The John Griff Column: When what you need is a hug

Sometimes it is really hard to decide what to write in this opinion piece - simply because there is so much to say and only so much space available on the page for it. It’s certainly the case this week, but most of it can be encompassed under the umbrella term of ‘family’. Where would we be without it, and where do we find it?
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I don’t think it needs to be just a genetic thing - ‘family’ can actually be far more generic. The Royal Family is used to being seen as far more than its genetic form. It's nickname - ‘The Firm’ gives an indication of just how generic it is seen to be and not only by those inside it. It is a family in the most basic sense of course - but right now it’s family ties are being tested by matters exterior as well as interior to the family’s fabric and day to day activities.

The mad media scramble to find superlatives with which to praise the Princess of Wales for the maturity and leadership with which she conveyed the real reason behind her current medical issues was really almost grotesque to witness. Catherine had just been pilloried across the world by precisely the same people who had condemned her for releasing ‘home edited’ pictures of herself and her children. Now her condition is the talk of the land, with certain members of the global press back-pedalling as fast as they can to put out saccharine-sanitised pieces of copy. In either direction it all smacks of the rampaging, incessant demand for constant news content which has everything to do with being first to air - or, more pointedly - to print. On the day that the Princess’s candid video was released, I found it interesting that it was timed to coincide with the 6pm bulletins of all the major broadcasters. I’m assuming that Editors and Directors would have been given warning that there was a significant story about to head their way - possibly with a strict 6pm embargo stuck on it. And why then? Perhaps the answer is to be found in why the Princess and her family had said next to nothing beforehand, taking a little private time so that as parents, she and her husband could break the news of her condition more gently to their children and manage their reactions first. George, Charlotte and Louis will be getting support from their mother and father who have probably also been explaining why their grandfather is not enjoying the best of health at the moment. Deftly done.

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There is, of course, another spin to the term ‘family’ here. Very few families have not been touched by cancer at some level - it is, after all, the condition which in 1952 transformed the then young Princess Elizabeth into being a Queen in the instant that it took the life of her father, George the 6th. For all the progress that has been made in the treatment, prevention and education about cancer around the world, it is still a scourge. Communicating directly with viewers and listeners as she did, rather than perhaps being misquoted (or simply misunderstood by others), I’m willing to believe that Catherine found not only sympathy but empathy from those embarked on similar journeys, either living directly with cancer themselves or the loved ones of those with cancer and on their own journeys as a result. The wider family of those associated with cancer at whatever level would have understood what was going on - and why little was being said. For them, I’m inclined to think that that would have been enough. Catherine’s condition was entirely a private matter until it became a public one - and for good reason.

John was touched by the compassion of the ward staff at NGH who looked after his mother recently.John was touched by the compassion of the ward staff at NGH who looked after his mother recently.
John was touched by the compassion of the ward staff at NGH who looked after his mother recently.

A fortnight ago, I wrote about what was seen by many as being the untimely death of David Laing CBE - a former Lord-Lieutenant of the county. At the time I had a different story that I considered telling, but chose not to because I was trying to come to terms with it myself. Just under 48 hours previously my lovely mother Joy passed away quietly in her sleep at Northampton General Hospital - the same hospital my father died in and the hospital I was born in. Like so many others, I walked the quarter mile ‘Hospital Street’ night after night, going to visit my mother. Mum had not one, but two different forms of dementia – Alzheimer’s and Vascular, but mercifully it wasn’t either that would have otherwise condemned her to an awful, wasting demise. Mum also had Diverticulitis - it was infection from this which ultimately took her. The team on Collingwood Ward at the end of Hospital Street looked after her magnificently, giving her care, compassion and dignity in her final days. As an 86-year-old and a little confused by her surroundings, her conversation had become a little rambling. Late on the night of what proved to be our last time together, she suddenly had a moment of clarity and said to me ‘It’s alright, I’m home now. Thank you for calling - goodbye!’ She understood that the end was close, and so did I.

After Mum’s death, I received a card from the ward team, expressing their condolences. Inside it was what you see in the picture here. I suddenly felt a warmth which felt like a kind of family hug. It took me by surprise - and opened the flood gates, which is what I needed in that moment. The little heart, knitted by unknown hands, is now a treasured memento, its pair having gone with my mother. I was an only child and both my parents have now gone - but I still sense that I have a family through people near and far who have been so kind. It’s why I feel I can mention it now.

Somehow, I’m sure that Catherine’s ‘family’ is global - and that there are limitless private hugs which await her.