All it takes is one phone call to change everything.
You are having a normal day in your normal world; maybe a boring day or a day when you’re feeling pretty fed up. Then you get that one phone call and life as you know it falls to pieces. Before you picked up the phone you were one person, after the phone call will never be that person again.
I was actually having a pretty good day on 7 July 2005. I was living in a lovely house in a lovely part of the country. My partner was at work, my daughter was working in Spain and my son was at the school he loved having a great time. I had just finished the morning tidy up and the washing up and made myself a cup of tea. I took my tea and sat down in front of the TV.
As soon as I switched it on I realised that something was happening in my home town. There had been a terrible fire on the underground in London and it looked as if people may have died. Then there was a news flash. There had been another fire somewhere else on the tube and now it seemed that the fires were actually explosions and there had been three of them. Then more news came in. There had been an explosion on a bus just outside where I used to work. It seemed to be all connected. It was starting to look like the work of terrorists. I sat there in my sunny house watching terrible film of what was being done to people in my home town.
And then the phone rang.
I wasn’t surprised. I knew it would be my mum ringing to ask me if I’d heard the news and to check everyone we knew was OK. But it wasn’t my mum. It was my dad.
My dad never phoned me. The surprise of hearing his voice on the phone made me almost embarrassed. He sounded a bit odd. A bit distracted.
He said “I think your mother may have had a heart attack”. In the silence that followed I could only hear the television next door. My world began to fall apart.
I found my voice and said “Why do you say that?” He replied “I was shouting at her and then she said she was having a heart attack”. Years of experience of dealing with my father meant I immediately switched into calm mode “Can you tell me exactly what has happened, starting from the beginning and most importantly, when did this happen and have you called an ambulance?”
His said that she was still in bed, it was before 9.00am (he couldn’t seem to remember the exact time) and that he had been shouting at her when suddenly she had a huge pain across her chest which was so tight she couldn’t breathe and she said to him “I think I’m having a heart attack”. I asked him what he did then and he replied “I went downstairs of course”.
He went downstairs to finish off his cup of tea and toast. He left my mother upstairs alone having a heart attack. When he went back upstairs an hour later he thought she was asleep but he wasn’t sure if she was breathing. He thought she probably was. Then he went downstairs again and he wasn’t sure if he should go out and leave her there “leave her to calm down” in his words, or if he should phone someone. So he phoned me. He said he didn’t want to bother my brother at work.
My own heart was beating so fast and so loud I thought I wouldn’t be able to control my voice, but I had to stay calm. I said “Please listen to me very carefully and do exactly as I say. Call an ambulance now and tell them your wife has had a heart attack. Then call me back to tell me you’re done it”. He asked me if I thought it would be alright to call 999 or if he should use the non-emergency number. I said no, I thought for this it should be 999. I said “Please do it immediately you put the phone down from me. Goodbye”.
As I put the phone down I listened to the sound of dozens of ambulance sirens. They were on my television, streaking through the streets, desperately trying to save whoever they could. I stood still in the kitchen, waited 7 minutes and rang back. My father answered. He sounded cross, but he had called the ambulance and they had apparently already arrived, having been close by at the time of the call. They were with my mother now “making a fuss”.
Ironically what saved my mother’s life was the fact that he had left her in bed, so she stayed quiet and warm. But that morning was the beginning of us losing her. We lost her in pieces, gradually over a few years. The heart attack had caused damage to her heart and to her brain. In some ways she stayed completely herself – in other ways she became so different, so delicate and distant.
This morning we remember the people who lost their lives and whose lives were changed forever by the bombs of 7 July 2005. We remember all the families who received phone calls. I grieve for them, I think of them, I am proud of them. They have been to hell and they are still here.
But every 7 July and most especially on this one, ten years later, I also think of my mother and of that phone call.