The sun was beginning to light his room when Terry woke, but a growing sense of dread soon clouded his mind. Today was Rachel’s seventh birthday and she would probably ask the question he didn’t want to answer.
It began on her fourth birthday. An innocent request, repeated the following two years. “Tell me about mummy.” Rachel asked at other times, too, but he found it harder to respond on her birthday.
Terry had expected Hannah, 18 months older than Rachel, to start asking as well, but she didn’t. He often wondered why, but chose not to enquire.
The two girls were different in many ways. Hannah seemed to accept she had a father and no mother. She never questioned the fact that her photo album showed two parents for the first eighteen months of her life, then only father and little sister.
Rachel had an album too, with no more than a dozen mother and baby shots, all taken in a hospital room. On her fourth birthday she selected a photo of her parents and asked Terry to put it in a frame. It still sat by her bed. Later that day she said “Tell me about mummy”. Not a question about where mummy was, but who she was.
The sound of Rachel moving in her room interrupted Terry’s thoughts and he went out to meet her with a cheery “Happy Birthday”. After a quick hug, Rachel turned to the gifts her father had left outside the bedroom door. Hannah joined them for the unwrapping before the day soon settled into its routine.
When Rachel’s friends came for the birthday party after school, the new seven year old joined in the fun with her usual energy and enthusiasm. So like her mother, Terry thought as he watched. How Vanessa would have enjoyed baking special birthday cakes for her daughters, watching them grow up, making every party an occasion to be remembered for a long time.
Terry had never demanded a answer from God. Never blamed God for taking his beloved wife from him when Rachel was only six weeks old.
Vanessa had been so happy when her second pregnancy was confirmed. They both knew a pregnancy in her mid-thirties carried greater risks, but neither of them expected cancer. During the third trimester Vanessa became more and more tired, often kept awake by the pain in her back and legs, but the doctors missed the vital clues pointing to a malignancy.
When they finally admitted her to hospital to monitor her more closely it was too late. Before the tests began, Vanessa fell, breaking a femur weakened by the undetected cancer. Suddenly the pace of events accelerated as doctors hastened Rachel’s arrival and examined her mother thoroughly. The prognosis was bleak.
After a week of intensive nursing the new baby made rapid progress, while Vanessa’s health declined just as quickly. Six weeks later she died, leaving Terry with two young children.
“Thanks for the party, Daddy,” said Rachel as they cleaned up the family room.
“I love you,” she added as she pulled him down to kiss his cheek.
Her impulsive, open display of affection still surprised Terry at times. He was more reserved, but Rachel’s actions were so like Vanessa’s they reinforced the pain of his loss.
His anxiety grew as Rachel prepared for bed. Would she ask, or would she let it pass this year?
“Daddy, I’m ready,” called Rachel. “Read me a story.”
Terry obliged by choosing one of her favourites, relieved as he watched her slowly drift off to sleep.
He read to the end, closed the book, kissed his heavy-eyed little girl and was almost through the door when a quiet voice called him back.
“Don’t go Daddy. I want you to tell me about Mummy.”
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