Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

I've been serving children in crisis for over twenty five years. My goals are not to raise money, but to find organisations and individuals who can help change lives! What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe! To learn more please visit our site at: www.ProjectNewLife.org

Wednesday

The Best Waitress In The World

A Friend and I had tea at one of Eastbourne’s seaside hotels this weekend. We hadn’t seen one another in many months and I had missed seeing her. We had lots to catch up on. Unfortunately, many of the local seafront hostelries are of the ‘Fawlty Towers’ variety. But the one we chose was actually quite nice.

The sea-front room we sat in wasn’t busy. I wouldn’t expect it to be during off-season. There were no more than 14 guests in the entire dining room. In one corner stood what appeared to be the matriarch of service staff. She looked to be in her sixties and the lines on her face certainly had stories to tell – the most revealing one was that she did not want to be there!

I watched her amble up to her customers, shoulders slumped forward, as if in submission to whatever demon it was that haunted her. And with no movement of her elbows, she’d shove a menu card onto the table and walk away. It was an amazing sight.

To our fortune we had the other waitress. She couldn’t have been any older than 17. There was a sparkle of youth in her eyes and she was actually a bit ‘over-chatty.' As she moved back and forth from the diners to her prep table, she’d glance back several times, as if she were repeatedly taking a mental inventory of the number of people at the table.

There they were, the yin and yang of wait staff. And the scene was not unlike many we witness in Britain’s service industry. Bearing in mind that in Britain salaries for wait staff are deplorable; customers don’t generally tip, and we don’t tend to rate very high on motivating staff. This symbol of age diversity appeared to have just been left to it - to get on with what they were hired to do: distribute teas and cakes and collect the money.

Our waitress’ name was Fiona. I only know this because I asked. She had no nametag. But I always prefer to address staff by a name rather than the anonymous ‘Oh miss!’ You would have thought Fiona was from America. It was less than five minutes before we had a complete dossier on her life, right down to the number of days she had been ‘going with’ her new boyfriend, Bryon. (14 days).

What I found unique was in how Fiona would methodically work through her tasks. When we ordered, she’d repeat it, not write it down. And you could see her point her eyes upwardly, as if she were gazing into her forehead, to ensure that her brain was connected and paying attention. And after she brought our simple order of tea and scones, she quietly but audibly called out the items that were on the table. ‘Spoons, cups, tea, clotted cream, jam, extra hot water.’ ‘No, there wasn’t any extra hot water.’ Fiona said this, not me. And off she went to fetch more water for the teapot.

When Fiona returned with the water I asked her if I could ask her a question. ‘Sure,’ she replied. I told her that I didn’t recall seeing anyone go through such strides before to make sure everything was in place.

Fiona half sighed and half smiled. ‘That’s my Nan over there,’ she said, as she pointed her thumb backwards over her shoulder towards the other waitress, whom I had now bestowed with the name ‘Gloom monster.’ ‘She raised me up on account of my mum couldn’t cope with me. My Nan says I’ll grow up to be nothing, just like me mum. She’s in Brockhill (a women’s prison in the Midlands). But I never see her.'

Fiona went on: ‘I don’t want to be a failure; I want to make something of myself. I like this job and I want to work in one of the fancy hotels in London, but they say you got to have good training.’

I told her I was impressed. I asked if she had received training that taught her to name out the items on the table. ‘No,’ said Fiona, ‘I just hear people complain all the time about my Nan because she never brings them things, so I decided that I would make a list for myself to go through.’ And at that point she pulled out of her apron a crinkled folded sheet of paper and put it in front of me. ‘See,’ she said proudly, ‘this is my list of things I make for myself and I put it on my work station when I start work so I can go over it. Do you think this is the right thing to do?’

The list consisted of roughly written, and badly misspelled words; but the point was clear: Smile, say Hi, ask if they like it, get the order right, ask if you can bring more things. There were other words on the list, but I couldn’t quite make them out.

Her eyes were wide as if she desperately needed someone to validate her creativity. ‘Well done!’ I told her. ‘Who taught you to do this?’ I asked. ‘Nobody, I just want to make sure I do things right,’ she said confidently.

I told her I thought she was doing a lovely job and she should be proud of how hard she was working. Fiona left the table smiling.

