The Hospital Bed

The Hospital Bed

As I sat in the hospital room, waiting for the nurse to collect me, I imagined my Mum sitting in the bed before me, smiling softly. I desperately wanted to clamber up beside her, as I had done many times before. I began to replay through the different memories of my Mum in hospital, the many days and nights through the different seasons of cancer.

I cried as I remembered her seizures, how utterly helpless I felt, how I had yelled at my sister and then stood at the bottom of my mum’s bed wondering if this would be how she would go: Would her life end with us shouting around her? I recalled the many times I had lost my temper, screaming at my sister, my Dad and even nurses, whilst my Mum lay in her hospital bed. Anger and sadness had consumed me, and I had become someone I didn’t know or like. I remembered sitting by the train track, feeling hopeless and out of control, desperate and angry.

I remembered the first weekend stay, when she had reacted badly to the Steroids. I had rushed back from city in a panic to spend several days bored and hungry in my mum’s hospital room. Hospital’s had been so unfamiliar and strange then; I later learnt the art of packing a bag full of books, chocolate, water bottles, notepads, pens, change for hot chocolate machines and parking meters, in less than 30 seconds. I learnt at what time in the day the hospital cafe restocked their fridges, and that the gift shops sold ice lollies (a blessing on hot summer days, there is nothing better than sitting barefoot on the grass with an ice lolly whilst extended family fill up the “3 to a bed” rule). I chatted with patients and their family members, made faces at small children, and became part of the ever-changing hospital community.

Hospital life had become so familiar, so ordinary. It was full of terrible experiences, but it had become a world that I knew and understood.

When my Mum died, I lost that. Staring at the empty hospital bed before me, I longed for those few months before my Mum’s death. In all the chaos and uncertainty, hospital life made sense. Everyone had the same vision and desires: we were a community of strangers all trying to prolong life, to heal or be healed. You made instant friends in the corridors as you sympathised with each other, and the world outside world was irrelevant, unimportant. My Mum’s death now demanded that I re-engage with the world I had ignored, but it no longer made sense.

I had grown up with the illusion that if I studied and worked hard, I would one day be master of my own world, independent and self-sufficient. But my Mum’s illness was evidence that control was only an illusion, no-one could have complete control over their life, illness and tragedy attacks rich and poor alike. I began to see women who professed success and self-sufficiency, torn and trampled by tragedy.

What I had counted as important before, no longer mattered. If I died tomorrow, would it matter what clothes I wore, or how much money I had earned? I find myself in a culture that values human life below so many other things. Everyday we make the choice between serving ourselves or saving others. The cost of a coffee at Costa could pay for a child to eat for several days. Everyday we make small decisions that devalues human life, that puts our wants above the needs of others.

But how do you value human life in a culture that seemingly does not?

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A Year On…

Gone

July 2015

It’s been nearly a year since my Mum’s death. Many things have happened: I got a moped, a tattoo, cut off my hair, gave away large amounts of money, moved out, moved home. I did all of these things in an attempt to regain some control over my life, some semblance of normality.

I found myself desperately trying to rediscover who I am, what I was created for. I continued writing posts but never published them. My final post made me feel so vulnerable, that I walked away. I do that with relationships sometimes; but that it is for another day.

In the next few posts, I will wander back through some of the days and nights of the past year that have brought me to where I stand now. Walk with me once again, as I attempt to understand where the journey has brought me.

Then it got scary

Then it got scary

Why would this voice call my name, but not then talk to me?

There was someone I was very frightened of, and on occasions they hurt me. We had a complicated relationship, and sometime’s the least little thing I did would make them angry. I believe the saying was wrong place, wrong time. I had a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew the person didn’t mean to hurt me, and once they did they would apologise; it’s just I was so bad. I needed to learn to be good. That even when I was right and they were wrong, I would never win. That what they said to me. I very much loved that person, and I knew they loved me. I didn’t tell anyone at first because I didn’t think they’d understand. I was frightened they’d either stop me seeing this person (I really did love them) or they wouldn’t believe me and I’d be in trouble for telling lies, and maybe they’d even tell the person that I’d told (gulp), or maybe they’d just tell me I deserved it. I felt like I deserved it.

One day when I was 11, I hid in my room and called my parents, telling them what had happened, that I was frightened and I wanted them to come home. But they didn’t come.

