We were back in court on the Tuesday after Easter, the week of our school holiday, for Rick’s preliminary hearing; I was sitting in the courtroom, with Emma and Becca at my side, when he entered a guilty plea to the two charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and dangerous driving causing death. Alyson and Eric were there, of course; my father had wanted to be there, too, but he was feeling too ill that day, and my mother had stayed home with him. The guilty plea was entered, a sentencing date was set in two weeks’ time, and that was the end of the hearing. Rick was not remanded in custody, and on the way out of the courtroom he said to me, “Becca’s coming over for coffee at my house; would you like to join us?”
“You too, Emma, if you want”.
“Okay”, she agreed.
“I’ll see you both over there, then”.
We ended up staying for supper at Rick’s house. We were sitting in the den, drinking coffee and talking quietly together, and at a certain point he asked, “Does anyone feel like curry?” We all voiced our approval of that idea, and a few minutes later he and I drove over to the nearest Indian take-out restaurant and picked up some supper.
We ate on paper plates in the den, some of us on chairs and couches, others sitting on the floor. Anna and Eric were there, sitting in one corner of the room talking quietly with Emma; Alyson and Rick were sitting on one of the couches together, and I noticed that from time to time they held hands. The mood in the room was subdued, the conversation quiet. As I sat there beside Becca, it occurred to me that the last time I had been in this den had been at Eric’s birthday party, with Rick standing at the sideboard pouring Scotch. I knew that the entire house was empty of alcohol now.
Alyson was just coming in from the kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee when Becca’s mobile phone rang. She rummaged for it in her bag, put it to her ear, and said, “Becca Masefield… Oh, hello, Mum; yes we’re all here…”. She was silent for a moment, and I saw the expression on her face change. “When was he admitted?” she asked.
The conversation in the room stopped, and everyone was suddenly watching Becca; Alyson was standing beside me with the coffee pot still in her hand. “Right”, Becca said; “I’ll tell the others. I’ll be over in a few minutes, Mum”. She turned off the phone, dropped it into her bag and got to her feet. “Dad’s been admitted to the JR again; they took him there in an ambulance this afternoon. He’s coughing a lot and he’s having trouble breathing. Sounds like pneumonia again to me”.
“You’re going over?” I asked.
“I’m going right now”.
“Should we all come?” Rick asked; “What do you think, Becca?”
“You and Tommy and I should be there anyway”, she replied. “We probably won’t be able to see Dad for a while, but at least we can sit with Mum”.
“I want to come too”, said Emma.
“Right”, I said, getting to my feet; “Let’s go”.
We found my mother in an almost empty waiting room, sitting in a corner with a cup of cold coffee in her hand. When she saw us she got to her feet, the relief plain on her face; we exchanged hugs with her, and Becca asked what was happening. When she heard that no one had been out to talk to my mother for a while she frowned and said, “I’m going to find out what’s going on here. I’ll be back soon”.
Rick and Emma and I sat in the corner with my mother for a few minutes; her face was grey with exhaustion, and there were dark circles under her eyes. “What happened?” I asked, putting my hand on hers.
“I thought last night that we should have called an ambulance”, she replied, “but he didn’t want to come back to the hospital, so I let him persuade me not to. I should have called Becca, I know, but I didn’t. Anyway, he didn’t sleep much; he was coughing all night long, and of course he had to sit up to be able to breathe properly. But even this morning he wouldn’t let me call an ambulance; it wasn’t until this afternoon that he got so short of breath that he gave in”.
Rick and I sat on either side of our mother, holding her hands, until Becca emerged from the Intensive Care Unit. She came over and sat down across from us. “You can go through, Mum”, she said; “They’ve got him on oxygen and antibiotics”.
“What about the rest of us?” I asked.
“I’ll just take Mum for now”, Becca replied; “There’s only room for two visitors at a time”.
So while my mother went through with Becca to the ICU, the rest of us sat in the waiting room, talking and sipping coffee from one of the vending machines. Alyson and Eric arrived a little later; Rick greeted his wife with a gentle hug, and Eric and Emma went off together to another corner of the waiting room.
After about an hour my mother and Becca came out to us again. “He’s breathing a little better”, Becca said as we gathered around, “and they’ve told us that one or two at a time can go through and sit with him, if we want to. But it is getting late and they really want him to rest, because he’s exhausted from lack of sleep last night, so they don’t want us to try to make him talk”.
