QuaranTime to Read. . . Chapter Fourteen


Chapter Fourteen

The day of the funeral was dry but dull. It seemed appropriate that there should be no sun, as if the grey sky reflected Jane’s mood. Christopher was safely installed with a neighbour, and she drove alone to the large Anglican church near the school. She abandoned her car with a long line of others, which were parked in the narrow lane.

A gaggle of playgroup mothers hovered near the church entrance, wearing somber colours and careful lipstick. They huddled against the cold and the occasion, wanting to be together but studiously avoiding each other’s eyes.

One mother had taken upon herself the role of host, and was speaking too loudly. She hugged Jane when she arrived and meaningfully asked how she was. Hardly knowing her, and therefore somewhat nonplussed, Jane muttered noncommittally and sidled over to Suzie.

“Shall we go in?” she whispered.

Suzie nodded. “The playgroup teachers are already inside,” she said, “we were just waiting for you and Lynne.”

The last mother could be seen hurrying towards the church in unfamiliar heels. Her white petticoat was slightly longer than the black skirt, making her appear oddly indecent. She smiled an embarrassed apology for arriving last.

“Ah Lynne,” the loud mother enthused, “We were wondering if you were coming. How are you dear? Isn’t this just awful? To think, it could be any one of us you know. One can’t judge poor Tricia.”

Suzie made a low growl and grimaced at Jane. “Let’s go in,” she said, and led the mismatched group through the arched doorway.

The interior of the church was cool. The religious familiarity of high roof, stained-glass windows and stone floor was oddly comforting. There was something solid about the building, it had seen it all before, even such as this.

The line of women processed up the aisle towards an empty pew, heels clicking on the ancient floor. The church was full. People sat, either staring rigidly ahead or with head bowed, in prayer or distress.

Their pew was near the back and they shuffled crab-like along its length, then sat slightly squashed, with shoulders almost touching. The loud mother, now subdued, was observing which people were not in attendance. Jane could feel Suzie bristling beside her and wondered if she would intervene. They both sat, silent and uncomfortable beneath the span of the high beamed ceiling.

Jane’s knees brushed against a garishly embroidered kneeling pad, hung for convenience on a small metal hook. She wondered who had decided orange was a good colour for a dove. Red prayer books were stacked in pairs on the narrow shelf in front of her. She crossed her legs carefully, wishing her black skirt was longer and cautiously raised her eyes, not sure if she really wanted to see what lay at the front of the church.

At first glance it was filled only with flowers. White lilies and chrysanthemums, tight pink rose buds, fronds of delicate greenery. Wreaths, and complicated arrangements full of bows and ribbons. Then, with a heart-stilling jerk, she realised the coffin also rested there. Tiny, white, almost doll like in its petiteness.

“It’s Christopher sized,” she thought and her eyes pooled with unbidden tears. “Don’t look,” she told herself. “Don’t look. Don’t think.”

The service was short and Jane heard very little. She watched Tricia’s back for a while, sagging towards the man Jane assumed was her husband. A lady in a hat kept careful vigil and constantly passed her tissues. How was this bearable? Each time that Jane felt the emotion rising, started to imagine how it would feel to lose a child, she rammed those feelings back inside, down somewhere deep.

“Don’t look. Don’t think.”

The vicar swooshed around in his pristine gown, speaking in deep tones about things that Jane shut her ears to. God felt so far away from that female jammed pew, and she did not want to let him in. She was in a dark place, and she wanted to wallow there alone. Anything else was too dangerous.

“Don’t look. Don’t think. Don’t listen. . .”

The congregation rose awkwardly to sing childhood hymns, the familiar tune blasting brightly from the organ. Only the vicar could muster any volume, most of the congregation following the words mutely. Jane stared rigidly at her hymnal throughout, not trusting her voice.

The age-old scent of the church mingled with the heavy perfume of lilies and she felt faintly sick. She concentrated hard on her queasiness, forcing physical worries to overcome emotional ones.

“Don’t look. Don’t think. Don’t throw up.”

People sat, easing carefully back onto the hard wooden seats. The vicar began to talk about Sophia and the child’s face, happy, alive, flooded Jane’s brain. The warmth of her little body, her bright eyes, the way she ran, still chubby where she was only just growing from a baby’s body, her enthusiasm.

“Don’t think. Don’t look. Don’t listen.”

People bowed with shoulders hunched as the vicar prayed. There were murmurings and stifled sniffs as people fought to control their grief. There was no abandon here, no distraught wailing or heart-rending sobs. The great body of the church was still, quiet, subdued; dignified even in the face of such tragedy.

