Without Jeff by Jenny Chadwick CHAPTER 1 Maundy Thursday, 1960 SHOCKED into a state of numbness I replaced the phone on its cradle. Why should my future mother-in-law need to ring me at work? At 9.30 a.m. too? As the wheels began to turn in my brain, and the urgency of the situation slowly dawned on me, I dragged my feet along the corridor in search of the chief librarian. Still half dazed I found it difficult to explain that my fiancé had been taken to hospital that night as an emergency barely able to breathe. I was granted compassionate leave immediately and headed straight home to pack and catch a train to London. Late that night, lying in a strange bed at my fiancé‟s home, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep. Could this really be the end of the wonderful love we had enjoyed for three short months? Had God brought us together only to separate us again by death? What had I done to deserve such a cruel blow? Why should God deprive me of the joy of marriage to the man I was so deeply in love with? I had waited so long—I was twenty-five now—and why shouldn‟t I enjoy married life like so many of my friends? Jeff and I were made for each other. „God, I can‟t stand it!’ I prayed long into the night, begging, demanding, pleading that Jeff might he allowed to live. I promised God I would do anything if only He would grant my request. The clock struck two, and still I couldn‟t find peace. The questions hammered on my brain and I battered heaven with my pleas. Then, out of the blue, I remembered a verse from the Bible that early in our courtship had struck us as being particularly appropriate to both our lives. „All things work together for good to them that love God.‟ Other verses had already churned through my mind, but this one was more persistent. I couldn‟t get rid of it, and suddenly I began to pray in a different vein „Lord, make me willing to let go. Let Jeff die if that is Your will. Help me to accept Your judgement as best. Enable me to prove this verse to be true in my own experience.‟ Moments later the tension ceased. I knew that if Jeff died I would still go on. It would not be the end of the world. God still had a plan for my life and in fulfilling it I could find peace and joy without Jeff. I slept. I was too exhausted next morning fully to appreciate the love and concern that had arranged a Communion Service to pray especially for Jeff‟s healing, but I was very much aware of God‟s presence, and of a unity of purpose amongst the participants. What, other than the Holy Spirit, had moved over twenty people, most of whom I didn‟t know, to get up early at less than twelve hours‟ notice to pray for my loved one? As far as I was concerned the battle was over and the urgency past. My prayers, too, were for Jeff, and no longer for me and my peace of mind. That afternoon, as I approached the ward, I anticipated the worst—a coma perhaps—but instead the old familiar smile was creasing his face and he was making the most of being the youngest in the ward by teasing the nurses. He had turned the corner. We would be married! ***** * Less than six months before this crisis occurred a friend of mine had asked me to help in the running of a Youth Group in the village where she used to live. Her twin sister explained. „Several of us help once a fortnight together with some men from the university.‟ We all go together in Chris‟s Land-Rover, and we meet outside the Agricultural Lab at seven,‟ added the first twin. „See you then.‟ It wasn‟t till long afterwards that I discovered why the twins had asked me in particular. „You and Jeffery were so alike,‟ they explained. „We thought you must meet each other. You were bound to hit it off. We must admit, though, that we never intended to match-make, and it was a bit alarming when you announced your engagement so soon afterwards!‟ Certainly at the time I had no idea that I was being asked for any other motive than to help this struggling Youth Group find its feet. Indeed I went to the lab muffled to the eyebrows in a huge winter coat and scarf ready to combat the elements in the somewhat draughty confines of the jeep, and not in any sense prepared for the „kill‟ of a prospective husband. I was given the seat of honour next to the driver, and the twins explained that we‟d have to wait for Jeffery because he was still lecturing. „High-powered sort of chap,‟ I thought to myself. „What does he lecture in?‟ I asked curiously. „Chemistry,‟ I was told. „Here he comes.‟ A dumpy figure in a navy duffle coat and a ridiculous hat emerged from the Chemistry block. Where, but in Oxford, would one find a lecturer wearing a South African Mounted Police hat? I goggled with amazement, but secretly I was relieved that smartness was obviously not the order of the day. „Sorry I‟m late,‟ apologized this extraordinary young man as Chris slid the clutch into gear and we started our fifteen mile drive. Introductions were brief, but an hour or two later, when the meeting had broken up into small groups, I found myself talking to Jeffery. I had found no common ground with the local folk and naturally gravitated to the one person with a background somewhat similar to my own. I began to fill in the gaps left by the scanty introductions. Although Jeffery lectured he was still a post-graduate student studying for his doctorate. He had become a Christian in his first year at university, and had subsequently spent part of each summer vacation helping on a beach mission on the East Coast. I, too, had spent a month of the past two summers working on another beach mission, in Scotland. Conversation flowed and all too soon it was time to leave. During the next few weeks I was involved in organizing a party for other young people, this time in my own parish. Ostensibly they wanted a Christmas party run on Christian lines, which would enable them to start a regular Youth Group going. The vicar inveigled me into running it and asked me to bring some friends to help. My circle of Christian friends of the opposite sex was limited, so, at the twins suggestion, I invited Jeffery to help. To my amazement he accepted, and, with Gill, another friend of mine, we organized what turned out to be one big shambles. The programme had been drawn up by a committee of the young people with my help and the vicar‟s, but when the evening came the youngsters refused to co-operate. We had to cope with everything from beer and gin in the cloakrooms to jiving in the hall. We were greeted with point-blank refusals to join in the jollifications that had been laid on and we very quickly realized that we were making no headway in this mêlée. What a relief it was when the vicar decided to close early! Exhausted, we cleared away the debris before I drove my helpers back to Oxford. As the door firmly closed on that enterprise, a new door opened. For Gill, automatically assuming that there was more in this friendship than met the eye, insisted that Jeffery sat next to me in the car, and agreed to chaperone‟ us to a Chinese meal! There was no doubt about it, Jeffery and I were happy and relaxed in each others company; but this was only the third time that we had met. Intuitively Gill had seen something to which we were still blind. Then came the Christmas break. Working for a college library had its advantages: I got just over two weeks‟ holiday. But during this time I heard nothing from Jeffery and mentally assumed that our friendship had been a passing one such as one frequently had at university. I had only graduated the previous autumn, but at the time I had faced up to the fact that God might intend me to remain single for the rest of my life. My mother obviously thought that I was on the shelf for good. She and both my two sisters had been married at twenty-three, and here was I, twenty-four, and not even a steady boy-friend to my credit. Maybe she would not have put it quite that way, but I did, and for some time I had been praying „Lord, help me to accept Your plan for my life, whether I‟m to be single or married. Show me where You want me to work, and help me to find joy in serving You even if it is without a husband.‟ It had been strange to find God guiding me into a temporary job in a college library near home. I wanted to work in a university library, but why in a temporary capacity? It was only a year‟s appointment, but it was offered to me without being advertised in the Press. I took it believing that this was what God intended me to do. I thought perhaps my parents were going to need me at home over the coming year, or that God was preparing me to go overseas as a missionary. Strangely enough I never dreamt that it might be because God had a partner waiting for me. As time passed I could see increasingly more of God‟s plan. Here in this college was one person who could help me to pass my final exams. Was it merely coincidence that the deputy librarian should have graduated with honours in the one subject in which I needed coaching, and that she in turn wanted to pass her driving test? I believe not. She practised driving in my car and I practised Latin unseens under her tuition. At last I qualified and was free of exam pressures. I settled down to enjoy my work and quite suddenly I felt at peace about remaining single, and life opened up to me. It became exciting and rewarding. The possibility of marriage stayed at the back of my mind, but the idea ceased to take a central position. It was then that I met Jeffery. After Christmas I returned to my desk eager to get into harness again. Picking up an armful of queries I headed for the catalogue. As I passed the issue desk, Christine called out „Letter for you, Jenny.‟ A letter for me! I could hardly believe my ears. I never got correspondence at college. I stared at the envelope. I didn‟t recognize the handwriting or the postmark. Reigate and Redhill. Who on earth did I know there? Curiously I slit open the envelope and turned to the signature——Jeffery! I couldn‟t read it fast enough. He was returning to Oxford on Monday, and would like to see me again. Could he take me out for the evening some time this week? My heart missed a beat. I re-read the letter to make sure that I had read it correctly. Then, horror of horrors, I noticed the postmark, and realized that he had returned to Oxford the previous Monday. How rude he must have thought me, to have ignored his invitation completely! He must have imagined that I wanted to end the friendship. I spent my lunch-break composing a contrite reply and as soon as I had finished work in the evening I sped round to his digs. I hesitated outside the door, wondering whether to plop the letter through the box or ring and deliver it personally. It was unlikely that he would be in, but if the landlady knew it was there it would probably reach him that bit quicker. I pushed the bell and asked the landlady to give the letter to him. „I think he‟s in if you want to give it to him yourself,‟ she told me. „Do you know your way up? No? I‟ll show you. Follow me.‟ With my heart beating a tattoo against my ribs I pocketed my apologetic letter and followed the motherly figure up three flights of stairs. „Visitor for you, Jeffery,‟ she called, knocking at a door at the very top of the house, and then leaving us. It needed little or no explanation on my part before he understood and we agreed to go out that same evening. „The Baby and the Battleship—Last complete perform- ance 6.50. How about that?‟ Jeffery ran his finger down the column in the local paper. „it seems the best.‟ I took his word for it. I didn‟t mind what I saw. I knew now that I was very fond of him and just to be in his company was all I wanted. We followed up the film with a Chinese meal, and then, although it was now late, I went back to his digs for coffee, and stayed till after 2 a.m. Jeffery did not ask me to marry him, but we did realize that we were head over heels in love. We needed no ritual of words to prove it: tacitly we both assumed that we would marry. It seemed that we were made for each other, and that in some extraordinary way we had always known each other. That same evening we discussed marriage as a foregone conclusion, till suddenly my emotions bubbled up inside me and I burst into tears. Hesitantly Jeff took me in his arms and when at last I was able to speak I explained that I found it difficult to believe that anyone could love me that much. I wasn‟t worth loving. It was too good to be true. However, Jeff had no such doubts, and when we parted we were unofficially engaged. Next morning I was tempted again to doubt our feelings and to wonder whether we had let our emotions run away with us. Perhaps we had left God out of our reckoning and this wasn‟t His plan for our lives. Eagerly I turned to my Bible and began to read where I had left off the day before. Incredulously I read Then the Lord God said ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.’ What further confirmation of God‟s will did I need? I hurtled joyfully downstairs to breakfast. My mother eyed me from the cooker. „Did you have a nice time with John last night?‟ she asked. This took some of the wind out of my sails. „John?‟ I queried. „Yes,‟ she replied, „Daddy said you were going to the pictures with John last night.‟ (John was the vicar‟s son.) Relief poured through me. My father was slightly deaf and had obviously misheard me on the phone the night before. My parents knew John reasonably well and wouldn‟t have been in the least worried if they‟d thought that I was out late with him. I laughed. „We had a lovely time,‟ I replied, „but I went with Jeffery.‟ Jeff laughed too when he heard about the mis- understanding. He also shared my excitement over my morning‟s reading. „Look,‟ he said, „what I read.‟ He flicked through his Bible. „A good wife is far more precious than jewels. I didn‟t cheat,‟ he went on, „I would have read that even if we hadn‟t met last night.‟ Everything seemed to have gone right so far, but Sunday came, when Jeff was to meet my parents, and everything seemed to go wrong for him. First he spilt cream on the dining-room table. Then he had to explain to my father that he hadn‟t got a first class honours in Chemistry but a top Second—I had been under the impression that he had got a first and had told my parents accordingly. Ill at ease myself and sensing Jeff‟s awkwardness I suggested that we took my dog for a walk after we‟d washed up. We trudged down country lanes for a couple of hours and returned with our shoes liberally coated with mud. Jeff did his best to wipe his feet clean before going into the drawing- room because this room was my mother‟s pride and joy, and there was a beautiful new off-white carpet on the floor. (Even the dog had to have his paws wiped before entering.) But when I came down I found Jeff sitting in his stockinged feet looking acutely embarras- sed and my mother sweeping up the mud that he‟d unintentionally deposited on the carpet! How thankful we were to escape to the evening service that night! Later that week my parents left for a holiday in Switzerland. Before they went I tackled my mother, over the washing-up: „Jeffery‟s asked me to spend next week-end at his home in Merstham. May I go?‟ My mother carefully laid another plate on the draining-board. „Do you want to go?‟ she asked. „What a stupid question!‟ I thought impatiently, but aloud I replied that I did. „Then of course you may go.‟ She turned back to the sink. Friday evening was a long time coming and when it did arrive it was bitterly cold and snowing. Jeff and I dressed as if we were preparing for an Arctic expedition. My little green „beetle‟ had no heating and it was going to take about three hours to drive to Merstham. We hadn‟t driven far when I began to despair of ever reaching our destination. The roads were simply dreadful. „I‟ll drive,‟ offered Jeff. Gladly I relinquished the wheel, and as he slowly pulled away I realized how vastly superior his driving was to mine. „I learnt in Canada,‟ he explained, „while I was doing my National Service in the R.A.F. We were training under a N.A.T.O. scheme with the Canadian Air Force, and funds weren‟t too low, so three of us clubbed together to buy an old 1936 Pontiac. We got around quite a bit, and these roads are nothing compared to some of the Canadian roads in winter.‟ As we neared Merstham he turned up a minor road. „You‟d better change here,‟ he said as he backed the car into a gateway. He switched off the engine and turned his back while I swiftly changed out of my trousers into a suit. I had learnt that my future mother- in-law didn‟t approve of girls in trousers, and, as I was out to impress, I dressed accordingly. I needn‟t have worried. The warmth of the old Tudor cottage did not only come from the log-fire blazing in the hearth. I instinctively took to this warm, loving person whom I was to know as „Wootle‟. „Why Wootle?‟ I asked. „Well, you see, we used to have a pig on the farm in Devon called Mother Weak, and somehow the name got transferred to Mum,‟ explained Jeff, „and then somehow it got changed to Wootle.