She came around twice and asked if there were anything else we would like. Rather than focusing on our originally intended chit-chat, my friend and I continued to watch her. She had regimented herself in the way she served her guests. And my friend noted that it was almost as if Fiona intentionally distanced herself, as far as possible, away from her grandmother.

We didn’t need to ask for the bill. Fiona watched to see when we had finished. She came up and asked if there were anything else she could bring us. And when I said ‘no, thank you,’ Fiona asked if she could leave the bill on our table and she would come collect it whenever it was convenient for us.

I smiled at her. Her demeanour was lovely and I have no doubt, with the determination she showed us, she will rise above the obviously difficult life she has already endured.

But I had a surprise to come. Fiona looked at us and asked, ‘do you mind if I ask you two something?’ I said ‘sure,’ not knowing exactly what was coming. ‘ It’s kind of personal,’ she added.

In that instant I had a sudden surge of adrenaline, as I was preparing myself to be asked if we could either adopt her, or fund some home-study course on hotel management. Shame on me.

‘How long do you think it will take me?’ My friend and I looked at each other. My friend asked, ‘how long will what take?’ Fiona looked at us both. I’m sure she was looking at my friend a bit longer than she looked at me; perhaps she was sizing her up as potential mother, or older sister material. ‘How long will it take me to learn to be the best waitress ever?’

We all encounter moments in our lives that we instinctively know we will never forget for as long as we live. I had to stand up. I smiled at Fiona as I rose from my chair and I placed my hand on her arm and looked intently into her eyes.

‘Fiona,’ I said, ‘You already are the best waitress in the world. Your commitment starts now, this very second. It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities for learning and doing better. But as long as you are determined to be the best, you will remain the best, forever.’

I think she wanted to hug me. It was quite cute watching her body language as she smiled at me, then looked at my friend, then back at me. She didn’t, but I know she clearly understood what I had shared with her.

There are lots of Fiona’s in this world. And there’s an equal number of Gloom Monsters about as well. But it’s the Fiona’s who will prevail.

So, whatever it is you are striving for; be it a medical degree, a relationship, or the field of hospitality, it is today that you are the best.
Now, leave everyone behind in a trail of smoke!
May God bless you Fiona, wherever life takes you.
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Saturday

Fast Tracks To Hell

I stood with the nurse looking at the body of this young girl. Still attached were the NG tube and the somewhat unusually placed intravenous line. The emergency team had to use a point in her neck, as they were unable to find a vein that hadn’t been abused or collapsed from her injecting drugs elsewhere.

They’d worked on her for almost forty-five minutes, attempting to resuscitate her heart. But her body was too far beyond being able to help itself any more.

The girl had either overdosed on heroin or the concoction she bought had been mixed with something even more lethal. This would be for the coroner to determine.

It was a tragic sight, and one that is all too common these days. At nineteen years old, this child had only experienced sadness and misery throughout her life. According to her long medical history she had been in and out of hospital most of her life; the earliest notations reflecting that she had been a victim of child abuse ten years earlier. The nurse, Rachel, pointed out that her medical history indicated there was no emergency contact, along with a note that her mother had died the previous year from a drug overdose. Her body had already remained there for a couple of hours as the nursing and orderly staff were quite busy.

Every month there’s a small trickle of young people who try to escape their lives by heading south to the English coast. Sadly, the problems they are running from most often become compounded when they discover that their real crisis comes from within.

This wasn’t one of the hospitals where I generally serve. I had come to visit with the nurse to discuss arranging an interment service for her mother’s cremains. Rachel’s shift was at night and it was easier for both of us, for me to come visit her during her break, and then I could visit a family who lived nearby. But I knew that any emergency would take priority over her break schedule.

I asked Rachel for a favour. I wanted to bring someone to see this girl’s body. I was quickly thinking of an idea that I hoped might bring some light from this darkness.

She didn’t mind, but said I would have to do it immediately, otherwise, the porter would take the girl’s body to the morgue and she would no longer have authority to let me see her. I promised her I’d try to be back within the hour. It was a long drive to where I intended to go and I wasn’t entirely certain I’d find the girl I wanted to see.

