The big birthday

On Saturday, Mum and Dad picked me up and we went to Rachel’s care home. The car was full of food and presents, and we made several trips up to the room where the party was being held. Rachel was still in bed, eating her lunch. I hoped it would be one of her better days, that she would be chatty and alert.

As we finished blowing up balloons and unwrapping food, one of the staff wheeled Rach to the room. She was wearing a top I’d bought her for the occasion, and she had a bit of makeup on, and perfume. She looked beautiful, and she was smiling. People were starting to arrive, and she greeted them happily.

Before her stroke, Rachel hated being the centre of attention. She and Scott agonised for ages about whether or not to have a wedding, because neither of them are big fans of being the focus. But on Saturday, she seemed to enjoy being in the middle of things, smiling away when we sang happy birthday and cut the cake.

There were tricky moments, but they weren’t the tricky moments I’d expected. I’d worried about Rachel being tired and unresponsive, but she wasn’t. When I asked if she wanted anything, she responded more quickly than she has in months. ‘A glass of prosecco, please.’ It was her first drink in sixteen months. I bet it tasted good. The difficult moments were more of the manageable kind. Elodie trying to eat all the food and fighting with Jay over a water cup. Joseph announcing loudly that he needed a poo when I was in the middle of a conversation with someone I hadn’t seen for over 20 years.

Before people arrived, I gave Rachel the big box full of love, showed her the extra things that wouldn’t fit inside. She didn’t really respond. But on the days since, various visitors have opened up a few of the cards and letters and read them with her, and I think she’s enjoying them. That day, though, she had a whole room full of love, with friends and family gathered to wish her well. As her sister, always wanting the best for her, I couldn’t have asked for more.

At the end of the party, Paul said he’d take the kids home while I stayed to help Mum and Dad clear up. But Joseph wailed and wouldn’t let go of me, so they ended up waiting and we all went home together. Later that evening, about an hour after he’d gone to sleep, Joseph woke up and called for me. He was sweaty and confused. ‘Why are you still poorly?’ he asked. He was only half awake. I stroked his hair. ‘Do you mean why is Rachel still poorly?’ I asked. He nodded. I explained as best I could. ‘I wish she could come home,’ he said.

I feel that sense of relief and calm that comes when you’ve been working towards something, and it’s over. I’ll miss the letters addressed to Rachel falling onto the doormat, but on the whole, I’m pleased that her fortieth birthday is behind us, and that we made it as happy as we could. Helping the children to understand what’s happened in our family is ongoing, of course. We’ll keep answering their questions and going to them when they wake in the night, afraid. That is what all parents do.

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