‟ The logic was quite impossible, but I accepted the derivation for what it was worth and agreed to call her Wootle too. She plied us with hot coffee and an enormous pan of scrambled eggs. „Do you know what she asked me in the kitchen just now?‟ asked Jeff as he returned from fetching two mugs of steaming coffee. „No‟. „Is this the one?‟ I stared. „How on earth did she know?‟ „She‟s like that. You‟ll see.‟ I did see, and I loved her for it. It was she who suggested that we should have our engagement ring made by a family friend, and who arranged for him to come that very week-end. In no way did I find her interfering. She was delighted that her elder son had found a girl to love and marry, and she only wanted the best of everything for both of us. When we left on the Sunday afternoon I knew that I had made a friend for life. We left early so that we could visit my sister who lived nearby. We stayed there just long enough for a cup of tea, but as Jeff walked out to the car with her husband, I took the opportunity of telling her that we were unofficially engaged. „Yes, I know. Mummy told me,‟ was the unexpected reply. „But we haven‟t told her yet,‟ I expostulated. „I know, but she knew all right. She said if you wanted to make it official while they were still away, you could phone them up. Daddy will pay!‟ Jeff and I decided that such an important phone call demanded V.I.P. treatment. We entered the foyer of one of Oxford‟s smartest hotels, and were directed to the telephones upstairs. We booted the call and prepared to wait. We could concentrate on nothing. At last the phone rang. „Hello, Daddy. Jeff‟s here and would like a word with you.‟ I passed the receiver across. „Hello, Sir,‟ Jeff‟s voice was stilted and formal, his slightly Oxford accent accentuated by his nervousness. „Jenny and wondered if you would agree to our getting engaged? There was a long pause. Jeff cupped his hand over the mouthpiece. „He‟s quite incoherent,‟ he grinned. „I think I‟d better pass you back.‟ I took back the phone to hear my mother take over from my father, and at last we had some sense. Of course they were thrilled and were only too delighted that we should announce our engagement during their absence. Peep, peep, peep—the pips interrupted. „Lots of love to you both. Good-bye.‟ The ordeal was over and Jeff had exchanged barely half a dozen words with my father. „Thank goodness that‟s over,‟ he exclaimed. „I was dreading asking your father. I didn‟t know what to say. He‟s so Victorian! Talk about the easy way of asking someone‟s hand in marriage! Let the girl do all the talking! * ** *** The next few weeks passed swiftly by. We spent every spare minute together, sharing everything we could. My first visit to Jeff‟s lab was late at night after we had been out all evening. „I only want to take something out of the vacuum dessicator,‟ I was informed as he unlocked the lab door. „What‟s a vacuum dessicator?‟ I asked. „It‟s a machine that dries things out.‟ „Like a spin-drier?‟ „No.‟ Jeff tried to explain as we climbed a long flight of stairs. „It has two compartments. In the bottom one you have a drying agent that absorbs the water from the substance to be dried, which is supported in the top one. In order to accelerate the procedure you create a vacuum to remove the air.‟ We turned a corner and Jeff flicked a switch. The fluorescent tubes began to glow. I stared around me bewildered, and, at the same time, greatly impressed by the vast array of glass tubes and instruments stacked round the room. „You‟d better stand clear while I open up,‟ warned Jeff. „It just might be dangerous.‟ By this time he was wearing goggles and looking more like a coal miner than a chemist. I took his advice and stood well back. Bang! Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. There was glass everywhere. „Blow‟, was the restrained comment from behind the goggles. „Now I‟ll have to start again. You‟ll find a broom over there. You sweep the floor and I‟ll cope with the rest.‟ We cleared away the debris and Jeff reset the apparatus. The smell was appalling and I left the lab that night with the impression that chemistry was only bangs and stinks, and that all chemists must be small boys at heart, but although our visits to the lab became more frequent I never again witnessed such a dramatic explosion. I spent many hours perched on a lab stool taking down figures that meant nothing to me but everything to Jeff, but where it would be ninety-nine per cent Jeff and one per cent me in the lab, it became fifty- fifty when it came to discussing our future. We planned to he married in July, but before then two big problems had to be solved—where Jeff would work when he‟d got his doctorate, and where we should live. Letter after letter went to different Canadian universities and three posts were offered to him. Finally he accepted one in Toronto only to discover a few weeks later that the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell were willing to sponsor him to do further post-graduate research at Oxford. We both felt that it was right to accept the Oxford post although it meant disappointing the university of Toronto. If only we could have seen into the future we should have realized that in Canada we could never have afforded the drugs and hospital treatment that were later to be essential. „With a job settled we had to find somewhere to live. We looked at flat after flat until at last we found the ideal one, nine miles out of Oxford in a cul-de-sac hamlet. The only thing wrong with it was that it had been let twenty-four hours earlier to a single girl! But the landlord and his wife were charming people and they offered to rent us other rooms at half the price of the flat! There was garage space in the barn and an enormous garden which we were free to make use of. Moreover we would be only two miles from the village where our friends the twins lived. ****** All this planning and preparation went on during the weeks following Jeff‟s discharge from hospital. It seemed difficult then to realize that he had been so critically ill that, when he was admitted that Maundy Thursday, the physician in charge had told us not to plan anything definite. He had refused even to give an approximate date for his discharge. He didn‟t really know what was the matter with him, and the cortisone treatment was only „a shot in the dark‟. We might never be married, and at the least we were given to understand that he would be in for six months, probably more. Typically, once Jeff had turned the corner we planned and prayed for the future. In three weeks my mother called me to the phone to hear Jeff tell me that he had been discharged provided that he could come to my home to convalesce. (My father was a retired doctor and my mother a nurse, so medical care would he available on the spot.) Deep down we were convinced that God meant him to get better and we continued to plan with all the optimism of youth and hundreds of pills to help us. Only later did I learn that my mother, with great perception, had said to a friend „Only one thing worries me about their marriage—that it won‟t be a long one.‟ CHAPTER 2 As the first rays of sunlight crept through my bedroom window I woke with a jolt. Today was my day. All the presents and the „thank you‟s‟, the planning and the rehearsals were over. Today Jeff and I were to be married. Jeff was still on drugs and got tired very easily, but despite the predictions of the medical men we were to be married to schedule. With a bound I was out of bed, and then I realized that I was meant to be having breakfast in bed, and it was only six o‟clock. I hated breakfast in bed. It was all those toast crumbs afterwards—they got into everything. Anyway I never felt really comfortable eating in bed. Still, I wouldn‟t have to sleep in this bed tonight, and it would be a help to the family. They would find it easier with one less body downstairs. There were ten of them ~without me, and two more were staying at the village pub. What a palaver! No wonder Jeff had wanted a quiet wedding! I climbed back into bed wondering if the morning would ever pass, and praying and hoping that the service would go better than the rehearsal. Mentally I relived the scene of the previous day. It had been a lovely July evening and we had sauntered down to the church quite prepared to enjoy the preview of the ceremony. Jeff and I had discussed and arranged the order of the service weeks before and everyone was happy about it. It should have been plain sailing, but immediately we started, we ran into hitches. My father wanted us to do exactly what the vicar said, and this turned out to be not what we had originally planned. Inwardly rebelling, I reluctantly gave way on two issues, but when a printer‟s error on the service sheet made them decide to leave out a hymn altogether I snapped. „I thought this was going to be my wedding day. If you‟re going to muck the service about, I‟m not going to be married here tomorrow.‟ I stormed into the vestry with the tears pouring down my face and Jeff uncertain how to comfort me. He held me close while the tears racked my body. There was a deathly hush in the church. Then my brother-in-law, who was actually going to marry us, came out. „You take her home,‟ he told Jeff. „I‟ll sort this out. It‟ll be all right in the end. Don‟t worry. We left George to conciliate two upset elderly gentlemen, while hand in hand we walked slowly home through the village. Gradually I simmered down, and by the time we reached home my emotions were under control. Jeff wasn‟t musical and he didn‟t mind how we were married as long as we got it over quickly. He would have been quite happy to alter the service if it would have meant peace among the participants, but he realized how much these details meant to me and so he too was upset. My family knew me well enough to realize that I would not be likely to compromise over this issue, so it was a great relief to everyone when George returned home to tell us that he had managed to iron things out, and the service would go as we had planned, except for one small addition which he felt sure I could accept. He was right, and by the time supper was on the table the tension had been released. It was a hilarious meal, and we were teased mercilessly. Saturday afternoon came at last and the sun shone uncertainly as our taxis left the house. In order to get to the church we had to cross the main road, travel about a mile up the village street and then cross a level-crossing. As my father and I drew up at the cross-roads two young guests missed the turning to the church and sailed on up the hill, so, to my father‟s horror, I leant out of the window in all my wedding finery and gesticulated wildly. With shrieks of merriment the couple recognized me and pulled to a halt. Having restored me to a more sober frame of mind my father relaxed a little, only to tense again as we stopped unexpectedly at the level-crossing. Despite all our careful planning and timing British Rail had done it again! The Bristol express was late and the gates were shut. Unconcerned I studied the other cars to see who else was going to be late. Minutes later my father thankfully relinquished his responsibilities to Jeff, who was so nervous that the sweat was running down his face. The tiny village church was packed with friends and relations, and every nook and cranny spilled over with white blossom. With all the love and beauty that surrounded us, Jeff and I were very conscious that we were the centre of attraction, until we came to the address. Then our thoughts were taken beyond our- selves to another wedding long ago in Cana, and it was suggested that we should all invite Jesus to our festivities (i.e., our wedding), and that we should invite Him into our homes and lives as well. We had determined in the earliest days of our courtship that Jesus should be the centre of our life together, but as the need was revealed to us once again we renewed our vows that He should have the first place in our home no matter what the ups and downs might be. When we got back to the house for the reception Jeff and I exchanged our wedding gifts—a pocket Bible for me with my new initials on it, and for Jeff a signet ring with the family crest and motto on it: „Nil desperandum‟ („Never give up‟) it should have read, but the jeweller obviously didn‟t know Latin, for, to our amusement, it read „Nil desperandum‟. Inside both gifts were our names, the date of our wedding and the verse All things work together for good to them that love God. Almost daily through our court- ship this verse had grown to mean more to both of us, and, though as yet we didn‟t realize it, we were to cling to it even more desperately in the days that lay ahead. It was because of this promise that we were enabled to keep the family motto, and in the blackest of hours we drew comfort from it. The time came for us to leave the guests and we tore out of the house at break-neck speed trying to avoid the confetti that rained down on us. Our best man was waiting with the engine of his ancient Daimler gently ticking over, and we shot away with the briefest of farewells. „Thank goodness that‟s over.‟ Jeff heaved a sigh of relief. „I can‟t imagine why anyone ever gets married more than once. I wouldn‟t go through that perform- ance again if you paid me to.‟ „Where‟s that brother-in-law of yours gone?‟ asked our driver, staring suspiciously into the driving mirror. „If you mean Rex, I bet he‟s going to follow us,‟ I grinned. „I hope you hid the car successfully this morning.‟ „I think we did‟, I was told. „It‟s in the garage yard at the cross-roads at the top of the hill.‟ They may have thought that they hadn‟t been seen, but they must have had their minds on other things, for, as we pulled out of the garage yard in our own car, there was a thunderous clanking of tin cans. We stopped and our best man cut most of them free before we caught sight of a familiar green Morris. „Quick. Leave the others,‟ said Jeff. „Let‟s try and throw them off.‟ He flogged the poor old Anglia, but within half a mile we were enduring not only the last remaining tin can but also the overpowering smell of roasting kippers. We admitted defeat and pulled in to remove the offending articles. Up went the bonnet and up drew the Morris behind. Jeff hadn‟t thought to pack wire-cutters for a honeymoon, so slowly and pains- stakingly we untwisted the wires that lashed two kippers very securely to the engine. Meanwhile my uncle and brother-in-law alternately roared with mirth and took photographs. At last we freed the charred remains and then, and only then, were we allowed to leave unmolested. ****** We started married life together as many other couples do, quietly getting used to a routine in harness. People talk of the need to build up or work at a marriage, but we were unaware of having to do this at any stage. After only a few days it seemed as if we had always lived together—there was no conscious adjusting to do. We couldn‟t imagine what life had been like before we lived together. During our court- ship we had often genuinely been mistaken for brother and sister; there was indeed a certain amount of physical resemblance between us, and we had auto- matically tended to think along the same lines right from when we first met. We revelled in our new country home, and because I was still in a full-time job (this time with the County Library) we did everything together. Even housework was shared out, and many was the day when Jeff helped mc to peg out the washing. Because we were living nine miles out of Oxford in a village with no public transport we had to travel together, leaving the house at 8.30 a.m. and returning some time after six in the evening. Research is not usually a nine to five job, but Jeff did his best to make it easy for me. I was supposed to do nine to five, but in practice it didn‟t matter as long as I put in the right number of hours. If Jeff was late in the evening, I would carry on working till he arrived and the additional hours would counterbalance the times we were late in the morning. Twice we arrived very late indeed for work, owing to two of Jeff‟s more unfortunate feats of car-backing. The first time he managed to back on to the post that marked the cess pool. We laughed and laughed, but eventually we had to jack up the car in order to push her safely out of the danger zone. Only two days later a wail of distress brought me running to find that he‟d successfully backed into the balustrade of the outside staircase leading to the stable loft. I couldn‟t believe my eyes when I saw how inextricably the front bumper and fender were entangled with the wood. Once more we jacked the car up and managed to rock her free without damage to either the car or the woodwork. My turn was to come. I fell asleep at the wheel and was rescued from a sticky end by a loud roar from Jeff just before we hit the hedge. It was strange that the one thing we never really got used to was the way in which the other partner drove. I drove too near the curb for Jeff‟s liking and Jeff drove too near the oncoming traffic for my comfort. Living where we did we were reliant on the car for most things so we very quickly had to learn to live with each other‟s driving habits. We travelled a lot at week-ends because we became deeply involved in the parish. When we first moved we found that there was no children‟s work, so we approached the vicar to ask if we might start a Sunday School. Although we had both worked on beach missions, we had no training for Sunday School work, and we felt it was a bit of a nerve asking if we might plunge in at the deep end; but Jeff did most of the talking and we came away with an absolutely free hand. Our immediate reaction was to head for the twins‟ home which lay between the vicarage and the church. They had already agreed to help us in this venture, and it was they who had insisted that Jeff, as the only man, should approach the vicar—they both tended to be indecisive and needed someone to lead the way for them. But what they lacked in decisiveness they made up for in enthusiasm, and once we had got the vicar s consent we mapped out the two villages between us and prepared to visit every home with children. The following week we set out. As new-comers to a fairly closed community we anticipated a certain amount of opposition, but when we returned that evening we were full of thankfulness for the way in which God had helped us. Not one door had been shut in our faces and we had been received with courtesy everywhere. Promises to attend had been extracted from several families and we knew that God had given the green light to go ahead. It was a pack-out that first Sunday. Twenty-four children sat hypnotized as Jeff carefully poured water into an apparently empty glass. Incredulous, they watched it turn red and heard how Jesus had per- formed a similar miracle at Cana many, many years earlier. No wonder we never saw the local publican‟s daughter again at Sunday School! „Her father must think that I‟m going to do him out of a job !