I met Laura last October in a supermarket. She was trying to pay for her groceries but was so high she couldn’t sort the coins in her purse. In addition to the strong stench of alcohol, Laura had the drawn skeletal features of a drug addict.

Over a period of months I came to learn about her life. I didn’t see her regularly. On many occasions she’d send me text messages, asking me to come see her, but when I’d get there she was either not there, or had chosen not to respond to my knocking. This went on for almost four months. Over time, however, I began to piece together bits of information about Laura. Even in the hot summer sun, she always had her arms and legs completely covered.

One day as I sat with her in a park I noticed her ankles. They had horrific welts on the back, slightly above the heel. Although she had continually insisted that her problem was with alcohol, my suspicions were confirmed and I encouraged her to be truthful with me. She had been injecting heroin with her husband for the past two years.

But over the past couple of weeks there had been some dramatic changes taking place - some positive, and some frightening. Laura now has a place to live on her own. And she’s free of her drug addict husband. I physically carried him and his meagre belongings to the train station and purchased a one-way ticket to the town where his mother lived. And I prepared an application for a court order, on Laura’s behalf, to prevent him from coming near her.

A constable friend of mine helped by explaining to Laura’s husband, in the most graphic terms, what would happen to him should he come anywhere near her new home. Honestly, I think the only thing that really frightened him was the constable’s ‘aide memoire’ that he’d be unable to have access to any drugs at all.

It was with a mix of relief and caution that I was even able to get him on the train. I don’t think I would have been successful without him being high on whatever it was he was taking. I know he had been injecting himself with a mixture of heroin and amphetamines, so his behaviour was, at best, unpredictable.

I eventually found the small bedsit Laura had been given by the local council. There was a single bed, a miniature fridge that couldn’t hold much more than a pint of milk and some cheese, a chair, and an extremely old radio.

When Laura opened the door she was happy to see me. She put her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. I actually shuddered as I felt the icy kiss of near death from her lips on my face. Her eyes had shrunk deep into their sockets, and as I put my hand on her arms to slightly guide her towards her chair, all I could feel were her bones, enveloped with loose tissue. It was truly as close as I could imagine to dealing with a deceased body several days old. And I noticed that she now looked quite jaundiced; suggesting possible hepatitis and liver disease, or worse.

I told Laura I wanted to take her somewhere with me this very moment and she’d have to leave now. She asked me where I was taking her. I told her it was a surprise. She didn’t argue. In fact, she was high from something. I noticed beneath the small fridge, several squares of aluminium foil, which is often a sign that someone had been burning heroin.

As we headed west towards the hospital, Laura told me how pleased she was that she now had a chance for a new life. During the drive she shared many stories about her husband and his addiction. But each time I asked her about her own addictions and her own participation in using heroin she tried to obfuscate the truth.
Laura constantly fiddled with her hands, picking at the stubs of her fingernails. I noticed that the right sleeve of her shirt had pulled up to her elbow, revealing her forearm. It looked as if acid had been poured on her arm and even in the dark of the car, each time the car passed under a street lamp I could see the necrosis that had begun to engulf her arm, as a result of the injected heroin burning her capillaries.

As I pulled up to the hospital's A&E entrance, Laura momentarily panicked. I quickly calmed her, explaining that I wasn’t kidnapping her and wasn’t going to try to admit her. I told her I just wanted her to meet a ‘friend.’ She asked me if it was someone I ‘visited,’ which I took to mean in the context of the way I visit her. I responded truthfully, no.

I asked at reception for Rachel. It was just a few short minutes before she came out. Rachel hugged me, which was nice because I noticed that Laura seemed to calm somewhat by seeing this gesture. I introduced Laura to Rachel as my friend. Rachel asked if we wanted to go in now. I said, ‘yes, please.’

Laura asked where we were going. I only said again that I wanted her to meet someone. Before Laura could respond we were standing directly outside the curtains surrounding the dead girl’s bed. I parted the curtains and gestured for Laura to step in.

I had thought about this moment as I drove to get Laura and I asked myself whether I was doing the right thing. I tried to imagine how much further the process of rigor mortis would have progressed over the hour I had been away. It was sufficient.