“I wonder what everyone’s thinking,” thought Jane, “the ones who don’t believe in God. What are they thinking when they bow their heads?”

She said an automated “Amen” and relaxed her shoulders. She could not pray, not here, not yet. To pray would be to open her mind and emotions, to be starkly honest. She felt too fragile. Even to pray for Tricia would be too dangerous, opening herself to too much light. Safer to huddle inside herself for a while longer, to hide until she could cope.

“Don’t look. Don’t think.”

The service ended. The people rose and two young men walked forwards to claim the coffin. Red rimmed eyes showed they had an attachment to the child, and Jane wondered if they were uncles. They were very young, not much more than teenagers. Too young for such a heavy burden.

They lifted their weightless load with care and walked, one careful step after another, to the church door.

“Don’t look. Don’t think.”

Gradually gaunt-faced family followed them; a stream of bewilderment clad in black. There was a pause, almost a holding of breath, as though the congregation was testing the reality of the afternoon, trying to find a way to assimilate what had been experienced. Then slowly, as though given a cue, people began to move, to shuffle from their places and to filter out of the church, returning to their lives.

The women followed.

“Lovely service!” Jane heard, “I did think Tricia did well, don’t you? And such a good number here. Though I am surprised Emma Smith didn’t make it, I wonder if…”

Jane turned away, following the other women. They all wanted to leave, fleeing to the safety of their private lives. A few wanted to talk, to verbalise what they had experienced, but most wanted simply to escape. Jane felt like she’d been through a mangle.

Suzie touched her arm, “You okay?”

Tears welled, mirroring those of her friend’s. She paused.

“How is this bearable?” she began, then stopped. She took a breath, and nodded. “I’ll call you.”

She walked down the uneven path, her hand searching her pocket for car keys, intent on leaving, trying to make her thoughts follow some kind of order again.

Towards the back of the graveyard, huddled near the wall, she could see the forlorn group of mourners. Their grief was freer now—more tears, more arms flung in support around trembling shoulders.

“How can anyone bear this?” she repeated to herself. “How can you survive losing a child?” She averted her gaze and hurried to the sanctuary of her car.

“Don’t look. Don’t think.”

For a moment she simply sat, trying to calm her emotions. Then she glanced at the time. Three o’clock. Matthew would still be working. The desire to see him was almost overwhelming. Still close to tears, she turned the key and started the engine.

She drove home blindly. No one honked her, or screeched to a halt, so she assumed she must have stopped at junctions and driven safely, but she was aware of nothing until she turned into her road. Several cars were parked nearby—but not Matthew’s.

She slowed to a halt outside her house. The building work was nearly complete and the new room sat smugly against the existing house. From outside it looked too clean, but finished. Inside, pipes were laid, wires in place and plaster smoothed across the bricks. Matthew came less often now but he had been there when she left, and he had planned to work all day. All day. That meant at least four o’clock. Not before three o’clock.

An irrational rage surged through her. She had wanted to see him. She had needed to see him. He would have been kind, sympathetic, supportive. She had been on the brink of tears. Maybe she would have cried as she told him about her horrible afternoon. Perhaps he would have comforted her. Put an arm around her, held her close. How dare he just leave? He had said “all day,” did she not have the right to expect him there? Could she rely on no one?

She flung herself from the car and slammed shut the door. Then she realised her house key was in the glove box so she had to clamber back inside. She banged her head against the rear-view mirror and cried out with pain and frustration.

She banged shut the glove box and it fell open again in protest. She glowered at it darkly. Leaving it hanging open, she heaved herself out of the car and glared up the road, reciting swear words in her head.

Her neighbour’s door opened and a concerned face appeared.

She thought about saying the swear words aloud.

“Oh Jane, I heard a car, and wondered if it was you. Did it go alright? I’ll call Christopher for you; he’s been ever so good.”

Jane showed her teeth in an effort to smile and forced herself to breathe. Her anger dissipated as quickly as it had appeared, leaving her drained of energy and close to tears. Christopher arrived, pink faced from watching too much television. He put his hand in hers, confident she was pleased to see him. She thanked her neighbour, and took him home.

***

It was not until later that day, as they were driving Abigail home from school, that Christopher mentioned the funeral.

“Did you see Sophia go to heaven?” he said.

Jane glanced at him in her rear-view mirror. He seemed relaxed, just interested.

“Well, not really—” she began.

“You don’t see people going to heaven,” Abigail interrupted, “You put them in a coffin and bury them.”

“Under the ground?”

“Yes.”

Jane saw fear begin to cloud his eyes. “Abigail,” she said, “It’s not like that at all. Sophia is in heaven, Chris, but she didn’t need her body anymore so her mummy put it in a special box to keep it safe.”

