It must have been 1969 or 1970. The place was Booth Hall Children’s Hospital in Manchester. I was 12 or 13. I had some inflammatory arthritis that was bad enough that my knee required surgery. I can’t remember being frightened, but I do remember a lot of pain. I thought it would be just a little snip, but woke up with my knee swaddled in a cast or heavy bandage, and it was agony. It was an arthroscopy which was a clear out of the inside of the knee. Nowadays that’s a minor operation, but my experience at that time left me with an ugly 5 inch scar down the front of my knee.
Pain relief wasn’t so good in those days either. I didn’t cope well, so they put me in a side ward with one other patient, at least that’s how I remember it.
Her name was Cathy. She was roughly the same age as me. Her family were Catholics, probably Irish. She had something wrong with her spine, I think, and she was in a lot of pain too. We each lay in our beds, not feeling very well at all, and we argued. My family was Jewish (this was a few years before I became a Christian) and she had never met a Jewish girl before. I didn’t know anything about the Irish or Catholics. We argued about music, about this and that, about our backgrounds, then gradually we made peace and started getting to know each other, learning more about the reality of each other’s lives. Though we were so different, we became friends.
My leg started to mend, but Cathy was not improving. Nobody told her what was going on, but she confided in me that she had figured out she was dying. She wasn’t afraid but had such peace that it amazed me. She told me the source of her peace was her faith. Jesus would take her to heaven.
I remember once watching a nun visit Cathy, sitting by her bedside. She emanated the same peace.
Then I was discharged. I would return to the hospital every week for physiotherapy, and take a little detour to visit Cathy on the ward. By this time she was in her own individual room as her health was deteriorating.
But on one visit, the little room was empty. Cathy had died. Maybe it was cancer, I don’t know. It was a big shock for me, my first real encounter with death, and also my first encounter with the Christian message. (This turned out to be my first step on the road to my conversion, because that peace that Cathy not only expressed but showed never left me.)
My Catherine was named after this Cathy.
I don’t think of this Cathy very often, but never forgot her either. Somewhere there is a bereaved mother and father who will never know how important Cathy has been in my life. I wonder if they are still alive. They’d be in their 80s at least. There isn’t really a way of finding them, as I never knew her last name. (Wouldn’t it be utterly amazing if someone reading this knew the family! Booth Hall, about 1970, Cathy. That’s all the info I have.)
The point of writing this here is not only to memorialise Cathy 1970, but to consider how many people are remembered with love, even more than their family might realise. Each one of us meets countless others in the course of our lives. Random encounters on the path of life. Someone somewhere remembers.
And so Catherine, and Cathy 1970, and Pax. You are all in my heart, and whoever is reading this knows about you too. And you who are grieving the loss of your loved ones, I hope you will find your ways of memorialising which bring you comfort. Let’s say their names. Remembered with love always.