„laughed Jeff. This was neither the first nor the last time that Jeff was to use his chemical knowledge to help others in the Christian faith. There was the Christmas party for the Sunday School when he drove home from the lab with thirty balloons filled with hydrogen floating across the roof of the car. „The policeman at the roundabout gave me some pretty queer looks,‟ he commented as we man- oeuvred them into the hall and into a cupboard out of sight. What shrieks of delight there were when they were released at the end of the party! Jeff had to use a broom to retrieve them from the ceiling to give them to the children, but it was worth all the effort for the pleasure that it gave them. We loved working with the children despite the toll that it took of Jeff‟s health, for he was still on heavy drugs and tired very quickly. However, neither Jeff‟s poor health nor the pressure of our activities could in any way detract from our joy when it was confirmed that a baby of our own was on the way. But we realized that we couldn‟t go on living in two rooms for ever. We said nothing to our landlord, but a couple of evenings later, when he asked us to bring home a local paper for him, Jeff remarked as we drove home, „There‟s something that sounds like us in this paper.‟ I flicked open the advertisement page and read it out. It was a university lecturer‟s house and we agreed that we should ring the agent as soon as we got in to see if we could view it, or the chances were that it would have gone by the time we got there the next day. It was just after six when we arrived home, but Jeff managed to catch the agent before he shut. Jeff took down the name and address, which was in a nearby village, and after a hasty meal we drove the four miles there to see the house. As we drove we prayed that we might know whether this was where God wanted us to live. Two sugar-pink cherry trees were in full bloom in the front garden, and silently we agreed that it looked like our sort of house. Jeff knocked and a tall young man opened the door and stood hesitating, obviously racking his brains to remember something. Then „Jeff!‟ he exclaimed, „Come in‟ and he stood aside to let us pass. This man, who was the owner, had been at university with Jeff, but because he had been studying in a different faculty he had never known him very well. He was now moving to Manchester. He had only advertised the house for sale the previous day, but had already had one offer. „But if you still want it when you‟ve seen it and discussed it,‟ he said, „you can have it.‟ Jeff and I hardly dared look at each other. Here was the answer to our prayer. We both liked the house, but there was one snag. Could we possibly raise a deposit, let alone secure a mortgage? We only had our wedding present money and that was little more than two hundred pounds. We left on the under- standing that we would confirm our decision in the morning. „Where‟ll we find the money?‟ I asked Jeff, once back in the privacy of the car. „I don‟t know,‟ he replied. „I‟m sure God means us to have that house, so He‟ll have to provide the money. Let‟s ring Wootle and tell her about it.‟ We didn‟t want to tell our landlord our plans yet, so we stopped at the first telephone kiosk to phone Jeff‟s mother. „She‟s thrilled,‟ whispered Jeff, cupping his hand over the receiver. „How much?‟ His voice suddenly increased in volume, an(l excitement was written all over his face. I could hardly wait for the three minutes to be up. „Four hundred pounds of mine,‟ he explained as he rang off, „in Savings Certificates. It‟s what I earned while I was teaching before I came up to Oxford. Mum‟s got it at home.‟ We couldn‟t have been more pleased if we‟d been told that we had the whole price of the house. We were sure now that God meant us to buy it and in June we moved in. We were glad to be those few miles nearer Oxford. For the past few weeks Jeff had been suffering inter- mittently from a stone in his kidney, and it was a relief to be nearer medical help. One Sunday evening soon after we‟d moved in, he could hardly move because the pain was so acute. The doctor asked me if he could come to the surgery, and Jeff insisted that he could. I drove those two miles with the utmost care and he never complained, but the pain must have been excruciating because the moment the doctor started to examine him, he was literally sick with pain. We hardly needed to be told that he would have to go to hospital immediately. Rather than wait for an ambulance we set off again for Oxford and the hospital. I took him straight to the Casualty Department, but we had to wait three hours before anyone saw him. The nurse on duty took all the details and then left us. It was a ghastly three hours. I was three months pregnant and tired anyway; there was nowhere to sit except the end of the very hard couch on which Jeff was still writhing in pain, and there was nothing to do but to try and keep his mind occupied. At last eleven o‟clock struck, and he was seen and officially admitted. He was in hospital for ten days and it was the loneliest ten days of my life so far. „God, why should I be left alone when we should be enjoying our new home together? I want to share it with Jeff. I want to talk about our new baby with him. I‟m tired of being on my own. There‟s not enough to do with only me at home, even though l am still at work. God, keep me busy. Help me not to miss him so.‟ It was difficult for me to accept this loneliness and emptiness as part of God‟s plan for me, and it wasn‟t any easier to watch my husband in pain. I had no inkling that this might be a foretaste of what life had in store for me later. However, I did gradually learn to find joy in activity, and it wasn‟t long before I heard the well-loved voice ask „How would you like me home again?‟ CHAPTER 3 „I‟M a fraud! I‟m sure I‟m a fraud,‟ I chanted all the way to the hospital. „Nonsense,‟ replied Jeff rather tersely—prospective fatherhood weighed rather heavily on him just then— „No one‟s a fraud at regular fifteen-minute intervals!‟ „But it‟s not due till the New Year, and that‟s a fortnight away,‟ I wailed. „I must be a fraud.‟ Jeff was right, of course. I wasn‟t a fraud, even though we had to travel another six miles and wait another twenty-four hours to prove it conclusively. Much later, shortly before midnight struck, fog and a long drawn-out labour made the doctor decide to transfer me to a bigger hospital before it was too late. What an ambulance he chose !—completely devoid of springs! I‟ll never forget it. The nurse asked me if she could do anything, and abruptly I turned away: „Go away,‟ I said rudely. It didn‟t dawn on me till long afterwards that she couldn‟t possibly have gone away with the ambulance belting through the misty darkness at about fifty miles an hour. Somewhere behind us Jeff was trying to keep up, sick with worry lest it should be something serious that was holding up proceedings. He needn‟t have worried. The lack of springs soon shook our reluctant daughter out of her lethargy, and at half past one next morning Ruth at last made her appearance. I was disappointed at first because I had badly wanted a boy, but Jeff, despite his rude remarks about a „hairy little monkey‟ was quite obviously delighted. This tiny, five pound fourteen ounce baby was soon going to be able to twist her father round her little finger, and he adored her from the very start. Shortly before Ruth‟s first birthday it was again Jeff‟s turn to be carted off to hospital. He had been attending for regular check-ups and had undergone several rigorous tests since we had been married, but now the hospital was calling him for definite surgery. An enlarged gland in his groin was to be removed. We took it in our stride. After all, I had had a gland removed from my neck as a young teenager and I was still around to tell the tale. All that worried us now was whether he would be out in time for Christmas. Although we had moved again and London was now only twelve miles away, I was pregnant again and visiting him was going to be almost impossible with Ruth to cope with as well, and we couldn‟t entertain the thought of Christmas being spent apart for the second year in succession. Two days to Christmas, and, joy of joys, I was allowed to fetch him home again. I couldn‟t get to the hospital fast enough. „They still don‟t know what it is,‟ Jeff explained. „It‟s probably all linked up with my research, so they‟re not likely to find out either.‟ He went on, „he was a good surgeon, though, that ex-colleague of your father‟s. We discussed your family all through the op!‟ We laughed, and resumed life as normally as was possible after such an operation. We had no idea that cancer was behind all the prevaricating, though the doctors must have been sure by this time. Thank Heavens, they didn‟t tell us! We were ridiculously happy just to be reunited and we lived each day for itself. This was just as well because this year of all years brought some of the heaviest burdens we had to bear together. My mother died in February, and I went to help look after my father over the initial period of shock. Then in July Jeff had to have deep X-ray treatment on the glands on both sides of his neck simultaneously, after which he was confined to bed at home, barely able to eat or speak. It was while he was in this weak state that his brother called one Sunday to say that Wootle had been taken to hospital after a severe stroke. It was unlikely that she would survive. This news galvanized Jeff into action. Weak though he was, his mother was not going to die without a visit from him, and so began the hospital visiting that was to become a part of our family life. His mother, who initially was little more than a cabbage, very slowly and almost imperceptibly began to recover. Her will to live was indomitable. Only a few days later Jeff‟s father, recently retired from Ghana, was taken to hospital with some tropical infection, and within a week he was dead. My father-in-law was ushered out rather abruptly, but our second daughter—now a couple of months old—had been heralded in, in a leisurely, organized way. Elisabeth showed herself to be a true Chadwick with her easy-going nature. She was as happy and contented as the day was long, and by force of circumstance she had to become adaptable, for once a week we all went hospital visiting. Most of the time I had to keep the children in the hospital grounds while Jeff did the bulk of the visiting, but now and then a kind sister would let us in, myself, our brown-eyed ball of energy and our blue-eyed bundle of love. Hospital visiting doesn‟t appear to have had any adverse effects on the children, for they have always accepted sick or deformed people for what they are, without any sign of embarrassment or fear, and over the years they have brought much joy not only to us and their grand- mother, but to many others also, because of this natural acceptance of the situation. Hospital visiting was, and is, an integral part of their lives. Just being together as a family brought us pleasure, so we never thought of visiting without each other unless it was obviously impossible. Jeff and I were so much part of each other that our leisure time was nearly always spent together, and when we had to be apart we got a tremendous kick out of seeing each other again. Even after a day‟s work in town I would often take the children to meet Jeff‟s train, and we would walk home together. I never lost the thrill of watching for that train, and whether he had been away for a day or a week, my heart would inevitably give an extra bound when he returned. Nothing then or since has given me such a thrill. We couldn‟t envisage life without each other, and, when someone said in our hearing „The first seven years of marriage are the worst. They are such hell most of the time‟, there was no need for us to say anything. Each knew how the other felt. To us mar- riage was but a glimpse of what heaven would be like. True, we had our difficulties, but the number of times we had rows could be counted on one hand, and the basic relationship was never threatened. No matter how much Jeff teased me about the gorgeous girls in mini-skirts on the underground, or the secretaries he took out to lunch, I trusted him and he trusted me. C. S. Lewis wrote of his marriage that it was too perfect to last, so I am tempted to say of our marriage „This had reached its proper perfection. This had become what it had in it to be. Therefore of course it could not be prolonged.‟ As if God said, „Good; you have mastered that exercise and I am very pleased with it. And now you are ready to go on to the next. When you have learnt to do quadratics and enjoy doing them you will not be set them much longer. The teacher moves you on.‟ This is how I feel about our marriage. You may say „Distance lends enchant- ment‟, or „Time has erased the unhappy memories and left only the happy ones‟. I think not. Even now I get twinges of remorse over things I did or said that hurt Jeff unnecessarily, times when I hated his illness, and grew angry and resentful because I had to forgo things I wanted on his account. There was the time during his last illness when I had to refuse a joint invitation to a party. We rarely went out to parties and we‟d both been particularly looking forward to this one. Jeff insisted that I could go alone, but I wouldn‟t. I was afraid of being the odd one out, and anyway a party wasn‟t really a party without my other half. Only a week later I had hoped to spend the day with a friend who was over from South Africa for the first time in years. I had organized the day well in advance and the children were to go to friends after school, but the minute I woke that morning I knew that Jeff wasn‟t well enough to leave. I kicked and rebelled long after the decision was made, although I knew that the decision was the right one. „Why do you have to be ill the only time I can see Helen? I haven‟t seen her for years and it‟s unlikely that I‟ll ever see her again because she returns to South Africa next week.