Back from the dead

Instead of a Christmas list, we were writing funeral arrangements...

Published by: Polly Taylor
Published on: 19th Januray 2011

A thick frost had settled on the ground, and I pulled the living room curtains closed to keep in the warmth. Looking at the Christmas tree’s twinkling fairy lights, I felt a shiver of excitement.
Less than three weeks to go!
I couldn’t wait to spend the day with my husband Norrie, 44, daughter Jay, 21, and son Jordan, 19, opening presents, and tucking into turkey. It would be magical.
Just then, Jordan rocketed in, car keys jingling in his hand.
‘Watch out, Mum!’ he chuckled, lifting me up and swinging me around like a rag doll.
‘Put me down!’ I laughed.
He might be 6ft 3in, and strapping, but I still thought of him as my little boy. It was hard to believe that instead of playing with toy cars, he was fixing real ones.
Every night, he’d come in from his car mechanic apprenticeship, gobble down his tea, then head straight to the garage to tinker with an old engine or a mate’s car that needed fixing. Tonight, though, he had other plans.
‘I’m driving to Ian’s,’ he said, pulling on his coat.
‘Okay, love,’ I said, kissing his cheek. ‘Watch the roads, it’s getting icy out there.’
With Jordan at Ian’s, and Jay and Norrie at work, I decided on an early night. But a couple of hours later, I was awoken by the phone. It was Jordan’s friend Gary.
‘There’s been an accident,’ he said, his voice panicking.
‘W-what?!’ I stammered fearfully.
‘Jordan’s crashed his car…’ he gulped. ‘It doesn’t look good.’
Then the line went dead.
Frantically, I phoned Norrie, and told him to get home immediately. We drove to Ninewells Hospital, in Dundee, hoping to find our son.
‘We know about the crash,’ confirmed a nurse when we arrived. ‘But no one’s been brought in yet.’
Oh God! What was going on?
All we could do was wait. Minutes stretched to an hour, two….
Suddenly, Jordan and his friend Ian, who’d been in the passenger seat, were rushed in – but doctors wouldn’t let us see our son.
‘What’s happening?’ I screamed, collapsing into Norrie’s arms.
Gary arrived at the hospital. He told us Jordan had taken Ian for a drive. The car had skidded on ice, ploughed into a ditch and hit a tree.
‘I was driving behind them,’ he croaked. ‘The paramedics had to free them.’
Finally, we were ushered into a private room by a consultant.
‘Jordan’s suffered massive head injuries,’ he told me. ‘We’ve put him into a drug-induced coma while the swelling on his brain goes down.’
‘Can I see him?’ I asked, my voice shaking.
My beautiful son looked like a corpse. Only the beeping heart monitor showed signs of life.
Taking his hand in mine, I swallowed back tears. ‘Mum’s here, love,’ I whispered.
While Ian had escaped with a leg injury, my son’s life hung in the balance for three days.
Doctors reduced his medication and tried to ease him out of the coma… but nothing happened.
‘Jordan has no brain activity,’ the consultant said the next day.
I thought I was living through a nightmare. But as the doctor continued, reality hit.
‘I’m sorry, but you should prepare for the worst,’ he added.
‘F-for the worst?’ I gulped back tears. ‘You mean…’
The doctor nodded slowly.
I felt sick. I wanted to go into my son’s room and shake him awake.
That night me, Norrie, and Jay sat at Jordan’s bedside, as a stream of friends and well-wishers came to say their goodbyes.
‘We should start to think about his funeral…’ Norrie choked.
Unable to speak, I nodded.
Just days earlier, I’d been buying CDs, books and clothes for him. Now I was about to plan his funeral.
‘We could have wreaths in the shape of cars,’ Norrie croaked, scribbling his ideas on to a scrap of paper. ‘And play that Killers’ song he loves so much.’
It was too much. I left the room, and went to the hospital chapel and sat with my head in my hands.
How long I sat there, hoping for a miracle, trying to come to terms with Jordan’s impending death, I couldn’t tell you. But, suddenly, Norrie came running in.
‘Sheryl,’ he gasped. ‘There’s a glimmer of hope!’
‘What?!’ I cried.
‘The nurse shone a light in Jordan’s eyes,’ he said, excitedly. ‘And he blinked!’
My heart soared. I felt like I’d won the lottery a million times over.
A glimmer of hope… that was all I needed to carry on.
‘It’s early days,’ a nurse warned us, and nothing else happened for the next few days.
On Christmas morning, while other families were opening presents and playing games, we were at Jordan’s bedside, willing him to pull through.
‘Come on, love,’ I sobbed, taking his hand. ‘Please!’ But nothing.
Then, on Boxing Day, Jordan opened his eyes! ‘Son,’ I cried, leaping up off my seat.
He was unable to respond, and his blue eyes were glazed over…but there was life there, I could see it!
It might have been a day late, but it was the best Christmas present I could have wished for.
‘He’s going to make it,’ the doctor told us.
But when Jordan finally came round, he was like a baby again – unable to walk, talk or eat. He couldn’t even hold his head up.
Watching him struggle to re-learn everything was heartbreaking.
Jordan had to learn to walk, using a special frame. One day, as he heaved himself up, his knees buckled and he fell to the floor. Wrapping my arms around his waist, I lifted him up – just like the way he used to lift me.
‘You’ll get through this,’ I whispered, seeing his frustration.
Two months later, Jordan was moved to a specialist unit in Dundee to begin a programme of intensive rehabilitation.
After his first speech session, I went to see him.
‘Show your mum what you can do,’ his therapist said.
‘Yes… No… Mum… Dad…’ Jordan said slowly, in a deep voice.
His first words since the accident. Bursting into tears, I hugged him tight – slowly, I was getting my son back.
Nine months after the accident, Jordan was able to return home. He was still weak, and needed help washing and dressing.
‘I feel so helpless,’ he sighed, one day.
‘But look how far you’ve come,’ I told him. ‘I’m so proud of you.’
It felt like a miracle when Christmas came around again.
Scribbling down a Christmas shopping list, I couldn’t believe this time last year we’d been jotting down ideas for our son’s funeral.
I spoil Jordan and Jay – they get everything they want.
‘Check it out!’ Jordan beamed, modelling the bright pink t-shirt I’d picked for him.
I got pretty spoiled, too. But Christmas isn’t about presents any more, it’s about another gift – our son’s life.
Sheryl Phillips, 44, Dundee, Tayside