“So are you going to go home, Mum?” Rick asked.
“No, I’ll stay here”, she replied, “but I’ve been with him for a while; I don’t mind staying out here for a bit if a couple of you want to go in and see him”.
“Tommy and Rick should go”, Becca suggested; “I’ve already seen Dad tonight”.
I saw Rick take Alyson’s hand as he glanced across at me. “Actually, if you don’t mind I’d like to go in with Alyson”, he said; “Why don’t you and Emma go in now, and then we’ll follow you a bit later?”
I nodded; “That’s fine with me”.
So Emma and I went into the Intensive Care Unit together. My father’s room was small, and the space was taken up almost entirely by the large bed he was lying on and the various monitors and bits of IV equipment. The light in the room was dim, but we could see that the head of the bed was raised slightly; my father was wearing an oxygen line to his nostrils, and his eyes were closed. His face was pale, and the skin on his exposed arms seemed almost transparent.
As Emma moved a chair over to the bed my father’s eyes opened slowly; he saw her and tried to smile. “Thank you for coming, my dear”, he whispered.
She put her hand on his; “I love you, Grandpa”, she said simply.
“I love you too”, he replied. He turned his head on the bed, focusing on me. “I didn’t choose a very good day to get sick again, did I?”
“Don’t worry about that, Dad”, I replied, moving closer to the bed and putting my hand on his arm, “and don’t feel you have to stay awake for us, either. They want you to sleep. Em and I will just sit here with you; if you feel tired, just let yourself drift off; we won’t worry”.
“Thank you”, he said in a barely audible voice.
We sat on either side of his bed for about half an hour, holding his hands and saying very little. Around us the subdued noises of the Intensive Care Unit continued; the low hum of equipment, the quiet conversations out in the corridor, the occasional sound of someone being paged or of a telephone ringing at the nursing station. Gradually my father drifted off to sleep, and eventually I nodded at Emma and we quietly got to our feet and slipped out of the room. I put my arm around her as we walked slowly back toward the waiting room; “Are you okay?” I asked.
She shook her head, and I saw that there were tears in her eyes. “He’s so frail”, she said in a voice choked with emotion.
“I know”. I stopped and turned to face her, putting my arms around her and holding her close. She laid her head on my shoulder, and for a few minutes we stood there, her body trembling a little in my arms.
Eventually she looked up and smiled at me, her eyes still wet with tears. “Thanks, Daddy”, she whispered, digging in her pocket for a Kleenex.
“Are you okay to go out there?”
“I’ll be alright for now; what about you?”
“I’ll be all right for now too”.
When we got back to the waiting room I saw to my surprise that Wendy and Lisa were sitting with the rest of our family in the corner. I had seen Wendy a couple of days before, but I had not seen Lisa since the evening after Mark’s trial. Wendy looked up and gave me a warm smile as Emma and I approached. “How did you know?” I asked her.
She nodded at my sister; “Becca rang us”, she replied.
“How’s Dad?” Rick asked me.
“Sleeping soundly. Go ahead if you want to go in, Rick, but I don’t think he’ll wake up”.
“I think we will go and sit with him for a bit”, he replied, taking Alyson’s hand in his. “See you all in a little while”.
After they had left the room Wendy got to her feet and took my hand; “How are you doing?” she asked softly.
“I’m okay”, I replied, watching Lisa as she stood off to one side, talking quietly with Emma and Eric. “I’m going to go and find a machine and get some coffee; do you want to walk with me?”
We slipped out of the waiting room into a corridor, and almost immediately Wendy stopped, turned to me and put her hand on my arm. “You’re not all right, are you?” she said.
“Not really”, I replied.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No, but I’m glad you’re here”.
“Lisa wanted to come”.
“I thought she was still angry with me?”
“She is, but she likes your father and mother, and she wanted to come here to be with them”.
We got our coffee from the machine and walked slowly hand in hand back to the waiting room. A nurse of about my own age was standing with the rest of the family, talking quietly with my mother. “I don’t think there’s going to be any change tonight”, she was saying; “Hopefully he’ll get a good sleep, and that’ll be the best thing for him. There’s no need for you all to stay here all night. Especially you, Mrs. Masefield; you look very tired, and I think you should go home and try to sleep”.
Becca was nodding her head; “You can stay at my flat again, Mum; I’ll give them my number, and if anything happens, we can be here in five minutes”.
