I stood with my hands over my nose and mouth trying to regain a steady rhythm of breathing. They gently explained what had happened. ‘During a routine patrol early this morning one marine has been killed and your son Edward has been very seriously injured’. I now know these words were selected carefully with just cause. The military have a categorization code where by ‘Very Seriously Injured’ means that it is uncertain that the injured will survive. I have little breath left for anything other than short staccato sentences. I hear their voices distantly, yet the two men are right in front of me. ‘May we come indoors please?’ We walk back up the drive way, the men either side of me. In the few minutes it took to answer the doorbell, my world has crashed. It feels completely wrecked. We go through the gate and into the kitchen.
The words spoken by the Casualty Notification Officer repeat in my mind as a whisper. One marine killed. This is one of those moments where the defining line between reality and a nightmare is difficult to decipher. Everything happening right at this minute is pure shock and adrenalin is racing around my body. I sense that we are right in the thick of something and yet as a Mother I feel an outsider, in the dark, on the periphery of what is going on.
I cannot begin to imagine the unbearable pain and horrific shock of the family whose Royal Marine loved one has been killed. I squirm at the bitter, ghastly, hateful ending that their loved one has endured. I look down at my feet – it is the only place I can focus on to try and escape what is happening right now. The gentlemen are just far enough away from me that by looking downwards they are out of my vision. I feel their presence though, hear their breathing. The kitchen is filled with an atmosphere of dread. The air is tense; the Casualty Notification Officer and the Padre are in control.
And Edward, I ask. Where is he? What are his injuries? They look through their notes to check their latest update, careful to quote what is in front of them. They tell me but their words evaporate into thin air. A few seconds pass. I apologise and ask again. I am listening but nothing is registering. I wish I could have the sheet of paper which they are using to help them get through this difficult time with me. I want to take it away in to another room in the house, hide and read it, as if it is my last gossamer link with Edward, and absorb it. Alone. Solitude has been my way of coping with difficult times for years and now in the middle of a crisis, that is what I would like more than anything. I am not used to sharing my emotions in front of strangers. When I am worried, I bottle it up. I clean. Or scrub floors. Or mow the grass. Or leave the house and go for a long walk. None of this is possible. The precise moment the doorbell rang, our normality extinguished. I had no inkling of what lay around the corner.
They suggest we sit round the kitchen table which is pressed up against the rustic brick wall. One of them gets his laptop out. They quietly begin to try to get a feeling for our family asking questions about my husband, our daughter and me. As we begin to talk I finally grasp Edward’s injuries. It sounds like the damage is to his lower legs and then some facial injuries. I am trying to fathom out what his injuries mean. Has he lost his legs? Is he maimed? Are they broken? They seem unsure and not too worried about this. I spurt out raw undressed questions at them both. I still have not grasped where he is. With incredible patience and compassion, they begin to talk about what occurred near Patrol Base Almas, Helmand Province – the frontline of the Afghan war. In fear, I have interrupted. I cannot wait for them to finish each sentence. Each sentence spoken by the two gentlemen propagates more half-formed stuttered questions from me. But there is more to come.