For most, Christmas Eve is spent either in a frenzy of last-minute gift buying, enjoying a festive drink with work colleagues, or wrestling with wrapping paper and sticky tape dispensers.
Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered teenager, Stephen Lawrence, marks the occasion in a very different way. Every Christmas since 1993, she has undertaken a pilgrimage. It takes her to the South London district of Eltham, to an unremarkable suburban street where Stephen, her teenage son, was stabbed to death – simply because he was black. A plaque marks the spot. Doreen wipes it clean, lays tulips in his memory and talks to him.
‘I know he’s not there, I know he can’t hear me,’ she says simply, ‘but it’s something I can’t help but do.’
This year the visit to the site where her son breathed his last was particularly emotional. The Lawrence family had just spent 35 days listening to traumatic evidence, outlining her son’s last moments and the outcome would finally give Doreen the justice, she and her family had campaigned so tirelessly for. In 2003 she was awarded an OBE for her charitable work, after setting up a Trust to provide bursaries for youngsters from ethnic minorities to pursue their educational ambitions. Stephen would be so proud of her.
There can be nothing more tragic than losing a child, to lose one in such a mindless, racially-fuelled attack must be doubly difficult.
In thinking of Doreen Lawrence, I can’t help thinking of my own mother. She may not have earned an OBE but I am still proud of her. She was the one who took the time to introduce me to great music and some of our greatest literature and she was also the one who encouraged me to write.
A quote from Oliver Wendall Holmes seems appropriate today:
‘Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.’