I’ll Be Seeing You (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY ‘Familiar’)

‘I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through…
And when the night is new.
I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.’

To be honest, as soon as I read this week’s prompt word, the echoes of this song swirled around the corners and pockets of my mind like low lying mist in the early morning.

It was published in 1938, became popular during the Second World War with British and American military personnel posted abroad, and covered by a multitude of artists.

But it’s those last two lines that resonate with me:

‘I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.’

With darkness falling earlier and earlier now, there’s been a clear silver sliver of a moon suspended in a sable sky over the villages I drive through on my way home from work this week. And every time I see it, I think of my Dad.

He was a keen and knowledgeable amateur astronomer, a member of the British Astronomical Association for longer than I can remember, his expertise entirely self taught through books, articles, and TV’s The Sky at Night. His interest began as a teenager in the Air Cadets, learning aircraft identification and navigation by the stars, and he never stopped looking up. I grew up with his tales of Greek mythology, full of mortals transformed and gods commemorated in constellations, as bedtime stories, retold whenever we walked our dog at night.

The sky was one great map of history and future opportunity rolled into one for him. He saw there man’s spiritual and scientific quests as well as the glory and creativity of God.

So for the whole of my life, I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seeing him, and thanking God.




I was given flowers by a patient this week. That doesn’t happen often.

I mean, we do, as hospice staff, receive gifts from time to time but usually chocolates and mostly from grateful relatives after their loved one has died. Over the past 15 years, I can remember just one large bouquet and one miniature potted rose sent to me from families I’d worked closely with over a long period. It’s always gratifying to know that I made a positive difference at such a key time in someone’s life and that the memory of that lives on for the family.

But this is the first time working in palliative care that I’ve received flowers from a living patient. And it was completely unexpected.

I’d simply arranged a couple of practise sessions in one of our powered wheelchairs to boost her confidence for the one she was hoping to be given for home. They had proved to be really enjoyable times for both of us, taking place in our picturesque gardens and chatting casually as we went along in order to remove any sense of pressure.

The wide gently curving paths were perfect for initial practise, gradually moving on to narrower ones, tighter corners, some gentle slopes, and gateways to negotiate as my patient’s confidence and technique improved. Plenty of benches provided rest points, stopping at one to swap places so I could demonstrate the swing of the smaller wheels that needs to be allowed for when switching between going forwards and reversing. Plants and garden features like the Memory Tree provided talking points and distraction from the task in hand, adding to the sense of relaxed normality rather than a learning opportunity or a skills test.

The final piece in the puzzle was trying a different grip on the joystick. Resting it between the base of middle and ring fingers resulted in more precise control. Laughingly, we nicknamed it the ‘Live Long And Prosper Grip’ for its similarity to the Mr Spock’s salute in Star Trek to help her remember it.

It was wonderful to see the change in her over such a short time of only an hour or two, not just in technique and skill but particularly in confidence. Much of my job is spent in the context of deterioration and decline so it was a real highlight to witness such progress and improvement. It was an absolute pleasure of an intervention and put a smile on my face that lasted the rest of the day.

So to be given material gratitude in the form of a beautiful bunch of autumnal coloured roses and berries was unnecessary for me. She’d thanked me verbally at the time; I’d seen the difference in her demeanour; and I’d had the satisfaction of witnessing her improvement in ability. I’d already had my reward and been extremely happy with it.

But it would have been wrong to do anything other than accept the gift graciously. She had spent time and thought in choosing it. And it rebalanced what can be unevenly powerful relationship between patient and therapist. The sessions I’d arranged had benefitted her and her gift blessed me.

We are allowed to accept gifts from patients that can be considered ‘reasonable’ in cost but have to report them to a line manager – to make sure we have not taken advantage and also to acknowledge them as ‘plaudits’. Similarly, we have to pass on any written compliments.

