You might remember that back in the summer, the village nursery organised a sponsored walk to raise money to help bring my sister Rachel home. Dave Keatley-Lill, who runs The White Horse pub in Quorn, offered to put on some refreshments for all the walkers, and on the night, he took me to one side and introduced himself. He told me about the charity he runs, The White Horse Wishing Well, which helps local families going through tough times. He told me they’d like to do something for Rachel. In the past, they’d sent families on holidays or made home renovations. I thanked him and we finished the walk.
Soon after, Dave met up with my brother-in-law, Scott. He talked about the various things the charity might do, and Scott told him that all he wants is for Rachel to come home. So Dave agreed that they would do what they could to help with that. He launched a Facebook appeal and set up a Just Giving page, and the offers of help (and the money) began to flood in. It was incredible to see so many people offering their time, their skills, their services. A date was set. The project was on.
My family own the house that is adjacent to Rachel and Scott’s, and the plan was to put a door in between the two houses and turn the entire downstairs of the adjacent house into a space for Rachel. What was a living room and dining room would become a bedroom; what was a kitchen would become an accessible wet room.
For the past three weeks, that work has been going on in the background of our lives. While we’ve been attempting to potty-train Elodie and Joseph has been turning five, volunteers have been working long days in all kinds of weather to pull off something extraordinary. These are not people with a lot of time on their hands, or an excess of money. These are, on the whole, people with young families and small businesses. Strangers who heard Rachel’s story, and cared enough to help. The kindest of people.
Today, we got to see the result. I was nervous before going round this afternoon. I’ve had a tummy bug for a couple of days and I felt shattered. The kids were playing up. Joseph said he didn’t want to go and I was cross with him. I needed him to understand that it was an important day, but he’s five, so he didn’t. And then I drove to Rachel and Scott’s house and I’d forgotten the Prosecco I’d promised to bring, so I had to go back again. When I pulled up outside for the second time, it was pouring with rain and Rachel had just arrived in a taxi, and I was on the edge of tears.
A few friends arrived. It’s Rachel’s birthday tomorrow and there was a pile of presents and cards in the kitchen. And then Dave turned up, ready to show us what they’d done. And when we went inside, I started crying and couldn’t stop, because everything I could see looked like something Rachel would have chosen. The hospital bed had been delivered, and all its ugliness had been disguised by beautiful blankets and cushions. There were candles everywhere, fairy lights, framed photos of Rachel and Scott and their boys, boxes full of toys for the children to play with.
For at least half an hour, we pointed things out to one another. The picture of the boys we’d all thought was a photograph was actually a pencil drawing. The wardrobe rail pulled down so that Rachel could choose her clothes from her wheelchair. The path from the pavement to the front door was entirely flat. Tiny details that add up to a little more independence, a little more comfort.
The end result was so much more than we could ever have imagined. In the garden, new decking, new furniture, a pizza oven, a football goal. A brand-new TV on the wall opposite the bed. An Amazon Echo with voice commands to play music, switch on lights, turn on plug sockets. The interior designer, Lara, had got Rachel’s taste so right that Scott said it was like she’d got inside Rachel’s head.
For a couple of hours this afternoon, the kids played under Rachel’s new bed and danced in the wet room, while our family and friends chatted and had a drink and wondered how we might ever thank the people who have done this for us.
Our hope is that Rachel will come home to live next summer. And it will be so wonderful to spend time with her in that beautiful room, the home she loves just the other side of the new door that connects the two houses. There has been so much sadness in our family over the past couple of years, and we need days like today. Days that remind us that there are people around us who care enough to help. Days that remind us to look to the future. Because there are things we can’t change, but this project has taken care of the things we can.
I can picture next summer. Sitting with a drink on the new decking, with my family. With Rachel. With her boys. Home. Finally home.