The last week has been a numbing whirlwind. I sit here typing in the calm after a very heartbreaking storm. I am trying to be still… The Psalmist calls us to be still and know that God is there. I am doing that for sure but I am also being still to surmise if I am here and who I now am. What do I now need to do? When will I be restored enough to do what is next?
Before I share the last seven days can I thank literally the hundreds of you who left a message on the various Facebook threads. Facebook gets some criticism for its social impact. This week I experienced the depth of its goodness. I read every comment and message and reaction. Each one was like a prayer answered. God used it to bring strength and comfort and consolation in a few words of thoughts and wishes and prayers.
To those who phoned and called and dear Hannah and Brad who sent flowers from Indiana. Thank you! To those who were able to shift work and schedules to be at the funeral yesterday. Thank you! Fitzroy, oh Fitzroy… you are everything a minister can ask for at a time like this. Family… we are a small community and we adventurers who left the Ballymena town limits often feel a little adrift of you all. You were amazing… and not just this week… but for years.
Last Friday night I had had such a long day that I dosed off to sleep watching a recorded episode of The Missing. Within minutes my Aunt had called to say my mum had had a fall and was on the way to Accident and Emergency. I have quoted Bruce Cockburn for others and now it was me: -
“Sometimes a wind comes out of nowhere
And knocks you off your feet…”
My mother had had a stroke. After tests I finally got into see her about 11.30 and we sat for a few hours waiting for a bed. I held her hand and she spoke to me. The stroke had muddled her speech a little. The more she thought about what to say the more muddled she was but she could speak. She asked me the time and told me I needed to go home!
As I held her hand in mine I thought about all the times I had held hers. I had very bad asthma attacks in my teens and held this hand so tight. Now she was holding mine. Jasmine, without me telling her this, took a photo on Monday night of her holding her Granny’s hand. It is now the photo that expresses our journey.
Mum settled in the ward and was able to communicate as we visited over the weekend. She told me we would have to take it as it comes and also that Dad needed to go into care.
Mum was not our only concern. Dad has had dementia for some time. Mum was the carer, the hard drive. Her sudden illness threw us into disarray. Janice was on with doctors and social workers, working out medicine. Uncles and aunts had to stay with him over the weekend which was not at all easy for them. We knew he would now have to go into care and on Monday we had the trauma of getting him into a home. Not easy.
On Monday night mum had improved a little more. She asked about dad. I told her he was settling in a Care Home but didn’t give too much information. She had to resign to that. I told my aunt I would talk to her about something on the way out and mum’s head came round at 100mph. She was still sharp enough to know we were not telling her everything.
When my phone went on Tuesday, just as we were leaving to visit mum, I was sure it was about dad not settling. I was told mum had had a turn and I knew as I drove to the hospital that it was probably the very worst news. She had been fine and had eaten solids for the first time. Then perhaps a clot had taken her out. The hospital staff seemed as shocked as we did.
As I look back on these last days I am so thankful for the weekend and Monday. I got to hold mum’s hand. We got to tell her we loved her. She was so aware of our care. We didn’t think it on Monday night but we got our goodbye. Many times we don’t get that luxury.
I was hopeful that the speech therapists could have gotten mum’s speech back to clarity. Her mind was sharp. The right hand side of her body wasn’t though and I know she would not have wanted to be paralysed. When you are over 80, and your condition changes, a quick way out is a blessing, though not for us left.
I have always called the days of grieving between death and funeral, sacred ground. They are days of revealing stories, of beaming memories and of illuminating insights. I learned a lot about my mum. I learned a lot about me.
Someone said Mum had told her that her and my dad always tried to live life to the full! 10:10 is my life slogan. My drive comes from there! Then so many who spoke of her kindness, her smiling welcome, her ability to make people feel at ease. Sometimes we don’t see the full life of our parents because there are compartments of their lives that we don’t get to spend with them. I saw into so many areas of mum’s life and saw myself!
My mum told me recently that she had had a real heart for reconciliation in Northern Ireland. As my dear friend Fr Martin Magill attended her funeral I realised that that commitment had been passed on to me. She’s living it through her son.
Exactly four weeks before her stroke last Friday my mum stood in the front row of the Ballymena Academy Assembly Hall and watched her son speak at Prize Day and her daughter-in-law give out the prizes. She was proud. Today that is the memory I most hold on to. I am so thankful. CS Lewis said that the joy then is the pain now. Indeed!
As I sit here surmising, I know that I am going to crash emotionally over this weekend. Grief takes different stages. We are into the next one. As I move on I do want to reiterate how much all of your thoughts have helped. I know that as a pastor I have learned a lot in these last days and if you needed me in the past and I wasn’t there at such a time, forgive me. I now understand!
Nobody will be surprised that as well as the amazing support of Janice, Caitlin, Jasmine, family and friends I have sought some comfort in music this week. Most particularly I have worn out Over The Rhine’s masterpiece Let It Fall:
Have you been carin' too much
How this one ends
Y'know it's not the kind of fight
That you lose or win
When you're down so low
You feel the imprint of the ground
'Cause rain and leaves
And snow and tears and stars
And that's not all my friend
They all fall with confidence and grace
So let it fall, let it fall…