It’s a coincidence I’ve called round this evening. I’ve been taking photographs at the hospital nearby and thought I’d pop in. Mia’s first birthday was exactly three months ago.
Hassan is out and Mia is in bed, Frances tells me as we walk up to her flat. “I was just making myself something to eat,” she says. I can see chips through the oven door and mixed veg on the cooker. There are a couple of eggs on the counter, waiting to be fried.
Over the last few weeks, we have kept in touch and for Frances’ 18th birthday a week or so ago, Ruth (from Reclaim) and I took mum, dad and Mia out for a celebratory curry. It had been a roller-coaster week: on Tuesday she buried her mother and on Saturday she supposedly ‘came of age’.
As Frances checks on her chips I pop my head round Mia’s door. Big mistake. She’s sitting up in bed and starts to cry as soon as she sees the door has opened. “Don’t worry about it,” says Frances coming to collect her, “she often doesn’t sleep until later.
“Look who’s here,” she says with Mia on her hip. “It’s Grandad, isn’t it?”
“What date did your mum die?” I ask once the tape recorder is on.
“The 10th of November.”
“That wasn’t expected I know but, at the same time, it wasn’t unexpected was it?”
“It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. We knew she was ill but she hadn’t been really ill for a while. It was in her sleep.”
There had been a postmortem and apparently there’ll be an inquest. “So how did you feel about your mum’s death?”
“I don’t know. It hit me pretty bad when it happened and for the days after and then I was all right. Now I have my ups and downs and there are some days when I get really low. I think about it every night before I go to sleep and sometimes I just start crying randomly. I was speaking to Hassan about it the other day, because when his dad died it hit him hard too.”
“They do say that you’ll never get over it but you will get used to it. And people deal with grief in different ways.”
Mia is playing with a plastic Winnie the Pooh toy that makes appropriate noises when buttons are pressed. “Where’s that buzzy bee coming from?” I ask her.
“Tell me what the funeral was like,” I ask Frances who is now frying the eggs.
“It was good. Lots of flowers and everyone was there, about 100 people. I met two of my uncles who I’d never met before. After we all went to my nana’s place. It was the first time all the family had been together in one family home. We all felt safe and happy and just wanted to give everyone love. We want to do it again, but not under the same circumstances.”
“So it brought everyone together?”
“Yeah, it was good.”
“And how has Mia been?”
“She’s started nursery and loves it. And I’ve been keeping all the little papers they give you.” The nursery staff provide each parent with a one-page daily progress report. Great idea.
“Let’s have a look,” I say, taking one of the sheets. “Is this is what you’ve been doing today Mia? Have you been eating sandwiches and fruit? And have you been doing Dig, Dig, Dig?” Mia gives a big smile as she recalls the activity. “And have you been doing At the bottom of the sea?”
“Yesterday she had pasta bake, yoghurt, cheese and onion pasty and beans, and cornflake cake,” reads Frances from another sheet.
“She gets better fed there than she does here!” I say.
“She does… that’s why I send her! No, she really likes it and gets to play with the other kids.”
Since her birthday Frances has moved up two bands on the housing waiting list which means she is a little more likely to be successful in her bidding.
“Oh, and tell me about your new job,” I ask. The organisation that manages her accommodation has offered Frances a job where she visits other accommodation and acts as the tenants’ representative. She’ll get some vouchers as payment. “What’s the job title?”
“I’m going to be a lay assessor,” she says.
“And how did you get that?”
“It’s because I know how to be bossy. I do a lot of complaining!” Frances (and this blog) is also featured in the organisation’s newsletter and she has a certificate declaring she is ‘tenant of the month’.
Mia is put in the high chair, cackling to herself. She’s getting a ‘midnight feast’ of beans, egg and veg. So not too disappointed at being woken up by ‘Grandad’.