A brown stroller, calamities and living: post surgery reflections

If you’ve been following my story, you will already know I’ve just had major surgery – total knee replacement. Between the natural recovery process, other health problems, and rather more painkillers than I am in the habit of taking, I haven’t had a whole of lot energy for doing, but have spent a lot of time reflecting.

Pax pushes while Catherine enjoys the ride. Around October 1980, Thessaloniki, Greece

Pax pushes while Catherine enjoys the ride. Around October 1980, Thessaloniki, Greece

Sometimes my thought pattern goes like this. I am waiting to see a doctor, and notice a young mother with a cute small baby, tucked snugly into a very nice stroller that converts from pushchair into pram and vice versa. And I think about the brown stroller we bought from a Mothercare shop in Manchester for little Pax when we came back to England (we being my first husband and I, and Pax who was about 10 months old at the time). That was the end of 1979. And the fact that we brought a stroller here – I cannot remember what we used in Pakistan where we had been living prior to that (teaching English). Did we just carry him? I rack my brain and the memory cannot return. Then I think about going to live in Greece, and Catherine being born, and then there was Pax pushing his little sister as she sat in that same brown stroller, with my guidance. And taking it with us when went to India to work. And finally, as the years went by, and both of my children had outgrown it, sadly realising that there were no more children coming, and giving it away. And now there is no stroller, but a memory of one, the feel of the brown velvet fabric, the brakes, the double wheels… And now I have no children surviving, but the memories of them…

I can’t make any sense of the way that life has turned out for me and the unnatural calamity of burying both of my children. This is not something any mother (or father) should write, but sadly I am not alone in this. I do believe there is a God who loves us and who has cared for my children, as he has for me, but faith doesn’t always make sense of tragedy. Sometimes it is beyond any understanding or figuring.

Unnatural calamities occur. This wasn’t the first in my family. Recently I have been thinking more about my father’s mother, his sister and her children. I never met any of them. They died long before I was born; in fact they were killed together during the Second World War.

My father never talked about them, except in reference to their death. He was of the generation that didn’t speak much of what they had been through. So I don’t know this grandmother, aunt or cousins at all. I don’t know what they liked, what they ate, the sound of their voices or their personalities. They have no gravestones, I presume; it was wartime in Poland and I don’t believe there would have even been a funeral. It was a man-made tragedy. Calamity.

With so much time on my hands, I’ve also spent many hours browsing the news on the internet. How many tragedies have taken place in the five weeks since the operation; how many stories of lives lost. Some shootings, some medical mistakes, some natural disasters, some accidents, a few wars, refugees on the beaches and lanes of Europe, some “natural” deaths at the end of a long illness… Lives that ended leaving behind shattered survivors. Sorrow seems unceasing.

I can’t see that there is any sense to be made of it. I do have a trust that there is a God of love who is watching it all and weeps when we weep, but for reasons best known to him alone, he does not choose to intervene in most cases, although there are very happy occasions when there is an unexpected good turn.

So not making sense of it, what to do? I feel rather like the Psalmist:

Let me hear about your mercy in the morning, because I trust you. Let me know the way that I should go, because I long for you. (Psalm 143:8)

In this place where I find myself, besieged by sorrow and not feeling (physically) very well at all, it seems to me that the only thing we can do is keep on living. Our loved ones, we hope and pray, are resting in peace, and as much as it breaks my heart, I cannot bring any of them back. I can only try to honour their memories, to make their stories known, and to do that, I must live. No matter how I feel. No matter what yesterday held, or the troubles of today, or what tomorrow will bring. I have to live, because I am alive.

Yet life remains

Trees in North Wales are waiting for spring

Trees in North Wales are waiting for spring

Tree stands tall
Branches bend in wind
Leaves, green then gold
Fall unbidden.

Limbs stand tall
Bare now, denuded
Stark against grey sky
Bending under cold frost.

Yet life remains
Hidden below sight
Under cold ground
Roots breathe and pulsate.

I am a tree
whose leaves have fallen
I stand bowed
By the winds of life.

Yet life remains
Heart beats
Blood pulsates
Eyes are open.

Where life remains
Hope continues
As they say.
Live another day.

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