‟ Fatigue and resentment broke my sell-control and I wept. There was little Jeff could do: he was too weak. And, to this day, I regret having caused him such distress. Time has eased this burden to a certain extent because I have learnt that most widows experience these feelings of remorse and self- recrimination. Thank God, He can forgive these things just as He can forgive any other sin if we are truly sorry. He doesn‟t necessarily kill the emotion involved, but He does help us to rise above it. Those last few weeks were exhausting and demand- ing. Although one can never fully enter the sufferings of another, we were, in a sense, battling along together. I longed to give Jeff some of the physical strength that was so abundantly mine. If only I could have saved him from those splitting headaches that made him shirk strong light and loud noises! Still we were in ignorance as to what caused them, and when he was clear of them we still enjoyed planning our future together. He had just received a large grant for research from the Royal Society, and had been advised by his professor to apply for a Readership, from which the only step up was to professorial status. Seven years previously we had planned our future with contempt for the medical forecasts and now we were doing exactly the same thing again. But for two whole weeks I painfully watched him grow weaker, till at last he was again admitted to hospital. I had lost count of how many times he had been in and out of hospital since we had been married and so, in a way, it was a relief to have the responsibility of nursing him taken off my hands. No longer would I be woken three or four times in a night to find the bed drenched in sweat; no longer would I have to crawl out and make the bed with clean sheets while Jeff shivered by the fireside; no longer would I have to rub him dry and help him into fresh pyjamas ; no longer would I have to rack my brains for something to tempt his fast-diminishing appetite. At last I could sleep undisturbed and I could give the children the attention that they needed, even if I would have to get them to bed early so that I could visit Jeff. All these thoughts and many more went through my mind as I shut the door on the ambulance men. Then I remembered something: the doctor had asked mc to go to surgery that evening. Why me? I couldn‟t imagine. An hour or two later the truth was out. Cancer, cancer, cancer. The word drummed on my brain as I walked slowly home from the surgery. Did Jeff really not know that it was cancer causing all this trouble? Why, he had a pile of chemistry books by his bed, and there on the top lay the application form for the new post! Could this man honestly believe that death was lurking round the corner? Somehow as I entered the hospital gates I still hoped for the miracle that would prove the doctors wrong and Jeff right. It had happened once~ could it not happen again? I hesitated at the door of an unfamiliar ward and then took the plunge. It seemed that the miracle had happened! Jeff was sitting up in bed ribbing his senior lecturer and looking more like himself than he had for days. As I kissed him he pointed to the tubby little woman bustling round the bed opposite. „See that little old bean over there,‟ he chuckled. „She reminds me of you. You‟ll be like that when we‟re old and I‟m in here again.‟ A cold shiver went down my spine. How could he say things like that when he‟d probably never reach old age? Ten days passed while he gradually deteriorated. That initial improvement had only been a flash in the pan. The second Sunday came and suddenly in the evening an overwhelming desire to pray seized me. I had been with Jeff all afternoon and the children were now in bed asleep. I was trying to settle with a book when this unfamiliar urge forced me to my knees. Emotions tore through my body, but no words, no tears came. Then, without warning, a sense of God‟s presence flooded through me. Never before or since have I felt such comfort or such security. I knew that I was close to God even though I didn‟t know what to pray for. I only knew that I couldn‟t stand the physical and mental anguish of watching my loved one suffer much more. I couldn‟t cry out to God because I was tongue-tied, but God knew what I was trying to say and He answered. (Sometimes since then I have felt that this is what true communion with God should be and I have longed to recapture that wonder- ful sense of God‟s enveloping presence.) I was roused from my knees by the insistent ring of the phone. I sensed before I lifted the receiver that it would be the ward sister. „Your husband is sinking fist. He‟s barely con- scious. The harsh facts pierced my fatigue. „I‟ll be there as soon as possible,‟ I promised, but I can‟t make it in less than half an hour.‟ The car was still out and a neighbour came immedi- ately to baby-sit, so I was heading up the A23 within five minutes. As I approached the Elephant and Castle the pressure suddenly seemed to ease. I was no longer tempted to break the speed limit. I knew in my heart of hearts that there would be nothing to he done even when I did arrive. This did not, however, stop me from parking blatantly in the car-park reserved for hospital staff and taking the shortest route to the ward. Jeff now had a room to himself at the end of the ward, and no one stopped me as I walked through. Yet I knew as I turned the handle that he was already dead. The nurse laying him out was caught unawares, and in silence I stood for a moment, numbed and dazed. The battle was over. Jeff was at peace. That pallid corpse was no longer my husband. True, it was a relief to see his brow freed from those dreadful lines of pain that had furrowed their way across it over the last few weeks. True, it still looked like my beloved with his deliciously crooked smile, but I knew that this cold inanimate body was no more Jeff than the suit of clothes hanging in the wardrobe. He had exchanged it for a new one that would suffer no pain or tears, no fatigue or frustration, and for his sake I was glad. For my part I felt nothing. Hesitant to break the silence I half whispered „Did he say anything after I left this afternoon?‟ Grateful for the release of tension the nurse answered „No, but he left you this.‟ Eagerly I took the scruffy piece of computer paper from her outstretched hand. It read: Jenny—if I should die 1) Tell Royal Society I won‟t need their £1000, 2) Get on to Ian Smalley—thro‟ college—to cancel my book, 3) Au revoir. How like Jeff—practical and considerate to the end! As I folded the note and followed the nurse down the ward to Sister‟s office, I vaguely realized that this was not in fact the end but rather the beginning, the beginning of a new life for both of us; but I was too numb for this realization to mean much. There in the office a Christian friend was waiting. How glad I was that he had refused to be put off visiting because Jeff was tired. Now he was there to help me in those first dazed moments. I was not entirely alone in that now forbidding hospital! Drained of emotion and plied with coffee, I drove home quite oblivious to Peter‟s Ford tailing me. His heart must have missed several beats, for my driving would never have passed for a driver‟s licence that night. But however woolly my driving may have been, my thinking was strangely clear. As soon as I got home and my baby-sitter had gone I started to ring round the family In the midst of this a friend arrived with a sleeping pill. „Have you got a cup of tea on the go?‟ she asked. Without hesitation I stopped and brewed one. As we drank, all her problems came pouring out. I had no time to think. My brain, glad to concentrate on anything but Jeff, grasped at this straw, and happily I went on brewing cups of tea till long after midnight, when my brother-in-law arrived. He arranged to meet me later that morning at the hospital and left again. I fell into bed drugged and completely worn out, but sleep didn‟t come till nearly five o‟clock. I still couldn‟t really believe that all this had happened to mc. It had assumed a dream- like quality and I seemed to be standing apart from it. I could not sleep, I could not weep, I could not pray, I could not settle, and yet deep down within me there was peace in knowing that this was all part of God‟s plan for Jeff‟s life and mine. I still knew that „all things work together for good to them that love God‟. We hadn‟t had that verse engraved on Jeff‟s signet ring for nothing. CHAPTER 4 The bedroom door swung slowly open and a small round face peered cautiously round it. Having ascer- tained that I was really awake, Ruth‟s little face broke into a smile. „Come to Mummy.‟ I patted the edge of the bed, and she pattered over. She was only just five, and how on earth was I going to break the news of Jeff‟s death to her? Thank goodness, Elisabeth was still asleep. It would be easier telling them one at a time. I sat up and put my arm round Ruth‟s warm body. The sooner it was over the better. Abruptly I said, „Daddy went to live with Jesus last night.‟ She drew away from me and looked hard to make quite sure that I meant what I said. Gradually the penny dropped. Slowly she asked, „Won‟t we ever see him again?‟ „Not till we get to heaven,‟ I replied. Ruth‟s voice trembled. „Then I want to go to be with Jesus too‟. She regained her control—‟Now. Carefully I explained that it wasn‟t up to us to choose when we died, and that it was much better that Daddy should no longer be in pain. „He‟s happy now,‟ I pointed out, hut Ruth was not to be deterred. „I want to be with Jesus too,‟ she repeated; I didn‟t know how to tackle this so I sent her to wash. While she was gone, Elisabeth came in, tousled and sleepy-eyed. Automatically I repeated the same words. „Daddy went to live with Jesus last night.‟ Oh,‟ she said and promptly changed the conversation. If I hadn‟t been so tired I would have been angry. Didn‟t she feel anything? Didn‟t she realize what I meant? How could she be so hard-hearted? Puzzled, I racked my brains for an explanation and at last came to the conclusion that she was just too young to appreciate the significance of this bombshell. As the days and weeks passed and as the months have gone by I‟ve realized that this must have been an accurate diagnosis. At three and a half her life was still bound up almost exclusively with mine. She was very much more like Jeff than Ruth was, and I found her much easier to handle. Moreover she had just started in the Kindergarten Department of Ruth‟s school, so her mind had plenty to occupy it. She wasn‟t hard-hearted. She just hadn‟t had time really to get to know her father, nor had she the ability to express her feelings in words. Whatever she did feel would have to he revealed through her actions, and because she was basically an extrovert she threw herself into life without bothering to think very deeply about it or its problems. Ruth, on the other hand, adopted a much more philosophical attitude, and being that much older, had grasped a little of what doing without Daddy might involve; that first morning her reaction brought us very close together, because there was no doubt in my mind too that heaven would be infinitely sweeter if Jeff were there to welcome me. It was, therefore, with a heavy heart that I saw my elder daughter off to school, praying hard that in the fun of work and play she might be able to forget a little. Elisabeth had one more day‟s quarantine for mumps, but she had regained her usual vitality and happily went to a neighbour for the morning. As I turned to clear the breakfast debris I lifted my eyes to the verse above the kitchen sink— „As thy days so shall thy strength be‟. It had been the text of a New Year‟s sermon two years earlier and a copy of it also hung above Jeff‟s desk at the university, where it had continually reminded him of a strength beyond his own. As I looked I tried to pray that I too might have this strength beyond myself. As I joined our minister later that morning, I was unaware that he knew anything about the place of that verse in our lives. He asked if we should pray together and I quickly assented. Imagine my surprise as, with my face buried in my hands, I heard him use those same words as he asked God to give me strength for the day ahead. For the first time I felt the tears pricking at the back of my eyes, but with typical English reserve I fought them back. I never wept in front of anyone but Jeff, and I was not going to reveal my emotions now. It was a relief when we went on the way and I did not have to drive. I was tired and the strength of the man at the wheel gave me great comfort. Both my parents were now dead, and my mother-in-law was too handicapped to help in any way, so I was tremendously grateful for this older, wiser man‟s help. (Only later did I learn that he had given up his day off in order to help me). My tensions were eased by being able to talk freely, and when we got to the hospital it was wonderful to feel that he knew all about post-mortems, death certificates, death grants, undertakers, funerals, etc. I had to make the decisions, but I could count on his wisdom to guide me. When I arrived home one of my sisters was busy cooking lunch with Elisabeth „helping‟. Together we discussed some of the more immediate decisions con- cerning the family, but intermittently we were interrupted by the doorbell. Anne tried to protect me from unwanted visitors, but I preferred to see our friends myself. I was shattered to find how many paid tribute by bringing me flowers. Jeff had always insisted that it was a waste of money buying flowers for the dead and had impressed on me that he wouldn‟t want any. I had agreed at the time and I had specified that there should be no flowers at the funeral, but I couldn‟t stop these tokens of love coming to me, and I don‟t think I would have wanted to if I could have done. There was something poignant and beautiful about these reminders of love and new life. As the days passed the door-bell and the phone continued to vie with each other for attention. They proved once and for all that, even if my loved one had gone out of my life, love had not, but I was still too numbed to show real appreciation of people‟s help. It was as if part of me had gone—not part of my body, but part of the essential „me‟. I was walking round half doped. I had no more strong sleeping pills after that first night, and even the mild ones were dropped after a week, so I wasn‟t literally doped, but just completely dazed. People talked, people helped, people kept me company, but still I felt nothing, not even a sense of loss. I knew what had to he done and for the most part acted automatically. It was as if a power outside myself were pulling the strings and I was just a wooden puppet devoid of emotion of any sort. The funeral day came and still I had no desire to weep. It was a triumphant day and not a time for sorrow. A flicker of emotion sparked to life and I sang with all my heart „Jesus lives! thy terrors now Can, O Death, no more appal us.‟ I wanted to shout it from the roof-tops. I wanted all these people in the church to understand that this was what Christianity was about. There was no need to mourn or grieve for Jeff. He had gone home. For the second time in my life I subjected my friends and relations to the clear-cut message of hope and forgiveness. The first time had been at our wedding, but now there were many, many more in the congregation, some of whom wouldn‟t normally have darkened the doors of a church, but who were prepared to do so out of respect for Jeff. How I longed that this message might burn deep into their hearts. There was meaning in life and death. Could they not see it for themselves? Now they knew what I believed. My brother-in-law, George, explained it in words of one syllable. He preached the message that Jeff would have preached if he had been in the pulpit in his place. Thank heavens !—I could no longer hide my light under a bushel. I don‟t think I‟d ever really known what knees of jelly were like before that service. I felt as if my legs were butter and I was powerless to prevent my knees knocking together. Spiritually, however, I was elated. It seemed as if every word of that service carried a special meaning for me, as well as for those around me. I can only attribute this to the power of God released by the prayers of the many Christian friends around me. Not only were these friends prayerful. They were practical as well. They had already begun to obey our Lord‟s command to care for the fatherless and widow. We had run out of coal on the Tuesday before the funeral, and, as one of our friends replenished the empty coal hole with her own coal and logs, I answered a peremptory ring at the front door. There was our best man with his wife and two-year-old daughter. He was now a curate in East London, and because Tuesday was his half day they had dropped everything to come and see me. This alone would have moved me, but then they unloaded the shopping basket and revealed provisions to save me shopping— provisions that they could ill afford to buy and time that they could ill afford to spend, unstintingly and lovingly given me. Then there was Jan, who insisted on spending the whole day prior to the funeral cleaning right through the house. „No, don‟t you worry,‟ she said, as I took up a duster to help. „You just get on with the business. I‟ve brought our lunch, so there‟s absolutely nothing for you to do.