Then it got really scary. In my anger, I slammed my bedroom door and it split. They would go ballistic, any moment now they would come upstairs and hurt me, and this time they wouldn’t stop. I was desperately afraid. I searched around my room for a hiding place, but I couldn’t find anywhere where the person would not find me and drag me out from. I threw myself under the covers and cried out to the voice. “Please God, I’m afraid. They are going to kill me, they won’t mean to, but this time they won’t be able to stop. Please God, can you protect me? And if you won’t protect me, may I please come live with you?”

I listened for the their heavy footsteps on the stairs, closed my eyes and hugged my teddy bear tight, fearing that it may be the last time I did. But the foot steps didn’t come, they never did.

Not long after that, they tried to hurt me and out of an instinct I’d never had before, I raised my arm above my head to shield myself. The person broke their finger and never harmed me again. I didn’t attribute any of that to the voice at the time. It was years before I even considered that my prayer may have been answered.

 

photo credit: Matt Batchelor via photopin cc

Whispers in the dark

whispers in the dark

When I was little, I was convinced there was something in my room, watching me. I had the normal childhood musings that maybe the world really did revolve around me. Maybe everyone I met was simply a figment of my imagination and they ceased to exist when they weren’t with me. Maybe I was being watched by a super secret organisation that wanted to see if I was special enough to be recruited for a super secret mission. One day, someone would see that I was special and enlist me to do something spectacular, like become a ninja warrior. Maybe this world didn’t really exist, but the world inside my dreams did; what if my dreams were right and all things were possible, but we limited our abilities by our ideas of what we could and couldn’t do?

I did not whole heartedly believe any of these imaginings, but they were fun to think about, and I did on occasion jump off of benches flapping my arms to see if I could fly because I could in my dreams. What I did believe though, was that someone was watching me. They were in my room.

I’d lie tucked up in bed, very much alone, when someone would say my name. I would climb out of bed and trudge downstairs in my PJ’s, and ask my parents why they’d called me. Bewildered, they sent me back to bed. It didn’t happen all the time; months would go by and I’d begin to believe I’d imagined it, and then the voice would speak again.

One day in Sunday School, I heard the story of Samuel, a little boy in the Bible, who had heard someone repeatedly calling his name; he went to see his master, who sent him back to bed. This happened several times and then the master realised that God was calling Samuel and told Samuel that the next time the voice spoke, he should reply “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Excited, I decided that the next time I heard this voice I would repeat these words.

I didn’t tell anyone, even as a child I knew hearing voices was not a good sign. I didn’t want to worry my parents, besides I doubted they’d believe me anyway. The next time I heard the voice, I sat up and tried to say the words, but I got them all muddled. I couldn’t remember precisely what Samuel had said.

There are only so many Bible stories that Sunday School teachers dare tell children, and so eventually the story of Samuel resurfaced. This time, I made sure I memorised the words; I had to get them exactly right.

Upon hearing my name, I sat up in my bed and spoke to the voice; I got the words spot on, but still the voice did not talk to me. I was confused by this. Why call my name but not give me a message? What could possibly be the purpose?

 

photo credit: JuliaRosePower via photopin cc

While They Can Still Hear (The Case For Living Eulogies)

john pavlovitz

LivingEulogies
We say pretty words about dead people.

There’s something about Death that forces the poet in us to the surface. When we lose someone we love, we suddenly feel free to speak beautiful, flowery sentiments of gratitude, and affection, and admiration; words that we’d kept bottled-up for years; words the other person had been longing their entire lives for.

And now that we’re finally ready to say them, they can’t hear.

My father passed away this time last year, and like many who grieve, I talk to him all the time. One of the greatest sources of peace I have, comes from the fact that he’s heard it all before.

He knew I loved him and respected him and was grateful for him, because I’d told him when he was alive. While I often wonder if the words reach him now, I take comfort in knowing that they reached him then.

Life can be shockingly mundane…

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Meant to Be

book

At the back of my church was an old bookshop, piled high with old tapes and video’s, books that were never sold and random Christian gifts, all covered by an even greater pile of youth work supplies. One evening during youth group, we decided to finally sort the cupboard. We pulled out all the boxes, flicking through the books that no-one had thought worth buying. Crammed into a box, I found a book, Last Dance by Melody Carlson. It reminded me of a book I had read years ago by the same author, about a girl whose mother faces terminal cancer; I had kept hold of it in case any of the young people should face that situation.