When I went back to mine, we talked about all the detail that had gone into my wheelchair practices. Whilst to me it had been a fairly standard piece of work, there had been a lot of skill gone into the best approach to take and grading of the task in order to build up the complexity incrementally in order to ensure success. My boss pointed out that it was a perfect example of palliative rehabilitation and not just care, and how important it is to acknowledge and recognise our expertise.

It felt good to get this recognition from a manager. And now when I look at the blooms gracing my sideboard (and perfectly matching the décor), I am reminded of the satisfaction I got from a job well done, the significant difference made to a patient, and the appreciation of my boss.

So one unexpected thank you is proving a lasting blessing.

A Lady’s EXCUSE Me (Five Minute Friday)

Welcome to another link up with the great Five Minute Friday community at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/11/16/fmf-link-up-excuse/ writing on the prompt word ‘Excuse’ (although I have to admit that I went over):

“Excuse me, sorry, excuse me,” I mumbled as I wove my way through the small pockets of space between the waiting crowd in the foyer from the Ladies towards my husband near the bar.

Such a British phrase and attitude – to apologise for my presence in a place I’ve a perfectly good reason to be in. And also a phrase that’s full of shorthand for what I really mean, in this case it’s something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry to ask you to move but I need to get past you to reach my husband. He has our tickets, you see. No, I’m not trying to jump the queue to get to the bar, I’m just trying to get to him. Yes, perhaps I should have gone to the toilet before I came out but it’s better to go now than in the middle of the performance – that would be even more impolite and they might not let me back in. Sorry to disturb your conversation by asking you to move slightly to one side so I can move a couple of steps in the direction I need to go. Yes, it is very crowded in here and I know I’m invading your personal space. What a poor design for this theatre to make everyone wait in one area. Surely it has another bar upstairs? Oh it does? And that’s just as packed? Sorry, sorry. Please let me get past, I’m starting to feel claustrophobic and I really need to get to my husband.”

It was the same phrase I used as we made our way through the narrow gap to our seats in the theatre itself, navigating our way past knees and handbags. This time it was shorthand for:

“Sorry to ask you move so we can get by. Yes, we should have arrived sooner and got to our seats before you and then you wouldn’t need to move at all. Is that your bag on the floor? I’m really trying not to tread on it. Is it ok if I nudge it out of the way? Thank you for standing up to let me past. I’m trying really hard to achieve that perfect balance of squeezing past you without actually touching and yet not falling over the row of seats in front, honestly. Why have you done that weird half stand? You’d make more space if you stood properly upright plus it would be easier on your knees. I know, I’m inconveniencing you by asking you to move at all, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

And then there’s all the other full meanings of “Excuse me”, depending on tone and inflection. There’s the “Excuse me?” that means “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Or the elongated “Excuse me?” – usually with raised eyebrows – to indicate that my children have said something wrong or outrageous and I’m now waiting for an explanation or an apology. Or the “Excuse me!” sarcastically shouted at a fellow driver when they’ve caused me to swerve or brake suddenly. (My best friend’s mum, in her dog collar, on the receiving end of poor driving used to follow it up with calling out the window, “I can do you a good deal on funerals – you’ll probably need it, driving like that!”)

It’s amazing how much meaning and emotion can be behind one small phrase.

I think we use similar shorthand when we ask God to excuse us, that is to overlook, pardon, and forgive our sins. I love the words of the Prayer Book which perfectly summarise our sorry state where we confess to God:

‘We have sinned against you and against our neighbour

In thought and word and deed,

In the evil we have done and in the good we have not done.’

Given the opportunity to pause, we can mull over the specifics that hide behind these words. But God hears the detail and understands the intention when we pray these words with sincerity, just like my fellow theatre goers understood the shorthand as I negotiated my way past them.

Sometimes we need stock phrases and familiar words, like ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,’ when our own seem utterly inadequate or our feelings overwhelm us.

And we need, perhaps even more, the reassurance of God’s simple reply:

“Your sins are forgiven.”

The Blessing of Sacrifice (The Blessing Jar)

Let me tell you the story of a young man.