There was a pause as he considered this. “Where?” he asked.

“In the churchyard,” said Jane quietly.

“Can I see?”

Jane didn’t know. “Be open and honest” had been the advice, but how open? She knew that the children had been close friends, unusually so for their age. Plus, Christopher was a thoughtful child who liked direct answers to his questions and worried if he thought he was being evaded.

She decided she would take him. Today, now. He could see the grave while the flowers were still fresh, he would like that.

“Get it over with,” she decided, “help him to understand.”

She turned the car towards the church, driving in silence until they were parked. She twisted in her seat and faced Abigail.

“Do you want to wait in the car or come too?” she asked.

“I’ll come,” said Abigail, “I want to see too.”

They walked past crumbling gravestones, along the moss-patched pathways towards the section reserved for more recent deaths next to the wall. Jane held Christopher’s hand lest he should run across the grassy mounds. Abigail followed.

The sun was beginning to shine, and afternoon shadows reached across the graveyard. A bird fluttered from the old stone wall, indignant at the disturbance, and a warm breeze moved the leaves on the ancient chestnut tree. Somewhere a wood-pigeon hooted.

Jane had been concerned that mourners may still linger at the graveside, but they were alone, free to approach the fresh heap of soil strewn with flowers. There were fresh graves on either side, slightly older, but still littered with bouquets and messages. The mounds of earth were bigger than Sophia’s grave, but the flowers were fewer. A small wooden cross named the plot and they stood close together, smelling the earth and watching a bee as it collected pollen from the bouquets.

“Can she still come and play?”

“No Chris, I told you, she’s in heaven now.”

“In the clouds?”

“Yes.”

“With God?”

“Yes.”

“Did she take her bike?”

“No. Maybe God has bikes though.”

“Oh.” He thought carefully. “Can she catch all the balloons that blow away?”

“I don’t know Chris, maybe..”

“Come on Chris,” said Abigail, suddenly restless. “She’s in heaven, and she’ll be fine. Let’s just go home.”

She turned and walked away. Jane began to follow, when Christopher jerked his hand away from her.

“Wait,” he said. “I need to do something.”

Jane watched. He marched straight to another grave, his short legs determined, a frown on his face. Then he knelt, his sturdy arms reached for a yellow rose, which he tugged free from a wreath, crushing bows and flowers as he did so. He marched back to Sophia’s grave and stopped. He again knelt, and very gently laid his prize next to a display of lilies.

As he knelt on the damp soil, his chubby fingers splayed on the mud, he peered intently downwards.

“Bye, bye, Sophia,” he whispered. “Save a place for me.”

Abigail began to giggle—halting abruptly as she turned to her mother’s face.

Jane was completely still, warm fat tears falling to her chin and dripping onto her scarf. Something inside was breaking, and she didn’t know how to stop it.

Abigail took her brother’s grubby hand and led the way silently back to the car.

***

Peter arrived home late. Jane was yet again wiping surfaces, trying to remove still more plaster dust. It seemed to settle everywhere, a constant stream emerging magically in the air. Even now, weeks after they had applied the plaster, a fine veil of white had settled on the window ledge.

She heard Peter’s key in the lock, the slam of the door and the bump of his briefcase landing in the corner. She poured herself a glass of water as he hung his coat in the cupboard, before pushing open the kitchen door. Side-stepping the cat, he moved to kiss her head.

“Ugh, what a day,” he groaned, pulling cheese from the fridge and reaching for a knife.

Max’s tail began a rhythmic thump on the floor and he scratched the dog’s ears absently. “I had back to back meetings all morning, and spent the afternoon playing catch up. Then the trains were up the creek due to a jumper at Waterloo. Honestly Jane, you don’t know how much I envy you, here at home all day.”

He trimmed a slice of cheese, perfectly even, and laid it across his bread. Jane wished he would use a plate. She offered him coffee and rose to fill the kettle. He noticed her face.

“You okay?”

“It was the funeral today, Christopher’s friend.”

“Oh yes,” he said, remembering. He frowned. “You didn’t take him did you? Bit tough on a child, don’t think that was a good idea. . .”

“No, no,” said Jane quickly. “I went on my own. I did take him to the grave afterwards. He asked to go. I thought it might help him,” she finished defensively.

“Can’t say I agree,” Peter muttered, cutting another slice of cheese and admiring how perfectly symmetrical it was. “Best forgotten I’d have thought. He’s only little, you could say she’s moved away or something if he asked.” His tone was disapproving.

Jane dumped his drink on the table in front of him, splashing some over the edge. It formed a milky rim, sealing the cup loosely to the table. Peter sighed and reached for the roll of paper towel.

