A fate worse than death

Cathy Rentzenbrink in Prospect:

Screen-Shot-2018-03-16-at-10.20.41In the summer of 1990 my brother, Matty, was knocked over by a car. He was 16 and I was 17 and we lived in a little village in Yorkshire above the pub our parents owned. I knelt by Matty’s unconscious body in the road and travelled with him in the ambulance. I could tell by the demeanour of the ambulance men how serious it was. “We’ve got a bad one here,” said the driver, into the radio. The other man was slicing off Matty’s T-shirt which was now entirely dark red. “Why is there so much blood?” I asked, “I can’t see any cuts.” “It’s coming from the back of his head, lass,” he said. “Talk to him, love, keep talking. Keep him with us.”

I laid my hand on Matty’s bare, bloodstained chest and I talked and talked until we arrived at hospital. Then Matty was rushed away from me. I filled out forms with a nurse and rang my parents. I can still hear my mother’s voice as I delivered the information that would throw a grenade into our lives.

After my parents arrived a surgeon came to see us. “I’ve saved your son’s life,” he said. “We don’t know yet whether that was the right thing to do.” He told us that the next 48 hours were crucial. We commenced what the newspapers called our bedside vigil. More talking. I held Matty’s hand and watched his chest rise and fall as a ventilator pumped air into his lungs. All we wanted was for Matty not to die. Moving around the hospital in the night I stumbled into the chapel. I was an atheist but had been to a Catholic school and I knew the prayers. I prayed that my brother would not die. I believed we were in a binary situation. I only knew about life and death, I knew nothing of the in-between.

Now—older, wiser, sadder—I know that I was praying for the wrong thing. It would have been better for my poor, lost brother and for everyone who loved him if he’d died when he was knocked over by the car.

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