Tag Archives: family

How to Keep a Fire Alight


A few years ago, my niece and I spent a summer season working as wardens at a holiday campsite. Unbeknownst to the owner of the campsite who employed us, we were both useless at lighting fires. We had to become experts pretty quickly, as we relied on our campfire for our meals and hot drinks, and we often had to light our guests’ fires for them. In no time at all I could throw a few sticks together any old how, strike a match, and get a roaring fire going with very little effort.

I already knew that in order for a fire to ignite, fuel, oxygen and heat are required, but I learnt something new that summer – in order to ensure the fire succeeds, there is a fourth, labour-saving ingredient you can use:

utter faith in the ability of the flame to spread.



A Glimmer of Hope

When it arrived
it was no bigger than a fly;
a tiny hope like so many before
which had briefly glowed,
only to stutter and die.

Previously, I’d tried
to make the flickering fire grow,
mothering her, smothering her with my need
to steal her from the hellish end
that looked like her destiny

This time
trust walked by my side.
Believing she had the strength and desire
to heal herself, I breathed this certainty,
and she inhaled my faith.

 A glimmer of hope
radiated to become a shining light
which obliterated all darkness,
making her whole.





©Jane Paterson Basil


Goodbye, Mike

When Paul rang me from the ambulance that was rushing his dad to hospital, I knew I had to be with him. I phoned his sister in Bristol, to let her know, then phoned my son-in-law. He jumped in the car, picked me up, and we were there within twelve minutes of getting Paul’s news.

The ambulance hadn’t arrived, so I announced myself and waited outside. A policeman was standing nearby when a nurse came out to show me to the visitors room. She took me through the “Ambulances Only” doors. I turned to the policeman, gave him the thumbs up, and flippantly said “Hey – I’m going through the restricted doors – it’s anarchy in the UK.” The nurse and the policeman laughed with me.

I haven’t laughed much since that moment. I hadn’t known that “Visitors Room” is a euphemism for “Bad News Room”.

She brought me up to date. The words “cardiac arrest in the back of the ambulance” dropped me into an abyss. The paramedics got his heart going again, and were doing all that they could for him. Deep down I knew it was over, but I said,

“He must get through the next year. He has to.”

She asked me if there was some particular reason, but I just repeated my demand. I didn’t want to talk about how vulnerable our children are right now.

I rang Laura’s fiance, Dave – told him that Mike had had a massive heart attack. Dave accelerated.. Nobody can drive like Dave, in an emergency.

I lost track of the time. I didn’t know whether Paul had called in the early evening or the middle of the night. Everything in me was focused on Mike’s survival, and on Paul’s strength.

The door opened. Paul and his partner, Krusti, were ushered in, both weeping, leaning on each other, hardly able to stand, through shock and grief. Krusti’s eye make-up was smeared over both of their faces.

I’d been asked if I wanted to be with Mike while they were working on him. I’d replied that I needed to be wherever Paul chose to be. When asked, Paul said he couldn’t watch it any more.

He kept repeating that he’d seen it when Mike’s heart stopped, seen him cease breathing.

“I thought he was dead. I thought we’d lost him.”

He went through the events of the day; how he’d been worried about Mike, but he and Krusti had needed to come into town to collect his daily meds, so he rang for an ambulance while he was on the bus, but was told that an ambulance couldn’t come unless the caller was with the patient. He’d gone home to find his dad sitting downstairs, apparently well and cheerful. They’d sat together for a while, talking and joking, then Mike said he wanted to go to bed. He didn’t have the strength it make it up the stairs, only getting as far as the landing. Paul knew there was something terribly wrong. He said he’d call an ambulance. Mike protested, but Paul phoned the emergency services, and they came.

Someone came in and gave ups an update about Mike. It wasn’t positive. They questioned us about details of his state of health. There was something missing from the puzzle. They didn’t know what he had suffered the cardiac arrest.

The visitors room door opened again. Krusti’s dad came in.

A doctor showed up. Mike was on life-support. The doctor gently explained that he had no chance of survival. I finally allowed the truth to surface.

Stephen, the younger of Mike’s two sons from his first marriage, turned up with his girlfriend. Stephen’s pupils were huge. He was sagging, but he put up a brave front. We waited.

Out in the world, clocks ticked, informing the general public of the speed of time, while in that room, time got lost in the agonised air.

A charge nurse came and told us that we could be with Mike. Everyone filed into a room that was partitioned off with blue, wipe-down curtains. Mike was unconscious. A respirator tube protruded from his mouth.