“After all,” he said to her departing back, “It’s not as if she’s a relative or anything.”

To be continued on Thursday. Sign up to follow my blog so you don’t miss the next chapter: anneethompson.com

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Bill Wilmot 1918 – 2018


My friend: Bill Wilmot 1918 – 2018

I’ve just come home from the funeral of a friend. Not exactly my favourite thing, but then, most people find funerals difficult. I tend to avoid them if I can, but I couldn’t avoid this one. Bill has been a friend since 1982, when I moved to Surrey with my parents, so I felt I had to go, to pay my respects. He deserved to be honoured, because Bill was special. Let me tell you a little about him.

Now, I wasn’t a relative, so I can only tell you the stories about Bill that I remember. But what anyone who knew Bill will tell you, he loved to tell stories. He had this lovely west country accent, and when he spoke (and he could talk for a very long time, so it was no good being in a hurry) you listened. His best stories were about being a medic in the war. He told me that before he went away, he tried to find someone to care for his dog, but no one would. So one day, he spent his week’s money on meat, gave the dog a feast, and then shot it through the head. Because he said, he loved that dog, and refused to have it suffer when he wasn’t there to care for it. There was a strength to Bill, and a determination to do things right.

Bill specialised in ‘landings’, and he seemed to have done a lot of them. So when the troops landed on a coast, Bill would be in the next wave of landings, helping anyone who was wounded. He told me that once, he jumped off the boat, and almost immediately, something exploded next to him, and he was completely covered in mud. He thought he’d die, but one of his friends had noticed, and dug him out. Later, when he rejoined his unit, they were surprised to see him. “Oh,” they said, “we thought you were dead, we saw you being blown up”.

As a medic, Bill treated anyone who was injured, irrespective of country. When he was in Burma, he helped both British and Japanese soldiers. He told a story about bending down in the make-shift hospital to help one soldier, and a Japanese patient next to him, slipped Bill’s knife from his kit, and stuck it into his leg. Bill said (and you have to read this in a west country accent):
“I won’t tell you what I said, because it wasn’t suitable for a lady to hear, but I was not very happy.”

When Bill returned from the war, he went straight to where his fiancee lived. But while he was away, she’d died of an illness. Bill never married.

Although a hero, Bill was no saint. He told me that when he later worked in a reform home for boys, teaching them gardening skills, one of the teachers annoyed him. So one evening, when everyone was eating dinner, he went out and slashed all the tyres on his car. Later, Bill worked at Godstone Farm, and was keen that children living in London should have some knowledge of the countryside.

Bill was always interested in boys who were in trouble. I met him long after he’d retired (Bill was always old, even back in 1982). He would talk to the boys in the village, get to know them, and give them advice and help. He told me that once, he was driving a couple of boys into Redhill, and one of them turned to him.

“Bill,” he said, “I could get out a knife right now, and stab you, unless you drive us where we want to go.”

Bill continued driving, and answered: “Yes you could. But before you do, remember that I’m pretty old, and I shall die soon anyway, and I know exactly where I’m going because God has promised me a place in Heaven. But things are a bit more unsure for you. So bear in mind, that if you do get out that knife, I shall drive straight into a wall, and then you’ll be in trouble.”

The boy put away the knife.

I’m not sure that Bill was afraid of anything, even though as he got older, he was very frail. He told me that some men tried to sell him a scam recently, so he told the police. The police went to his flat, and hid in the bathroom, while Bill spoke to the men who’d come back to sell him some dodgy deal. They had to wait until the men actually asked for money, and Bill had actually written the cheque, and then they emerged from the bathroom and arrested them. I asked Bill if he’d been scared, but he said no, it was exciting. He was no fool.

Bill was always willing to help with young people. Whenever Husband was away, and I had breakfast club, Bill would come to help me, just to be the second leader, and to talk to the boys.

When Bill was 98, he asked us if he could pay for the meal at Lunch Club, and if it could be his birthday meal. We said we would do it anyway, but he insisted that he had savings, and he wanted to pay. So we agreed. He chose a roast lamb lunch, with a pudding, and I made a cake and we decorated the hall. Bill arrived with an inflatable hat, which had birthday candles on it and an “I’ve lost count” slogan. We sang happy birthday to him, and he stood, and made a little speech. It was a real honour to be able to help him mark his birthday.

Then after the meal, Bill came into the kitchen to pay. The cook for that week, asked me what she should do. We’d had 40 people that week, and roast lamb for 40 people is expensive, and probably cost much more than Bill realised. I told her to ask him how much money he’d brought, and then to tell him the meal had cost slightly less than that.

I heard her ask him how much money he had, and then tell him an amount which was £20 less.

