“Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.”
If only I could be so certain.  If only we today had that rock-solid belief that we would in fact “meet on that beautiful shore” and be together with those who have left us.  The old-time religion that never doubted for an instant, how I long for it. 

Today marks one year, the worst year of my life I have to say — without, I hope, any self-pity.  It is a simple fact.

I asked Don what he wanted to do today: come home with me and spend the day quietly together, probably pretty gloomy and down, or stay at the nursing home, where there would at least be people milling about and we could push the grief thing out of our minds some of the time.  He didn’t hesitate.  “I want to come home.”

Good.  Because sometimes (quite often, actually) you don’t want to get away from the grief.  Especially at the beginning.  This is a poem written by someone whose little son died at 5 months:

I don’t WANT
To do anything
To make me better.
I like it down here.
I don’t want to climb out
And leave him behind.

So we came home and I read some cards and emails that people had sent, and also read some of the cards we received a year ago that we couldn’t quite bear to read just then, and then I played some music (Till we meet again, Through the love of God our Saviour all will be well, and Where is my wandering boy tonight) – and then we had lunch and then watched a comedy I taped (One Foot in the Grave, if you must know, and yes, I know it is corny stuff) and Sunday’s Insiders programme that he had missed.  And then we did some of the crossword and then the taxi was there to take him back, and he said he was very tired and ready to go back.

Thank you friends for remembering, and for your emails and phone calls and cards and flowers and faithful prayers.  Last year Ross’s dearest friend said to me in a strained, breaking voice, “I didn’t know there could be such pain in the world.”  Exactly.  And I think of our dear, beloved son every single day, still with pain.  But it does help, to know that we are surrounded by such love and care, by those whose hearts are breaking with us.

Barclay prays gently for “those we have loved and lost awhile“.  Comforting, that.  So I am not sure and certain, in the way that our forefathers were, but I want to believe, and I do half-believe.

Oh dear! I hope I don’t have all my readers in floods of tears by now … I’m just writing as I feel.

Thanks Ruthie for the flowers:

flowers from Ruthie

A friend was disapproving when I said that for the six weeks of Lent I was giving up alcohol. “Giving up something for Lent? Oh, those old rules and disciplines aren’t appropriate in this modern age,” she scoffed. “Fasting for Lent became a straitjacket for people and we are well rid of it.”

Well I have to say that it’s not a straitjacket for me.  It’s my choice and my own decision.  And “fasting” doesn’t have to mean “fasting”, it can mean denying oneself anything that is damaging or, at the very least, not helpful in life.

Every year I choose something that will improve my quality of life. For example, two years ago, I decided that for the six weeks I would not play any computer games.  It was difficult because I was completely addicted at the time, but it gave me a start date and an end date, it forced me to exert some self-discipline (for a change) and it isn’t too much to say that it transformed my life that year.  I was so addicted to Spider Solitaire that my hand ached with RSI most of the time (I tried to swap over the mouse to the other hand), it made me a solitary person in my own home, and I spent countless hours / days / weeks of my life obeying the compulsion to play the wretched game and improve my statistics. (I tried to keep my success rate above 60%, then 70% and so on.)  And after six weeks without it I was free of that addiction and have never played since – except occasionally when visiting someone who has it on their computer.

Why Lent?  I guess the thinking behind it is that as we meditate on Jesus “setting his face towards Jerusalem” so unflinchingly, then the least we can do is set our own life in order with a little more self-discipline than we usually do.

But I also believe that we Protestants have lost something quite valuable in our disregard for the whole concept of actual fasting.  I did it once, and I learned that it is not really about food at all.  It was years ago, when apartheid still ruled in South Africa, and the church worldwide – an implacable opponent of apartheid for decades – held a “Day of Prayer and Fasting for South Africa”.  I participated, but it was a weekday so I was at work. At breakfast I was conscious of this symbolic day – but so I was at morning tea when we dashed in from classes for a quick cuppa and I remembered, “Oh! That’s right! South Africa.” And at lunchtime I remembered, and after classes in the tea-room again, and then when I came home in the evening.

I learned that it is not really about physical hunger. Yes, you do get peckish and after a while very hungry; but more than that, it means you are focussed.  All day you are constantly reminded, and you constantly remember.  It’s at the forefront of your mind, all day long.

I don’t know anybody who would be hurt by the occasional burst of fasting, and it truly does wonderfully concentrate the mind and the spirit.  And, seriously, if it is really such a terrible, impossible thing to forgo alcohol for six weeks, if you are so horrified by the idea, then let’s face it, you have a problem.

Multiple sclerosis affects the brain too.  We don’t see it in MS sufferers as easily as we see the loss of mobility or loss of vision, or slurred speech, or lack of coordination — so we tend to overlook it.  Most MS patients suffer some sort of mental problems ranging from slight memory loss to confusion or real dementia.

Don has bouts of confusion, and for years he has confessed to moments where his brain goes seriously “foggy”.  Sometimes he forgets things like our phone number or which town we are living in, and will get upset and despairing when he has to stop in the middle of a sentence because he has lost his thread, or can’t remember words.  Other times he seems to be sparking on all fours and is as sharp as ever.

So tonight at church when he was asked for one last message or comment, I crossed my fingers anxiously.

“In all my years in ministry,” said Don, “I’ve learned that the one quality we as Christian people need to have is hospitality.”

You could see eyebrows raised, dubious.

“Hospitality,” he went on,  “means welcoming the stranger, opening up yourself, offering yourself.  It means being prepared to take a risk with people, it means preparing your life to welcome others and include others.  It means following the example of Jesus in the kind of open hospitality he showed to everyone he met.”

The minister neatly tied up the whole concept with the reading for the day, “I am going to prepare a place for you, and get everything ready for when you come” (John 14).  He concluded, with a nod in Don’s direction:  “Jesus embodied true hospitality.”

So I need not have worried.  Don has never come up with the trite predictable comment but nearly always something slightly off-beat, and always fresh and original.