I didn’t take me long to find that book, and within no time I had read the book cover to cover. I cried with Kim, the main character, as she faced situations similar to my own, and was glad to know that how I felt was okay and normal. I read about her difficulties in balancing caring for her mum, and her friends, financial worries and role reversal. I knew she wasn’t real, just a fictional character, but I related to her so much. It encouraged me to see Kim facing the same questions I faced, having many of the same arguments with God. Her mum even had a long-lost sister that Kim had no idea existed, who she tracked down on behalf of her mum, over the internet!

If you are going through a tough time with a loved one suffering from cancer, or you know someone who is, I would recommend Meant to Be by Melody Carlson, along with it’s sequels. It comforted me and encouraged me to talk to others about how I felt, and to God.

The Bracelet

The Voice

One afternoon, I was tidying up when I found a bag in the corner of the landing. My Mum often complained about that bag being left there, but as we each assumed it belonged to someone else, no-one had touched it. Eventually it became buried beneath baskets and boxes and was forgotten about, until this afternoon. I picked it up, and carried it to my bedroom, curious as to what was inside. I’d just assumed it was old computer wires, nothing interesting really, but when I opened it, I found a time capsule. It was a bag of random things I’d owned and lost at 14 years old. There was make-up and broken phones, souvenirs from school trips, a black bandanna with pink skulls, great big neon pink hoop earrings (they were totally in fashion!), and at the bottom of the bag, a sparkly green and yellow bracelet. I held the bracelet lightly in my hand, thinking back to the last time I had been reunited with it.

When I was 10, I lived in the old house, where my bedroom was much bigger and had these long, white shelves going along the width of one wall. There were three of them, but I couldn’t reach the top one, it was too high for me. I had come up with different creative ways of getting things on or off of these shelves, but one day I decided to climb up. I had lost my beautiful sparkly green and yellow bracelet several days before, and I could not find it anywhere. Eventually I had given up searching, but not before scouring my room from top to bottom. I don’t know what I was doing climbing up those shelves, but as I stood on the lowest shelf I heard a voice telling me to get down and turn around. I was deeply confused, the voice was clear, but I wasn’t sure it was audible. It wasn’t angry either, but it was firm. I climbed down and turned around; at my feet was my green and yellow bracelet. I picked it up, and wandered out of my room, looking for the source of the voice. There was no-one around, no-one who could have spoken. I was alone. I had thought that maybe it was a guardian angel, or a friendly ghost, but as I grew older and more accustomed to hearing God’s voice, I recognised it as God.

I sat on my bed, holding the bracelet that I had once again found, and wondering if it had all been real. Had God really spoken to me at 10 years old? Or did I have some sort of psychological disorder?

I decided that if God was real, then I was going to find him.

The way home

 

The Next Adventure

Writing those songs really helped me. It opened the way for conversation between me and God. I still wasn’t totally sure if I believed in him; and I wasn’t free from the pressure of ‘saving my mum.’ Then one day something really weird happened. My mum and I were having lunch together (are you seeing a pattern?) and she brings up God, and how she’s beginning to wonder if He exists. I thought about telling her that I wondered that too, but decided to keep quiet. She continued to tell me that she had noticed all these little coincidences going on in our lives that made this journey a whole lot easier. For example, we had by complete accident run into one of my mum’s school friends (a lovely lady my mum hadn’t seen since she was my age!).

I wish I could list the other examples my mum gave, but I just cannot remember them. But I can remember my own. I had left the city which I loved, because I felt like God was calling me home. A man had left his job at a local charity that meant there was a job open for me when I came home, which enabled me to put into practise what I had learnt working in the city. My flatmate had moved out in January, meaning that I had had to move home in March, giving me my last few months with my mum. My boss at the charity was Donna’s husband, and when we found out that my mum was terminal, he let me go on compassionate leave to care for her and enjoy those last few months together. It seemed as though God had been working on the details of my life to make sure I was home, with my mum. And then it occurred to me: if God could work all the details of my life for me to have these final days with her, did he really need me to introduce my Mum to Him? God is God, and I am not. He does not need my help.

My Mum shared ideas about God with me, and encouraged me in my faith. Hearing my mum speak about God, knowing that she had began to notice him during my month of atheism, when I was definitely not trying to make her a Christian, helped to me to believe that if there was a God, he was not dependent on me. In fact, the timing seemed to suggest that He wanted me to know that.