I looked around, pleased to see that my family were supporting each other, and I could feel Laura and Dave approaching in the car. I wanted to get them to Mike as quickly as possible, so I ran outside just as their car screeched to a halt. I opened the passenger door and took Laura’s hand, trusting that Dave had prepared her for the worst. He had. I led her to Mike’s bedside.

I watched this little group of people; my two younger children, my stepson, his girlfriend – who I had never met – Krusti, Dave, Krusti’s Dad. Paul was locked into his own emotions, but embarrassed by his extreme grief. Krusti was grieving; at the same time supporting Paul. Laura’s shock was already dipping her in and out of reality. Stephen’s girlfriend was doing all she could to fill in the cracks that he couldn’t hide. Stephen was amazing in his own indefinable way, hugging Paul, hugging Laura, then going back to his girlfriend for an injection of strength. Dave was standing by for whatever might happen, and Krusti’s dad was unreadable. I later learned that he was devastated.

I tried to be with the right person at the right time, but I kept looking at Mike, my estranged partner of over twenty years, and I realised that I wasn’t only there to support my children.

I bent over him, and spoke words that were for him alone to hear. I wanted him to move on in peace.

Mike’s arms were twitching involuntarily. We were told that it was because his blood pressure was dropping.

I went over to Stephen, and asked him how he felt about the ventilator. We agreed that it was time to let Mike go. The charge nurse had told him that Mike’s that “Mike’s body was “unhappy”. Mike had been showered with love and kisses. There was no more to be done. The agony of waiting was stretching out.

With Stephen’s blessing, I asked the charge nurse to request that the doctor switch off the respirator. He showed up soon after.

What followed was horrendous. I expect it always is, but then Mike’s body calmed down. His breathing slowed. He became peaceful.

Breathing ceased within a few minutes, at 12.24 am on Sunday morning.

Goodbye Mike. I know that you tried to be a better person, and I appreciate it. Maybe at some point in the next few days I’ll get a bit of time to myself, to analyse my feelings.

Meanwhile, our beautiful children need me. Rest assured that I’m here for them, and for Stephen, should he wish it.

©Jane Paterson Basil.

A Thought

You can’t reach
prunish age without a few
cracks and bruises,
and you can’t
protect your children.

We tell our tales,
then cheerfully say,
“the breakages
shaped who I became.”

This is true,
yet who among us
wants our children to
suffer the pain
that we went through
on the way
to where we are today?

I think of you,
an extended picture of youth,
yet I
see the wounds.

I could say
my arms were full
of food for the hungry,
of balm for the lame.
I could say there
were too many places,
too few of me
but you needed me too.

While I know
you don’t blame me;
don’t even know
that you’re broken,
I wish that I’d
held you more carefully,
and when you fell, mended you
more skilfully.


©Jane Paterson Basil

I Ran out of Space

Saw her from my window,
arms crossed
against every remembered
and forgotten loss,
her shadow, practicing
self-defence, envisioning
black scribbles
on the unwritten
pages of her book,
all hope stolen
by tenacious history
that still physically

Her walk is like yours,
her hair –
and not so long ago,
you, too, were closed,
hugging despair to
your ribs,
but you shared
every ache with me,
venting your rage,
cutting me with your pain,
locking me into
your danger, enabling me
to lead you to safety.

I loved all of you equally,
but, in midst of the melee,
I ran out of space
and, without complaint,
she silently fell away.


©Jane Paterson Basil

Charred remains


You delivered him in pain,
yet with his emergence, pain eased
and love took its place.

His innocent face,
his little boy’s embrace –
they were sweet life to you,
and you trusted that nothing he would do
could take that away.

Slowly he grew.
You heard rumours,
but you didn’t think they were true;
each time he looked at you,
you got lost in his eyes;
taken in by his lies.

When deceit comes easy to a child,
danger can ensue,
and though he later rues his wayward ways,
he is not wired for change.

Thrills burn bright, making sparks fly;
they alight on those he claims to love the most.
When storms rage, the fire dies
leaving a lonely hole,
dusted with the charred remains of all your hopes.

You delivered him in pain,
and through the tender, loving years,
you tried to teach a better way to be,
yet failed to keep him safe.

Blackened by the flames,
flattened by the falling rain,
still you would willingly risk any pain
if you could only make him well again,
but you have no potency to deliver him
from the grip of his sickness.


The Daily Post #Delivery

©Jane Paterson Basil