‟ She was right too. The house hadn‟t looked so clean for months and I had no need to think about housework for the rest of the week. There was no need for me to worry either about the people travelling long distances for the funeral. Jan, together with two other friends from the church, insisted that they would prepare a tea for these guests after the funeral. By half past two on the day it was all delivered. Nothing was omitted—even the sugar and the tea itself were provided, while the large family- sized table positively groaned with the load of food it held. The garden, too, was not forgotten. Jeff‟s brother took me and the girls to his country cottage for a break at the week-end and when we returned on the Sunday evening the garden was immaculate. My next-door neighbour must have spent hours on it. This kindness, combined with saying „Goodbye‟ to Peter, tugged at my heart-strings. I felt absolutely desolate Action alone would prevent me giving way to tears, and I was determined never to give way to them in front of the children. I picked up the suitcase. „Come on, girls, „ I said briskly, as much to myself as to them „Let's go and unpack.‟ CHAPTER 5 If I thought that I could kick myself out of my grief I was sadly mistaken. I could no more force my emotions into a state of equilibrium than I could have walked with a broken leg. My whole personality was at sixes and sevens. It would have been natural to have cried my eyes out - or would it? Some people obviously thought so. Within a week one member of the family deliberately set about trying to open the dam gates that were holding back my tears. As he went on talking I remembered how my mother had said that it was wrong to bottle up one‟s emotions inside oneself. Thinking that I might have unconsci- ously stifled my emotions until now, I let my mind dwell on events that brought the tears to my eyes, arid soon my defences were down. I threw myself to the floor and buried my face in the chair. Somehow I was still loath to reveal my weakness. I have a horror of exposing my feelings whatever they are, whether of grief or joy, hope or despair. Perhaps this is because I was brought up to conceal them beneath a stoical exterior, or perhaps it is because tears in an adult have always frightened me. My mother had told me to release my feelings in tears, but her example had taught me otherwise. The number of times that my parents had wept in my presence could be counted on one hand, and each time their tears had shaken me to the core. I think it was therefore partly because I didn‟t want to upset other people, and partly because I was proud of my self-control, that I always tried not to weep. I had never seen the need to analyse the reason why we have been given tears, so now, when I was deeply and emotionally involved, I couldn‟t see that being stoical was neither particularly Christian nor particularly non-Christian. The fact that Jesus had wept in the presence of death had completely escaped me, and my whole upbringing rebelled against my so-called „weakness‟. „It‟s all wrong. I shouldn't cry like this,‟ I jerked out. „It‟s only self— pity because I miss him so.‟ „It‟s not wrong. Jeff would want you to. I know if I died I would want someone to weep for me.‟ came the somewhat unsteady reply. „No. No. You're wrong.' I cried out. „Jeff's happy now. He doesn't want anyone to cry for him.‟ „How I wish I could believe that too.‟ Hopelessness and despair reverberated round the room, and my tears redoubled. How abysmal is death to the non-Christian, a bleak void, a total disintegra- tion ——.Jeff was gone and gone for good. His life had been wasted. Where was the point of it all? He could have done so much with his research. It wasn‟t right that he should be cut off in the prime of life…..Never have I longed more for a non-Christian to have a faith to cling to. Even through my tears I knew for a fact that there was life after death. If ever I had been uncertain about it before, my faith was now un- shakable. Jeff was alive and we would meet again. It had been no wishful thinking when he had scrawled „Au revoir‟ in his last conscious moments. I knew this, and my heart-ache now was for this desolation that could break a man and reduce him to tears, for, as he moved to take my head in his lap, his voice broke. His face streaked with tears, he gently stroked my hair. The touch of his hands reminded me of Jeff. Never again should I know the joy of physical contact with my lover. I hadn‟t missed it while he was ill, but this unexpected, gentle and loving caress aimed at soothing my tensed body drew me further into the arms of self-pity. Today I question myself: 'Was it right for me to give way, or was it wrong? Had it done me any good?‟ When I stopped crying I was trembling like an autumn leaf, frozen and exhausted. Was this all that I could gain from a good „healthy‟ howl ? Perhaps I had given my companion the freedom he needed to give vent to his feelings. Certainly we had seen each other in a new light, like skeletons stripped of the flesh of pretence, with every nerve of feeling laid bare. This nakedness was not to be shared with all and sundry, and I determined then and there that I would never resort to tears again in public. This outburst proved to be an isolated incident during the early days of loss. To most people I must have appeared abnormally hard and callous in my approach to life. Shock had spread a neat protective layer of numbness over my system, and it wasn‟t till several months later that this veneer gradually began to peel off. The first flaw in the surface showed after we had spent Easter with my elder sister in Lancashire. We drove home on the Saturday bringing my twelve-year- old niece for a visit. Next day I developed an ear infection. As it was Sunday I wouldn't disturb the doctor but carried on as usual, but by the time my niece had gone to bed the pain was acute, and depression was looming large on the horizon. I took two Dispirins and phoned my brother-in-law. I just longed for someone to talk to, to take my mind off the throbbing, pulsating heat of my ear. I half-hoped he could come and spend the rest of the evening with me, so it was with a heavy heart that I returned the receiver to its rest with only advice ringing in my ears. I did take the advice, and two more Dispirins, and retired to bed. Here the true nature of widow- hood began to dawn on me, and I cried and cried. There was no one to care that I was in pain and alone. Praying seemed useless because it seemed that God didn‟t care either. All through our marriage the only pain I‟d known had been that of child-birth, and now to add to the ache of separation there was this throb of physical pain that must go uncomforted. There was no one to hold my hand now; no-one to take me in his arms and soothe the overwrought nerves; I just had to endure this suffering alone. Looking back I wonder if this was something akin to what Christ felt on the cross—the dreadful isolation and desolation that come with physical fatigue and suffering, and the complete inability to see the light round the corner. Surely He knows some- thing of this and so can understand and feel with us. However, at the time I was totally immersed in self- pity and couldn‟t think that anyone had ever suffered anything quite like this before. It seemed as if that night would last for ever and that the pain would never go: but morning did eventually come and I struggled to my feet again. As I prepared breakfast Christine turned to me: „You look dreadful, Auntie Jenny. Are you feeling all right?‟ „I‟ve got ear-ache,‟ I admitted. „You go to surgery after breakfast. I‟ll look after the children,‟ my god-daughter ordered, and I meekly obeyed. When I returned Christine continued to take charge of the situation. „You go to bed. I can get the lunch and look after the children.‟ I crawled into bed psychologically better already. I was not a complete fraud (the doctor had put me on penicillin straightaway) and somebody did care. Christine may have been only twelve but she did love me. She cared enough to suppress her usually ebullient nature and prepare lunch quietly and efficiently. God had so cared that He had sent her when I needed her, and the love between us would be deepened because of this experience. Grateful that the burden of responsibility for the children had been temporarily transferred, I relaxed, and slept. Emotionally, however, my feelings were still in a state of transition. For weeks after that episode the veneer of numbness continued to keep them hidden from me as well as my friends, but then about six months after Jeff‟s death things began visibly to alter. I began to put back the weight I had lost. During the early days I had, to my delight, lost over a stone in weight without any effort at all. It‟s true that I had temporarily lost my appetite, but its return had not immediately caused my sylph-like dimensions to disappear. Now suddenly I resumed my normal tubby proportions, and almost at the same time the flood- gates opened. Night after night I would go to bed and, for no apparent reason, dissolve into floods of tears. The double bed suddenly seemed to be a terribly lonely place, and far too big just for one. Instead of the comforting animal warmth on the other side, there was only the unrelenting cold of the sheets. If I rolled over by mistake, I rolled back at twice the speed. I couldn‟t bear it. I knew the tears didn‟t do any good, but I couldn‟t stop them flowing. I was too shy or too proud to confide in anyone, and so again I felt that no one really understood or cared. Oh, I knew that my friends cared all right, but they had lives of their own to lead, and the novelty of caring for me had worn off. There was no longer any need to drop in to see if I were lonely in the evenings. After all, I had been given an old television. Surely that should take me out of myself and supply some form of companionship. Maybe my Christian friends had ceased to pray. I don‟t know. I only know that my spiritual resources were exceed- ingly low, and I reacted by indulging my self-pity in tears. I didn‟t question God‟s wisdom in allowing Jeff‟s death. I no longer tormented myself with recriminations for my own actions, nor did I batter Heaven with my prayers for acceptance of the situation. I accepted the inevitable, and, during the day, managed to do it with a fairly good grace. It was at night that this frightening and empty loneliness hit me—frightening because of the enormous responsi- bilities that I now had to carry, and empty because I had to carry them alone. The conflict was once more inside me. I knew that God had made promises that covered all the situations in which I found myself, and I was still convinced that „All things work together for good to them that love God‟, but this knowledge and this conviction did not prevent the emotions raging in my mind. Perhaps I shouldn‟t have cried myself to sleep during those two or three weeks, but I think it was through these tears that I at last managed to recover the power of prayer. When I lost Jeff I lost my prayer partner. For seven years we had prayed together every evening. Even if we were apart we could be certain that we were praying for each other. Suddenly this human support was removed, and I fell flat. There was no one to encourage me to pray if I didn‟t feel like it, and no one to remind me of the things for which I ought to pray. For a while I stumbled along, praying a little, but as I found that life wasn‟t quite as black as I had imagined I found the desire to pray fading. I didn‟t want to tune in to God any more. If I tried to my prayers seemed to rebound off the ceiling. Had God turned a deaf ear? Had I been living off Jeff‟s faith? Surely not. At the time of crisis God had been there! Many non- Christians say this too, but I had known God‟s love and strength and guidance before the crisis as well. Why not now? Now I was like a beetle lying on its hack scrabbling with its feet in the air, wanting to turn over but not knowing how. I couldn‟t pray or read my Bible and when I tried it seemed that I grasped thin air. There seemed no reality beyond, yet deep down I knew that God was there. His love and His power still surrounded me. Because I didn‟t feel anything spiritually it didn‟t mean that God had deserted me. Once my emotions had touched rock-bottom I began to surface again spiritually. It was as if I had to be thrown flat on my back with all my tenderest feelings exposed before I was able to put my feet on the support that God was offering me and be turned up the right way again. My friends had supported me for a time in prayer, but now it was God‟s turn to take over completely. Only after I had relaxed sufficiently to allow the tears free rein did I find I could talk to God with, if anything, more intimacy than before. Through my weakness I found His power. CHAPTER 6 As I emerged spiritually, so my problems altered. Initially I had wanted desperately to know just exactly what happened after death. A very old friend of the family had triggered this desire for knowledge. She had said very emphatically that she believed that Jeff was still with me in a spiritual sense—caring and feeling for me, „Can‟t you feel that he‟s still with you?‟ she had asked. „No, I can‟t,‟ I‟d replied. „How can Jeff still be with me and in heaven at the same time? He couldn‟t be happy if he knew that I was suffering, and I believe that heaven is a happy place. I know I‟ve lived with Jeff long enough to think the way he did and to act as he would have done, but I don‟t think this means he‟s here now. I certainly don‟t feel anything.‟ When I put the phone down after this conversation my mind began to work overtime. My ideas about heaven weren‟t as clear as I thought they were. As I thought about it other questions started to crystallize. Did Jeff know what we were doing here on earth? Or did he know nothing because his spiritual body was lying dormant in the grave like some chrysalis? Or had he already got his new body and gone straight to heaven? If he could still remember this earth and take an interest in it, how could he possibly be happy? I remembered on a sixth form course taking up one of the lecturers who had said that our God was a suffering God. I had queried whether he had meant merely that Jesus had suffered on the cross, or that God actively suffered in heaven. It had been an academic question then, hut, if God really suffered in heaven now, as I was given to believe, would we too endure suffering when we reached it? My mind continued in a whirl. „No more pain, no more tears. How could I reconcile this with suffering? I began to feel trapped. Where was Jeff now? He was still alive, I was convinced. He would, if he wasn‟t already there, live in heaven one day. I knew that too. But where was he now—heaven or oblivion? The question suddenly became all-important to me. I must know the answer. I turned to the phone. Patiently and quietly our minister insisted that Jeff was no longer in pain either physical or mental. I had no reason to worry. „If you like to call round in the morning I‟ll lend you a book on the subject.‟ I took that book next day, and I regret to say I haven‟t a clue now as to what it said. It was only a small book, and I read it from cover to cover in one evening. The mere act of reading calmed my milling thoughts but when I had finished I realized that the Bible was strangely reticent on these issues that seemed so important to me. Later my elder sister and her husband discussed the problem with me. „I‟ll tell you something now,‟ said Veronica. „I didn‟t want to tell you before in case you might be upset. While we were waiting on the church steps before the funeral, I saw Jeff.‟ I gasped. She went on. „I saw him quite clearly. I was talking to Rex at the time and he must have thought I was very rude because I looked beyond him and saw Jeff just standing there and smiling. It was as if he were saying “Carry on. You‟re doing things quite right.” I turned back to Rex and when I looked again, Jeff had gone.‟ „But even if you did see him and your imagination wasn‟t playing tricks with you, that doesn‟t mean that I should see him,‟ I objected. „Quite honestly I don‟t want to see him. I think I‟d be scared.‟ „Don‟t worry, then,‟ George chipped in. „God loves you. He won‟t send you anything to frighten you. „If you saw him, then he must have his new body,‟ I thought aloud. „Then he must already be in heaven. Perhaps it‟s because our concept of time and space is so limited that we find it difficult to understand exactly what happens. Maybe, like God, he too can see the end from the beginning now, and if a thousand years in His sight are like a single day, then all the horror of pain and suffering, war and want must be over already! It‟s only we who see it as a drawn out process.‟ After this conversation the problem started to lose its urgency and I immersed myself in the practical day-to-day business of living. One of the very real practical issues at stake was „Should I go out to work?