“Right,” said Bill, “well here’s your money for the food. And here’s a £20 tip for the workers!”

I will miss Bill. The last conversation I had with him, was at Lunch Club. I held open a door for him, and as he walked through, he positioned his walking frame, so I was trapped behind the door.
“Aha! I’ve got you trapped now!” he said. If I’d blown, he’d have fallen over. But that was Bill, he had a wicked twinkle until the end.

I cannot pretend that his body wasn’t ready to die. After 99 years, everything is worn out, and the last year has been very tough for him. He didn’t want to die, he was determined to live until September, when he’d have been a hundred. But he didn’t manage it. He had asked my dad if he would go back to Godstone to do the funeral. But my dad died 10 years ago, so that wasn’t going to happen!

The funeral was very dignified, and Bill had written a letter, which was read out. He told us all about his faith in God, and talked about “agnostics who hide in their foxholes of darkness”. If anyone had the right to give advice about life, it was Bill. He honoured God, and although his life was often not easy, I know he never regretted that decision. I feel privileged to have known him. Though, I was surprised at the funeral to learn that actually, he wasn’t called Bill, his name was Oswald, and all his family called him Uncle Ossie!

Thank you for reading.

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anneethompson.com

One Little Life


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We had rats. Anyone who has poultry and a pond has rats. If you also have several mild winters, you then have a rat problem. Mr Rat Catcher came with traps and poison, but we still had a rat problem. So, we decided to get cats.

We found some cats that had been born in a stable, not feral as they had been well cared for, but they were used to living outside. We bought two, Milly and Molly, brought them home, and put them in the garage. For three days, I didn’t see them, and wondered if they had escaped! Then I took the dog into the garage with me, and two tiny kittens tentatively appeared. They had been raised on a farm with German Shepherd dogs, and they recognised Kia as a friend. Gradually they learned to like us too. When they were bigger, they moved to their home in the workshop.

Two cats wasn’t really enough to cure the rat problem, so we didn’t spey Milly and Molly. After about eighteen months, both were pregnant. Between them, they gave birth to four live kittens. Both cats are tabbies. Their kittens were a mixture of silver tabby, smoke and black. They had clearly never read any of the parenting books about how to care for kittens, and regularly sat on window sills where the kittens couldn’t reach them. I had to check them frequently and reunite mothers and kittens so they could feed. They weren’t really keen on any of them. Apart from the black one.

Milly had given birth to the black kitten, but they both wanted him. So they would hide him. I would go into the garage and all the kittens would be mewing in a heap, the mothers would be sitting somewhere high, and the black kitten would be missing. I found him at the back of shelves, in empty boxes and behind gardening equipment. When I put him with the litter, Molly would try to steal him, ignoring her own kitten.

Eventually the kittens were weaned. I decided we had too many cats, so gave one kitten to a friend, put two kittens with the mothers to live in the workshop, and kept one kitten inside, as a house cat. I chose the black kitten (I wanted him too!) We called him Mungo.

Now, everyone thinks their pet is special, (and people without pets think they are slightly mad.) So I won’t bore you with details of how Mungo would ‘beg’, reaching up with his front paws when he wanted to be picked up. Or how he would chase a plastic egg for many hours. Or how he loved the dog and would dive bomb her paws when she was sleeping. Or how he regularly killed the kitchen towel. Or slept in a very ‘uncatlike’ manner, on his back, with all four legs outstretched, often in the dog’s bed. Or how he adopted Husband (“not a cat person”) and ran to meet him when he arrived home from work and sat on him all evening. But he was special to us, and we loved him.

Initially, the plan was to keep him inside, for him to be a house cat. Then one day he escaped. I found him outside, playing with his siblings. He looked so happy, it seemed cruel to keep him locked inside. But the traffic in the farm lane worried me. So we decided that at night, when there were very few cars (about 4 per hour) he could go outside. During the day, when the roads were busier, he would stay inside.

We soon had a routine going. Every evening, Midge, his brother, would loiter around the cat flap, waiting. When we went to bed, we would let Mungo into the utility room, so he could use the cat flap. Every morning, around 6am, when we let the dog out, Mungo would run in. His siblings often were with him, it was like they were saying ‘Bye’ to him when he came inside. He would then eat, drink, and follow us around, asking to be picked up. Then he would nap for most of the day.

Until the last day. Until the day when he didn’t come in when we let Kia into the garden. The day when a man knocked on the door at 7am, to ask if I had a black cat.

I rushed outside. Some landscapers had found him, on their way to work. They had parked their vans in the lane and were carrying him in a sling made from an old towel. There were about nine of them, young men in their green uniforms. It was so kind of them to bother. Sometimes people are nice.

