The second far more important section of the sentence is quietly but purposefully delivered:
“He has suffered heavy blood loss from a chest and shoulder wound and is very poorly indeed”.
I needed to have and own every scrap of information that was being delivered to me. I had finally grasped Edward was in Camp Bastion and currently he was being operated on. His life was in the balance.
I had spoken to him just earlier in the week. He called me on my mobile while I was out walking in the local Woodlands Trust. This area is beautiful and always manages to restore one’s belief in humanity. He seemed happy enough fulfilling his job as a Royal Marine and painted a picture that left me in a buoyant mood, although I did of course read between the lines. After all, he and many others are at war. His corporal cooked porridge each morning and he enjoyed conversations on motorbikes with one of the troop. I was grateful that he was able to talk to me and we could converse….almost normally.
But that was then. Back in the kitchen, the two men continue.
“You need to prepare yourself for the worst. His injuries are life-threatening. I am so sorry but Edward may not survive”.
While they had my attention, they continued.
“And if the worst does happen, the Lieutenant Colonel will return himself to inform you as he is on duty this weekend. He will be dressed in full military uniform as a mark of respect.”
I had asked them for complete honesty and that is what I am getting. I am hearing words from the two gentlemen that I wished never existed. The realisation that I may never touch Edward’s warm living body again or feel enveloped in his hugs makes me feel cold and shaky on this warm balmy morning in May. His face, his body, him is what I see as I alternate from wanting to run away to a place in the world that does not know this news so that I can pretend it has not happened – to catching a plane to Camp Bastion to be by his side. Who will be there to hold his hand so that he does not die alone? This question begins to plague me and spins round and round in my head but I do not….cannot….speak these words out aloud to them. I feel I might be tempting fate if I do. He is my child. My son. Mine. It is the wrong way round. Mothers die before their children.
The job of a Casualty Notification Officer is incredibly challenging, but a vital role for the families as well as those that have been injured. It is carried out with respect, care and compassion. To have to be the bearer of life-changing news to family members about their loved ones day in day out must be grim. The two gentlemen were courteous, kind, gentle and did everything they could to put me at my ease and support me in such a situation. The Padre made copious amounts of tea and coffee. They spoke softly to tell me that I had twenty four hours to make the necessary phone calls. There would be a media blackout during this period of time. Family members and close friends must be told that Edward might not make it through the operation that was being carried out as we sat at the table thousands of miles away.
“Would I like help with the phone calls” the Padre thoughtfully asked?
I had tried to pull myself together a little and decided the least I could do was to have a go myself. However much I hated all this, being busy would be better than sitting wringing my hands with fear. They said they would step in if necessary and were there to support me all the way. I had to keep doing something even if it was being the bearer of bad, almost impossible news.
None of my family was at home. My husband, Michael, is a master on a BP merchant ship and was away at sea, not just up in London or in a car driving somewhere in England. I remembered that the ship was somewhere off the coast of Brazil. No idea of time zones though. I found the phone number for the ship at the bottom of one of his emails – it is a long combination of figures, but after what seemed an age, the connection was made and I heard the ringing tone the other end. I know the number does not go directly through to Michael and that whoever answers the phone will have to go and find him. While I am waiting for the phone to be picked up on the ship, the Padre and I have a quiet chat at the kitchen table as to what I should say and how on earth I start telling Michael the news.
“Just tell it in your own way, tell it how it is”, the Padre says.
My concentration switches from him to listening to the phone as it is answered the other end. I quickly say who I am and feel how dry my throat is. Abruptly the ship’s phone goes dead. The satellite is in the wrong position. It happens quite often but I really wished that this once the call had been straight forward. The thought of repeating this procedure fills me with dread and foreboding. My hands are clammy. Nothing can move forward until we get through to Michael. Apprehensively I search for the email with the number on again and begin to dial the number. I hear the familiar ringing tone. I silently plead with the receiver – please, please pick up the phone.