‟ Many of my friends urged me to go in for teaching. They thought that because I was a graduate and wouldn‟t need much further training it would be the answer to my financial problems. The hours would be right for the children, and, they assured me, I was very suitable. Their arguments were so forceful that I finally wrote to the local education authority to find out how I should set about entering the profession. By return I had the offer of a place on a refresher course for married women returning to the profession; I could start next term. It would involve six weeks‟ lectures at the local tech, and then I would be launched in at the deep end, teaching under supervision for a while but receiving full pay. I couldn‟t believe my eyes. It seemed too good to be true, but the more I thought about it the less I felt happy about embarking on the course. By bringing in more money I should be entering a new income tax bracket and by being out at work I shouldn‟t be free to nurse the children if they were sick. Moreover Elisabeth was still only attending school in the mornings. Who would look after her in the afternoons? Besides all this, I had spent six years graduating and training to be a qualified librarian, not a teacher. Was this all to be thrown overboard? Deep down I don‟t think I ever thought that this was right. I pushed the sheaf of literature to the bottom of the pile of magazines on the table. I would read it in detail later, but meanwhile the decision could wait. How I hated decisions of any sort, and how grateful I was that, when the time came to reply to this offer, I had already been shown very clearly the right course of action. I had never envisaged money as a problem before. My parents had been reasonably well off and Jeff had earned a good salary. True, we had been saving frantically to pay off the mortgage on our house, but only the previous autumn we had realized the little capital that we had, to put it in our deposit account for just this purpose; now this money was available for me to draw on because it was in our joint names. It wouldn‟t last long. but it did save me having to make an immediate decision about going out to work. It seemed as if it were only yesterday that Jeff had come home and said „You know we're becoming a university soon.‟ I had nodded. „They asked us today if we wanted to join the F.S.S.U.‟ (the universities insurance scheme). „Without a medical‟ I had queried incredulously. „They gave us carte blanche to go straight into the new scheme'. I had been delighted . No other insurance scheme would touch him with a barge pole once they heard his medical history. Six months later I was to reap the benefit of the university‟s generosity. The evening following Jeff‟s death a representative from the university had called on me. Somewhat awkwardly he had expressed the condolences of his colleagues. „We wanted you to realize that there‟s no need to go short of money,‟ he explained. „Jeff made a very wise decision when he opted to join the F.S.S.U. You wouldn‟t have got a penny otherwise but this way you‟ll receive quite a substantial lump sum. We can‟t free it immediately but if you‟re short of cash we can lend you some.‟ It was strange how my friends and relations all considered money as my biggest headache, yet I found it easy to relax concerning finances. While I was at university I had been tremendously impressed by the stories of missionaries who trusted God for all their financial support and I had longed to be able to do the same. Here at last was my chance and I was completely at ease about it. For the first three months there was no income. I could have claimed Social Security benefits, but these would have had to be paid back later, so I decided against them. However, I did, at the university‟s recommendation, battle against the Ministry‟s decision to give me only three-fifths of a widowed mother‟s allowance. „I‟m sorry, but your husband was a student for too long,‟ the woman at the office explained. „You see, he only averaged thirty-one insurance contributions a year instead of at least fifty, and so you‟ll receive the corresponding proportion of an allowance.‟ „Could the missing contributions be paid up so that I could be entitled to a full allowance?‟ I asked. „The university has offered to do this for me.‟ „I‟ll have to find out.‟ The woman disappeared and many phone calls and many letters later I finally received a negative answer. My friends were indignant at the callousness of the State, but I think this decision only made me more aware of God‟s goodness, more grateful that He had allowed Jeff to live until the college had received university status, and more overwhelmed by the gifts, small and large, that enabled us to carry on in much the same way as we had before. Then there was the matter of the girls‟ private education. Here, too, God took control. I had realized right from the start that the absence of a regular salary might mean transferring the girls to the State education system, and I was quite prepared for it, so I was thrilled when I received a substantial cheque from the Parents‟ Association at the school. „No, we didn‟t set a target. „We just went house-to- house visiting round the parents, and hardly anyone refused,‟ said the instigator of the scheme. „We don‟t mind how you spend the money, as long as it‟s for the children.‟ I allocated it to Ruth‟s school fees for the coming year, for the headmistress had already called on me to discuss the girls‟ future. „There‟s no need to worry about Elisabeth,‟ she had said. „The board of governors have agreed to keep her for nothing until she‟s five. „We don‟t want her to have to spend her day at home now that she‟s settled in so well.‟ Our decision to send the girls to a private school was entirely vindicated by these gestures, and I was convinced that it was right for them to stay there for a while longer anyway. News of the harshness of the Social Security‟s award soon percolated my circle of friends and relations, and my ageing aunts turned up trumps. For several years they had been helping to support a mentally sick friend, who just at this time had recovered to such an extent that she no longer needed their assistance. They promptly turned over this sum to me. Perhaps to a certain extent one expects one‟s own family to rally round at times of stress, but I certainly hadn‟t realized before quite how great was the privilege of belonging to the Christian family. One never-to-be- forgotten morning a cheque for a hundred and ten pounds plopped through the letterbox, together with the love and prayers of many who had been on a Christian camp with me. Instead of the spontaneous joy that usually greets a gift, instant depression set in. I behaved like a spoilt child. I threw down the envelope, and, gripping the kitchen table, I wailed „I don‟t want your beastly money. It‟s Jeff I want. Nothing else will do. Money doesn‟t make up for what I‟ve lost.‟ In a fit of childish temper I hurled my hurt and my anger at God. There was no doubt in my mind that He was responsible for this generous gift, from people many of whom I had lost contact with years ago, but it had touched me on the quick. Perhaps it was because there didn‟t seem to be any specific need to be met by it. Most other gifts, big or small, were earmarked for special purposes. It was some time before I could bring myself to show my appreciation of this practical help. It was the only gift that really hurt deeply. Others moved me just as much, but not in the same way. I‟ll never forget going to the station to claim a refund on Jeff‟s season ticket. I explained the situation to the station-master and passed the ticket through the grill. „No,‟ he gasped. „I can‟t believe it. He was such a nice young man.‟ Shock, and, to my amazement, genuine grief passed across his face. „I am sorry.‟ Then he saw the girls at my side, and shutting up the ticket office, he came round to the front and fished in his pocket. „Here,‟ he said „Go and buy yourselves an ice- cream.‟ He handed each child a sixpence. They couldn‟t believe their good fortune and had to be prompted with their „thank you‟s‟. Turning to me he said, „He‟s only used his ticket a couple of times; I‟ll see if they won‟t give you a complete refund.‟ Shaking his head, he wandered back into the ticket office. „He was such a nice man. The uninvited compliment to Jeff and the un- solicited gift to the girls moved me deeply, and sparked off no resentment either then or later. It was the same when I received a cheque from a university friend, who was now a patient in a Cheshire Home for incurables. It was accompanied by a note to the effect that because she couldn‟t go on holiday that year she would like me to have a holiday instead. My reactions seemed to have no connection with the size of‟ the gift or the character of the donor, and to this day it is often something very trivial that will leave me thoroughly distraught while big events have no effect at all. This holds true for Ruth as well as myself. Elisabeth was too young and too placid fully to appreciate her loss, but Ruth was just old enough for her sensitive nature to be affected. The first time it hit her with force was while we were driving through the Lake District at Easter time. Suddenly she burst into tears. „What‟s the matter?‟ I asked, half turning to see if she was unwell. „Last time we came here Daddy was with us,‟ she sobbed. Quickly I tried to turn the conversation and distract her. „Yes, and do you remember where we were going?‟ I asked with a forced brightness. „Scotland,‟ piped up Elisabeth, while the sobs con- tinued from Ruth. „That‟s right,‟ I said, „and what animal did we see?‟ Desperately I tried to rack my brains to think of something that would interest Ruth. „I can‟t remember,‟ said Elisabeth. „Do you, Ruth?‟ „No,‟ she quavered, still thoroughly upset. I pulled into the kerb and took her in my arms. „Don‟t you really remember?‟ I asked. „Out scavenging by the dustbins?‟ She tried hard to think and gradually her body began to stop quivering. It had been in August nearly two years before that we had spent a fortnight in the Lowlands of Scotland. It had been one of the happiest times we had spent together and the children had loved it. To me it was strange that Ruth should have remembered a place that we had only passed through in transit, but then it was always to be the unexpected things that caused the problems. Elisabeth‟s one apparent reaction to Jeff‟s death was a tendency to car-sickness, which lasted, approxi- rnately six months, but I must confess I often wonder whether she would have been car-sick just the same if Jeff had lived. Maybe it was an emotional outlet, but it could as easily have been a phase through which she was passing, and I doubt if she herself knew the reasons behind it. Children are complex creatures but they have plenty of resilience, and even Ruth‟s occasional lapses into tears only lasted about six months. After that she would sometimes moan because there was no Daddy to mend her broken toys or take her out, but for the most part both she and Elisabeth could discuss Daddy without batting an eyelid. Strangers would ask about their father and would be far more embarrassed than the children by their reply. Unfortunately this is likely to continue for some time. Only recently Elisabeth came in from playing in tears. „Now what?‟ I asked wearily from the kitchen sink. The girls often come in like this if they are thwarted or the gang has temporarily ostracized them. „Trevor won‟t believe that our Daddy‟s died,‟ she howled indignantly. „Calm down‟, I said. „Just take no notice. If he goes on I‟ll come and see him, but I expect if you tell him how he died he‟ll probably shut up.‟ She eyed me unbelievingly. „I told him he had a spot on his forehead.‟ „Well, tell him next time that it was cancer. Go on back and play. He‟ll think you‟re a baby otherwise.‟ I pushed her firmly out of the front door again. She had to learn to stand on her own two feet, but how I felt for her over this particular battle! As the little figure disappeared from view, my mind took the obvious turn. „Trevor was thinking Elisabeth‟s mother was divorced or unmarried.‟ „Was he teasing her about being illegitimate?‟ „Would she have known what he meant if he had?‟ I was far more concerned that this nine-year-old might think she was illegitimate than anything he might conjecture about me. CHAPTER 7 „You look smart.‟ I glowed under the compliment. It was the first time for a year or more that anyone had paid me a personal compliment. „I hope you‟ll forgive me for saying this,‟ my friend continued, „but I think we know each other well enough by now. You didn‟t care how you looked before, did you?‟ „Well, I did try to keep us all tubbed and scrubbed,‟ I exploded laughingly. „Yes, I know, but without Jeff you weren‟t really interested in clothes any more—or the house, come to that. Look at it now, and look at you.‟ She was right. I had carried on with the ritual of living; I had found an outlet for my energies in helping others; I had found my niche in writing; but now I had also found a pride in myself and my home as well as the children—a pride that Jeff had given me when we got married. I had been very much aware of my limitations before I met him, but when we fell in love he helped me lose my inferiority complex, and he gave me a poise and self-confidence that even my relations noticed. Now this friend was encouraging me to go ahead and experiment with decorations in the house and shorter skirts on me, and I badly needed this impetus from outside myself to restore my self-confidence. Once I had regained a little confidence the movement began to gather momentum. I found I really enjoyed wielding a paint-brush in a slow amateur fashion, and the time came when I was ready to ask my friend to help me repaper the small bedroom. Unaided I had painted and stripped a room for the first time in my life, and now I was ready to learn the next step from a more experienced amateur. Having hung the first strip of wallpaper, we returned downstairs for the next. „Wouldn‟t it be funny if we hung it upside down with all the stalks facing upwards?‟ chortled my friend, as she slapped paste expertly on the floral paper I‟d chosen for one wall. I grinned. „We‟d better check next time we go up. A few minutes later I heard an anguished squawk From above. „Oh no!‟ I belted upstairs. „Here, give me a hand. Those flowers are all standing on their heads. We‟ll see how much we can salvage.‟ Very gently we eased the strip away from the wall. Only one tiny flaw! We heaved a sigh of relief and started again—the right way up. Next morning I told the children what had hap- pened, and now every visitor who sleeps in that room is greeted with „Guess what‟s wrong with the wall- paper?‟ Even if we did have to patch it up the room is so much cleaner and brighter that I feel better just to walk in, and since then I‟ve had the courage to complete the hall, and the initiative to plan doing the girls‟ bedroom in my spare time. Yes, my spare time is what I said, because I‟m writing when I‟m not doing the housework or coping with the children. I had always wanted to write since the time when a friend and I made up serial adventure stories over our school dinners, but I had never felt that I was good enough. At thirteen I won a Highly Commended in an Independent Schools Literary Competition, but a year later I only got a Pass in English Language at School Certificate level. My English teacher assured me that it was only because the examiner had taken a dislike to my style and I must try again as it was all I lacked for matricula- tion. I tried again and got a distinction, but my confidence was shaken and I thought no more of using my pen for a career. Books it could still be, but it would have to be from a different angle and so I trained as a librarian. Ten years later I was given the chance to prove what ability I had. While working with children under eight on a beach mission I used a leaflet called Honeycombs to help the children understand their Bibles better. Almost every evening I grumbled about the inadequacy of this publication. Jeff had always been one for positive rather than negative action, so at the end of the mission he called a meeting of fellow- grumblers. Five of us came together. „Let‟s see what it is that we dislike, he said. „if we shared the booklets between us and read two or three each we could then put our criticisms on paper and send them to the Scripture Union. „Perhaps we all ought to read all the Honeycombs to get a properly balanced picture of them.‟ We agreed. „I feel sure that between us we could produce some- thing better than these,‟ one girl thought aloud. „Yes, but there‟s no point in writing it unless someone s prepared at least to consider publishing it.