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.

 

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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:

GRADUATION

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 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

 

 

 

 

A FELT BLESSING OR A KNOWN BLESSING? (The Blessing Jar)

I think it was my mother in law, or perhaps her mother, who, when a child complained of a leg or tummy hurting, would reply:

“Well, at least it proves you’ve got one!”

It would be easy in this series of blessings just to count the things that have made me happy. But that doesn’t make them blessings. It would be easy this week just to list the events that have brought me satisfaction, excitement even. And they may well have been blessings. But the resultant feelings aren’t evidence that they were blessings.

In fact, it would be easy to look back at the difficulties and challenges, the stresses and frustrations of this week and feel that I have been sapped rather than blessed. Or at least to weigh the pleasing against the disappointing in order to judge, on balance, if this has been a blessed week or not.

Although there have been highlights (going to my first local writer’s group would be one, a successful first session of a new course I’m running at work another), much of this week has been spent listening to others who are in pain. And my heart has ached.

The ache of missing my father has not been far away at times either. I wrote a new poem, which although satisfying and cathartic in some way, also brought my grief to the surface both as I wrote it and each time I reread it:

I drove past the road to the crematorium today.

I didn’t mean to.

I took a wrong turning

And had to find another route to work.

 

The wide rising road turned gully ambush

As military memory sent soldier scouts

To line my way

With brown direction signs

Among the lamp posts, school noticeboards, and advertising hoardings.

 

And I no longer travelled in the driving seat

But a captured passenger in a limousine,

hand holding, senses heightened,

babbling nonsense to fill the unreal bubble,

Following a flower filled hearse.

 

Back in my Skoda

A cold clenching squeezed my sternum

As they spoke on the radio of your favourite rugby team

That you will never watch again.

But, as my mother in law would say, at least it proves I have one. And I think she is right. The heartache that I feel at my loss or others’ pain is proof that I have a heart and that it is working in the compassionate way for which it was designed.

So even when I or someone I love is going through grief or difficulty, I can hold onto the fact of blessing whether I feel blessed or not. And I can thank God for both the good and the bad and the good in the bad. And I can even say (at times – I’m not that mature a Christian yet!):

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

INVITE (Five Minute Friday)

Here’s this week’s 5 minute free write (no editing, no over thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or spelling) on the prompt word ‘Invite’ linked to the Five Minute Friday community at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/10/12/writing-life-invite/.

Two weeks after my father’s funeral, we threw a party for our Silver Wedding anniversary. We thought about cancelling after he died but remembered his words that ‘life is for the living not the dead’ and decided to go ahead. We felt like we needed something positive to look forward to after the long gap between his passing and the formal farewell.

We’d spent a lot of time and energy in advance organising our party: we hired a hall and a band, bought and made decorations, sourced food and drink, designed invitations. But because of Dad’s death, those invitations were sent out later than originally planned.

Perhaps that’s why so many people turned it down.

They all had valid reasons – prior commitments, holidays, childcare issues, one who was about to give birth! The ones I found most frustrating were those who didn’t reply at all, even with reminders. It was dispiriting and disappointing, at a time when I was in sore need of reassurance and encouragement.

I knew we had invited more than the hall’s total capacity, going on the principle that a quarter to a third would be unable to come, but when more than half refused the invitation, I found myself identifying with the host in the Parable of the Great Feast. I started to wonder if we would have to go out on the streets to invite strangers too.

And I began to wonder how God feels when we ignore His invitations? Whether it’s to the Ultimate Great Party He has planned or to those daily alone times with Him.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we had a fabulous celebration in the end. We were surrounded by a good number of lovely friends and family we were so happy to share it with.

We danced, we sang, we laughed, we collapsed in smiling exhaustion afterwards. And maybe we appreciated those that came more because others didn’t.

But to refuse (or ignore) an invitation has an impact. I learned that with this event. So I will try to be thoughtful in future in my response to the ones that come my way, human or divine.

My STORYteller (Five Minute Friday)

My Dad was a story teller and a lover of tales.

I remember our 3 weekly trips to the library followed by cosy afternoons, curled up together, each with a cup of tea, deep in a book.

But my favourite stories were always real, the ones from his own life. And he went on telling them well into old age as Alzheimer’s brought the past closer, revealing stories he’d never told before, perhaps previously edited for a daughter’s ears.

