Luke Francis

There is song affectionately known as 'The Sunscreen Song'. A couple of lines from the song are: ""Don't worry about the future, or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.""

Well I was blindsided at 3.30am on a Sunday morning.

I was in a deep sleep and somewhere in the distance I could hear a phone ringing….. it took me several seconds to comprehend it was the house phone.

It was a cold dark November morning, the 23rd to be precise. I fell out of bed and stumbled as fast as I could downstairs. By the time I got to the kitchen the ringing had stopped. No one likes the "in the middle of the night call" and my heart was already racing.

It could be a prank, wrong number, or more serious. As I was running down the hall I passed my youngest son's bedroom. Joshua, (who was 18) had been out that evening and I had pulled his bedroom door closed earlier to keep the room warm and snuggly for when he came in. I noticed the door was now open so he was tucked up safely.

I picked the phone up and saw that a message had been left so duly pressed play. "It's Donna"" said the shaky voice on the message, "Luke has been taken to hospital and Ad's said it doesn't look good, please ring me".

Luke, my first born, was 19, six feet two and gorgeous – such a handsome good looking lad with a smile that would light up the room. Luke was always having accidents; the last was when he was doing stunts on his mountain bike in the local park. He bounced so high that a hefty tree branch embedded itself in his head. He made it to Ad's (Adam) house and collapsed on the kitchen floor with blood pouring everywhere. Adam's mum Jan called me to ask if I could take Luke to hospital. ""Oh no, not another 4 hours in casualty"" I thought. I jumped in the car and picked Luke up and brought him home screaming at him all the way. "That bloody bike will be the death of you, it's about time you grew up and stopped being so stupid you are 20 this year not 2". Luke just sat in the passenger seat rolling his eyes as he had heard all this before.

Anyway, this was probably something like another tree.

Eight months previously Luke had moved in with Donna. It was the first time he had moved out, but technically he might still be living at home. I did all his washing, made his packed lunch every day, drove him to work, was teaching him to drive, subbed him money and cooked his favourite meals and dropped them round.

I had seen Luke earlier in the day. He stayed about 40 minutes; long enough to raid the fridge and check his emails. He said he would be coming to dinner the next day as he wanted a nice roast. "OK then what do you want?"" I asked. Luke thought, then said "Roast chicken, roast spuds, sausages with bacon wrapped round and make sure you do loads of them". I didn't know at that point that I would never cook another dinner for my darling boy.

I threw some clothes on, woke Joshua and told him that I would not be long then drove as fast as I could to the hospital. I parked, then tried to run to Casualty, but my legs were like jelly. I knew instinctively that something was wrong. I charged up to the desk and said "Hello I'm Rosie Francis, you have my boy Luke". With that the receptionist came out from behind her desk took my arm and guided me through double doors. "This is your Police liaison officer" she said.

There were about 6 Policemen standing there, the receptionist said "This is Mum" and I could see pity in their eyes. I said "Thank you but I don't want a liaison officer" (I knew that was bad) "I just want to see my son". I was taken to the family room (more bad) and a doctor came in. She tried to hold my hand (even more bad) and she said they were doing CPR on Luke as his heart had stopped and it 'was not looking good'.

Luke had been out with friends; he had a great evening at the pub and went back to a mate's house for a while. He left about 2.30am, jumped on his pushbike and only cycled 50 feet. He was found collapsed by two girls who were going home.

The hospital staff were wonderful, they tried valiantly to revive Luke. I sat with him all the while, until 5am when they said there were no vital signs. They then stopped, my son had died and part of me died with him.

The Police thought it may have been hit and run, so I was not allowed to hold or cuddle Luke. He was evidence and could not be contaminated. No, he was my son and all I could do was put on a pair of gloves and stroke his hand.

As I left the hospital with my liaison officer two snowflakes fell from the sky, by the time we reached home the snow was falling quite heavily.

By 8.30am we had been assigned another liaison officer. She arrived with a statement typed up for the press and TV appealing for witnesses. How could things be happening so quickly? Josh and I did a list of immediate friends and family that had to be informed then we jumped in the car and raced around everyone as fast as we could. By 4pm Luke's face was beaming out at us on local TV. The next morning the story was on local radio and had hit several of the national papers including the Metro and local papers in Kent and the Midlands. The phone then went mad!

Luke was taken to Winchester where a Home Office Pathologist carried out the post mortem. The results came back negative.

Luke was fit, healthy, no foul play suspected; his heart was fine so why had he died? SADS was mentioned, I now spent hours reading about it on the web.

Our liaison officer took Joshua and me to Winchester the next day – I could not wait to see Luke, to hold and kiss him, he looked so peaceful, yet it was so unreal.

Joshua handled it very well, he had only ever lost his Nan and that was 9 years ago so death to him was something new. The support we got from the Police was much appreciated, they kept us informed, kept reporters at bay and were there at the end of the phone.

Luke's 20th birthday celebrations on the 3rd December were now replaced with his funeral. The Coroner would not release him as the Pathologist wanted to do more tests, so we had to postpone.

Christmas was fast approaching, people shopping, talking about parties, decorations and flashing lights – how dare they, my son had died so why should anyone have fun?

Luke's funeral finally took place on the 12th December. Over 400 people attended, he was so popular. It was a very emotional day.

We didn't have a Christmas tree, cards remained unopened and no one got presents. The boys always helped with the stuffing, cranberry sauce and Luke always did the pigs in blankets. I still put his sack, which he had had since he was born on the end of his bed. I spent most of the day on my own as Joshua went to his father's. I don't know how many buckets of tears I cried.

Joshua and I have now been screened at the Lewisham University hospital in London. Everyone was so kind, and although it was a long day we were both given the all clear. It was a relief to know that Josh is OK.

I turned the calendar over on the first of October and thought ""next month it will be a year"". I get panicky, I don't know where the time has gone, I don't want to forget how Luke sounded, his smile, his laugh. I beat myself up thinking could I have been a better parent, should I have given him more – oh to turn the clock back.

People think that because its 10 months we should be over it, back to normal, whatever that may be. The odd thing is grief seems to come in waves, it hits you when you are least expecting it. You think "why me, why was my son taken, it's not fair." Then you realise grief is widespread; the world has not just got it in for me.

They say time heals but I don't think you can ever get over losing a child, especially when you are the Mum. There are still more challenges ahead over the next few months, the first anniversary, Luke's 21st birthday, the inquest on the 15th December and Christmas yet again.

What is hard is knowing that Luke had his whole life in front of him, there was no time to say "goodbye". All I would say is "make sure you treasure your loved ones as you never know when they are not going to be here".

Rosie Francis