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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The VIPs were those unable to go (Vicki Anderson)

The VIPs were those unable to go

Last updated 08:45 21/03/2011
Press writer VICKI ANDERSON received a mixed reaction to her column arguing that Friday's memorial service was held too soon. Today, she reports on how she spent the day.

'Call me Mum," she says when I arrived. "Everyone does. You were her friend, you can call me Mum too. I need to hear someone say it or I'll go mad."

Her daughter was a chubby toddler with a mop of fine blonde hair. She arrived early, catching Mum unexpectedly. Mum's waters broke in the supermarket, and Mum never felt she could go back there to shop afterwards, driving miles out of her way to buy bread to spare her blushes.

She arrived into the world an hour later, 6 pounds three ounces (2.8kg) of life, hollering her lungs out.

"I knew she was going to be the life of the party," Mum says, tears flowing down her face.

Her first word was "m'bike", her favourite colour violet.

She was a good kid at school, often picking up waifs and strays - from kittens no-one wanted to others in her class she was worried about, who she'd bring home for Mum to feed and cuddle.

"She collected the lost and the lonely like some people collect ornaments," Mum says. "She's a pretty little thing."

She pauses, looks at me with eyes the colour of the sky outside, and corrects herself.

"She was a pretty thing."

Mum didn't like her choices in men.

"She always wanted to rescue these lost causes, no hopers. Unemployed bums made a beeline for my kind-hearted daughter," Mum sighs.

Her first car was a beat-up old VW she spray-painted herself. In the back she put a big Pink Panther soft toy because when she was driving at night she didn't want anyone to think she was alone.

Mum makes a guttural noise that sounds like her spirit breaking.

"Then my wee girl died alone."

We sit and stare at each other across the room. I feel emotionally constipated. I think of my youngest daughter, the way she throws her chubby arms around my neck and says "I found you mummy." I wish that Mum's daughter could do this one more time.

Mum says they fought over her youngest's car that leaked oil on the driveway.

"I remember when she got it, lord she thought she was Lady Muck. She'd wave at everyone she drove past whether she knew them or not."

We flick on the TV to see coverage of the memorial in Hagley Park. Mum didn't want to go.

"I haven't even buried my baby yet, it's too soon for me. I hope someone gets something out of it."

To my mind the Very Important People are the ones who are not here.

"Prince of the Park" reads the caption under HRH Prince William's head. He appears to be suppressing a giggle when told to "nibble the apple and be fruitful".

Mum thinks he's a lovely boy.

"Just like his mum. He knows pain. I don't know what's worse, surviving your baby or leaving your baby behind. I know if there had been a choice I would have put myself in her place in a heartbeat."

Mum saved her daughter from drowning when she was a toddler. She gave her mouth to mouth and brought her back to life.

"This time I couldn't do anything for her. All I could do was sit and wait by the phone."

When the police knocked on mum's front door looking for her daughter's hairbrush and toothbrush it became too much.

"I couldn't stand up, I couldn't see, I couldn't breathe. I sat on the floor in the bathroom. It was cold. I was so upset I couldn't cry. I just sat there on the floor. I guess it must have been for 12 hours I sat like that. I had her picture folded up in my hand. It was taken when she'd just turned 16, it was her favourite photo of herself. I loved it because it captured her kind face so well."

Mum buries her baby next week.

It's the land that cracked her heart and stole her beautiful daughter but she will never leave Christchurch. Mum loves the community spirit.

"That was the only good thing that bloody earthquake didn't take away. It made us stronger, together. It made us remember what Kiwis really are."

People she didn't know from around New Zealand and Australia have baked her cakes, sent her money and cards.

"Those Aussies should be proud of their cops. They are darling men."

A Usar member rang to talk to Mum before the memorial.

"He said he thought it was too soon for us too, poor man. He said it was worse than his time in East Timor. I suggested he get some counselling," Mum says.

I ask her if she's OK; what about a nice cup of tea?

Mum points me to the cupboard with the gin in it.

"This memorial is a bit cheesy," she says, watching Prime Minister John Key shovelling dirt around a freshly planted tree. "Someone should tell those TV announcers that simply saying something's poignant doesn't make it poignant." As Mum says this I realise she is clutching the picture of her daughter with white knuckles. I am watching a Mum soon to say a final goodbye to her baby. There is nothing more poignant than her grey-haired pale face and hollow eyes silhouetted against the tens of thousands of people in Hagley Park on TV standing together to offer her strength in their two minutes of silence.

"She always had such a loud voice, I was always telling her to keep it down," Mum says. "Now the silence she has left is forever. I'll never see my baby again. People want me to be strong.

"To me being strong is knowing when you are weak."

- The Press

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