Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Last night West Country News showed a bus load of elderly people whose nursing home was threatened by rising flood water. They were being moved to an unknown destination, while others still living in their own homes nearby could be seen watching from upstairs windows, waiting to be rescued, pale faces staring out on a watery world.

I woke in the night remembering Northcote House where, for a while, I was the lay chaplain. The staff always had so much to do, checking drugs, making beds, washing and dressing the residents and filling in report forms. There seemed to be no allowance in the daily programme for time to treat each individual as a real person, to listen to them, for each had a story to tell. Miss C whose voice still carried the Irish lilt of her childhood and who had spent the war years as a governess in Paris. Sister E a house mother in a Methodist children’s home who was visited regularly by the children she had bought up, all successful in their own right. Mr S. who could not forget the boyhood friends who had been killed beside him on the Normandy beaches and mourned them till he died. Among them was a lady who said to me ‘It takes a lot of courage to be old’ and it does. Each lived with daily pain and needed help with tasks that most of us never think about, many too stiff to pick a fallen object from the floor, too fragile to get to the toilet on their own. All grieving quietly for the homes they had left, the personal treasures and the books they had collected over life time.

My mind moved to memories of my mother-in-law. She cut the apron strings that might have held her sons and set them free, earning the love and admiration of her two daughters-in-law. Never once did either of us hear any criticism of anything we did. She had a subtle way of letting me know if she disapproved of a plan I had in mind but if I persisted she would support me to the hilt. She gave me a silver sixpence, a keepsake from a young man she had watched march bravely off to war with Kitchener’s Army. He never returned.

I reached out in the darkness
Your presence real to my waking mind
But you were gone.
All that remains is aching emptiness,
But just as wounds are proof of injury
So this deep pain confirms the memories
Renders them precious
And yourself more dear.

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