‟ She was firmly squashed. „If we know what we dislike, we‟ll know what to avoid in the future,‟ another voice chipped in. The discussion went on—what we would write in its place; what format it would take; how we would divide between us; etc etc. We didn‟t reach any definite conclusions but our comments reached Scripture Union a month or two later and we received the go-ahead to write something with a view to supplementing or replacing Honeycombs. We worked hard and long on „Beehives‟, writing and rewriting, getting to know editors and artists, it reached galley- proof stage and then, only days before Jeff died, the enterprise was quashed for good. A change of staff had led to a change of policy on how to introduce young children to Bible reading. We were paid off, but not forgotten. One door shut and another opened. The new one had, in fact, been ajar for a while now, ever since we had been commissioned to write other material for Scripture Union covering different age- groups, varying from a film-strip for Juniors to a Bible page in a Sunday School leaflet, from a leaflet for Secondary Modern teenagers to Bible aids for Juniors. We both enjoyed writing. It was something we could do together and yet as individuals. We would write our own material, and edit each other‟s, scrupulously dividing the commissioned work between us. When my „family‟ editor died I seriously wondered whether unaided I could produce anything worth- while. Then a letter came: „We wondered if you would be interested in writing for Family Worship Of course I was interested. I had only just pushed aside the decision as to whether to teach or not. Here was my answer. If I could use my pen to earn a few more pennies, I could work when I liked and be free to give the girls the sort of home life to which they were accustomed. What a relief when another letter came accepting my work! It wasn‟t lucrative, but it was stimulating and it kept my beaver-mind busy. I turned down the teacher-training course. A year later my decision was decisively confirmed in my own mind. I saw a course for Christian Writers advertised in the paper. „Interesting,‟ I thought, „but out of the question for me. It‟ll be for the high- powered chaps.‟ I turned the page and forgot about it till I received a personal invitation to attend. I was stunned. How could I leave the girls, and where would I find twenty pounds for such a personal thing? „God, if You want me to go,‟ I prayed, „send me the money and a full-time baby-sitter, pronto.‟ Within a week I had my reply. A single friend volunteered to live in for the whole week and the Chemical Society sent me a cheque for twenty pounds (a Christmas present in May! They had forgotten to give it to me the previous year!) I filled in the necessary forms and went, to enjoy one of the happiest weeks since Jeff died. I hadn‟t worked so hard since I‟d left university and I loved it. I shared a room with a girl who had lost her father when she was a child, and her compassion and under- standing strengthened me. I began to feel myself come alive again. I was a person in my own right, and life could still be fun, exciting and rewarding. We talked far into the night—and the stimulus of hard intellectual work and warm Christian friendship began to have its effect. I thawed and learnt to laugh spontaneously with someone outside the family. I laughed till the tears rolled down my cheeks and I could laugh no more. We may never meet again, but to my dying day I shall remember that week with Margaret. It culmina- ted in one of the most thoughtful expressions of love that I was to experience. We were discussing what we were going to do when we got home, and Margaret said casually, „I must have my hair set, as we‟re going out to dinner the day I get back. I think I‟ll ask the staff and see whom they recommend. Will you come with me?‟ „Mine doesn‟t need doing,‟ I replied, knowing that I could ill afford a luxury like a hair-dresser, except when I needed a trim Margaret eyed me. „If you‟re thinking of the cost, don‟t. I‟m going to treat you. I gasped. Until Ruth had been born I had had my hair set regularly once a fortnight, but then the visits had dropped to once a month and special occasions. With Jeff‟s death I had had my hair trimmed at home by a free-lance hair-dresser, and had given up sets altogether. How could Margaret have realized bow much I missed them, and what a treat it would be to have one again! I was thrilled, but could barely find the words for a faltering, incredulous „You can‟t.‟ „I can and I will,‟ said Margaret. Come on. Well phone for two appointments on the last day, just as soon as we know where‟s best.‟ We got two cancellations, and I returned home next day all curly-wurly and fired with enthusiasm to put pen to paper. My zeal was increased still further when I found a letter waiting with another cheque for twenty pounds. A Christian couple with whom I had long since lost touch had felt that I needed it. That finally convinced me that I should be writing, though I little realized how much discipline this would bring into my life. Discipline was what I had lacked, because I found it easy to let things slide without a husband to prod me into action. Now I knew what should be done. The decision had been made and I had to buckle down and get on with the job in hand. Increasingly I felt I understood a little more of the purpose behind Jeff‟s death. If he hadn‟t died the flow from our joint pens would have been quite different and would probably have decreased in volume as the children grew older and our responsibilities increased. As it is, my experi- ences without him have enabled me to see life from a completely different viewpoint, and I feel that I have found a new vocation in life which is full and satisfying. Does that mean that I am over all the pain and the heart-ache, the loneliness and the longing of the first few months? No, I can‟t honestly say that I am. There are still times when trivial things, like other people taking their husbands for granted, or the Hoover breaking down, will upset me. My emotions are still very much on the surface. A piece of music or a recalcitrant child can reduce me to the verge of tears, especially on Sunday evenings or Bank Holidays, because these are particularly lonely times. Everyone else seems to have somewhere to go or someone to do things with. I can go places and do things with the girls, and I love them dearly, but I sorely miss adult company, and the stimulus of a lively mature mind. Many of my friends find their intellectual stimulus either in their husbands or in something like evening classes or an outside job, and when they talk with me their conversation is usually on a very undemanding level. They shy away not only from intellectual issues, but from emotional ones as well. They seem frightened of even mentioning Jeff, let alone discussing how people face up to problems like bereavement. Perhaps this is for fear of hurting not only me, but also themselves. Of course there is the risk of losing a friend if you say deliberately hurtful things, but no widow is going to spurn a friend because of an unintentionally hurtful phrase or a constructive criticism. If people are genuinely trying to express love and concern then I find it quite easy to under- stand and forgive them any unintentional pain they may cause. I am only too grateful that I have friends who are prepared to risk losing me (in their own minds) in order to help alleviate my loneliness. Even if they can‟t fully enter into the heart-ache, they can help to ease it. One morning I was badly jolted by a lack of under- standing that I now realize often exists towards widows. „Just look at your home,‟ sighed a friend enviously, „all your new decorations. It‟s so nice and clean and bright!‟ I ought to have been flattered by the compliment to my achievements, but because I was feeling slightly under the weather her envy cut me to the quick. After all, she had a husband. What more could she want? But think what I‟ve lost to get my home like this,‟ I replied, trying hard to keep my tongue in check. „I should never have found the time to redecorate if‟ Jeff had still been alive.‟ „No,‟ came the grudging reply, „but think what you‟ve gained by his death.‟ My mind went a blank, and my hackles began to rise still further. „What, for instance?‟ I asked, well and truly on the defensive now. „Well—the freedom to come and go as you choose, the freedom to use your own taste in decorating, and the ability to make decisions without having to consult anyone else.‟ I couldn‟t believe my ears. Did this woman honestly believe that all this made up for the loss of a husband? Would these things really be gain for her? They certainly weren‟t for me. „But I don‟t want to make decisions on my own,‟ I said indignantly. „We enjoyed planning our home and our lives together, and that‟s just what I do miss.‟ „Sometimes I long for my independence again,‟ came back the reply, „and I envy you yours.‟ I tried hard to see her point of view. Maybe she was heavily shackled to her husband and family. This was something that I had never experienced. In our marriage there had always been freedom to express our individual personalities. „Don‟t you see,‟ I tried to explain, „Material comforts don‟t necessarily bring happiness?‟ I looked around to see some of the things that I had been given since Jeff died: central heating and a television, new decorations and a new carpet. God had seen to it that I had some of the luxuries as well as the necessities of life, but how could these material comforts possibly replace or even begin to make up for Jeff? I would gladly throw them all out if I could have Jeff back again. My friend was not convinced by my arguments, but slowly I realized what she was trying to do. She was trying to make me look at the present rather than live in the past. We might not see eye to eye in our discussion, but we did not sever relationships because of it. Another morning I appealed to a neighbour for help. We had come downstairs to pitch darkness at 7.30 a.m. and had had to eat breakfast by candle- light; not exactly a romantic situation with two small children eager to be off to school! As soon as they‟d gone I went for help. I was a complete ignoramus as far as the fuse-box was concerned. I knew how to change a fuse in a power plug, but had no idea where to begin with the mains box. My friend was washing her hair. „Have you got any fuse wire?‟ she asked practically. „I think so,‟ I answered uncertainly. „Well, if it‟s the lights that have gone, it will be 5 amp. Take ours, and then you needn‟t come back. Do you know what to do?‟ She gave her hair another rub as she passed me a card of fuse wire. Shamefacedly I had to admit that I wasn‟t sure. „Take out each fuse till you find the one where the wire‟s snapped, and then rewire it with the thinnest fuse wire.‟ „Sounds simple enough,‟ I acknowledged. „Don‟t forget to put them back in the right order,‟ she warned me as she ushered me out again. „If you get into difficulties, come back and I‟ll come over and give you a hand.‟ Ten minutes later the house blazed with light, and, oozing with pride, I returned the excess fuse wire. How grateful I was that my neighbour had made me mend the fuse myself. She had risked hurting me by not mending it for me, but by making me do it she had taught me so well that next time a fuse blows, I shan‟t have to worry anyone because I now know what to do. Like a child I needed to be taught to be independent again, not only so that I could help myself, but also so that I could help other people. I had been used to helping Jeff and I needed to continue to express my personality by helping others. I needed to feel that I was still of use, and in the early days it eased the pain in my heart to be shown where and how I could help. The reservoir of love that I had stored up during a happy childhood and marriage needed to be drawn upon so that I should not swamp the children with it. Gradually I found outlets for it, visiting a friend in a mental hospital; befriending a lonely person in an Old People‟s Home; running a Bible Study Group in my own home; and above all being accessible to those who sought my help, whether they were genuine social misfits or just people who had not known love as I had. My friends and new interests help to fill the mental and spiritual gap. Some help to keep alive my mem- ories of Jeff by talking about him freely and others help me to face up to my responsibilities and live a full life again, but none of them can do much about the deep physical loneliness and longing that only another widow can really understand. I am still a woman, with a woman‟s hormones and a woman s reactions. Once the first few months of numbness were over, the emptiness of the double bed accentuated the loss of intercourse. When I‟m overtired, my mind will run riot and I sometimes long more for physical release than for Jeff himself. It was a relief to read of an American widow who experienced similar feelings even to the extent of dreaming that she was taking part in intercourse, and waking literally sweating with the effort. Maybe a single bed would be the answer to this problem, but our bed is synonymous with a warm haven after a day‟s labours, and normally its warmth and comfort lull me to sleep quickly. The times that I am tempted along these lines are now fewer and further apart than during the second six months, but this doesn‟t reduce the feeling of loathing and shame that covers me when I give in to these thoughts. The only consolation is that „the happier the marriage, the more the husband was loved, the greater the desire may be‟. I keep thinking that I have learnt to live with this desire for a man‟s company, till I am jolted into an awareness of my own weakness when I find myself enjoying the company of men again. I am a woman. Nothing can change that, and the fact that Jeff and I discussed remarriage in the event of either of us dying and leaving the other does not make it any easier. My father had remarried after my mother‟s death, and Jeff and I had considered this to be the greatest compliment that he could have paid to my mother. Now I am in the unfortunate position of knowing that Jeff wanted me to remarry, wanting, in a sense, to remarry myself, arid yet knowing that it is not God‟s plan at the moment. Before I was married I used to look at boys with a speculative eye. If I felt that I could write them off immediately I would be at ease, but if they were at all attractive there would be a degree of tension in my behavior. It was only when I accepted the fact that I might never marry that I relaxed completely. Now I feel that I must accept the fact that my situation is likely to remain permanent, and then maybe I shall be able to relax and fully enjoy the stimulus of male companionship again. Meanwhile the situation is probably aggravated because I see so little of the opposite sex. My married friends rarely ask me out when their husbands are there, and when they do, it‟s usually with the children in tow. Because I have to get a baby-sitter in order to go out in the evenings I hardly go anywhere where there are men, let alone eligible bachelors. There are weeks when I might just as well be living in a closed order of nuns. Older widows (I‟ve only met older ones!) have reinforced my views on this subject. Because we are widowed— whatever our age—we don‟t want to be treated as a race apart, segregated from the opposite sex. We may feel truncated, but until people treat us as whole individuals, there is little chance that we shall blossom again. CHAPTER 8 If we as widows want to be treated as whole people so too do our children. Death has become part of their lives and, if they are still young, they don‟t recognize this as anything abnormal. Ruth and Elisabeth have little conscious idea of how great their loss is. One day on the way to church Ruth dissolved into tears for no apparent reason. „What‟s the matter?‟ I asked. „I wish Daddy were here,‟ she cried. I remembered her saying this before on our way through the Lake District, so cautiously I tried to probe her real feelings. „Why?‟ I asked. „Because he would have mended my doll,‟ she explained jerkily. Ever since the girls had been tiny they had been used to my saying, when something broke, „Never mind. Daddy will mend it.