Named after his father James, the middle child in a large family, he started life in Aldershot, Hampshire, before moving to North London where he grew up. His mum came from Cornwall and his dad from Ireland. They’d met when the latter had been stationed in Plymouth with his regiment, the Royal Devonshires, and ended up in hospital there.

By the time young James came along, the family had lived in Salford, Dublin, Colchester, Cork and back to Dublin, following that same regiment wherever it was posted. Rumour has it that they moved to London because his dad wanted to avoid being sent abroad, probably to Burma, without his family. So he went AWOL. They even started spelling their surname differently to avoid detection and arrest, leaving the younger children with a different name to the older ones.

Life seemed settled with James’s dad and older brother, Tom, getting jobs as gunmakers at the local factory. But then tragedy struck. First his dad and then his baby brother died within a year of each other. James was 12.

When he was 15, Tom got married to Emma, and soon James was uncle to a baby niece. Some years later, Emma gave birth to his namesake, another James to add to the family.

When he was 18, our James signed up. The family needing the security of another reliable wage, he became a regular like his dad had been, but not in the army – no, James became a Royal Marine, ‘Soldier an’ Sailor Too’ as they were known. He was assigned to the Light Infantry, Portsmouth Division, fulfilling the traditional roles of shipboard security, boarding parties, and small scale landings. He was proud of the Brunswick Star, with all its hallmarks of the Corps – globe, laurels, anchor, crown, ‘Gibraltar’, and the motto ‘Per Mare Per Terre’ – that he wore on his white helmet on ceremonial occasions. Only men of proven good character were allowed to enlist – his credentials had been fully checked with the Police and his former employer first.

By the outbreak of war, with 6 of his planned 12 years’ service behind him, James was an established Marine, having earned his 1st and 2nd Good Conduct medals. The Corps was sent to defend key ports, where their actions enabled the army to move forward and extend their flank to establish a fighting front. However, this success came at a price: 300 men from James’s battalion were taken prisoner. Soon the Corps was preparing for another key amphibious attack, its location a secret.

But James, along with 224 other officers and men, was assigned to a newly commissioned minelayer, HMS Princess Irene. Built at Dumbarton, 5900 tons in weight, at 120 metres long with a beam of 16 metres and a draught of 5.2 metres, she could travel at up to 22.5 knots.

After two successful mine laying trips, the vessel moored back at her base at Saltpan Reaches in the Medway, between Port Victoria and Sheerness, ready for a refit and loading with a new consignment of 500 mines – that’s about 150 tons of high explosives. These were contact mines, detonated by a ship passing over them.

On the morning of 27th May, it was busy for James and his fellow Marines. Only 3 officers had been given leave to go ashore so all the rest of the crew were on the two mine decks, finishing priming the mines which had been brought down by barge from Upnor and Woolwich. Each mine had to be fitted with a primer and a detonator, which they’d started the day before. Also on board were a party of 88 Petty Officers from Chatham and 76 dock workers, who were helping to repair and ready the ship for her departure on the 29th.

At about ten past eleven, first one and then another flash, each followed by a 200 feet column of flame, shot up from amidships. A few minutes later, there was an enormous explosion and the whole ship blew up into the air, spreading debris, body parts, and chaos over a 20 mile radius.

It killed all those on board bar one, the crew of a barge alongside, a little girl playing innocently in a garden on the nearby Isle of Grain, and our James. He was just 26.

Rumours of sabotage abounded but a later official Royal Navy enquiry found that it was an accident, probably caused by a faulty primer but with implications of the work being carried out in too much haste and by untrained men. Such a senseless waste of life.


So why am I telling you this story? And why am I calling it a blessing?

Well, you’ve probably guessed that this isn’t a recent event. James was born at the beginning of the 20th century and died in the First World War. His isn’t a story of great daring and heroics, not like his fellow Marines who went on to earn their reputation of ‘first in last out’ at the notorious Gallipoli. His is an ordinary story of a man working hard for his family, just doing his job, and losing his life in an horrific industrial (albeit military) disaster. They were one of the lucky families – at least there was a body (or enough of one) for them to bury in their local cemetery back in North London.