The girl’s mouth had expanded wide open, as if she were gagging. Her left eye was open and her right eye slightly so. Her body had ever so slightly begun to arch. Her head was turned in such a way as if she were looking directly at Laura as she stepped inside the curtained area.

I watched Laura’s face intently. At first I could she was trying to comprehend what she was seeing in the darkened area and her mouth opened to form the words to say ‘hello.’ But before she could utter a sound, the realisation overwhelmed her. She recoiled in fright. I stood directly beside Laura with my left arm behind her so she couldn’t back away from the bedside.

I introduced Laura to ‘Tina.’ I explained that Tina was a heroin addict ‘just like her.’ And tonight she died from taking heroin. I lifted the side of the bed sheet to reveal the girl’s arms. ‘You see, Laura,’ as I pointed to the girl’s arm, ‘she has track marks, collapsed veins, and rotting flesh just like yours.’ I left her arm uncovered and then pulled hard at the bottom of the sheet to reveal the girl’s ankles. ‘And you see, Laura, she has the same track marks that you have on your ankles and arms.’

Laura was trembling and her mouth was locked open, almost as if she were cruelly mocking the dead girl. But it was more of a silent scream. I told Laura to sit down in the chair beside the girl. She did as I told her, but then instantly jumped up when she realised that the girl’s head was tilted in her direction, as if death were staring directly at her.

I told Laura that I was going to step out for a moment to see the nurse and I’d be right back. Again Laura jumped up. She didn’t want me to leave her there. But I spoke to her forcefully and told her to ‘stay seated until I return.’

Rachel had been standing at the nursing station. I don’t think she had been able to hear what transpired. But I went out to thank her. I asked if I could come back later this week to arrange her mum’s memorial. She agreed that it had been too hectic a night and she wasn’t in the mindset to do it now.

I went back to Laura. Before I moved the curtain back, I heard Laura sobbing. As I opened the curtain Laura turned from looking at the girl to me. She asked me why her mouth and eyes were open. I explained that this was often a natural process of death. She asked if ‘Tina’ could see her. I told her not in the way she imagined, but yes. And I added that she could hear her as well if she would care to say anything to her.

Laura started crying again. She repeatedly spoke to the girl saying how sorry she was. I asked her if she would like to say a prayer for ‘Tina.’ Laura said she didn’t know how and she had never read ‘any book’ about saying prayers. I told her God never uses books anyway – He’d much prefer her to say what she felt. I asked Laura if she would like me to step out. She said ‘please.’

It wasn’t intentional, but I did hear what Laura said. Her tear-choked voice carried through the empty darkened resuscitation suite.

As I drove her back to her room, Laura asked me what would now happen to ‘Tina.’ I explained that ‘Tina’s’ mother was dead and as best I understood, the hospital had no one further to contact regarding her death. She pressed me to tell her what would become of Tina.

I asked Laura why she wanted to know. She said she was afraid that ‘Tina’ would be forgotten about. I asked her if she thought she’d forget ‘Tina.’ Laura looked at me with a mixture of incredulity and anger. She blurted out ‘I know why you brought me here tonight.’ I asked her ‘why did I then, Laura?’

She began crying harder than she had at hospital. I pulled over and stopped the car. I quietly asked Laura if this was how she saw her life ending. She wept uncontrollably. She said she was frightened. – and that ‘what I made her see was the worst thing she had ever seen in her life.’ I told her that all I had done this evening was to hold up a mirror for her.

She wept bitterly and between her sobs she kept repeating that she didn’t want to die like this. I asked her what would ‘we’ need to do to make certain this didn’t happen. Laura said she needed to ‘see someone.’ I asked her if I could take her to a drug addiction centre the following morning. She said ‘please.’

It was close to 2am when I dropped Laura off. I told her I’d come for her at 9. I sent her a text message at 0830 this morning, reminding her that I was coming to collect her. When I arrived she was standing outside waiting for me.

As we made the long drive to the drug crisis centre, Laura asked me if I would sit with her when she first spoke with someone. I promised her that I would.

I should imagine when someone is trying to save a sinking ship, they’re not going to bicker about how the ship is saved, as long as it remains above water. I’m not necessarily at odds with myself over the methodology I’ve used in this instance, especially as I believe, without reserve, that Laura’s life is in precarious balance. Only time will tell how far into the abyss she has fallen.