However I was still not totally convinced he existed; questioning whether he was real had allowed so many hurts to surface, times where I felt God had let me down, or that Christians had been fake. I still could not read my Bible without coming across a passage that put into question God’s goodness.

Could it be that my Mum would find God and I would lose him?

Be still my soul

Guitar

My friend Kim is an inspiration; her Dad died of cancer several years ago. I met her after her Dad had died, before my mum received her first diagnosis, and I was amazed by her. She spoke about her Dad openly. She misses him and is so proud of him, but the pain hasn’t consumed her. Life has carried on, and with God’s help, so has she.

I didn’t tell her about my mum at first; I didn’t feel like my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis was anything compared to her Dad’s death. It was a couple of months before she found out, and then I was probably just as surprised by her reaction as she was to my mum’s diagnosis; she thought it was a big deal. After that, I was honest with her in relation to my Mum. I was worried at first, in case it reminded her of her Dad and it made her sad, but she reassured me that the reason she didn’t talk to me about her Dad was because he died, and she didn’t want me to think that my Mum would too.

When I moved away from the city, I continued to text and call her for advice. The weekend we discovered that the cancer had spread to her brain, I rang Kim. I was so scared. I had no idea how I felt, or what was going to happen to our family. Everything seemed to be moving so quickly, and the doctors were saying things that I didn’t want to hear. We talked, but her experience of cancer was totally different to mine, her Dad’s death no way like my Mum’s, but she did encourage me to pray. She listened to my doubts and questions, and assured me that God was real, he did love both me and my mum, and she would continue to pray for us. She told me a little of her experience, and encouraged me to make a mix-tape that I could listen to when it was tough. She told me the story behind the song, “Trusting in You,” by Ian Yates, and how that was written about a woman who lost her father to cancer.

The next day was a tough one. I found myself sitting staring at the railway tracks, when the song ‘Trusting in you’ came into my head. It was enough. I plugged in my head phones, and walked back to the hospital, crying and praying to God. I was desperate for this not be real, for my mum not to be dying. I felt powerless, and frightened, and so guilty. I was ashamed of myself, my behaviour, my inability to control my emotions. I told God everything, I begged him to help me.

A few days later, another song came into my head. I picked up my guitar and played around until I got the chords, and I sang it over and over again. It was basic, only a few lines; but it was a start. I sang it over and over; my prayer. A couple of weeks later, I added to it, writing the verses, until I had a full song; ‘Be still my soul.’ I really struggled to pray; what could I say to God when I still struggled with him so much?

‘Be still my soul’ really helped me to start talking to God again, pre-written words that expressed how I felt. As time carried on, I wrote more songs, each expressing how I felt and what I wanted to say to God.

 

 

Can I be honest with you?

Can I be honest with you

Lola was fantastic. I told her over the phone one evening, and she was empathetic. Apparently she had really struggled with her faith too, several years before slap bang in the middle of a dissertation on Christian Theology. She understood the difficulty in wrestling with God, whilst being tied to a Christian qualification and fulfilling various roles within the church. How do you teach a Sunday School class about the love of God when your angry with him? How do write a study for house group when every time you open your Bible you find another reason to dislike God? Lola encouraged me to hang on and sent me a book called Stumbling Blocks by Gavin and Anne Calver.

The book is really good. It’s about people who have decided to turn their backs on God and leave church. The book is not written to condemn them, rather to look at the reasons why they left and challenge these reasons. What encouraged me the most was that I felt that if I met the authors they would not see my questioning as a threat; rather they would accept where I am in my relationship with God and seek to walk with me into answers. They would understand my fear and hurt, and would care for me, rather than judge me.

Doubting God made me feel incredibly lonely, and I was very grateful for Lola’s understanding and willingness to talk through my doubts with me. Lola’s reaction encouraged me to share my doubts with more of my friends; and the more I shared, the less lonely I felt. Okay, looking back, I did bring some of that on myself. I mean, if I had been honest with those closest to me from the start, instead of trying to figure it all out on my own, I might not have felt so isolated.

I was honest, and to my relief so were they. They listened to my angry rants, and told me they were sorry. They were honest in their confusion, humble in how little they knew about their God.

I told Donna about my doubts, and a couple of days later, she came to church exhausted. I asked if she was okay, and she smiled, and told me she had stayed up late researching my questions, and had some theories she wanted to share with me. That helped. The information, and the arguments she had found were good, but what caught me was that she had stayed up because she knew the questions were upsetting me. That encouraged me that there may be a God.