James’s death might not be as a result of some great battle in the First World War but it still remains a great tragedy of that War. His death was still a result of that War. His was a dangerous military occupation and he paid the ultimate price for someone’s inexperience and pressure to finish by a deadline.

But I am reminded of the honour and heroism of all men who enlisted at that time, whether just for the war or, like James, a regular in the armed services. They joined knowing the risk, knowing the ultimate sacrifice they, and their families, might have to make.

Men and women continue to make that choice. Whole families continue to make that choice generation after generation. I’ve had a great great grandfather and two grandfathers in the army, a father, uncle and three cousins in the Royal Air Force.

We’re blessed to have our military personnel, flawed human beings as they all are, who are willing to take that risk for the sake of others, willing to be sent to dangerous places to do their jobs at any time at the drop of a hat or the sound of a bugle, knowing they might pay the ultimate price. I don’t think I could ever be that brave but I thank God for those who are.

So why the story of James in particular? Well, I nearly didn’t mention my military relatives also include a great grand uncle who was a Royal Marine. James’s baby niece was my grandmother.

A Time For SILENCE (Five Minute Friday)

I admit it, I’m cheating this week because I’m unwell. Instead of a five minute free write, this week’s Five Minute Friday’s prompt reminded me of a poem I wrote about my older son last year. So here it is:


Sometimes the heart is so full

there are no words.

Sometimes the heart is so full

it can only be expressed in an open mouthed O of wonder.

Sometimes the heart is so full

love threatens to charge out your chest overflowing your mouth with silence.

Sometimes the heart is so full it hurts

and the only route available for the ache to spill out is tears.

Sometimes the heart is so full

that cheering, whooping, clapping seem utterly inadequate.

Sometimes the heart is so full

that no one can see how proud I am of you.

Sometimes the heart is so full

there are no words.


The Blessing of Ordinary (THE BLESSING JAR)

It’s been an ordinary weekend, nothing exciting or significant or eventful has happened. It’s just been ordinary, pleasant but ordinary.

It started with takeaway and a movie, curled up on the sofa with my Beloved. Nothing deep and meaningful, just Wonder Woman and a curry. Next day we walked up to our high street to do some chores and treated ourselves to breakfast in a favourite Italian café.

He came home to watch the football and I went to a friend’s house for coffee and cake, a fundraiser for her daughter’s college fashion show. The usual neighbours were there, friends for many years, and we talked about the usual subjects, updating each other on our children’s lives, the only difference being that now the stories have moved on from school and college to university and jobs.

Then I went to my dad’s old flat to read the meters and go through the inevitable post that still comes even three months after his death. In the evening, another friend came round for dinner. We talked, shared a beer, and watched Strictly until he fell asleep, as he always does.

Today, I’ve caught up with jobs – Boys’ Brigade admin, laundry, sorting out the linen cupboard, a legal letter to write. The rest of the day should include a walk in our local nature reserve, church, and a Skype call with our sons.

So it’s proving a very pleasant but utterly ordinary weekend. So much so that I may have lost some of you with mediocrity of it all!

But, the joy of the ordinary!

And I think it’s because we haven’t had many weekends like this in the last year.

Sometimes that’s been for lovely reasons – a holiday, a concert, a party, guests staying, birthday weekends away. So those were extraordinary weekends which I am also grateful for.

Other times it’s been down the nature of our current season in family life – helping sons move accommodation, university drop offs and pick ups, trips to visit them. My husband regularly has to work Saturdays, leaving only Sunday together with little time and energy to fit in those things we want to do together. These weekends are not unexpected or unfamiliar but neither are they fully routine. So not ordinary either.

