Helen Fowler: How my daughter’s resourcefulness makes me cry

Writer Helen Fowler.

Writer Helen Fowler.

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I’m stood at the entrance to the school hall, waiting for my daughter to finish her singing before taking her home.

From the doorway I can hear children’s voices raised in song. I peer through the glass door to see if I can locate my daughter.

Yes, she’s there. And she’s spotted me too. She smiles in recognition. She is stood among a group of singers under the instruction of the music teacher. Together they are singing: “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

She and her classmates are miming actions to accompany the words, cupping their hands together.

The singing is a little off key but that doesn’t matter. Quite the reverse. Tears start rolling down my face at the sound of such innocence.

Oh, no. The expression on my daughter’s faces changes. She is now gazing at me with concern. I wipe my eyes and put on a smile.

At the end of the singing my daughter rushes over to the doorway where I’m standing. She doesn’t say anything but hugs me tightly. I’m fine, I tell her. It was just her lovely singing that made me feel emotional.

It is the shifting tide of emotions that comes with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that is responsible for this latest upset, or that’s what I fear.

It’s not just that I’m still adjusting to the idea of having a progressive illness that can (at its worst) lead to paralysis, disability and loss of vision.

The illness itself is also causing my emotions to ricochet.

Damage to nerve fibres caused by MS can result in emotional as well as physical changes, I learn.

The psychiatrist I saw at the time of my diagnosis has prescribed anti-depressants to help me. They’re working. I find I can – just about, anyway – function and get through the days without undue upset.

But something as simple as the sound of my child singing can still start me crying. I’m not a basket case, I’ve discovered. The MS is changing my brain chemistry.

When we get home my daughter insists I rest. She shakes her head, takes my hand and leads me – with surprising force – through to my bedroom. I meekly do as I’m told.

“I will bring you a toy,” she tells me. “You can choose which toy I bring you.” She reels off the names of her menagerie of soft toys. “Oh, darling, I don’t mind,” I reply, touched that she is so kind.

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“You stay here, Mummy. I will be back soon.”

She disappears into her room. She is gone for a few minutes, longer than I was expecting.

When she reappears she is carrying a toy pig dressed in shorts and a hand-knitted cardigan.

“Here you are!”

I take the toy pig in my hands. I peer at it more closely. On the pig’s forehead is a large plaster that I haven’t seen before.

“Oh, no.” I say. “Has Piggie done something to her head?”

“Sometimes Piggie’s head….” Her voice trails off, before she resumes. “Sometimes her head is not right.”

“Ah, that’s a shame. Poor Piggie. Does her head hurt?” I ask.

“Yes, that is the thing. Her head hurts. And I am helping her. See, I have put the plaster on Piggie.”

She points to Piggie’s forehead.

“The plaster, it is to make her feel better.”

She is being so kind that soon I might have no option but to start crying again. It is meant to be my job to look after her. Not the other way round. And I do look after her. Not everything is upside down.

But she has understood that I am not well and is coming to terms with that as best she can. If ministering to Piggie helps her make sense of things, then so much the better. My heart swells with pride at my daughter’s resourcefulness.

Helen Fowler is a journalist and MS campaigner in Edinburgh

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