I saw my mother’s hesitation, and I took her hand; “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to, Mum”, I said, “But if you want to get some sleep, and if you’d feel better if one of us stayed here, I’d be happy to do that”.
“What about your work tomorrow?” she asked.
“I don’t have to work tomorrow; it’s the Easter holidays”.
She nodded. “Of course it is”, she said. “All right; I am feeling very tired”. Turning to Becca, she said, “Perhaps I’ll just go in one more time and see him before I go; do you think that would be all right?”
“What do you think?” Becca asked the nurse. “My brother and his wife are in there right now; would it be all right for Mum just to go in briefly before she comes home with me?”
“I’m sure we can bend the rules a bit”, the nurse replied. Putting her hand on my mother’s arm, she said, “Come with me, Mrs. Masefield; I’ll take you in”.
We watched as they went through the doors into the Intensive Care Unit. “That’s a relief”, Becca said to me; “I was hoping I could get her to go to bed at some point tonight”.
“Do we all have to leave?” Lisa asked; “I think I’d like to stay. I’d like to sit with him for a while, even if he is asleep”.
“By all means”, Becca replied gently; “If that’s what you want to do, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it”.
“I’ll stay with you”, Wendy said; “That way I can drive you home any time you like”.
“What about your work in the morning, Wendy?” Becca asked.
“The university’s down at the moment so I haven’t got any teaching tomorrow; I can easily go in a bit later than usual. Don’t worry about it; we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”.
Emma decided to go home and get some sleep; we agreed that she would take our car and that I would walk home in the morning. Rick took his family home, and Becca took my mother back to her flat. When everyone had left, I took Lisa through to my father’s room and sat there with her for a while. The lights in the room were all out now; the only illumination came from the door to the corridor, and the only sounds were my father’s laboured breathing and the ordinary background noises of the ICU.
Lisa and I were quiet for a long time, sitting across the bed from each other, but eventually she spoke in a voice that was only just above a whisper; “I’m glad I had a chance to meet him before he got really sick”.
“So am I”.
“Have you and he talked about the things you needed to talk about?”
“Yes, we have”.
We lapsed into silence again, Lisa watching my father’s face, me glancing at her from time to time, trying to read her expression in the dim light from the corridor. Eventually she said, “Tom, I know this is a presumptuous thing to ask, but would you let me sit alone with him for a while?”
“Of course”. I got to my feet slowly, stretched my stiff back, and said, “I’ll be out in the waiting room with your mum”.
“Alright; thank you”.
When I got back to the waiting room Wendy was sitting alone on the corner couch with her glasses on, reading a book. She looked up and smiled as I walked over and sat down on the couch beside her. “Is everything all right?” she asked.
“Yes; she wanted to sit with him by herself for a while”.
“You don’t mind?”
“No, I don’t mind”. I glanced at the book in her hand; “I didn’t know you had a book with you”, I said.
“There’s always a book in my bag, Tom; I never know when I’m going to get the opportunity”.
“Of course; I should have known that! What are you reading?”
She showed me the cover; “Peace Shall Destroy Many”, by Rudy Wiebe”, she replied.
“I didn’t know you were a Rudy Wiebe fan; how did you find out about him?”
“You’re not the only one who can do Internet research, Tom Masefield!” she replied with a mischievous grin. “I just googled ‘Mennonite authors’, and his books looked interesting”. She closed the book, slipped it back into the canvas bag sitting on the floor at her feet, and took off her reading glasses. “Still, enough reading for now”, she said.
I took her hand in mine and said, “Look, you don’t have to stay here all night, you know; I’ll be fine if you want to go home when Lisa’s finished”.
“Do you want me to go?”
“Of course not”, I replied; “Every moment with you around is a better moment for me”.
“I’ll stay until Lisa’s finished; after that, we’ll see”.
She squeezed my hand and spoke softly; “This must be hard for you in all sorts of ways, Tom”.
“Not just your Dad, but Kelly too”.
“Yes; we spent a lot of time at the hospital in the weeks before she died”.
She hesitated, then said, “Talk to me about Kelly, Tom”.
“Why do you want to know about her?”
“Because I know you still miss her, even though we love each other, and I think you always will”.
“You’re probably right”, I said.
“I don’t want the thought of her to isolate you from me, Tom. When you’re thinking about her, I don’t want you to assume that you can’t talk to me about it,”. She turned toward me in her seat, leaning her back against the arm of the couch. “I’m not threatened by the thought of Kelly, you know”, she said quietly; “She’s helped to make you the person you are today; what I feel for her is gratitude, not jealousy”.