And, of course, so many weekends in the first half of the year were dominated by my father’s changing situation, first with frequent trips to A&E, then hospital visiting hours, and finally afternoons spent in the care home with him. Just as we were starting to get into a regular pattern – looking at old photos, a little bit of simple gardening, a trip out – he died and a whole new readjustment began.

So to have a two day weekend full of ordinariness feels like a real blessing. There’s time to do the things we want and need to do with no rush. There’s space in our heads to think and talk. There’s a sense of pace and balance.

Oh, there are things I know I won’t get around to. Another layer of fallen leaves in the garden that I probably won’t clear this weekend. Some studying that I promised myself but will probably delay. After I’ve done an online grocery order this evening, I might get on with the knitted blanket that I’ve had on the go for about a year now but if I just end up watching the Strictly results show, I won’t beat myself up.

Somehow it feels like time is moving a little more slowly than usual. It’s a sense of Sabbath I suppose.

I realise that I have learned this year not to take ordinary for granted. Ordinary is precious. But you only know that when it has been taken away from you. So I am grateful for the blessing of this ordinary weekend. I hope it’s not the last.


The Mum (Five Minute Friday NEED)

I was listening to a radio show in the car this week where a comedian said,

“However old you get, you will always need your mum”.

She continued into quite a funny routine about her own relationships and a news story about a 98 year old woman who had moved into a care home to look after her son, who already lived there.

But I only half listened. You see, I agreed but I was distracted by the question of what happens when, like me, you don’t have your mum around anymore?

My mum was a huge influence on my life. She was the example I followed as a parent and the friend I shared my joys and troubles with. She was an ear to listen, a cuddle to find comfort in, a daily warrior in prayer for me. She was where I went when I wanted to rant and offload about work or home. She was where I would always find a joyous twinkling smile and a welcoming cup of tea. She was Fun and Wisdom and Constancy. She held me in place like the sun does the planets in our solar system.

She was The Mum for all our family (and beyond), such a positive maternal force that I despaired of ever being able to live up to such a standard when my time came. So I asked her once,

“How will I ever become the mum of the family like you are?”

She thought about it for a moment then replied,

“Don’t worry. One day you’ll just wake up and find that you have become her.”

She was right (of course she was – she was The Mum). One day, I found myself looking back at recent events and realised that I had indeed become The Mum. My sons, now accelerating their way through the teenage years, came to me for support ranging from recipes to relationship break ups, just like I had with her. Not just them but now my parents turned to me for backing: I was the one Mum confided in when she found a lump in her breast and I was the one who brought Dad home after he failed a driving assessment. The world had shifted – now I was the one with the gravitational pull holding the other generations in place.

The next few years, more precious than I knew at the time, proved plenty of painful practise in being The Mum. One son off to university. Mum hospitalised after fracturing her hip. Dad’s dementia worsening. Mum ending up in a care home where she died.

However, whilst I still ache with the loss of my mum, I look back on those distressing last years with gratitude. That final dependence on me was her last, and perhaps one of her greatest, gifts to me: it was her way of handing on her mantle. I can see that gradually God had been training me, giving me increasing opportunities to stretch and build my mum muscles so now I can say with confidence that I am The Mum.

It wasn’t the kind of training I would have chosen but it was the kind I needed. It was the answer to the original question I had asked my mum but then ‘your Father knows what you need before you ask him’ (Matthew 6.8). After all, who could be better in teaching us parental love?

I’ll end with something I wrote for my mum for Mothers’ Day and read as my tribute at her funeral. It’s still my prayer:



The mothering of many

The foreign student far from home

The son’s friend whose own mother died

The daughter’s friends who turned to her for advice and wisdom

The Sunday lunch guests who came to a morning service alone but left in a family

The gentle offering of mothering to a motherless girl

The ability to share the mothering moments of her own children with others


O root of all motherhood

True Mother of life and all things

Let me be a mother like her

My door and arms always open

To my own and to those You send

Give me listening ears, a wise heart, and welcoming arms

Let me set free my own children to warm the hearts of others


Make me a mother like her

Make me a mother like You