Charlotte had been ill for at least three years before we finally got her first diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) brought on by a nasty throat infection. It explained the reason why my most energetic and vivacious daughter fell asleep sitting upright whilst reading. And why her normally rosy complexion had taken on grey hues. Also, why, when she had once bounded out of bed, now there were times when couldn’t even get herself up let alone down the stairs.
But we knew this wasn’t the whole story. It did not, for example, explain her fluctuating pain levels in her joints, nor did it explain why sometimes her feet and legs did not want to work. She was on so much pain medication that we almost took out shares in paracetamol and ibuprofen.
After Christmas 2018, she felt a little better. We did not know at the time that this would be the course of her chronic illness. The terribly cruel periods of relief when my daughter seemed to be back to normal, only to succumb to it again only months later.
At this time of feeling better, she decided she wanted to try out school for her A Levels. It was something she’d talked about for a while but seemed a completely out of reach goal. However, we did not count on Charlotte’s tenacity. In the January of 2019 she began studying for the three extra GCSEs she needed to get into school: Classical Civilisation, Latin and the dreaded maths. She worked her little socks off, and took these courses (which were meant to be taken over two years) over just four months and then headed off to school.
At school she had to navigate the journey which was an hour there and an hour back again, the social side, the academics and the homework. By Christmas she was ill again. In fact, she was iller than she’d ever been and was back on the pain meds, this time even stronger than before, just to get her through each day. I started to take her in and collect her but she was looking that terrible grey colour, and we knew she couldn’t go on for very much longer.
Just before she turned 17 in the October, she met a lovely young man. They were friends to begin with, both attending a Dungeons and Dragons’ group after school. He would always offer to carry her back, and waited to walk with her (she often lagged behind the others because she was ill). They’d known each other about six weeks and spent lots of time together, when he asked her out on a date. She was to be his first serious girlfriend and he was to be her first serious boyfriend.
I met Ads, who was painfully awkward, when I started dropping him off home on the way back to ours. Over the next six months, I was able to spend hours getting to know him whilst driving both he and Charlotte to and from school. They sat in the back, whilst I drove. We used to joke I was just the local taxi service…However, it was in this role that I gradually got to know him as he began opening up and chatting more and more freely.
He was clearly besotted with Charlotte and she with him. He began spending weekends at our home, as he relaxed a bit. We threw him a special Hobbit birthday party for his 17th, meeting both his and Charlotte’s close friends. More and more, we noticed a reluctance in him to go back to his house.
April came and with it a national lock down. For reasons I’ll not be going in to, Ads moved in with us that weekend. At first it was only going to be for a few days, but the situation became such that he asked to move in permanently.
We were in lockdown, had an almost stranger living with us and Charlotte’s health took an enormous dive. She began experiencing migraines, needed to walk with a stick and for the first time I noticed she was becoming anxious about things. I took her to the doctor’s explaining that I thought she was suffering from anxiety, but because of her age they asked her to wait until she turned 18 and they would refer her to see someone. The doctor explained that if she referred her straight away it would be to a paediatrician and she would be over the age of 18 by the time an appointment came through.
As a family we were incredibly blessed over lockdown because we had a large garden, Gary was still at work and we were used to be together 24 hours a day. Honestly, nothing much changed. Except we had an Ads and an increasingly ill daughter.
Ads was dealing with his own stuff, he and Charlotte had been together for less than a year and he was watching her become iller and iller. Yet he was amazing with her. So patient and loving. And likewise, she with him. They were both probably going through the worst time in their lives and yet each one tried to put the other one’s needs first.
We really saw the calibre of man Ads was when Charlotte started having hallucinations, seizures and very obvious physical and verbal tics. Most men, let alone 17 year old boys, would have upped and left, and almost certainly would have fallen out of love with my very precious daughter. He didn’t. Somehow in the incredible difficulties of his own family situation, her ill health and lockdown (and (for Ads) living with a very peculiar family), Ads and Charlotte grew together rather than apart. Thomas and Ads became very close friends and all my daughters began to consider Ads as another brother.
Right from the very start of their relationship, both Ads and Charlotte had told us this was it for them. They had found their person. Perhaps if a very similar thing had not happened to Gary and I, we may have been more sceptical. But Gary and I had known we were meant to be together from almost the first week of meeting, and we have had an incredibly happy marriage. So, we just loved and supported them, and, importantly I think, we took them seriously…
Tomorrow, I will be writing about the proposal.