We could see Mungo had, at least, a broken leg, so we rushed him to the vet. As we drove, he took my thumb into his mouth, like a child holding my hand. Then either pain or fear became intense, and he bit down, both sides, straight through my thumb. It hurt.

He spent all day at the vets. Apparently, the most dangerous thing for a cat is shock, so they kept him warm and sedated, planning to operate the following day. He died that evening.

It was a bizarre day. I ate four doughnuts and drank lots of coffee. Completely missed lunchtime, it was suddenly mid-afternoon. I had walked the dog and cleaned out the birds and was wishing we had something other than Mr Bump plasters in the house for my sore thumb. Felt weird, sometimes fine, sometimes contemplating losing all the other people and animals I care about. Everyone dies. It’s always horrible. There isn’t a way to protect yourself, not without being hard.

I wondered where God was in all this. The thing is, we aren’t protected from the rubbish in life. God helps us get through it, but we aren’t ‘owed’ by God, whatever our relationship with him. He isn’t a genie in a lamp, we cannot pray and ‘make’ God change things. Life is horrid sometimes. It hurts. It’s tough. We can only try to survive and recover from the hurt. But I do believe he cares. When we hurt, God hurts too. It doesn’t have to be lonely even if it is always hard. I did pray, but in a sort of wordless, lifting the sadness sort of way – a young child raising their arms to a parent sort of way.

In time, I will thank God that I had Mungo, even though a year was too short, his life was too little. But do I have the right to say that? Sometimes, when we are hurting, we feel the loss more than we ever felt the joy. Mungo was a cat. In a few days, life will be back on kilter. I will carry the loss of my father’s death for the rest of my life. However, I have no ‘rights’ here, I did not create any of the things that I have loved, I can feel pain, sadness, loss. But should I feel anger? Whilst it is a natural part of the grieving process, there comes a time when I should let that go. We have never been promised a pain free life, not here, not now.

If you have had a pet, I don’t need to explain the sorrow, the tears, the huge hole that he has left. My thumb was sore for days, but the pain was sort of helpful. It was something physical that recognised the pain I felt inside.

There is no happy ending here. Sometimes in real life there isn’t. I wish I had never let him outside at night. But then, I am glad that I did. He had such a happy little life. He climbed trees and played with his family and did everything that cats are designed to do. I know, eventually, I will think of him and smile. I will recognise that he gave us one year of lots of joy. But right now, I miss him. Thank you for reading.

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If you are interested, you can read why I think prayer doesn’t work at:

https://anneethompson.com/christian-tearfund-materials-and-poems/why-i-think-prayer-doesnt-work/

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Gone


Gone

Where are you now my child?
Do you continue in some far off place?
Are you out of reach, but still seeing?
Do you sense my grief?
If I were happy,
Would you know?
I search my mind,
My heart, my soul,
For some small part of you.
But nothing.
For when you died,
I ceased to exist.

Goodbye


Goodbye By Anne E Thompson

I went to say goodbye,
But you had already gone.
Just your scrumpled body was there,
Empty.

Your skin was cold,
And rubbery,
And one eye was slightly open,
But unseeing.

There were no sounds of you,
Or even smells.
The air was calm,
There was not even a tingle of you.

I squeezed your arm,
It was solid and unmoving.

I tried to speak,
To think you words.
But I had nothing to say.

You knew that I loved you,
You had hugged me many times.
I know you were pleased with me.

So I am left,
With a chasm of missing you.
Remembering happy times,
And few regrets.

I went to say goodbye,
But you hadn’t waited.

There was nothing

You needed to hear.

End


End.

Anne E Thompson

APPRENTICE AUTHOR

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End

End
by Anne E Thompson

“I wonder what she thought of that,
Was so funny when he said no!
I must remember to contact Jim,
This traffic light is slow.
I think we need more milk and eggs,
I’ll check when we get home.
I could do with a cup of coffee now,
I hope that Mum will phone.
I’m not sure if…..”

Slash of metal, scream of brake,
Glint of sunlight, briefest quake.

Nothing.

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Death


Contemplating Death

   Below is a story about death. In England, we rarely talk about death. It would perhaps be considered bad manners. Even when we know someone has lost a close friend or relative, we are uncomfortable confronting it and avoid using words such as “dead’ or “died”. We do not often see dead bodies and when we do they have usually been ‘modified’ by the undertaker and made up to look as if they are merely asleep. I am not sure this is terribly helpful.

I don’t really want to discuss the death of someone else. In my experience, the death of someone we love is like a physical wound which leaves a scar. It never really gets better. I have never found the belief that they are somewhere better, free from pain and troubles, to be particularly comforting. Maybe I am just way too selfish, but basically I just want them back with me.