And now, I can find hope believing that ‘Tina’s’ life has left a powerful memory for good, rather than sorrow.



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Sunday

When We Need a Little Help

If you’re a parent who works you most likely rely upon someone to help you with your children. It could be a relative, or it could be a paid carer. If you travel for a living you may leave your complete trust with your partner to compensate for your absence. And there can be times such as flight delays, illness, or even death, when you must have faith in people outside your typical circle to help you.

I too am grateful to so many who help me. This past year I’ve had some frustrating challenges with my health and it's that circle of friends who tirelessly do so much to help who often keep me energised. I even receive help in my email communications at times. And to those who work so hard to decipher my scribbled thoughts for my diary from time-to-time, I’m not only eternally grateful, but in awe over how they’re able to make any sense of my chicken-scratchings.

But there are times when you have to leave your trust in God and God alone to help.

Several years ago I boarded a night flight to Johannesburg. I was dreading the trip. I was facing a seven hour journey to Dubai, plus another eight hours on the next sector to Johannesburg. I was tired and really wasn’t looking forward to the flight. Although I had a book with me, I knew my eyes would be staring at the back of my eyelids long before the aircraft pushed back from the gate at Heathrow.

Dreading the journey so, I held back until everyone else had boarded. I was the only one remaining in the boarding lounge and the gate agent was piercing holes in my head with her eyes, as if she were frustrated that she couldn't close out the flight because of me, so I grudgingly presented my boarding pass, apologised, and sauntered down the jetway to the aircraft.

I worked my way through the cabin to my seat row and was delighted to discover the seat next to mine was unoccupied. The rest of the cabin was full. I immediately decided to nick the spare pillow and blanket, once the doors were shut, so I could prop them under my arms as I nestled in for my sleep.

But as I was doing my typical reconnaissance of my surroundings-how many rows to the nearest emergency exit, a quick glance at who was seated in my vicinity and digging out the eye mask from the amenity kit, I noticed a police officer come on board, followed by a girl, who I would guess was in her early twenties. Behind her was another officer.

I watched with curiosity as one of the officers briefly spoke with the senior flight attendant. She pointed to the girl to head down the aisle to find her seat; the officers left and the door was shut. Before the girl had moved past me my attention had already turned to making myself comfortable. But just as I picked up the pillow and blanket, she was standing beside me. She didn’t say anything. Her body language said she was to be seated beside me. I have no idea why I just assumed she’d be going into the cabins behind me. I later learned from the crew that an airline employee had been given the last seat in economy.

I apologised and mumbled that I didn’t think there would be anyone sitting beside me. As I stood up to let her move into the window seat she briefly said ‘ The hostess told me to sit here.’ I again apologised. I allowed her to get her seatbelt on and then handed her the pillow and blanket, again apologising. And at that my mind went back to my planned activity of going to sleep.

‘Are you going to Sydney?’ she asked. I replied that I wasn’t. I don’t recall saying where I was headed. I had answered her question, politely, but I didn’t wish to engage in any conversation. In fact, I closed my eyes at that, hoping to make the polite point that I was going to sleep.

‘Did you see the police come on with me?’ she asked. I had, but I thought it was more polite to say I hadn’t. ‘I was told I had to leave. I exceeded my visa. And if I stayed any longer I was going to get in a lot of trouble.’ I told her that must have been a frightening experience. And I added that I had hoped Her Majesty's Government had been, at the very least, polite about the whole experience.

The girl began talking. And to be honest, I don’t recall her stopping from that point. She had met a boy from England when he came to the Northern Territory in Australia two years earlier. When he returned home she had flown to England to be with him. But apparently the relationship didn’t last a month, especially when she discovered that he already had a girlfriend-something he had accidentally forgotten to share with her.

The girl, like so many who come to Britain and become part of the patina of London’s multiculturalism, didn’t want to return. The outback town she came from offered nothing but an endless open cattle range of dust and loneliness. She had found herself a job as a waitress in one of London’s many anonymous café’s.

