Taken from Mummy

Why I may never tell my poor Sam what happened to her babies...

Published by: Laura Hinton
Published on: 3rd February 2011

A tap on the kitchen window almost made me spill my cuppa. Then I saw my grandson’s cheeky grin peering up at me.
William, nine, was always making me jump like that. He popped round most mornings now he, his mum, brother and sister, had moved into a house backing on to mine three months ago.
‘Morning, Nan!’ William chirped, bounding through the door in his scruffy blue school jumper. ‘Mummy wants to borrow some sugar.’
‘Of course,’ I smiled, ruffling his blond hair. ‘But only if I can have a cuddle!’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ he huffed. But a little smile slowly formed. He loved cuddles really, but liked to pretend he was too grown up for them.
He was the man of the house you see, with his little brother Anthony, five – AJ to everyone – and sister Maddie, three, to boss around.
My daughter Sam, 27, had started letting him pop round here on his own now that they lived so close – there was only an alleyway and a gate between our houses.
I loved it. Every morning Sam popped in, too, and had a cuppa after dropping the kids at school. And the children had dinner at mine at least three nights a week.
These days, it seemed too quiet in the house when it was just me and my hubby Robert, 51.
‘Bye, Nan!’ William said, grabbing the sugar he’d come for.
‘Err, haven’t you forgotten something?’
I giggled.
He turned back, looked at me, and leaped into my arms for the hug. ‘See you at the party,’ he called, running out of the door.
That afternoon, was my younger daughter Hayley’s 26th birthday bash. By the time me and Robert arrived at her house, the do was already in full swing, the grandkids running around excitedly.
Maddie was screaming with laughter, dancing in circles with William and their cousin Courtney, five, to the High School Musical soundtrack. As always, she cradled her Minnie Mouse toy in her arms.
‘Gran!’ shouted AJ. He didn’t feel too old for hugs, and flung himself at me.
Then he pulled a cheeky smile and started chasing the girls around the room with Chimp, the toy monkey who never left his side.
‘Leave me alone!’ Maddie squealed at her brother.
‘She reminds me so much of you at her age,’ I said, turning to Sam.
‘I wasn’t such a little madam,’ she scoffed. ‘She looks like an angel until I make her eat her greens, then she sticks her bottom lip out, folds her arms…’
‘…And scowls like a demon. I know, because you were exactly the same – a madam!’ I laughed. ‘You had your dad wrapped around your little finger, too!’
‘I still do,’ she winked, bending down to pick up William’s plastic dragon toy.
‘What’s that, sweetheart?’ Robert said, hearing his name.
‘Oh, nothing, Dad!’ she laughed. ‘Could you get a plate for me?’
‘Of course,’ he smiled, dashing off. Sam looked across at me, eyebrows raised to say ‘point made’.
‘Who wants another drink?’ asked my eldest son Mark, 29, as he arrived at the party brandishing a bottle of bubbly.
‘Go on then,’ Sam giggled.
It was good to see her letting go. As a single mum, she was always busy fussing over the kids, they were her life. So when Hayley asked her to go out that night, and Mark offered to babysit, I urged her to go for it.
‘I don’t know…’ she protested.
‘No arguments! I’m doing it,’ Mark smiled.
‘Go out, Mummy!’ AJ giggled, letting off a party popper. Bits of streamer landed all over Sam.
‘If you insist,’ she laughed.
We all hugged goodbye. Maddie wrapped her arms around my neck, Minnie Mouse still in her hand.
I pulled her tight and the smell of clean hair wafted up – she loved using her mum’s shampoo.
‘I’m sleeping in William’s bed tonight,’ I heard AJ telling her, as they walked out the door. ‘Are not!’ she shot back.
Bless them, they still hadn’t got used to having their own bedrooms… Mark was going to have his hands full tonight!
As for me and Robert, we fell asleep the second our heads touched the pillows.
Hammering on the door woke me up. Pulling on a jumper and jeans, I stumbled to the door, with Robert following.
It was my neighbour Margaret.
‘Quick,’ she gasped. ‘It’s your Sam’s place...’
As I raced up the alleyway, I noticed a funny glow in the air, and thick, black smoke.
Oh God, my daughter’s home was burning down!
Fire engines, my neighbours, police, all blocked my way to Sam’s house.
‘Where’s my family?!’ I yelled, as Margaret struggled to hold
me back.
‘They’re trying to get them out,’ someone shouted.
Neighbours herded us back to our house and made us cups of tea.
‘I’m sure they’re fine,’ Robert kept repeating.
‘What happened?’ I croaked. Mark took a deep breath…
‘Sam got in at 11pm, and I left soon after.’ His voice broke. ‘I can’t believe it. They were all fine. Happy.’
Two police liaison officers arrived. ‘Your daughter inhaled a lot of smoke,’ one said, her voice trailing off. ‘She’s been sent to Scarborough General Hospital.’
‘How is she?’ I cried.
‘She’s still alive, but she has been put in an induced coma.’
‘Where are my grandchildren?’ I gasped. ‘They’ll be worrying about their mummy.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, her eyes not leaving mine.
Robert stifled a cry behind me.
‘You mean…? But we were just at the party,’ I stumbled.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she repeated. ‘There was nothing the medics could do.’
Hours earlier, the kids had been running around, giggling, causing havoc. Now all three were gone in an instant. None of it made any sense. Not even when me and Mark were driven to the hospital – Robert stayed at home with the rest of the family.
As we drove in a daze, the police liaison officer told us more, but it still didn’t seem real.
‘We believe the fire started on the ground floor,’ she explained.
‘It looks like Samantha woke downstairs, went up to each room waking the children… but they all got trapped at the top of the stairs.’