Shaking my head slowly, I said, “You are a remarkable woman”.
“Let’s not go there”, she replied, kicking off her shoes and pulling her legs up on the couch, tucking her toes under my legs in a way that reminded me sharply of that night long ago in my room at Lincoln. “Talk to me about her, Tom”.
“It’s hard to know where to start”.
“What’s the first really good memory you have of her?”
“I remember very clearly the day I first met her, at her Mom and Dad’s place on Thanksgiving weekend in 1982. Like I told you before, they’d invited me for Thanksgiving dinner. I got there late in the afternoon; I think all three of the kids were there – Joe, Kelly and Krista. Joe and Ellie had just gotten engaged, and Krista had come home from university for the weekend. I remember that Kelly was in the shower when I got there, so I talked with Joe and Ellie for a while – it was the first time I’d met them, too. Then Kelly came out and she and Joe were horsing around like teenagers and kidding each other”.
“What were your first impressions of her?”
“She was very beautiful – well, you know that; you’ve seen the pictures. She was outgoing and vivacious and full of fun. But later on in the evening she and I had a long, quiet talk together. Her Dad had asked me to bring my guitar along because Ellie played bluegrass fiddle and he thought we might be able to play a little together, which we did. I played them a couple of traditional songs and Kelly liked them a lot. So she asked me about them, and then we got talking about lots of things. When she found out that I liked walking and hiking, she told me about this beautiful place where she lived”.
“Jasper National Park”.
“Yeah, she’d been there for just over a year at that point. Of course, as soon as she described it to me, I knew I wanted to go there and see it”. I frowned; “It’s funny, now that I think about it – funny in the sense of curious or strange, I mean. I’d been in love with you before I went to Canada, but Kelly was very different from you”.
“Well, you were dark haired and introverted and mysterious…”
She laughed again; “I like that!”
“…not to mention a little stubborn!” I added with a smile.
“Kelly was almost the opposite; she was blond and up front, and she had this infectious joie de vivre about her. She wasn’t shy at all; there was nothing she enjoyed more than meeting new people and getting to know them. She had this basically cheerful attitude toward life, and it was really contagious. But it wasn’t shallow or facile; when you got to know her better, you discovered that she was well aware of all the pain and suffering and paradox and mystery in the world. She just had the talent for happiness in a big way”.
Wendy smiled; “The more you tell me about her, the more Emma makes sense to me”.
“Yeah, although Emma’s a lot more introverted than her mom was”.
“So when did you start to fall in love with Kelly?”
“I think I was attracted to her right from the beginning. I remember that we had a good long walk on the Thanksgiving Monday at Myers Lake Recreation Area, just outside Meadowvale, and she came over for coffee to my house before she went back to Jasper. She was back a couple more times in the new few months, including Christmas, and we always made a point of getting together and having a coffee. Eventually, of course, I went to visit her in Jasper”.
“When was that?”
“Easter, which was in April that year. I stayed at a bed and breakfast, and Kelly took a couple of days off work. She took me on some hikes in the low-lying areas; the higher trails still had quite a lot of snow at that point. Have you ever seen any photographs of Jasper National Park?”
“I don’t think so”.
“It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world – it’s got these beautiful deep green lakes and icy cold rivers and streams; there are glaciers, and mountain trails, and places where you can go canoeing in the evening where the water is as clear as glass”.
“You love it, don’t you?”
“I do; it became a very special place for our family. After Kelly and I were married we often went back there during the summer, and Emma’s been there many times”.
“So you and Kelly took a liking to each other that week, did you?”
“We did; I was more than half in love with her when I went back home. The next thing I heard was that she’d put in an application for a job back in Meadowvale; the community was building a senior’s lodge and Kelly had always been interested in geriatric nursing. I couldn’t believe she wanted to leave a place like Jasper, but of course she’d started to fall in love with me, too, and she wanted to be closer”.
“Did she tell you that?”
“Not right away – we didn’t start talking like that until the Fall. There were a lot of things going on in our lives at the same time. Joe and I were becoming really good friends, and we were talking about Christianity; Kelly was coming back to her faith too, and she joined in those conversations”. I grinned; “For her, coming back to her faith meant practicing it right from the beginning. I soon found out what that meant, on one particular issue!”
