The gentlemen have been with me for about an hour. Because of the uncertainty of Edward’s survival, the two gentlemen were already thinking of plans as to how our family could be brought back together again. Laptops adorned the kitchen table. They were plotting where Royal Naval ships were located and quietly talked things through. You could almost hear their minds ticking over.
After what feels like an agonising wait, the phone finally rings, fracturing my thoughts and silencing their planning. I look at the phone as if it is some foreign object that has just dropped through the ceiling and landed in front of me. How I would love to turn back the clock. At the same time I know that I must pick up the receiver. My hands begin to sweat and shake. It continues to ring persistently, each ring having the similar effect to a baby’s cry. I know I have to pick it up. The noise is not going to go away, if anything it feels as if it is getting louder with each ring.
The Padre asks, “Would you like me to pick it up?” I quickly respond, his voice jolting me back to the job in hand. “No, I’ll do it” I say.
I pick up the phone and after the familiar time delay, I hear Michael’s voice….the softness of it makes me want to relinquish all responsibility but I know I need to remain in control, as much as this situation allows. At that moment in time, I just want to be with him, not separated by thousands of miles. He knows it is going to be bad news but he has no idea what I am about to say.
I ask him if he has someone who can sit with him as I have difficult news to tell him. No, he says, he’s alone in his cabin. I quietly want to prepare him as well as I can. I begin to tell him slowly that Edward has been very seriously injured. I have the card in my hand that lists what are believed to be his injuries. It is the one that the Lieutenant Colonel wrote out earlier. It is helpful and kicks my brain into action, giving me direction until words begin to flow more easily. I hear the shock and horror in his voice. He is not in the city or just a train journey away but thousands of miles distant off the coast of Brazil. All I want to do is to sit with him, hug him, and comfort him. I want to be beside him. I would prefer to talk this through in person so that I can feel his presence, touch him and watch his face. I want to make it all better for him but I know I can’t. At the same time, I need his support, his comfort, his strength but more than that, I want to give all this and more back to him. I have nothing positive to help dilute what I have just told him. There are long moments of silence and utterances of disbelief. He asks me to tell him again about the injuries. I repeat the information on the card slowly, that card that holds a tenuous link between Edward and me. By holding it I feel safer and it gives me some semblance of control.
Edward must still be in surgery. Michael promises to keep in touch with us throughout the day so that he feels a part of what is going on at home – a sense of belonging even though he is so far away. Time is dragging. The wait is excruciating. We cling to the flimsy thought that no news must mean Edward is holding his own with the help of surgeons, nurses, medication and whatever else is keeping him alive. The lack of news though is incredibly difficult to deal with.
I am just a mother; I have no experience of the military. I just want my son to live. As work continues around the kitchen table with laptops open and phones buzzing, it begins to dawn on me exactly what it means to be ‘Next of Kin’.