The families had gathered around a table set up in a ward where the children spent their time before going into isolation or when coming into the Unit for blood checks and additional treatment. The consultant had already made his rounds with presents for the patients who were spending Christmas morning in the hospital with their siblings and families. Some would be allowed to leave for the day and spend time in the accommodation provided nearby. In the meantime the nurses who were on duty were doing their best to make Christmas Day as festive as possible with chocolates, Christmas crackers, decorations and music.
Christmas lunch arrived. It had had a long trip from the canteen and was no longer warm. There was one microwave on the ward so only one dinner could be heated at a time. Lunch became a bit chaotic and haphazard as diners ate in turn rather than communally. It did not matter in the circumstances. No one complained.
It was the worst Christmas dinner I have ever had but the one that enriched the most. We did not realise it at the time but it was the last we would celebrate as a family. We were far from home and immediate family yet surrounded by kindness, care, and a desire to provide comfort and bring joy.
Regardless of ethnic background, identity, creed or circumstances all the families shared the same experience and were treated equally. No one expected otherwise. Parents sharing a common experience looked out for each other and ensured that no one was left short of anything they or their family might need.
A few days before leaving home my work colleagues had presented me with gifts to take to my daughter. Her school friends had also come to my home with gifts to take with me. The car was packed as I embarked on the ferry with my other children for the journey through England to where my eldest daughter was receiving treatment. After a long drive and a wrong turn at Birmingham we eventually got on to the correct motorway and arrived in the early morning. Thankfully there had been no snow or ice.
The staff at CLIC who had become our friends had kindly provided us with extra accommodation. We were able to spend two weeks as a family before returning home in the New Year. No words can ever explain the value of that time. It does not diminish over the years.
In the midst of adversity human beings are capable of great acts of kindness and consideration.
Christmas is a particularly poignant time of year when these are much in evidence but that is not to say they do not continue throughout the year often on a dally basis, well away from the public gaze and across community divisions.
News reports would sometimes suggest otherwise particularly when politics is the context. Combative speech and blind loyalty are too often allowed to mask humanity and skew priorities.
The last ten months in Northern Ireland speak for themselves.
A community urges movement and actions to address our problems.
One family has an elderly relative waiting for over two years for a consultation to replace a hip. That same family has been told that a relative cannot have treatment for budgetary reasons due to living in one Health Trust area whilst treatment is available under a different Trust.
These are not uncommon experiences regardless of identity, ethnic background or creed.
Politics it seems has become peripheral to need.
A New Year would be a good time for political leaders to challenge their predictability and move forward.
If there is no door of opportunity they need to create one.
If politics is not about making lives better, what are they about?
Show that you care!