“What was that?”
“Well. to be frank, after I started to fall for Kelly I wanted her pretty badly, in a sexual way. But she drew a line in the sand right away; casual sex had never been her thing, and even when it was obvious that we were both falling in love with each other, she still wanted to wait. The first time we slept together was our wedding night”. I grinned at her; “Pretty old fashioned, weren’t we?”
“To tell you the truth, Tom, her point of view makes a lot of sense to me. And I’d have thought you’d have learned from past experience that when sex comes into a relationship too soon it can do a lot of damage”.
I stared at her; “You know, I never thought of that”, I replied. “You’re right, of course; I should have learned that from my experience with you, without Kelly having to dig her heels in”. I shrugged; “What can I say? I’m a slow learner, I suppose!”
She frowned and said, “Something’s changed for you, though; I’ve never felt that you were putting any pressure on me in that way”.
“No. It’s a funny thing; after Kelly died, it was like that part of me went to sleep”. I grinned at her mischievously; “It may be starting to wake up again though, so I’ll need to keep a close eye on it”.
“You do that, sir, because I’ve become a lot more old-fashioned about that in my old age!”
I looked at her steadily for a moment, and then reached for her hand and said, “That’s fine with me, Wendy”.
She inclined her head a little, returning the pressure of my hand. “Are you sure?”
“Tom, you have absolutely no idea how much of a relief it is for me to hear you say that!”
She shook her head slowly. “It’s all tied up with Mickey and the fact that we had a sexual relationship so young, and then later on of course he hit me a lot, and – well, his idea of sex was pretty self-centred and controlling toward the end”. She glanced around quickly, as if to reassure herself that no one was listening, and then continued; “It’s not that I’m permanently scarred on sex or anything like that; it’s just that I really don’t want to rush into anything, and – well, to tell you the truth, I’ve been worried that you might want to, and that you might be really upset if I said I didn’t want to”.
“I’m quite all right with the idea of going slow – I honestly am. It’s the only way I can live with my neurotic Mennonite conscience!”
We both laughed, and she said, “Mennonites frown on sex outside of marriage, do they?”
“Well, that’s the theory; it doesn’t always work out in practice, of course”.
“It’s pretty much the same with Anglicans, I think”. She looked at me, her eyes questioning; “So, since Kelly died, you’ve never…?”
I shook my head. “Never had the opportunity, and to tell you the truth, never had the desire, either. Like I said, it’s as if that part of my psyche went to sleep”. I grinned at her; “Since we’re getting so personal, how about you?”
“No. Not that I haven’t had the opportunity. Jeremy Bayly was after me for a while…”
“The chapel organist?”
“Yes; he’s got a weakness for the prospect of an attractive roll in the hay. I’ve had to help him crawl out of more than one disaster that way”.
“So he was after you, was he?” I said with a grin.
“Yes, but I told him in no uncertain terms to bugger off!”
We both laughed; “A fine turn of phrase, Dr. Howard!” I said.
“Thank you, kind sir; I didn’t earn that doctorate in English for nothing, you see!”
I shifted a little in my seat; “Do you want some more coffee or something?”
“No thanks, but you get some if you like”.
“No, I’m alright”.
“So – back to Kelly”.
“Right. Well, we came here for a holiday the summer before we got married, but it wasn’t exactly a stunning success. That year Rick and Alyson and Owen and Lorraine were getting married, too, and we came for the weddings. Dad and I were barely talking to each other, and what made it worse was that Becca and I were having our one and only estrangement at the time”.
“How did that happen?”
“She had been really hurt when she found out I was moving to Canada; she thought I was abandoning her. Two years had gone by since I left, so she would have been about thirteen, but she still wasn’t over it, and we didn’t find it easy to talk. All in all, it wasn’t a very good time, but somehow Kelly made the best of it. She and Mum really hit it off, and they had lots of good conversations. Kelly even went out of her way to build bridges with Becca, and that paid off in the end; Becca decided to come with Mum to our wedding, and she got her first introduction to Meadowvale and the Reimer family”.
“Tom, when you talk about Kelly you’re describing someone who reminds me so much of Emma that it’s more than a bit eerie!”
“Yeah, Emma learned from the best”.
“I’m sure that’s true – her dad, as well as her mum”.
