Another post on my own story and how I got to where I am now.
It was 1970. The place was Booth Hall Children’s Hospital in Manchester. I was about 13. My problem had started with a swollen stiff knee. After further tests, inflammatory arthritis was diagnosed. There was some damage inside the knee, severe enough for surgery to be required.
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. They had performed an arthroscopy – 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 side 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.
I must have had a portable record player with me on the ward – and a 7 inch disk – those were the days – because I remember playing Vivaldi by Curved Air. Cathy really didn’t like it. I stumbled on the song again recently and it took me right back. (Listen here – external link)
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. I believe it was cancer. This was my first direct encounter with death and it was a big shock . It was also my first encounter with the Christian message and turned out to be my first step on the road to seeking the peace that Cathy had showed.
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.
P S. The arthritis and my knee continued to be a problem throughout my life. Sometimes I was immobilised and at other times it wasn’t so bad. Eventually the knee damage was severe enough for the doctors to recommend getting it replaced, and eventually I agreed. I’ve had my new knee for four 1/2 years now and it is a great improvement.