She told me that her father was ‘mean’ and that her mother had wanted them to leave him for ‘a long time.’ She was ‘caught’ in London when two Home Office Immigration Officers came to the café to check the paperwork of all the staff. She was very emotional about what might await her once she arrived in Australia. She had the (wrong) impression that she would be arrested for having overstayed her visa in the UK.

I asked her how she was going to get back to her town, which was about 200km north of Alice Springs. She said she didn’t know, especially as the least expensive ticket she could find only took her to Sydney. She didn’t know anyone in Sydney, but was more concerned over what might await her because she had stayed beyond the date HM Customs had stamped in her passport.

During the meal (yes, I ended up eating) and throughout the flight I reinforced the fact that nothing would happen to her for overstaying her visa. She seemed to physically calm over this and then her concerns turned to what she was going to do in Sydney. She told me that she really didn’t want to go back to where her dad was and she wistfully mentioned that perhaps her mum could come to her.

I remembered how many youth hostels there were in the areas of Kings Cross and Wooloomooloo and told her how easy it would be to get there and suggested that she stay in one for a few nights and she could check the boards for part-time jobs. This seemed to have sparked a more positive attitude from her. Her demeanour slowly changed from the frightened and nervous passenger, to one who was now clinging to a mustard seed of ideas.

As the morning sun was cresting over the Arabian Sea we prepared for landing in Dubai. Seven hours had passed and I don’t think the girl had once stopped talking. I looked at the headset, with its wires still wrapped into a neat little bow, poking out of my seatback pocket and imagined how nice it would be to get on the next flight and go to sleep!

As the plane taxied to the gate, the girl, (I never knew her name, nor she mine), said something to me that I shall never forget. ‘Thank you for talking to me all this time. I had actually said a prayer to God that it would have been nice to have a priest, or someone like that, sit next to me to talk to, but I’m glad it was you instead.’

'Perhaps I was meant to be here too,' I replied.
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I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in Your word. Psalm 119:147
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Thursday

A Bedside Prayer for Death of a Child

I was honoured to have attended a child’s passing last night. Kayleigh was nine years old. She would have turned ten in November. Leukaemia had ravaged her body and she was extremely weak from both the illness and the aggressive treatments she had endured over the past few months.

Several hours earlier, the doctors had worked determinedly to resuscitate her when her heart failed. I didn’t need to ask in this case, I instinctively knew that Kayleigh’s mother still had not moved to acceptance that her daughter’s body was failing and thus had refused to sign the ‘DNR’ order, allowing Kayleigh’s spirit to pass on without further interference with her body. But you could see in the eyes of the kind doctor and nurses that they knew what the inevitable outcome would be.

In the early afternoon Kayleigh was talking with her seven-year-old sister Justine and mother. I sat in a chair far in the corner of the room. I could still just barely hear them speak, but couldn’t always clearly hear what was being said. Justine had been devotedly swabbing Kayleigh’s lips with a small sponge on a stick to provide moisture to her lips.

It was just before 5 when Kayleigh’s mother said she needed to take Justine home where her grandmother was preparing dinner. She would return within the half-hour. I promised I would remain with Kayleigh while she was gone.

As I walked with the mother and child to the doors of the ward, Justine looked up at me and said ‘ Kayleigh said she is going to send each of us a card.’ She said it with that beautiful conviction that only children can show, as if they were speaking of Father Christmas arriving the following morning. ‘That’s wonderful Justine,’ I said. ‘I’ll look forward to hearing from her.’


I said goodbye at the hallway and watched the pitiful figure of the mother move down the hallway, with Justine half-skipping, half-running beside her. I could hear Justine cheerfully chatting away about something as I turned back into the hospital ward.
When I returned to Kayleigh’s room, she was still. Her eyes were open and in any other setting, saving the pale grey appearance of her skin, you might have thought she was just gazing at the ceiling. It had only been a matter of minutes from when we had walked out the door to my return and Kayleigh's body had taken its last breath.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I also felt myself smiling. She was at peace. But there was something much more powerful in the moments that had passed. Kayleigh had fought hard to remain there for her mother and sister – to impart that powerful message to Justine – that she’s only going on a journey, not that she simply wouldn’t exist anymore.