I shook my head; “I don’t know about that. Anyway, like I told you before, Kelly and I got married on Thanksgiving weekend. Mum and Becca came over for the wedding, and so did Owen and Lorraine. They came a week ahead of time and we toured around with them a bit”.
“Did you take them to Jasper, too?”
“Not that time; it was just a little too far. Later on, after Kelly and I were married and Becca came to visit us, we often took her up there”.
“Was Kelly a musician?”
“No, but she loved listening to music, and she really broadened my tastes. Before I met her I really only knew about the classical music I’d learned from Mum and the stuff Owen and I played, but Kelly liked lots of different sorts of music – contemporary folk, classic rock, bluegrass, jazz, new wave. She liked The Police, The Clash, U2, Talking Heads, and she was especially fond of Bruce Cockburn. So I learned a lot of new stuff from her”.
“You would obviously have had a lot of outdoor interests in common, too”.
“Hiking and camping, mainly, and canoeing, and cross country skiing. She wasn’t a bird watcher, although she always enjoyed coming along when I was birding”.
“Did you two ever argue?”
“Oh, sure. Some of our differences were temperamental; she was an extrovert and loved being out with people, and I was an introvert and preferred being at home, or spending time with just a few close friends. It took us a long time to understand those differences and figure out a way to balance them. And then there was the fact that we had a cross-cultural marriage”.
“Definitely; Canada’s different from England. Saskatchewan’s different from other parts of Canada, and Mennonites are different again. We were pretty naïve about it, actually; we assumed that since we spoke the same language we were the same, but we weren’t”.
At that moment I saw Lisa coming back into the room; she walked across to us and said, “I think I’m ready to go home now, Mum”.
“Alright then”. Wendy glanced at me as she was getting to her feet; “What are you going to do?”
“I’ll go and sit in Dad’s room. I imagine I’ll probably snooze a bit in the chair, but at least I’ll be there if he wakes up, or if he needs anything”.
“How are you going to get home in the morning?”
“It’s only a fifteen minute walk”.
“I could come over in the morning and take you home, if you want”.
“Okay; thank you”.
I got to my feet and gave her a hug. Turning to Lisa, I hesitated, and then held out an arm to her. For a moment I saw uncertainty in her eyes, but then she stepped forward and gave me a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for letting me sit in there for a while”, she said.
“I’m glad you had the chance to be with him. Are you going to come back again while he’s here?”
“Of course; he’d want that, and so would my Mum”.
“Thanks, Tom”. She gave me a brief smile before turning to Wendy; “Ready?”
“Yes. See you in the morning, then, Tom”.
After they left, I returned to my father’s room. He was sleeping on his back, his mouth slightly open; I could hear his breath rasping in his chest as I took my seat beside his bed. I watched him for a while, my mind wandering over the events of the last twenty-four hours. From time to time I prayed silently for Rick and his family, for Wendy and Lisa, and for my father. Eventually I nodded off to sleep in the chair, my head resting on my shoulder.
I was jarred from sleep by the sound of coughing. As I opened my eyes I could see my father in the dim light from the slightly open doorway, trying to push himself up on one elbow, his other hand clenched in a fist in front of his mouth. Ignoring the stiffness in my neck and back, I got to my feet, moved over to the bed, and slid my arm under his shoulders. “Here, Dad”, I said; “Let me help you sit up”.
He nodded, still coughing violently, as I slowly lifted him to a sitting position; I raised the bed a little, rearranged the pillows to support him, and then poured him a glass of water from a plastic jug on the table beside the bed. I held the glass to his lips, rubbing his back gently with my other hand as he took a few sips of the water.
Gradually his coughing eased, and he motioned for me to take the glass away. “Would you like anything else?” I asked.
“I think I’m all right, thank you”. He frowned; “Have you been sitting there all night?”
“Is anyone else here?”
“No. Mum was really tired, and we persuaded her to go and get some sleep at Becca’s. Rick and his family were here, too, but they left at about the same time. Wendy and Lisa came for a while; Lisa sat with you for half an hour or so, but Wendy took her home just after midnight”.
“What time is it now?”
I looked at my watch; “Just after four o’clock”.
“You really don’t need to stay, Tom; you’ll be tired out at school in the morning”.
“I haven’t got school in the morning; it’s the Easter holidays”.
“Oh yes, of course”.
At that moment a young nurse appeared in the doorway; “Is everything all right?” she asked.
“He woke himself up coughing”, I explained; “I gave him a little water, and things seem to be settling down now”.
