitter and sparkle.
I’m not sure if Leah got the book then, or later as a Christmas gift, all I remember is how much the book was treasured and loved.
Nevertheless, “Maisy Mouse” is certainly not something that I’ve given much thought to in recent years – until yesterday.
I was heading up to Bristol Children’s Hospital, for a prearranged meeting, with some of the staff who had taken such good care of Leah and I during the 14 weeks that we spent here in 2013.
The Hospital has it’s very own Shaun the Sheep, standing outside on the pavement.
To my amazement, I discovered that this Shaun is called “Maisy and Friends” and has been designed by Lucy Cousins. I felt so emotional when I saw it.
Even though Leah had long since grown out of those Maisy books, I know that she would have loved it. I felt both happy and sad when I saw it.
When I stepped into the hospital lift to begin my ascent to the 6th floor, I was delighted to once again hear the voiceover of Wallace telling Gromit which floor we were on, every time the lift stopped. Despite the fact that Leah and I spent 14 weeks here, we never tired of this enjoyable distraction every time we travelled in the relevant lift.
Once I entered the waiting area for Oncology Day Beds my emotions became overwhelming. There was another family waiting there and I didn’t want them to see me crying. They looked like newbies. I didn’t want to upset them and steal their hope. I looked around and spied the water cooler, so I busied myself with consuming cups of water.
Then our lovely TYA (teenage and young adult) cancer nurse specialist arrived and hugged me tight, quickly followed by the two amazing consultants who cared for Leah. We spent some time together. I gave them the fifteens that I had made for them in memory of Leah. Thankfully, the fifteens had survived the journey from Ireland unscathed. They remembered how Leah used to make these sweet treats for them when we were in Bristol. You can find the recipe here.
Then I had time to chat with some of the lovely nurses on Day Beds. More hugs and then it was time to go again. They were all very generous with their time. This grieving mummy appreciated that so very much.
There was one more place that I still needed to visit, but it was going to be very emotional. I needed the cover of darkness for this one.
At 10pm I left the girls in our hotel room and I walked once more in the direction of Bristol Children’s Hospital.
This time however, I walked on by, up St Michael’s Hill, in the direction of Sam’s House. Such a very familiar route.
In the safety of the darkness, my tears flowed. I wasn’t planning a visit to Sam’s House – I’m not ready for that yet. I certainly wouldn’t want to upset the families who are staying there, holding onto hope for their ill children.
I walked slowly past. I could see through the glass door, down the hall, to the room that belonged to Leah and I, for the duration of our stay.
My destination was just beyond Sam’s House, in the Royal Fort Gardens. Leah was immunocompromised and couldn’t go anywhere there was lots of people. She and I had enjoyed regular walks in the beautiful Royal Fort Gardens, in the evenings, when it was quiet.
We would sit on a bench and talk. She used to make me stay very still, so that she could see how near the grey squirrels would come. I write about some of the good times we had here.
There was no squirrels last night, only a very hungry looking city fox. Leah would have enjoyed that too.
I remained there a long time, in the stillness, remembering.
To help soothe my broken heart, I played ‘Abide With Me‘ by Matt Redman/Matt Maher on continuos repeat on my phone, while I sat alone in the darkness.
Yet, I wasn’t alone.
My Heavenly Father, who knows the end from the beginning, was there with me.
The words of this song gradually seeped into my soul, as I sat and wept and yearned for my second-born child.
Abide With Me
“I have a home, eternal home
But for now I walk this broken world
You walked it first, You know our pain
But You show hope can rise again up from the grave
Abide with me, Abide with me
Don’t let me fall, and don’t let go
Walk with me and never leave
Ever close, God abide with me
There in the night, Gethsemane
Before the cross, before the nails
Overwhelmed, alone You prayed
You met us in our suffering and bore our shame
Oh love that will not ever let me go
Love that will not ever let me go
You never let me go
Love that will not ever let me go
Oh You never let us go
And up ahead, eternity
We’ll weep no more, we’ll sing for joy, abide with me”
Eventually I took comfort from the fact that Leah is safe – safe in my Father’s house.
As David says in the Bible after the death of his child “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:23
I walked once more around the unlit but familiar path, then headed out past Sam’s House again, back down St. Michael’s Hill, past the Children’s Hospital and back to the hotel.
The girls were still awake and I had a nice bit of time with them, before we all settled down for the night.