At 1.15 pm on Tuesday 18th May I was finishing work at my desk before going into church for prayer at 1.30 and mass at 2.00 pm. After mass I would be back in the house and ready for the phone consultation at 4.00 pm from the hospital. Over the months these phone conversations had gone well, every one reassuring for the two main specialists and their teams. It was good and steady progress since I came out of hospital in late July 2020.
The phone went. Kath from the hospital. “Hello, Kath” I said, “I thought our consultation was at four o’clock.” “Fr John” she said, “your bloods are not good. We need you in hospital immediately. Can you come now?”
I explained the people were waiting for me in church I would not want to let them down. She understood – and told me to come immediately after mass. I was emotional at mass but told nobody. I knew they would hear from my voice there was something wrong but I could not risk telling them. I knew this might be my last mass at St Joseph’s, in the quiet of an early Tuesday afternoon.
It was cancer. Glimpses of it last year when I was in hospital in July, but only to be aware of. Other factors were more urgent but puzzling, my body seeming to be imploding. I had never been ill before 2020 so I did not know how to be. Just a few rugby injuries had meant my being in hospital during the course of my life but I had always been blessed with good health. I was now being told the cancer had suddenly flared.
My ten days (18th-28th May) now were as happy and fulfilling as last year’s ten days. Wonderful caring and encouraging staff, kept fully up-to-date with all the details, and was invited to be part of two research projects. It would be a privilege, I told the doctors. I had had a wonderfully happy life for 86 years and to be able to help others would be a privilege. I had no reservations, I agreed unconditionally and was glad to help. Just a couple of questions I had: I loved serving God’s people in whatever way I could. Best way to help the research teams, I was told, was to carry on as usual.
I loved leading pilgrimages to Rome, Lourdes, Malta, Assisi, Italian Lakes, Padua and Venice. Shouldn’t be a problem, they said, and they would certainly support my obtaining travel insurance.
I was completely at peace and surrendered myself to God (we are good friends, though I tell God much more should be done for the many who suffer under the rotten and amoral political leaders who seek and hold on to power: local, tribal, religious, political, dictatorial, and ruin our beautiful world into poverty and hunger and gulags and concentration camps and refugees and exiles – when we know we have enough for everyone if only we would learn how to share), but I still surrender to God. I always have.
And God blesses me with you. My prayer in hospital was all thanksgiving, there were moments of new understanding (even at 86!), wonderful glimpses of memory from down the years that carry eternity within them. One quiet moment in memory that gave me a glimpse of eternity (I’ll tell you another time) and a sudden understanding of holding you all together in my rosary because you were holding me! I “saw” my life as a beautiful gift from you and God. You and your love have made me who I am. A wonderful moment. God smiled “You are beginning to understand.” I knew.
A wonderful ten days were completed yesterday evening and I came home. I am home and blessed. I’ve just had a delicious breakfast and am now in the prayer room. I am totally spoiled – but God knows how much I want to share all I have been given. I shall be shown and it will be through you I shall know: that rosary moment quietly showed me.
I’ll phone Alison now to dictate this (she is working on the newsletter) and then I shall go again to prayer, taking you with me.
God bless you,
(30th May 2021)