I took a deep breath and tried not to break down – not yet.
‘The firemen found all four of them huddled together,’ the officer continued. ‘The flames never reached them… they were killed by smoke.’
My heart felt like it had been ripped in half.
‘She wanted them together, cuddling mummy, no matter what,’ I whispered, almost to myself.
Apparently, by the time the medics had got in, Sam had been barely clinging to life. But the children were like limp rag dolls in her arms.
William, the little man of the house, must have been terrified, but I bet he tried to be brave for AJ and Maddie. I could see them now, clinging to one another…
I banished the thought, it was just too painful.
But more pain was ahead of me. Now we had to identify the bodies.
My eyes took a second to adjust to the bright light, then I saw them.
‘Yes, that’s M-Maddie, William and AJ,’ I stuttered.
They were perfect, not burned at all, just blackened from the soot. Then it hit me. It really was them. They really were dead.
‘Mummy tried her hardest to save you,’ I whispered to the three of them. ‘Now you have to stay strong and cuddle each other in heaven.’
Then the tears came. Me and Mark held each other tightly as the pain of grief rocked through us.
‘I have to see Sam,’ I said, sadly. ‘She needs to know.’
But when we walked into the intensive care ward, it was clear she was seriously ill. Her skin was blackened like her children’s, and loads of wires and tubes stuck out from her body. A ventilator was helping her to breath.
‘Sam’s brain was starved of oxygen for a long time, so there’ll be extensive damage,’ the doctor explained. ‘At the moment, she’s in an induced coma. Only time will tell how she recovers…’
All we could do was sit, wait, and pray we didn’t lose her as well.
Days passed. When I wasn’t making funeral arrangements, I was at the hospital, talking to Sam as if she was awake, as if the kids were still alive.
‘Remember when we lost Minnie Mouse? You were so worried,’ I said. ‘You marched me all the way back to the school gates to find it because Maddie wouldn’t stop screaming. Thank God we found it!’
That was Sam, though, she would do anything for the kids.
Firefighters said they’d no idea how she’d reached her babies in the fire as by then the paint on the walls would have been melting because it was so hot.
Sheer determination to save them must have driven her on.
‘Part of me almost hopes she doesn’t wake up,’ I admitted to my hubby later that night. ‘Those children meant more to her than anything in the world.’
He silently nodded.
How would any mother cope knowing her children had died?
I was certainly struggling to hold it together – no one should see their grandkids buried.
That’s just what I was doing, though. Robert and me were even sorting out the funeral.
‘I just want them to be comfortable,’ I told him. ‘So I think they need to be in their pyjamas. Sam would like that.’
Taking each other’s hands, we walked out of our house, down the short alleyway. Moments later, we were turning a corner to face Sam’s house.
We’d made that journey so many times, but never with the heavy sense of dread we had now.
I didn’t want to go into that place, to see the destruction, knowing this was where my daughter had fought in vain to save her children’s lives. But we had to.
We crunched through the hallway, treading carefully over the charred furniture and up to Maddie’s room, where her pink little fairy lights had melted against the wall. Sadly, we searched through the kids’ belongings.
All the clothes were ruined but, miraculously, we found AJ’s Chimp, Maddie’s Minnie Mouse, and William’s favourite toy dragon. I spent hours scrubbing them clean of soot so they could be placed in their coffins.
Next, I bought Maddie some little princess pyjamas, AJ some green ones, and a little suit for William. He would have liked that because he was
the oldest.
Two weeks after the fire, we held the funeral – the boys in blue coffins, Maddie in pink. More than 300 mourners said goodbye.
As I gripped Robert’s hand and watched the coffins disappear into the ground, my world finally crumbled apart.
‘At least they’re together, with their favourite things,’ I told myself. Small comfort.
A week or so later, Sam came out of her coma.
Tests confirmed she’d suffered extensive brain damage.
It’s hard to explain how she is…she’s awake, but not awake, at the same time.
Sometimes, she’ll make eye contact, or squeeze our hands, but that’s all she can do. The Sam we knew has gone.
Worst of all, we don’t know whether she remembers the fire. For that reason, we’ve decided not to bring it up.  I haven’t told her about the kids –  I don’t know if she’d understand – and if she did, I’m sure it would destroy her.
Recently, though, I mentioned her dad was coming to visit the next day, and she looked at me differently. There was a flicker of recognition behind her eyes and a single tear tumbled out.
‘You’ve always been a daddy’s girl, haven’t you,’ I smiled. Then I nattered on about my day, fighting back my own tears.
Every day is so hard, but we’ll care for Sam as long as she needs us. The cause of the fire hasn’t been fully determined yet. But it almost doesn’t matter, the damage has been done. Sam’s life has been destroyed and William, AJ and Maddie are gone forever. Life will never be the same.
Some days, though, I’ll be washing dishes and hear a little tap on the back window. I’ll turn, expecting to see William’s cheeky face peering through.
Then I realise it’s just a tree branch, being blown by the wind, and the searing grief tears through me all over again.
The wounds will never, ever heal, but I hope the loving memories will keep us going. At the moment, they’re bittersweet but, in future, they’ll be cherished.
For now, I take comfort in knowing my grandchildren are together, cuddling up in heaven.
Sharon Hudson, 49, Bridlington, East Yorkshire