Orphaned in seconds

Just a minute earlier or later and a family would still be together...

Published by: Laura Hinton
Published on: 13 October 2011

The thud, thud, thud of propellers was right overhead. Putting down my washing basket, I peered out of the window and saw the air ambulance fly past.
‘Oh dear,' I sighed to myself. ‘There must have been a serious accident somewhere...'
Just then, the doorbell rang, interrupting my thoughts.
‘Who's that?' I wondered, checking my watch. It was too early for my daughter Terri, 24. She'd be dropping her son Morgan, one, off at nursery with her fiance Tom, 29.
No, I never usually saw her until after lunch, when she'd pop over for a chat.
It was funny really, she'd been such a party girl before meeting Tom, but now her family were her world. I'd warmed to him the moment we'd met.
He was a grafter, worked as a forklift truck driver, and the pair of them never stopped laughing.
Still, however much Terri's life had changed, one thing had stayed the same - our closeness. So it was no surprise that it wasn't Terri knocking on the door... but I was shocked to see two policemen there.
‘Are you Diane Miller?' one asked. ‘Do you recognise this?'
He held up a Hello Kitty keyring.
‘It's my daughter's,' I frowned. What was going on? Then I noticed that the keyring was snapped in two, covered in dust.
‘There's been an accident on Belmont Road,' the officer said. ‘A lorry smashed into the railway bridge, and spilled its load of timber.' He paused, then added: ‘It hit two people on the pavement.'
‘Oh, God,' I croaked, knowing what was coming, but praying I was wrong.
‘I'm afraid a Mr Thomas Matts died at the scene, and your daughter's seriously injured.' I struggled to take it in. Tom was gone... but he was Terri's world. They were getting married.
He'd proposed at Christmas last year, wrapping Terri's ring up and putting it under the tree for her. They'd been together for five years, after meeting in a nightclub. She'd been overjoyed.
I felt my knees suddenly buckle. This couldn't be happening. They had a future. They had Morgan. But they'd simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tears tumbled down my cheeks as I rushed to Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Terri was in the special head trauma unit. Still unconscious, she'd broken a leg and had suffered internal injuries.
But when she came round, how was I supposed to tell her Tom was gone?
‘How are side-by-side?' her sister Claire, 33, was always asking. That was her nickname
for Tom and Terri, because they were always together.
Now poor Terri would be alone.
At the hospital, I was shown to my daughter's bedside. But she was unrecognisable. Her long, blonde hair was saturated in congealed blood, her delicate face was swollen to double its usual size.
‘Terri,' I cried, gripping her hand. ‘I'm here. Mum's here.'
She didn't move.
‘Come on, sweetie,' I whispered.
God, I longed to hear her voice, to hear her tell me she was fine, like she did every day. I'd phone for a chat every evening.
‘Hello Mum, we're fine thanks,' she always answered the phone to me, chuckling.
‘Do you need anything?' I'd ask. ‘I can pop round, help out...'
‘We're doing great, Mum,' she'd laugh again.
They lived 20 minutes away and I'd have been there in a flash, but Tom and Terri had taken to parenthood as quick as lightning.
A sudden memory made me smile despite my fear. ‘Hey, remember when you fell pregnant?' I said to Terri. She didn't move, didn't so much as flutter an eyelid, but I carried on.
‘Me and Claire both guessed before you told us!' I confessed. ‘Well, you looked so well, positively glowing.'
So different from now, I thought, but ploughed on. ‘So when you told us, we both had to fake our squeals of surprise.
‘And remember how I came to every scan with you, supported you every step of the way - like you've supported me over the past 10 years, battling breast cancer.'
I squeezed her hand, but there was no squeeze back. ‘Come on, darling,' I urged, my voice breaking. ‘You've got Morgan to take care of... and... well, we all need you.'
That's when I noticed something. Terri's hand had gone from warm to cold. She'd gone.
‘You're with Tom now,' I whispered tearfully, kissing her palm. ‘And I promise I'll be here for Morgan.'
I'd keep his routines going - Terri and Tom had done such an amazing job with him.
‘What a team! You make it look easy,' I'd laughed only last week, as Tom prepared Morgan's bottle and Terri got him dressed. ‘It's like a military operation.'
‘I learned from the best,' Terri had winked.
Now, saying goodbye to my daughter, I vowed to do everything I could for Morgan. I'd wrap him up in my love, and tell him all about his wonderful parents. I'd give him the life Terri and Tom had wanted for him.
‘I'll love him enough for the both of you,' I promised, kissing her goodbye.
The next few weeks were a blur. A funeral was held for them at Hereford Crematorium, but I couldn't face going.
Me and Morgan stayed at home and played with his favourite JCB digger toys.
‘Chug-chug-chug!' I giggled, racing them up his arm.
He gurgled a toothy grin... and my heart broke. It was the same beautiful smile his mother had.
As time passed, it was Morgan who kept me going though. I had to be strong - he needed me. But then memories would suddenly spring up from nowhere and leave me in floods of tears.
Clearing out Tom and Terri's home, I found my daughter's wedding list. It detailed the dress she'd like, the car she'd wanted, possible venues...
Breaking down in tears, I clutched the list. They'd had so much to live for, but had been wiped out in an instant.
Now, instead of a wedding to attend, I had the court case into their deaths. Sitting listening, I grieved all over again. Turned out witnesses had seen Tom push my daughter forward on the pavement, trying to protect her from the falling timber.
‘I'll tell Morgan when he's older,' I promised silently.
In July, lorry driver Graham Morgan, 49, was convicted of causing death by careless driving. He was disqualified from driving for a year, and given a 12-month prison sentence.
Now, all I can do is keep Tom and Terri's memory alive for Morgan. We visit their grave, then stop and watch the diggers renovating the local cathedral.
‘Nana, nana!' he'll squeal.
He loves being outside with the machinery, just like his dad. And that smile of his... I'm just so grateful that his mum and dad live on in him.
Diane Miller, 54, Hereford