‟ Obviously the phrase had stuck and they had no longer expected me, or anyone else, to be capable of mending things. The fact that Ruth‟s doll had lost an arm just before we left home that morning had not given me time even to attempt mending it. „I‟ll try and mend it when we get home,‟ I offered, thankful that the tears had been caused by so slight a problem. Even children with fathers cried over broken toys, and just as a broken toy was not a trivial problem to a „normal‟ child, so a broken doll meant a great deal to Ruth. I had to learn something that all parents have to learn, that what is important to a child must be treated as important by the parent. As a lone parent I could not shift this responsibility to the father. All the children‟s interests must be welcomed by me, even if they bored me to tears, or I didn‟t understand them. I must learn to listen, to offer advice, and, as they grow older, to learn with them. Yet, right here lay a problem. I was, and still am, tempted to immerse myself completely in their prob- lems and their lives to the exclusion of my own. I had to learn to live a life of my own as well. How intensely grateful I am to the many friends who have continually made this possible by baby-sitting for me, sometimes at only ten minutes‟ notice! I needed to opt out and away from the atmosphere of children, children, and more children, while they too needed the opportunity to spread their wings. Particularly appreciated in the early days were those friends who freed me for a while by inviting the girls out without Mummy in tow. For me it was all too easy to transfer the love I‟d had for Jeff to his children. I‟ve become far more demonstrative towards them since his death, and I often question whether I‟m smothering them with maternal love. But I haven‟t the heart to turn them away when they crawl into my lap, twine their arms round my neck and whisper „I love you, Mummy‟, yet I know too how easy it is when one is tired or ill to rebuff them in their craving for affection. One summer afternoon we all went out to tea and Elisabeth, without any sign of embarrassment, climbed on to our host‟s lap. To my amazement he turned on her and told her to get off. „I‟m too tired,‟ he said. We knew him well and I believe this was genuinely true, but it hurt me deeply to see one of the few men who knew her well refuse her overtures of love. Perhaps it‟s because they‟re little girls, or perhaps it‟s because Jeff‟s dead, but there is no doubt that they seek to attract men of Jeff‟s generation. Maybe I was hurt more than Elisabeth over this incident. I‟m sure that she‟s forgotten it already, though she and Ruth continue to play up to men, particularly those of whom they‟re not very sure. With men who are strangers or men they know very well they behave reasonably well, but with men of neither category they can be simply unbearable. They need to know just where they stand, and this means a man must be firm about how much playing up he will take. Once they have found their own level, all is well again, and everyone can relax. It is, therefore, a real joy to me to meet men, whether married or single, who recognize this flirtatious streak in the girls, and who can respond not only affectionately but with discipline as well. If I could cope with the discipline I feel one of my biggest hurdles would be behind me. I swing from one extreme to the other like the pendulum of a clock, and as the girls grow older so the swing increases. When Jeff was alive I could guarantee that if I was too harsh he would mitigate my sentence, while, if I was too lenient he would at least tell me so. If anything Ruth was his favourite and Elisabeth mine, so that things tended to balance out overall. I have always tended to be a strict disciplinarian, and since Jeff died the tendency has increased, and I long for someone to tell me that I‟m being too hard on them, or that I‟m indulging them. A few of my friends are prepared to say so, but only a very few. Of course our friends don‟t often criticize us face to face. They don‟t want to hurt us or cause a rift in a friendship. Those who do criticize tend to do so harshly and without love so that our hackles rise and we take virtually no notice. If only people would realize that we lone parents need someone to advise and help us constructively. It‟s difficult enough bring- ing up children in this permissive society, but even harder without anyone to discuss the matter with. Am I being too hard on Ruth and Elisabeth when I insist on 6.30 p.m. bed for a week because they abuse the treat of staying up late on Saturday? True, they refused to come to bed when their television pro- gramme finished that night, and true, they fought over the toothpaste in our tiny bathroom, but perhaps I was at fault for letting them stay up late in the first place. They wouldn‟t have been overtired if I hadn‟t let them stay up. Who‟s to tell me whether I‟m right or wrong? Who‟s to back me up once the sentence has been passed? Who‟s to help me carry it out? Thank God. He helps. The children remember the punishment better than I do, and when I get angry they invariably obey! I tell myself that Jesus got angry when He was on earth. He threw out the money changers from the Temple. Again and again I have to turn to prayer and at least I find peace, if not an answer as to whether I‟m right or wrong. If only I would learn to turn to God before I get angry instead of afterwards, I feel a lot of the conflict with the girls would never occur; yet I‟m sure that together we are learning what it is to come to God for forgiveness immediately we have done wrong. It is not uncommon after a scolding for one or other of the girls to bow her head and say „Sorry, Jesus.‟ We can then cuddle and forget the unhappiness. On the other hand we can get right through to bedtime without an apology from anyone. When we pray then, I prompt them by saving „Any sorries tonight?‟ Sometimes a surprised little voice will pipe up „What for? I can‟t remember,‟ and sometimes there comes spouting out a long list of what we adults might call trivialities. Then and only then do they apologize to me, if necessary. Prayers at night have always been my prerogative. If Jeff came home in time he would join us, but otherwise it was always up to me what we read and how we prayed. This pattern has remained unaltered, except that the girls play an increasingly large part in the proceedings. If we have god-parents staying we invite them to join in, and particularly I try to get the god-fathers to come. I have that nasty sneaking feeling that if the girls don‟t see active Christian men praying and reading their Bibles they‟ will conclude that Christianity is „sissy‟ or a „woman‟s religion‟. While Jeff was alive this wasn‟t possible because we had „Family Prayers‟ round the breakfast table, and he would lead, but now, though we still do this, it‟s not the same thing. What a joy then it is for all of us to go to stay with a Christian family who have Family Prayers, and where it is obvious that the father is a Christian. The responsibility is no longer mine, and because there are other children there and it is all different; Ruth and Elisabeth pay attention in a way they often don‟t or won‟t at home. Not that they don‟t believe in Christian things. They both have a very real faith of their own, and I pray that it will remain theirs for ever. They have no doubt at all that „Daddy is with Jesus,‟ and even now when they get very angry with me they express a desire to „go to heaven now A close friend of ours died not long after Jeff, but he was an elderly man and I didn‟t expect much comment from the girls because they didn‟t know him as well as I did, but when it came to bedtime Ruth prayed spontaneously „Thank You, God, that Uncle Guy has gone to live with Jesus, and thank You that he is happy now with Daddy.‟ Several months later one of their favourite teachers at school died very unexpectedly. She had been Elisabeth‟s form mistress at the time of Jeff‟s death and I too had grown very fond of her. As I was on the parents‟ committee, I was notified before the girls were told, and I prayed hard that Ruth and Elisabeth would not be unduly upset. I underestimated their complete acceptance of death, and their unswerving belief in heaven. When later that afternoon the front door burst open to reveal two bedraggled brown figures returning from school, Ruth could hardly contain herself. „Mummy!‟ she said excitedly, „Do you know what? Mrs. Parker‟s gone to live with Jesus too. „She‟s happy now,‟ added Elisabeth, not to be out- done by Ruth beating her to the gun. The news was very important to them both, but once they had told me they dismissed the whole subject until prayers at bedtime, when once again they thanked God for making Mrs. Parker happy. As I tucked them in and kissed them good night, I marvelled at their reaction to such news. Were they really such heartless creatures as they seemed? Did they not feel any sense of loss? Had Jeff‟s death touched them so deeply that they could no longer be affected by death? Could death reach no closer? I shuddered as I thought how they might react if either one of them or I should die, but as I pushed the unnerving thought away I realized that this stoical composure of theirs was not just a facade. They really believed, with the childlike faith of which Jesus spoke, that death was not the end. How glad I was that they felt like this. What takes some people years to discover had been revealed to Ruth and Elisabeth so clearly that they had accepted it completely. Maybe when adolescence comes they will question their beliefs, and I shall have new worries on my hands, but meanwhile I can only thank God that their faith can help them, not only in facing death, but in facing life as well. It is a real joy to me to see the way they turn to prayer in times of difficulty. One blustery winter‟s afternoon we were driving home along some very isolated narrow country lanes. The snow was driving hard against the wind- screen and the wheels slid on the icy snow fast packing the roads. Suddenly, as we were climbing a steep lane the engine stalled and the wheels spun. Ruth began to cry as again and again I failed to get a grip on the icy surface. As I pulled the starter for the nth time I turned on her: „For goodness‟ sake, stop crying, and do something constructive, can‟t you?‟ I exploded. (Tense and worried I didn‟t even think to use a child‟s vocabulary. I had visions of us stranded there all night, miles from anywhere, or else ploughing our way on foot to the nearest house. Presumably this was how the girls saw it too, but I was too concerned with trying to start the car to put myself in their shoes.) Ruth‟s tears miraculously stopped, and she prayed „Please, God, help the car to go, and let us get home safely.‟ „That‟s better,‟ I commented, and pulled the starter again. Wonder of wonders, the engine flooded with life. Now came the crunch. Could I get the wheels to hold? Should I try some new technique? I had no sacking or anything similar to help. What could I do. The girls weren‟t strong enough to push and there was no one around to give me a hand. It was absolutely up to God to get this old car up the hill. Suddenly I saw a patch of road sheltered by the hedge which had obviously not frozen yet. Why hadn‟t I seen it before? With my foot hard on the throttle we made it and the wheels found the grip they had been searching for. „Coincidence,‟ you say? Perhaps, but how encouraging for the young in years to have their prayer so swiftly answered. Even though they have learnt since that God sometimes says „No‟ they have not lost the ability to pray anywhere or at any time. There is much that I can learn from them in the way they tackle their problems, but there are some things with which they cannot help me. Finance is one of them. At the start of my widowhood I had to keep a very tight rein on spending. I had seen other people doing this and admired them for it, but Jeff and I had always vowed that we would never make money a problem for our children. We had seen children so conscious of every penny spent that they had become miserly and almost dishonest in their outlook. If you asked what they wanted for a gift they would always choose a cheaper thing than they really wanted, because it had been dinned into them that „Daddy and Mummy can‟t afford it.‟ Never did I dream that I would come to use a similar phrase myself! How careful I had to be that I didn‟t give our children the wrong impression about money. I am encouraged at times to think that I‟ve succeeded in keeping them honest and generous. This last Christmas both girls assiduously saved up their pocket money and bought their own presents. I had given each of them a ballet tunic and the promise of‟ ballet lessons to start in the New Year. While I was clearing away the supper dishes a few days later I could hear a lot of excited chatter going on in the bedroom—obviously about ballet. Suddenly they summoned me. „Mummy, we want to pay for our ballet lessons,‟ said Ruth. Stunned, I stammered „B— but it was your Christmas present, darling. I‟m paying for them.‟ „Yes, but you pay for so much,‟ explained Elisabeth, „school and piano lessons and things.‟ „We‟ve worked it out,‟ added Ruth. „We had some money for Christmas and we‟d like to help you. I was deeply touched. „It‟s very sweet of you both,‟ I said, „and if you honestly want to, you shall pay half.‟ They had given me one of my most thrilling Christmas presents. The pride I feel on occasions like that is usually swiftly knocked down by something like a refusal to pay for their own sweets. But surely these are the feelings of every parent, not just a widow? What is perhaps more essentially a widow‟s problem is the inability to share with another the details of her children‟s daily lives. At the end of the day when Jeff had told me about the sort of day he‟d had in college, I used to tell him what Ruth and Elisabeth had said and done; we would discuss their future and our hopes and aspirations for them; we would thrash out our problems and worries concerning them and we would pray for them. Now there is a blank. There are few if any friends who really want to know these essentially personal things, and if they do, they‟re not usually accessible at that hour of the day. I fill my time because there‟s always plenty to do, plenty of people to help, plenty of housework and gardening, plenty of mending and cooking; children to help and rooms to decorate; letters to write and cakes to bake. The list is endless, and I‟m rarely at a loss as to how to occupy my time. Indeed I don‟t have time to do all I should like to do. Like Michel Quoist I‟ve found that once you‟ve opened the door of your heart to people they keep on coming. They know they‟ll always be welcome, so they keep on coming. My problem is to know when to stop them. Often they exhaust me but they never completely fill the aching void. The pain now is only a dull ache. Periodically it becomes inflamed, but always it is there. Will it ever go this side of heaven? I wish I could tell you. At my blackest hour Lord, it hurts. You know it hurts. The agony seems endless. The night is dark and the light far away. I have lost half my being, half my purpose in life. I want to die too. How can I ever lead a normal life again? Show me the way out of this maze. I’m frightened to love again for the hurt that it brings when You take away the loved one. I know You do it for my good, but does it have to hurt so? There is no freedom in tears. Nothing removes the pain. I daren’t show it to others but You know how I feel. At every turn something reminds me of my loved one, and makes me aware of what I’ve lost instead of what he has gained. Lord, you can take away the pain. Why don’t You? One of my greatest comforts The cry of man’s anguish went up unto God Lord, take away pain. The shadow that darkens the world Thou hast made The close coiling chain That strangles the heart, the burden that weighs On the wings that would soar— Lord take away pain from the world Thou hast made That it love Thee more. Then answered the Lord to the cry of the world: Shall I take away pain? And with it the power of the soul to endure Made strong by the strain? Shall I take away pity that knits heart to heart, And sacrifice high? Will you lose all your heroes, that lift from the fire White brows to the sky? Shall I take away love that redeems with a price And smiles at the loss? Can ye spare from your lives, that would climb into Mine The Christ on His cross? (From ‘‘Take my Hands,’’ by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, published by Hodder and Stoughton) Now I can pray Thank You, God, for so much love surrounding me, now and in the past; Through the loves of my childhood You have given me a security that I can never lose; Through the selfless love of my parents I have learnt the value of giving without hope of reward; Through the sacrificial love of many friends I have received inexplicable comfort; Through the trusting love of my children I know what it is to be wanted; Through the unfailing love of my husband You have increased the reservoir of my love; Through Your dying love You have given a purpose and meaning to my love. Teach me to share the security born in childhood and nurtured in marriage with those whose lives have known no love: Teach me to push self aside no matter how great the temptation to self-pity Teach me to see that You always want me even if life seems bleak and pointless: Show me how to enrich the lives of others by caring for them even as You have cared for me Help me to channel my reservoir of love to those who need it. I have had so much; help me to give to those who have so little—to those who have been hurt and embittered by hatred and insecurity, by cruelty and selfishness. Help me through Your power to show that there can still be peace and joy even within grief and sorrow. Life is worth living. People still need loving. Jeff has gone ahead and he had learnt to love. May I follow in his steps, and claim the same strength and the same power as he did.