‘You knit me together in my mother’s womb’ – words from the psalm set for evening prayer yesterday, which I was able to say in the beautiful church in Corbridge after finishing day 8 of my walk4andy in the company of my eldest daughter and my mum.
My mum came up to join me last weekend and has been able to do part of the walk with me. She is a great support and has even raised sponsorship herself. But yesterday was the first opportunity I had had to really talk to her and ask her all sorts of things about what it was like when Andy and Dad were both diagnosed with VHL. I was around Hilary’s age at the time and don’t really remember much at all.
As we walked side by side, Mum told me stuff today I had never known, about the time when Andy, aged 11, was in hospital next to Dad, both of them having cryotherapy treatment on retinal tumours. And the time she went to Manchester with Andy about ten years ago to a VHL support meeting for those with VHL and their carers. At that stage he was still reasonably able, and meeting others at later stages of the illness came as a huge shock to them both.
I knew my mum was brave but hearing her talk about those times filled me with a whole new appreciation for her courage and determination in the face of nearly losing both her husband and her son. Now as a parent myself, I can’t imagine the pain of seeing your child suffer like Andy did. He probably wouldn’t have realised at 11 what VHL meant, but Mum would have had a much better understanding of how it might progress which must have been terrifying.
She has been witness to more operations and emergency procedures than she can count, she has visited hospitals all over the country and sat in on numerous consultations bearing bad news. But she also speaks so highly of the nurses on the wards who cared for Andy, how they became like family to her and remembered her each time Andy was admitted.
Mum has held close all of that heartache for such a long time. More than ten years ago she nursed my stepfather through an agonising few months as he died of cancer at just 54. And then shortly after Andy died in 2013, she also lost her mum, my grandmother, who she had been caring for.
How anyone can go through so much and still want to open their heart to the risks that come with love, I cannot guess, but it was an absolute privilege to be able to marry her to her new husband Barry last January. This has been a painful journey for me but it is as nothing compared to the journey my mum has been on.
Andy, Dad, my stepfather and grandmother are all now on that farther shore, safe in the arms of the God who created them and loved them. As Mum left last night before she travels home to Leicester this morning, we hugged one another tight, struggling to hold back the tears, like a pair of shipwrecked sailors clinging to a piece of driftwood as they are tossed and thrown by the waves around them. But maybe, just maybe, we can see a bit of land coming into view now, something to look forward to and give us hope and peace.
God bless you, Mum!