There were poignant stories of shocking poverty growing up in the 1930s: how he saw his mother get down on her knees to ask God for food to give her family because she had none, followed by a knock on the front door, opened to reveal a loaf of bread on the doorstep.

There were tales of boyhood adventure: climbing trees, crossing a forbidden road by means of an underground stream, staying out during wartime air raids to watch the planes; plaiting his sleeping dad’s hair to his chair.

Probably my favourites were of his time in the RAF. Perhaps they gave me my love of travel (although Dad would say that ‘itchy feet’ were a family trait). They’ve certainly come in handy for relating to patients with an armed forces background. And some key Arabic phrases he remembered came in useful for getting rid of some persistent tradesmen on holiday in Tunisia one year.

I loved his stories of the fantastic food at his basic training camp in Lincolnshire, thanks to bartering with local farmers and an Italian PoW who was an ex chef in a top hotel being in charge of the kitchens. I loved his stories of being a military policeman in the Middle East: going on camping trips to hunt for smugglers across the border; learning to swim in a tank in the middle of the desert; guarding Earl Mountbatten’s plane through the freezing cold night because the Viceroy had fallen asleep on it and couldn’t be disturbed; repairing an anonymous broken down car by the side of the road and being invited to the local sheikh’s wedding as a reward (guess whose car it was?).

And when visiting with my teenage sons, he had our full attention with a story prefaced with the startling words, ‘Did I ever tell you about the time my life was saved by a brothel madam?’!

But that’s one to share with you another day.

Yes, my dad was a story teller and a lover of tales.

A Lifetime of Blessing (THE BLESSING JAR)

Time I returned to counting my blessings each week after I hope an understandable break, when words have been hard to find. Today would have been my Dad’s 90th birthday if he’d lived just two months more. I really thought he’d make it. Anyway, I’m resuming my account of the blessings that have been sent to me by sharing the tribute I gave at his funeral, which gives a flavour of the great blessing he was. It’s a rather long post but then, he lived a long life and he filled mine with good things.

Dear Dad – Pops,

How do I do justice to your nearly 90 years of a life so well lived? How do I put all your stories into just one tribute?

I sat in my garden to write some of this and, as I looked at the roses we planted in memory of you and Mum and our miniature apple trees inspired by the ones you used to grow, I was reminded that, like you, Father God is a gardener too. And that your life was full of His fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – so I’ll use these to try and sum up what you mean to me.

I’ll start with the most important, LOVE:

You loved lots of things:

  • Astronomy
  • Photography
  • Crosswords
  • Finnish Spitz dogs
  • Gardening
  • Maps
  • Cricket
  • Rugby
  • Genealogy
  • Birdwatching
  • 20th century history/current affairs

You loved people:

  • You loved Mum, so much: 55 years together
  • You loved us, your children – and not just me and Dave, but Rob and Debbie, Shola and William, and all those people you and Mum unofficially adopted over the years, from Rene Merrick (a widow with no family) to Albert the tramp (who you had stay with us for a while).
  • You loved your grandchildren, so enjoyed spending time with them – on the floor watching Thomas the Tank Engine for hours on end with a young Jamie, discussing in obscure detail interwar history with Paddy for his GCSE and A level, telling stories of your youth to Mark, always drawing visitors’ attention to Becky’s photos with such pride.
  • You loved your extended family, especially your sister Jean, and your cousin Leon, more like a brother.
  • You loved your many friends; you had so many despite describing yourself a loner

Most of all, you loved God, ‘Father’ as you called Him. Your whole life was based on your walk with God. It was the bedrock.

Then there’s JOY: When I picture you, Dad, my first thought is always of the twinkle in your eye. Your cheeky sense of humour never left you, your whole life. You were a practical joker from an early age – as boy, plaiting your sleeping dad’s hair to the back of the chair, as a dad and grandad, hiding cutlery at family meals when we glanced away from the table.

You were full of mischief. You taught me to climb trees and when you found me using that skill to scrump apples from my Uncle Jim’s neighbour’s garden, your reaction was to lean over the fence to grab the ones I couldn’t reach, and then lie to Mum and Auntie Vera about where they’d come from. When I confessed to getting caught paddling in the ornamental pond in Pymmes Park before the park keeper told you, Mum was really cross but you just laughed.