However, I do think that considering ones own death is a worthwhile pursuit. Lets face it, we all have a ‘Use By’ date, even though we try to avoid thinking about it.

Death is not an unexpected accident, we are all designed to die, it is what was intended when you were created. You are not just a lump of flesh, there is more to you than that. So consider for a moment what that means.

I did not ever think about death until my Dad died. He died on a bank holiday (note to self: avoid dying on a bank holiday, everything shuts and relatives have no one to ask for help.) His body therefore remained in his bedroom for most of the day and I found myself alone with it for a while. I had previously said that I did not want to see his body, preferring to remember him alive. However, in the event, I had no choice as the body was there and we needed to sort out things in the room.

It taught me something important. Dad was not there. I was not in a room with a dead parent, I was in an empty room with a discarded body. That was an entirely different thing and made the whole burial bit much easier because it was not ‘Dad’ going in the ground, it was just his body.

I was forced to confront death again when I found I had a brain tumour. I was advised that a feature of that particular cyst was ‘sudden instant death’ but that removing it involved some brain damage and possibly would be fatal, so they would just monitor it unless it looked to be obviously dangerous. This was something of a shock. I was not planning on dying until much older. It did though make me think about what death meant and I believe it made me live better. Knowing that you may well die tomorrow really makes you live today carefully. It also helps you to keep things in perspective. If someone was rude to me it mattered less – I might be dead the next day, that was bigger! It also made me really sort out what I believed.

I did not want to die (I still don’t actually) but what was I worried about? What did I actually believe about God and eternal life? This became especially urgent in 2014, when the cyst changed and I began to develop hydrocephalus and be dangerously ill. The surgeon decided he needed to operate within a few days. He was very open about the fact that there was a risk of dying during the operation (even though he assured me the odds were in my favour!) I now had to be sure that what I claimed to believe about God was true. It is one thing to trust that God will lead you through life, it is another to trust that he will look after your children for you should you die. Could I trust that God loved my family even more than I did? That if I weren’t there he would take care of them?

I did not actually have any choice about having the operation – I would probably not have survived without it, so these were issues that I could not ignore. There was also no point in fooling myself. If what I believed about God was not true, now was the time to face it. I did not want a ‘sop’ that wasn’t real, pretending would be worse than pointless.

I know that friends and family were praying for me and actually, the amount of prayer was quite overwhelming. When I was actually in hospital, I felt God’s presence like never before. I felt I could almost have reached out and touched him, it was a physical presence, like being surrounded in warm cotton wool. I cannot now, after the event, talk about the operation without talking about God. (Much to the surprise of my hairdresser, postman, lady at the bus stop…….)

I did not though, receive any kind of ‘message’ or assurance that I would not die during the operation. I think God knew that I needed to be prepared, whatever the outcome. I had to trust him completely, even if that involved dying before I wanted to. It was still scary (I cannot describe how I felt as I walked from the ward to the operating room, but it was not something I want to repeat) but it also was not full of despair. It was weirdly peaceful in a strong way.

My point is this. You may not believe in God, that is your absolute right. But you definitely ought to sort out what you DO believe and you need to be sure that when you die it is right. Even people who claim to be christians, seem to avoid talking about death. I was interested that even when people knew I was having the operation, only two people actually mentioned death (apart from the doctors, who kept asking me to sign consent forms and disclaimers!)

Why are we so uncomfortable mentioning something which is inevitable? In the Bible, Jesus often spoke about death, even when people really wanted him to talk about other things. When one man came to be healed, Jesus first forgave his sin. Why? I think because that was the most important thing. If the story had ended there, he still would have done what was best for the man. We read that he only then continued to physically heal the man because that helped the people who were watching. It was not crucial for the man himself. (You can read this story in the Bible, Matthew chapter 9.)

The quote I love most from C S Lewis is the one that says,

“You do not have a soul. You are a soul, you have a body.”

If that is true, if we are more than a bundle of flesh, then we cannot be what we are intended to be unless we die.

I have watched many ducklings hatch. They can never become a proper bird and swim away unless they first struggle out of that egg. That is what I believe about death. It is not terrifying (other than that the unknown is always a bit frightening), it is what needs to happen for us to become who we are intended to become.

I survived this operation but I will die one day. So will you. What is it about our own death which scares us? In the Bible, the only times that ‘after death’ is mentioned, it sounds more like a party than a church service! Actually, when things are going badly or we are depressed, it can be a comfort to remember that we are temporary, that this life is not intended to be the only existence that we will know.