She came into the room, glanced at the monitors and the level in the IV bags, and asked, “Is there anything I can bring you, Mr. Masefield? A cup of cocoa or something?”
“No, thank you”, he replied, settling back on his pillows, “but my son might appreciate something”.
“No – I’m fine”, I said.
“All right; don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything”.
She slipped quietly out of the room, and my father said, “I think I could have the bed down just a little, if you don’t mind, Tom”.
“Right”. I worked the buttons until he indicated that he was satisfied, and then I sat down again in the chair. “You seemed to be sleeping pretty well until you started to cough”, I said.
“I feel as if I did, anyway”. He shifted his body a little in the bed, angling himself toward me a little. “So Wendy and Lisa were here?”
“Yes; Becca rang them, and Lisa wanted to come over to be with you and Mum”.
“That was very thoughtful of her”. He hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Not that it’s any of my business, but is there something happening between you and Wendy?”
“Is that a fairly recent development?”
“It sort of snuck up on us without either of us really expecting it”.
“Do you mind me asking about it, Tom?”
“Does Emma know about it?”
“And what does she think?”
“She likes Wendy a lot. She still misses her Mom, of course, so her feelings are a little mixed up, but she and I talk about it. She just really doesn’t want us to forget Kelly”.
“I don’t expect you’re in any danger of forgetting Kelly, are you?”
I shook my head. “I’d always thought that coming to love someone else might make me miss her less, but somehow the two things seem to be entirely unconnected”.
“You love Wendy, do you?”
“Yes, I do”.
“And does she love you?”
He nodded slowly; “I’m glad for you”, he said. “You deserve a bit of happiness, after the sadness of the last three years”.
“Thanks, Dad; I don’t know yet where it’s going to lead”.
“I understand; you have to go slowly and make sure it’s right. But don’t let happiness pass you by, Tom”.
“No – I don’t intend to”.
“Good. Not that I can give you any lessons in love and marriage; you’ve done very well without my advice”.
“I appreciate your advice a lot, Dad”.
He turned a little on the bed so that he was lying on his back. For a moment we were quiet, and then he said, “You’re going to be able to be a special help to your mother in the days ahead. You’ll understand how she feels, more than anyone else in the family”.
He was quiet for a long time, to the point that I was beginning to think he had fallen asleep again. Eventually, however, he spoke in a voice so soft I could barely hear it. “Do you really think there is life after death?”
“If there isn’t, then Kelly’s life was a cruel joke, and I don’t believe that”.
“No”. He gave a heavy sigh, turning his body on the bed again so that he was facing me; “There are times when it’s easy to believe in cruel jokes, though”.
“Yes, there are”.
“Was your faith shaken by Kelly’s death?”
“Did you stop believing in God?”
“I don’t think I’d put it as strongly as that. What I found difficult was to keep my faith in the goodness and love of God”.
“Ah yes, I see; it’s no comfort to believe in God if God turns out to be a monster”.
“How did you get through it?”
I frowned, shifting a little in my chair to relieve my stiff back. “People helped me a lot”, I replied; “Not so much by giving me the answers, though – I didn’t respond well to that! But there were people who were willing to sit with me, and listen to me, and not try to fix me. My pastor was especially good at that, but so were Kelly’s family, even though they were as heartbroken as I was”.
“Did you ever find an answer to the intellectual problem?”
“The problem of, ‘If God is good, why do bad things happen to good people?’ you mean?”
“Not an entirely watertight answer, no, but you and I are different that way, Dad; you’re such a logical person, and you find your way through the intellect. I’m more intuitive, and my Mennonite friends also taught me that a life of obedience to Jesus is an important part of learning to understand the faith as well. In fact, that may well be the single most important thing my pastor said to me after Kelly died”.
“What was that?”
“I don’t remember when it happened, exactly, but it would have been maybe six or eight months after she died. Dave and I were sitting in his office one day, talking about the fact that I was still struggling to regain my faith in a loving God. He listened to me for a long time, and then he said something very simple. He said, ‘If you were able to completely regain your faith in a loving God, what effect would it have on your behaviour? What would you actually do?’ And I said something like, ‘Well, I suppose I’d love my neighbour as myself – doing things to care for the poor and needy and doing my best to put the teaching of Jesus into practice and all that’. And he said, ‘Why not do it anyway, and see if it doesn’t help you to regain your faith?’ I went away and thought about that a lot, and I said to myself, ‘What have I got to lose?’ So I gave it a try”.
