On loan from heaven

...but why did I have to give up back so soon?

Published by: Angela Johnson and Clare Stone
Published on: 22 September 2011

You were dozing on the sofa, barely able to keep your eyes open, and still you were begging to go to school. ‘I'll miss my friends,' you insisted. I chuckled. What five-year-old actually misses school?
‘It's only until you feel better,' I soothed. You had a rotten cold, but I knew what'd make you feel better. ‘How about you, me and Freya watch Horrid Henry?' I smiled.
You idolised your two-year-old sister and, seeing as it was just the three of us, we'd always been close.
Days earlier, we'd sat eating ice cream from the tub while watching The Sarah Jane Adventures.
‘You'll be wanting choc-chip delight in no time,' I told you now.
Yet, three days later, you were still lethargic. It was as much as you could do to crawl on to the sofa and sleep for five hours.
‘This cold's really taken it out of her,' I said to my mum Janette, 49, who was staying with us.
‘She just needs some time to fight it off,' she smiled. But, when you woke up, you seemed worse.
‘My neck hurts,' you grumbled. ‘And my head aches.' Your freckly skin was rash-free, so it couldn't have been anything more sinister. But you refused to eat or drink. And the next day, you were sick.
Worried, I took you to the doctors twice that day, but was told it was a virus. When you didn't improve overnight, I saw the doctor again, and he gave me the same diagnosis. I felt like I was fussing over you for nothing but, as your mummy, that was my job.
It seemed the medics were right though, because the next day you asked for some blackcurrant juice - well, that made me smile.
Firstly, because you must be on the mend, but also because it brought back memories...
Remember that time you'd poured blackcurrant juice into the softener compartment? I emptied the washing machine to find everything was purple. ‘That's naughty,' I'd scolded.
‘Sorry, Mummy,' you'd whispered, scuffing your shoe on the floor. I'd had to turn away before you caught me smiling.
Hopefully, you'd be back to your mischievous self soon.
That night, I tucked you into bed with me. ‘I need a wee,' you said.
Helping you shuffle across the room, you were so different from a few nights before when you'd called me into your bedroom.
Your clothes had been strewn across the floor. ‘I'm giving a fashion show,' you'd smiled. ‘You and Freya have to clap.'
We'd sat on your bed singing your favourite song, Alexandra Burke's Bad Boys, as you'd paraded, red curls bouncing. You'd even painted your nails pink and lined teddies up as the crowd.
Then you'd made
us pretend to be cheerleaders. ‘Put your hands together,' you'd ordered. ‘Then throw them in the air and shout "the best girls". That's what we are!'
Now, though, that sassy five-year-old seemed 106... Suddenly, your legs buckled, you slumped into my arms, and your big blue eyes rolled back in your head.
It was terrifying, but I forced myself to stay calm, desperate not to panic you and Freya.
I carried you back to my bed and called an ambulance, while Mum looked after your sister.
‘It's okay,' I hushed, rocking you in my arms. Thank God you were still awake.
When the paramedics arrived, Freya looked so bewildered. ‘It's okay, we'll be home soon,' I said.
It was all I could say, I had no idea what was wrong. Had the virus taken a nasty turn?
At the hospital, you underwent a barrage of tests. Finally, a doctor came to see me. ‘Is Ellie-Jo okay?' I asked. ‘She's had this virus and...'
‘She has meningitis.'
My breath caught in my throat - my worst fear had come true. ‘But she doesn't have a rash,' I trembled.
‘Some people don't,' he said sadly. ‘That's why it's sometimes not instantly diagnosed.'
I'd known something was wrong with you, angel, but doctors had told me otherwise. Now it was a matter of life and death...
‘Will she be okay?' I asked.
‘We're doing all we can.'
Clutching your hand, I urged you on. ‘Fight,' I begged.
But the next day, you stopped breathing. Doctors crowded around, put you on a ventilator. I sat with you, singing Alexandra Burke and praying for a miracle.
Then a doctor shattered my heart into a million pieces. ‘Ellie-Jo's brain dead,' he explained. ‘We'll have to switch off her ventilator.'
Your blue eyes were fixed, there was no sign of life. I nodded, tears splashing off your tiny hand.
‘Please... I want one more night with her,' I said. The doctor agreed.
I went to the shop and bought some Disney Princess magazines. Curled up beside you, I read them out loud. ‘Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess...'
Far too quickly, morning came. It was time. ‘I'll switch the ventilator off,' I told the doctor. ‘I brought her into the world, I'll see her out of it with love.'
With a trembling hand, I flicked the switch that took the last breath from you. ‘Bye darling,' I sobbed.
Once you'd arrived at the chapel of rest, I brought Freya to see you. ‘She's our Sleeping Beauty,' I said.
‘Bye, bye, Ellie-Jo,' she whispered, so brave.
I had a special pink coffin covered with clouds, a castle and Sleeping Beauty made. Then I stuffed it with treats for you - strawberry jelly, Mini Cheddars and a Fruit Shoot. ‘I've made you look pretty,' I told you, painting your nails and putting two plastic rings from one of your magazines on each hand. I even placed a plastic crown on your head - I bet you look adorable in heaven.
And I hope you know I was with you right until the end, and they took you away. Did you hear me whisper goodbye? Did you feel my last kiss on your cheek?
Everyone wore something pink to your funeral. Afterwards, we celebrated your short, but amazing life with a party. As a projector showed photos of you, we played your favourite songs.
I can't get over how suddenly I lost you but, when I was pregnant with you, I remember seeing the face of a cherub in a cloud - and now that's you Ellie-Jo. You were only ever loaned to me by heaven, all angels are. I'll love you forever.
Joanne Ellesmere, 27, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire