Telling our children that their much-loved big sister wasn’t coming home was quite possibly the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do.
Having broken the news to our family, that Abi’s life support would be switched off, we went to see our other children and took them out of the hospital for a walk. We walked up to the toy shop we’d spotted earlier that day, to buy a teddy for Abi and a toy each for them. They chose a small soft brown rabbit for Abi. We left the shop and began to walk on up the street, trying to find a bench or somewhere outside we could talk to them. It seemed important to be outside. It was cold and wet and they weren’t happy at being dragged out, but we came across a (sadly) boarded up church next to the hospital. [I’ve just looked this up and realise it was called St Michael the Archangel, and was made redundant in 1999 due to a low congregation, such a shame but even still it offered us a place to go.] It wasn’t in the best condition at all, but it was quiet, private, and there was a low wall we could sit on.
I sat down and cuddled them both tightly. ‘We have some news about Abi. You know that we said she might die and that she might not come home. Well, we have found out that she’s not going to be able to get better. The doctors have tried everything they can, but she’s not going to come home, ever. She’s going to die.’
My son stared as he listened to this and then put his head in his hands and turned and buried his face in my coat. My daughter stood away and smiled nervously. ‘What? She’s dead now?’
‘No, not now. But she is so ill that she will probably die later today.’
My son still didn’t speak. He wiped a tear from under his glasses and kept cuddled in. My daughter asked lots of questions about when and how, which we tried to answer as honestly as we could. We offered them the opportunity to see her again, but they declined. We weren’t going to push them to do this, but I offered to take photographs of Abi to show them later, which seemed a good way to help them ‘see’ her.
There wasn’t really much else to say. We sat on the wall in silence and comforted them, tears in our own eyes. I couldn’t really comprehend what we were saying but knew we had to focus on them now. Then they began to complain about the cold and wanted to go back. So we walked back to the hospital and they chatted about ‘other’ things, mostly about wanting us to come home. We weren’t sure if they’d taken it in, but we later realised they had, it was just how children do things regarding grief.
The children were taken home shortly after, while we spent more time with Abi. They had moved her to a private room on the side of the ward, where she would spend her last moments. When we saw her again, after the meeting, it was far more painful than before, as we knew for certain that this was the end, that there was no more hope. The tears flowed as fresh as the first moment when it happened, and my husband and I just looked at each other with such pain in our hearts, not even needing to speak. I placed the soft brown rabbit in her hand and kissed her forehead telling her we were there with her and would be until the very end. We had been given a pile of cards from her friends and family and we stood at her bedside and read every one to her, every word, all wishing her to get well soon. It was utterly heartbreaking reading aloud, our voices breaking with grief, and knowing what we knew. The love of her friends came through so strongly, and we felt for them all… about to lose a special person in their own lives.
But we had some way to go yet, as we had offered Abi’s organs for donation. We were prepared that her death would happen that evening, almost so that we wouldn’t have to ‘get through’ another long, difficult night, but it happened that the donation process delayed the inevitable for another 12 hours, into the next morning…