Evening approached swiftly on the shortest day of the year.
The hospital restaurant was nearing closing time as I heaved open the door and shoved the pushchair through. The canteen was deserted, and you were just finishing, putting chairs up on to tables. No doubt you groaned at the sight of a last-minute customer.
Working there, you must have witnessed so many aspects of human life. Clinic-appointment coffee, visiting-time tea, escapees from the ward looking for “normality”, people coming to terms with diagnoses, difficult decisions to make; sorrows, hopes, occasional joys.
I was living at the hospital with my six-month-old twin girls, the younger of whom was at that moment in theatre, in the hands of an amazing surgeon who was mending the hole in her heart.
Negotiating tiny cavities, stitching minute sutures, it felt as though he had literally taken her precious life into his hands. My cousin’s daughter had poignantly suggested that he would fill the hole in her heart with love. I admit that I welcomed this rather whimsical idea, having seen my little girl endure a thoroughly miserable start to her life.
The hospital pager hung heavy in my pocket and I had been anticipating its buzz all afternoon to tell me my baby was off heart bypass. My other daughter was in the pushchair next to me, thankfully healthy, and at that moment sleeping peacefully. I was a long way from home, and with my husband away working and my mum unable to be with me, I was tired, lonely and, at that moment, shaky with hunger.
Eating enough when living in hospital had been an unexpected challenge. What with breastfeeding one, expressing milk for the other, then tube-feeding it to her, changing both, endlessly cleaning everything, waiting to see consultants, snatching sleep – the task of feeding myself was often far down my list of priorities.
So it was with great relief that I sank down before my plateful of cauliflower cheese and mash.
With the first forkful came a hungry wail from the pushchair. My heart sank. Not now. Please not now.
I was caught between risking annoying the hell out of you by letting her scream, and really, really needing to eat! Frantically, I chopped at my food in the hope I could at least eat it one-handed if necessary. I sensed you approaching as I desperately started shoveling forkfuls into my mouth.
When you arrived at the table, in my desperate state I was all ready for you to comment on my lack of parenting skills. But you didn’t. You smiled at her, you smiled at me, and you asked if you could take her for me.
Gently you lifted her into your arms and together you waltzed around the empty restaurant. You gazed into her eyes and crooned her name. You made it feel as though you’d been waiting all day for her to arrive. Her big blue eyes wide open, she relaxed into your embrace as you glided between the tables.
Perhaps you did it all the time with visiting babies. But for me, on that particular day, at that particular moment, you gave me just what I needed: tender kindness, compassion, time to eat in blissful silence.
For some reason it touched me deeply, and I have always felt so grateful. Later that evening, after that pager had finally buzzed, with our two tummies full and revived physically and mentally, we went to greet twin two in intensive care.
You probably won’t remember us. So many mums and babies must have come through since then. But I have never forgotten you. I have asked after you since, when appointments still take us there. But you’ve left now, so I’ve never been able to tell you how much your kindness meant to me that night nine years ago.
Thank you, Tina, from the bottom of my heart.
(originally written for the Guardian newspaper weekend family section – ‘a letter to….. the letter you always wanted to write’)
Please share inspiring stories of Kindness using the buttons below.