And how can we forget your inventive revenge on the neighbour who continued to have noisy midweek parties late into the night? You faced our loudspeakers right against the shared wall, turned the hifi up to full volume, and played bagpipe music. I’ve never seen a party clear so quickly.

You delighted in language: the daily newspaper crossword; French for speaking privately to Mum (although my O and A levels in French rather put paid to that!); toasts in Gaelic; and swearing in Arabic. You were particularly pleased that the few key phrases you taught me and Rob came in useful for getting rid of some persistent salesmen when we holidayed in Tunisia!

And in your last years, you charmed nurses with compliments about their hair in comparison to your baldness, made cheeky comments about the bare bottoms of statues at the garden centre, and when told to behave yourself always happily reminded us that ‘there are two ways of behaving – well and badly’!

And yet, Dad, you also had a great sense of calm and PEACE about you. You recognised when I was down but you didn’t try to solve my problems for me. You would ask me if I was having one of those ‘Stop the World, I want to get off’ times and then just listen or quietly keep me company until I felt ok. You were good at that because you knew what it was like to go through tough times, even depression, yourself.

I think your love of astronomy helped too. I remember us taking our dog for a walk on clear summer nights and then lying down in the middle of a sports field to get a better view of the constellations, you telling me the Greek myths behind them, pointing out planets and double stars. It gave us a great sense of peace and perspective – until the dog got fed up and started jumping on us to get walking again.

You were a PATIENT man too. When I was ill and feeling weak, you would wrap my arms around your waist and place my feet on yours to walk me between bedroom and bathroom. I felt so safe there. When I spent a whole family holiday confined to bed with scarletina, you read to me, distracted me with stories of your younger days, and bought birdwatching guides to give us something to do and make the most of the view.

You worked out a system for the weekly shop: you would rewrite Mum’s list in the order of the shelves as you walked around the supermarket to be more efficient. Trouble was Mum saw the list more as a rough guide than a detailed map, a shopping trip as an adventure in exploration and social opportunities rather than a task. And as for when they changed their displays round! Poor Dad, you weren’t so patient then – but you did revel in how quickly you could do a shop when you went on your own.

You were always a KIND and generous man. You’d known real poverty in your life – growing up in the Depression with your dad out of work for years and being thrown out of the family home brought massive hardship: deformed feet where they couldn’t afford to buy you new shoes, your mum down her knees praying for some food, being sent away to a children’s home for months to improve your health, a baby brother who died of malnutrition.

But I think it was these experiences that made you so kind and generous to others. You were often anxious about money, fastidious about living within your means, but what you had, you willingly shared, even to the point of sacrifice. As well as tithing to church and regularly supporting charities that were dear to your hearts, you and Mum quietly gave financial support to anyone you knew was in need. You loaned your car to Dave’s friend and even coughed up for the repairs when Colin crashed it.

You were generous in time and hospitality – hosting church house groups, always ready with a listening ear and praying heart for whoever needed it, welcoming strangers to dinner no matter how unexpected (6 friends Dave and I brought back at 2am from holiday stands out in particular).

Then there’s GOODNESS: You were always a man of such integrity. You did things with your whole heart and you did them right. It didn’t matter how big or how small the task. It went completely against the grain when NatWest automated their cheque clearance system and you were told to finish your day’s work without completely balancing the books accurately.

You willingly did our Cypriot neighbours’ tax returns for them. You didn’t just research and buy a Finnish Spitz, you became a founder member of the breed society. You got up early on Sundays to wrestle with the Edmonton Methodist Church boiler. You served on numerous committees, however tedious, stayed late to build stalls for the church bazaar, quietly prepared for and washed up after Communion. Off your own back, you studied hard to understand your Bible and faith better and put that work into the sermons you preached and discussions at House Groups.

And I grew up with such an example of love and FAITHFULNESS from my parents. I heard you tell my mum that you loved her every day. You walked and sat together holding hands your whole lives. You called her your ‘little wife’ and tucked her under your arm, your difference in height fitting together perfectly. You gave up all the money you’d carefully saved for years for a telescope of your own to buy her a re-engagement ring when her original had to be cut off in A&E after an accident, and not just any ring but the emerald she’d always longed for. You set the bar for my expectations for romance, you know. Your last ever words to me were that you loved me.