I do believe absolutely that our time of dying is a matter for God. It is too big a decision for us. (I think this applies to prolonging life indefinitely as well as ending it prematurely. We should not mess around with some things. I don’t think humans should have to carry the weight of those decisions.)

So, I challenge you to think about your own death. Not in a morbid, ‘Goth’ manner. But openly and honestly. What worries you about it and can this be resolved before it is too late? I wrote the story about Death, based on my own imagination, my understanding of what the Bible implies and seeing my Dad’s body. I wrote it because I don’t think dying has to be horrible. As I said, I do not want to die, not today anyway, but I do believe that when I do it will not be because of some cosmic mistake. We do not know what comes next but we can prepare for it.

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Death

We all died together. That in itself is not especially surprising, given the number of families that will only travel abroad together. The very opposite of the royal family, who preserve their heirs by travelling separately. However, the manner of death is unimportant, it is the death itself which may be of interest. It began with the light.

An enticing, beckoning, light which could not be ignored. I have heard surgeons discuss the image of a light that the brain manufactures as it begins to shut down. This was not a simulation or physical aberration, this was real. I was unable to resist but nor did I want to and I left my body without a thought, hastening towards the light. Pause a moment.

Think about the significance of that. My body, which I had fretted over, spent money colouring my hair, spent time applying make up and agonising over for decades and I left it without a second thought. I didn’t need it anymore you see. Like a much loved bike when you learn to drive, or your childhood bedroom abandoned on the day you marry – no longer necessary, no longer needed. I discarded it as easily as I shed my pyjamas at the start of a day.

I could not ignore the light you see. Imagine a shaft of late autumn sunlight that takes you by surprise so you lift your face and for a moment, all you can feel is the gentle warmth and through your closed eyelids you see brightness imprinted on your retina. A light that just for a moment obliterates all other thoughts and makes you smile, glad to just exist. That is something like the light that called me forwards.

As I drew closer there were sounds too. At first I couldn’t discern if it was one or many, merging and tangling, like the drops in a waterfall that unite to create a roar. It was a good sound, I knew that, even though I would be incapable of describing it. The sound and the light both drew me, I wanted to become part of them, be suffused in them.

I knew the others were with me, but in an undefined, unimportant way. Think of when you are engrossed in a film in the cinema, you know who is sitting next to you but are only vaguely aware of them. All attention is focused forward, you are fully absorbed in the film and any interruptions from other people is unwanted, irritating even. I don’t think I even glanced at them, I was just aware that they were alongside me, travelling with me towards the light.

I don’t know when I became aware that the light was God. Maybe I had known from the beginning. I was aware that I was slowing though, the feeling of longing also mingling with awe, fear even. How could anyone approach with anything other than trepidation?

I began to become aware of ‘me’ again. Not the physical, discarded form, but the things I had done, the unworthiness of my life and my advance became ever slower, more reticent. Could I, dare I approach? Everything within me longed to continue, to join that light and the sound. I knew it would complete me. But now there was also a touch of fear, a stone of doubt that cast sharp pricks of worry. Would I be rejected? Was it possible that I might be finally and everlastingly accepted when I had so often lived foolishly, made selfish choices that hurt people and become so absorbed in my own wants and desires that I had frequently ignored God’s voice, not even thinking of looking to him for guidance. The numerous times I had judged God by the irritating people who attended church, the unwillingness to separate God and man’s flawed religions. The moments when I had demanded the right to ‘be happy’.

Then I realised that he was with me. Indistinct, but very present. I could not see him yet I knew him and knew he had been with me for some time. Years even, certainly before I had died. I could not describe his appearance, though I knew he had been wounded, destroyed even and somehow recovered. And I knew he was kind, compassion flowed from him, reassuring me.

There were voices now, whispering, hissing, accusing,urging me to stop.

“You are not good enough. We all know what you did. We can see what you used to think,feel, want. Selfish…..thoughtless……greedy…….”

The voices combined and swelled, filling me with dread. They were true. All that they said was true. Yet still I progressed. Slower now, still unsure, but urged forward by him at my side. As I approached the light I began to understand.

Only the pure could join the light and I was not good enough. I never had been. But he by my side, who had joined me on my journey, was good enough for both of us.

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If you enjoyed this, you might like ‘Goodbye’ at https://anneethompson.com/poems/bereavement/goodbye/

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Time


 Time

by Anne E Todd

Time,
The great Healer
Has not healed.
Has not numbed
The yearning to see you.

I need to hear
Once more your laugh.
To see you
Smile in surprise,
To wrap myself
In the comfort of your advice.

Love has not eddied
Need had not lessened
Longing has not weakened
Time
Has not healed.