Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Every drawing is always inspired by something – but sometimes that inspiration isn’t always sweetness and light. This piece, this picture, comes from a place of pain, and sadness. It’s the first time I am sharing my inspiration with you – but trying to do this story justice isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to write – and it isn’t easy to read.
There is a lot of dark in this picture. Black triangles. Black circles.
When I started drawing I felt like I was in a dark fog and couldn’t see a way out. The tunnels were the moments that were the worst.
Like when it began.
It happened on a Saturday. I remember sitting on my sofa happily drinking a cup of tea when my phone rang. It was my dad letting me know my brother was in hospital. I wasn't worried. Dad didn’t know what was wrong but knowing Ben he had probably gone out and done something stupid. I mean he was a uni student and knew how to have a good time. We had Facetimed just a few days beforehand. Ben was fine.
So I thought.
The phone rang again. Something was different in my dad’s voice this time. Ben was in a coma. They didn’t know what was wrong. My parents were on the way to the hospital. I felt like I had stepped into a cold bath of panic and fear. A few hours later, I arrived there with Ben’s twin. He had meningitis. They didn’t know if he would make it.
You know the phrase when they say your whole world turns upside down? It happened in that moment.
More black. More tunnels.
The Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth was to become a very familiar place over the next month. We would spend hours driving there and back and hours by Ben's bedside, willing him to get better. The only coffee shop in the hospital, Costa coffee, would become a place I would both love and hate in equal measure. In some ways I loved escaping there. Loved escaping the beeping and the bleeping noises and the scariness of seeing your little brother hooked up to all those tubes and all the sad faces of all the other families in the waiting room. Frankly I think my bottom liked the escape of those chairs too. They weren’t made for sitting on for hours. Even the dull, beige walls of Costa were a welcome relief from the concerned faces of the doctors and the nurses on the ward. The downside to Costa is, well.. Costa itself. Costa perhaps once or twice is okay. Costa four or five times a day every day for weeks…not so much. If you ever want to meet me for a coffee, please, never suggest Costa.
Time decided that it would drag its feet. Seconds became minutes, minutes became hours and hours felt like days. Everyday was so uncertain and all we could cling onto with every last bit of Costa-coffee fuelled energy we had was hope. Slowly Ben started to make tiny improvements.. but on the day that was his turning point for the better, life decided it would deal us another blow. (Thanks life, really, really, appreciate that).
I remember this so vividly. I was standing by Ben’s bedside and he raised his eyebrows really high which made me laugh out loud because it reminded me of Grandpa – it was something he did. As I walked back into the waiting room a minute later I got the strangest feeling that something cold was washing over me. My phone rang that very moment. Grandpa had died.
More black. More tunnels. No light. Just dark.
The day Grandpa died was the day that Ben really started to get better. Make of that what you will. But he got better, amazing everyone.
For me, the days that felt the worst was when I had to go back to this sense of being normal again. I suddenly just felt so angry with the whole world. For Ben nearly dying, for Grandpa dying without letting me say goodbye, with myself for every frustrated word I spoke to Grandpa when it wasn’t him, it was his dementia. I was so angry but I didn’t show it. I couldn’t.
Black, black, black.
Then there was work. There were the few people who genuinely wanted to know if I was okay, I mean, really okay. But otherwise, people almost expect you to be normal. They expect you to put on a show and perform like a good performing monkey. The truth is I didn’t want to smile at people, I didn’t want to be happy or cheerful but there was this unspoken expectation that I would be positive Claire, happy Claire, the glass half full Claire. They ask how you are but they don't really want to hear that you aren't okay. When my usually stellar performance (if I do say so myself) slipped, comments were thrown at me to try and snap me out of the place I was in. I was told I was at the edge of a cliff, I could either jump off it, or find my way back again. I heard another one whispered not so quietly.. “look how far the mighty has fallen”. I think they would pass a class for failure to motivate. I switched off. I drowned them out. I drew. Black.
Days passed. Weeks passed.
One day after work, I was laughing with someone I can only describe as the big sister I have never had and these Turkish lanterns I had seen briefly over Christmas popped into my head. I had admired them but not fully appreciated them. I had not been able to then but now I wanted to add them into my piece and capture their beauty. Capture their colour. I realised I was finally starting to see the light and a way out of the fog. Because everything would be okay.
The lanterns weren’t just lanterns to me. They were so full of colour and vibrancy and love. They were all the people who were there in the darkest moments. The people who were there when we needed them the most. Who rallied around us. Ready with the fish pies (so many fish pies!), giant bear hugs, ready to take on the ironing (talking mini mountain loads here) or tissues when we needed to cry. They were there. Just there. They were the lights in the dark.
So this piece – it holds so much meaning. It is dedicated to everyone who helped us.
From the very bottom of my heart - thank you. This is for you.
And as my final note, the proceeds from this drawing will be donated to the Portsmouth Hospitals Charity, in honour of the staff that fought so hard to save my brother’s life. If it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t be here today. Thank you.
My piece.. Lights in the Dark. Hand drawn.