I also spent my whole life with your example of faithfulness to God. It would be easy to think that faith came easily to you because you grew up in a Christian family embedded in their local church. Heck, there’s even a brick at Edmonton Methodist Church with your initials on it! But faith wasn’t always easy. You hinted at particularly dark days around the time of your RAF service and I gave you a hard time when I was younger about how much time you gave to church. But I witnessed your faith reignite when I was a teenager; I saw increasingly what an anchor your relationship with God was for you – on one of my last visits, we read favourite Bible passages and you commented on how precious these promises were to you; I saw what strength and comfort your faith gave you, strength and comfort that you passed on.

If I wanted to know what Father God was like, I just had to look at my dad.

Someone told me recently you were ‘a true Christian gentleman’. And that’s what you were – a gentleman and a strong but GENTLE man. You were always polite and courteous to others, rarely lost your temper, quietly enjoying friendships whilst maintaining that Mum was the social one.

She called you her ‘knight of the gentle hands’ because your soft stroking of the inside of her wrist would soothe worries, ease pain, and lull her back to much needed sleep. It worked on me too.

Dad, you learned discipline in Boys’ Brigade, Air Cadets, and the RAF military police. At least I assume you did, alongside all the high jinks you also got up to at those times. I remember your pride at being there to see Jamie receive his President’s and Paddy his Queen’s Badge at BB Displays, and your stories of staying out to watch dogfights over London in the War during air raids (instead of heading for a shelter), as well as learning to swim in the desert or going on ‘brothel patrol’. You certainly learned discipline and SELF CONTROL through sport, playing cricket for your club for 25 years, boxing in the RAF, picking up some judo along the way (teaching me some key moves for self defence), and practising Canadian Air Force exercises on a daily basis for many years.

You used to say that the only spiritual gift you had was the ‘gift of administration’. And you were certainly an organised man. Finances and budgeting were carefully and diligently maintained. Family holidays were always booked in January for the end of May. Routes were meticulously planned. I think one of your favourite Christmas presents was a book of alternative routes between junctions on the M25 for avoiding traffic jams!

We saw your diligence in the family history you put together – I’ve inherited such a collection of family charts, certificates, and stories all the way back to 1700. And you didn’t take the easy online option but made but day long trips to the record offices to physically work your way through parish indexes. I remember our trip together to the Reading Office after you discovered that our much prized Scottish roots were from no further north than Berkshire.

 

All that fruit, Dad. And the fruit of your life lives on. You see, when I look around me, I still see you:

  • When I see the integrity and generosity with which my husband conducts his life, I am reminded of you.
  • When I watch my brother listen patiently and with careful attention to others, I am reminded of you.
  • When my eldest, at the same 6ft 1, tucks me under his arm for a cuddle, I am reminded of you.
  • When my youngest debates current affairs with such detail and insight, I am reminded of you.
  • When I see my niece’s photography skills, I am reminded of you.
  • When my nephew applies his mathematically logical approach to a subject, I am reminded of you.
  • And when I look in the mirror, when I stop to consider what would be the kindest way to deal with someone, I pray I am always reminded of you.

ACCEPT (Five Minute Friday)

Seven weeks and three days ago my dad died.

So much of life has happened since then but I’m not sure if I’ve accepted it or not.

So I looked up what ‘accept’ actually means:

  1. To consent to receive
  2. To give an affirmative answer to
  3. To believe or come to recognise as correct
  4. To tolerate or submit to

No, I haven’t consented to, given an affirmative answer to, believed or recognised as correct, or tolerated the fact of my father’s death.

Now that doesn’t mean I’m in denial. Nor does it mean that I am in permanent distress. I am getting on with my routine, working hard, looking after my family, running Boys’ Brigade, even celebrating our Silver Wedding. I wake up ready to face the day as usual.

But then that moment of remembrance catches me – he’s gone. Or in the middle of the day, I come across someone who doesn’t know and have to explain why I’m not quite my normal self. Or I suddenly recall that I can no longer ask him any questions about our family history, or hear him tell his Air Force stories any more, or lean into his chest for another cuddle, or hear him say he loves me.

No, I haven’t accepted this new reality yet of a life without him. I don’t want to.

One day I will.

But not yet.