“Did it help?”
“It did; it helped a lot”.
He looked away again, and for a few minutes neither of us spoke; I was beginning to feel sleepy, but I was also very conscious that something significant was happening between the two of us, and I was anxious not to miss anything.
“I lost my faith in my first year of university, you know”, he said quietly.
I was astounded; “I had no idea that you’d ever had any faith to lose”, I replied.
“No, I’ve never talked with you about that part of my story. I’ve very rarely even talked about it with your mother”.
“Do you mind me asking about it?”
“No, I don’t mind”. He turned his head to face me again; “I’m not sure that I’d ever had any sort of really intelligent faith, but when I was young we had been churchgoers. I was confirmed when I was eleven, and I remember that I took a real interest in the confirmation classes. But then I started having doubts”.
“Well, ironically, it was the confirmation classes that prompted them. That was when I read the gospels seriously for the first time, and it seemed to me that the church I knew was nothing like the sort of thing that Christ had in mind when he started the whole thing. My father, for instance, went to church every Sunday, and was very concerned to impress on us the importance of churchgoing, but in his personal life and his professional life I couldn’t really see the sort of thing Christ talked about – you know, turning the other cheek, and not storing up for yourself treasures on earth, and so on. And so I began to wonder – was it all just an act? Did anyone really believe it enough to practice it?”
He shifted his body a little, and I could see that he was trying to get comfortable in the bed. “When I went up to Oriel”, he continued, “I attended chapel regularly, and I still considered myself to be a believer, although my attendance there had more to do with enjoyment of music than with any real faith. I took some philosophy classes in my first year, and my teachers were all agnostics or atheists with very strong arguments against the existence of God. They also taught me that you didn’t need Christianity to lead a decent and good life; there were all sorts of people living good lives without being Christians. Gradually what they were saying came to make more and more sense to me. I’d had a troubling sense of unreality about my faith for a long time, and in some ways it was a relief to abandon the pretense and adopt an outlook on life that seemed to me more honest, and more consistent with reality as I was experiencing it. I’d never seen a miracle, and I’d certainly never met any Christians who didn’t lay up for themselves treasures on earth, so why carry on with the charade?
“Still, to a certain extent I did carry on with it. I knew my father would be very upset if he knew that I had abandoned Christianity, and anyway I still wanted to sing in the chapel choir at Oriel. I didn’t actually stop churchgoing until after I left university, but I’d been saying the creed with my fingers crossed behind my back for years by then”.
He was quiet for a moment, but somehow I knew he was not finished. I could hear two nurses talking quietly out in the corridor, but in the darkened room the only sounds were the quiet hum of the various monitors and the rasping in my father’s chest.
“When you mentioned what your pastor had said about practicing the teachings of Christ as a way to help regain your faith, you reminded me of how I lost mine”, he said. “I think it would have made a real difference if I’d seen someone actually making an honest attempt to live out the things the gospels say. They wouldn’t even have had to do it perfectly; just an honest attempt would have got my attention, I think. But the truth is, Tom, that until you and Emma came back to England last summer, I’d never really known anyone who tried to do that”.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Dad”.
“You’ve got nothing to apologize for. As I said, you and Emma are the first people I’ve really known who seem to be making an honest attempt to live by the teachings of Christ. And I’m not going to claim that you’ve succeeded in making a Christian out of me, but I will say this, Tom – you’ve succeeded in giving me doubts about my doubts”.
“That’s a real compliment”, I said softly; “Thank you. Can I pass that on to Emma?”
“Yes. In fact, I might talk to her about it myself”.
“Do that, Dad; it would mean a lot to her”.
He nodded slowly. “Well, son”, he said, “I think I’m going to try to sleep a little more. How about you?”
“Yes, I think that might be wise”.
“Don’t you think it might be easier if you stretched out on a couch in the waiting room or something?”
I grinned at him; “You really are trying to get rid of me, aren’t you?”
“No”, he replied; “In fact, I very much appreciate the fact that you’re here. But I’m not good at falling asleep when someone’s watching me”.
“Okay – that I can understand”. I got to my feet, leaned forward and put my hand on his arm. “Are you going to be all right? Is there anything I can get for you?”
“No thank you, son. Try to sleep yourself, all right?”
“I will”. I squeezed his arm, and then turned and slipped out of the room.