When people find out about my partner’s diagnosis, after the initial shock and condolences, they usually end a difficult conversation by saying ‘let me know if there is anything I can do to help’. In those first few shell-shocked weeks, all we could was thank people for their offer and say no. Because unless someone happened to have a cure for lung cancer in their back pocket, what could anyone actually do? I was also determined to keep things as normal as possible for our two boys, so I asked friends and colleagues to respect a rule of no cards or gifts. If our house suddenly turned into a florists, (as it was in danger of doing) it would only confuse and alarm my children.
So when a woman on twitter DM’d me for my address I very gently gave them my stock reply. Thanks but no thanks, we are trying to keep things normal for the boys, so no gifts please. Mortified that she had offended me, she explained,
‘I have made you something out of wool that is somewhat bigger than a Christmas card. It will always be for you (because that’s the way that making something for someone works), but I shall happily keep it safe for a different time.
Worried that I might have upset someone I’d never met and who was only trying to be nice, I made an exception and sent her my address. After all, whatever ‘it’ was, it was made of wool, so the boys would probably never notice.
Then last week a parcel arrived. We have lots of parcels arriving these days: new curtains and cushions and tables and chairs as I desperately try to improve the domestic space in which we are increasingly confined. But this one was different. It had a handwritten label for a start. And when I opened the box, I pulled out the most exquisite gift I have ever seen or held. My partner gasped. What is that?
Something more than a Christmas card…
It was a blanket. A blanket of soft, rich wool, crocheted into squares of gold, green, cream and brown, patterned with flowers and bordered with grey. We opened it between us like a book, marvelling at the weight and width of it. We turned it over, clasped it to our bodies, inhaling the scent and texture of it, wondering at the time and skill that went into its creation.
My partner was overwhelmed and could not believe that I had never met the woman who had made it for us. I explained that she was @christinejolly, a woman who I had followed for a while who also happened to be the partner of one of my favourite authors @jameshannah who wrote The A-Z of Me and You. James and I share an agent, (Sue Armstrong) I explained. I’ve met him once at the agency summer party and both he and his partner have been so supportive of me on twitter. But I have never met her. Christine is, by the ordinary rules that govern life, a stranger. And yet she gave us this incredible gift. She also gave us a card, in which she wrote:
‘I know I can’t make things better, so instead I decided to make a thing. This blanket is very hardy and has witnessed both Trump’s victory and Ed Ball’s Gangnam style salsa without unravelling. It is more than happy to be dragged along the floor towards a morning coffee in a cold garden. This blanket will not ask you how you are. It will not tell you about a friend of a friend who cured their cancer with only wheatgrass and blueberries. I hope it can be a weight around your shoulders that is of your own choosing. You can hide under this blanket if you want to. It’s big enough for two if you sit really close together.’
When the boys came home from school, I made a point of sharing the blanket and the card with them. Because I have finally realised that gifts are not something to hide or be afraid of. This extraordinary blanket and the time and thought that went into it enabled me to say to my children, ignore what you hear on the news: see how good and kind people are; how lovely and thoughtful ‘strangers’ are.
In just a few days, the blanket has become part of our family life. I am usually up first so I lay it over my legs in the kitchen whilst I sip a cup of tea and wait for the house to warm up. My 12yo snuggles under it whilst he watches his iPod and later it moves to the front room where I lay it over my partner whenever he feels the cold. As I do this, I remember how two years ago I first read The A-Z of Me and You and wept at the tale of a young man in a hospice, who clung to a crocheted blanket and the memories it contained.
In her card, Christine said that she couldn’t make things better. But she was wrong. Every morning the first thing I see when I come downstairs is her blanket draped over the sofa. The sight warms me. And when I lay it over my partner, he feels the weight of kindness.
A photograph doesn’t really do the blanket justice but I wanted to share this beautiful gift with you. And of course, to thank Christine. It is indeed somewhat bigger than a Christmas card and we will treasure it. Always.