Although Nicola wasn't a close friend she was somebody that Ella and I saw quite regularly and she was somebody who has had a major impact on our lives. You see Nicola was what you would call a typical Children's Home girl. A victim of circumstances, of bad luck and of institutional indifference.
Nicola came into the Care system quite late and after a couple of unsuccessful foster placements she opted for life in a Children's Home. Ella and I are still in touch with Nicola's final set of foster parents and we have found out more about Nicola from them. They have had lots of foster children since Nicola but they still remember her - “She was an artistic girl and we still have one of her pictures in the house. Nicola never settled down to life in our small village and after a few months everybody agreed it would be best for her placement to be ended.”
So Nicola then went back to the Children's Home then, at 18, out into the world. She died just over 3 years later. What Nicola really needed was a special friend to share her daily life but that didn’t seem to have happened. It seems such a waste to die at 21, especially if you didn’t have many happy times in your life. Nicola went into hospital for minor elective surgery and the wound had got infected with MRSA. When Nicola (finally) told her former foster parents how ill she was they visited her every day from then until she died.
We saw Nicola alive and well only a few weeks before she passed away. I can still remember the last time we spoke. She was stacking the tinned vegetable shelves in the supermarket where she worked and we shopped and we had our usual quick exchange of news.
Nicola wasn’t stupid – not by any means – and if she had been given just a bit more encouragement to stay on at school who knows what might have happened. Ella’s baby was named after her and not long after she was born we got a lovely surprise in the form of cheque for £500 from Nicola's last set of foster parents. They wanted to pass on to us all the money that Nicola had left them in her will. When Nicola realised she was dying she wrote a will that was witnessed by hospital staff. She divided the little she had into 3 pieces and her last foster parents had this one third they have now passed on to us. Another third purchased a bench outside the supermarket where she had worked and one third went to buy games and toys for the Children’s Home that she (and Ella and I of course) had attended.
Nicola’s birthday was in early August so on the closest Sunday to the date Ella and I go up to the cemetery and give her headstone a good cleaning. On the way home I like to drop into the church to light a candle for her. Wherever she is I hope she is safe and warm and happy. It could so easily have been Ella or I or another one of our friends buried in the cemetery if things had worked out just a bit differently. And that it a strange and sombre thought!
I think Nicola would be both touched and surprised that people still remember her short life but Ella and I do think of her quite often and I know we are not alone in missing her.
May she rest in peace.