And for both her mother and sister, Kayleigh’s passing occurred at a moment when little Justine would not have been subjected to a repeat of her mother’s frantic and poignant fight to try to protect her daughter from a disease that had ravaged the child’s body.

One of the nurses named Betty, came into the room and saw me standing at the end of the bed. It only took seconds for her to realise that Kayleigh had passed. I was deeply touched because without any words she put her arms around me and hugged me. Betty removed the IV line whilst I closed Kayleigh’s eyes and together we straightened the bed and turned down the lights. I didn’t really think about it, but I took a floppy eared sock rabbit that Justine had brought her sister from the nightstand and tucked it in beside Kayleigh.

I asked Betty if she would like to stay with me as I offered prayers for Kayleigh. She held up her finger to indicate ‘just a moment,’ and she left the room. Seconds later she returned with another nurse and one of the ward assistants. We gathered around Kayleigh’s bed and prayed:
Christ Jesus, most merciful Saviour,
Hear our prayers as we gather in Your name
We commend this child into Your arms of mercy.
Kayleigh has been a blessing to all who knew her.

She brought laughter, warmth, and comfort to many
And in the moments when her mother and others showed despair
Kayleigh provided a noble message of hope and promise,
in her unfailing conviction that her life here may be limited
but is by no means final.

Grant comfort and strength to those who gather here now,
dedicating their lives to the care of others,
who often must face life as it moves to shadows.
Embrace them with Your eternal love
through everything they do.

Thank you for the love we would never have known,
but for Kayleigh’s brief days with us.

May the angels surround Kayleigh
and the saints welcome her with joy.

Lord God, we commend this child to Your everlasting care.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the staff very sweetly offered to remain with Kayleigh as I walked to the entrance of the hospital to await the return of her mother.
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Now Lord, You let Your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. Support us O Lord all the day long of this troublous life. Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. The busy world is hushed, The fever of life is over and our work is done. Then Lord, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, A Holy rest, and peace at last. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
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Wednesday

Finding The Right Words of Comfort

What does one say to distraught and grieving parents who have just buried their young child?


Truthfully there isn’t much we can say that will help. We can express our sorrow and sympathy. We can offer words of care and concern and of course love. We can tell the parents that we shall pray for them. But for most of us the truth is that we don’t know what to say.

I stood a short distance from the family as mourners came to offer their condolences after the burial. And I watched and listened as people so desperately tried to convey their compassion over the tragic loss this young couple have just experienced.

Some fumbled with words then simply broke into tears. Others offered sentiments that some might consider to be inane or even cruel. ‘You’re both young, you’ll have more children,’ one woman offered. The couple were too lost in their grief to even comprehend what the woman had said.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to say that we sometimes say the wrong things. In our distress with another person’s suffering we often feel that we must offer words that will somehow help move the grieving individuals along.

Personally, I feel there is much more of a spiritual connection and sentiment in the power of a silent embrace. No words are necessary to convey sharing the human emotion of pain and sorrow and loss. Especially when we all accept that there are no answers. And so we weep at what has happened. And so too - God weeps with us.

One elderly gentleman suggested that the child’s death was God’s will. I disagree. The God we worship, our God who watches over us, doesn’t will the death of children, or the pain of their parents. Many, many things that happen in this world are not the will of God. That is part of the price of the freedom we have been given by God.

I watched the couple stand in numb silence as an aunt told them that God wanted their son in Heaven with Him. While I am confident God has welcomed him into His kingdom, I am certain God did not want this child to die right now so that He could have him there.

Others continued to offer the same thought; that they were young and they could have more children. This may be true, but other children will never replace this little life. He was his own person. The empty place his death has left in their hearts will never be filled simply because they have another child. Nor should it be. Every child is unique and precious. I realise that people say such things with a desire to comfort the bereaved. They desperately long to find some way to help. May God Bless them for it.

But know that we are faced with a mystery - the mystery of life, and of death, in which there are no easy answers.

And for the grieving parents who may feel that no one will ever understand their pain?...

God understands. He has a son who died also.
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Preparing For Christmas

We’re now reaching the last weekend before Christmas. And as with every single year in the past, the newspapers will be sure to find someone - usually a clergyman, to voice the complaint that the whole season has become nothing more than an orgy of spending and consumption, and to declare that they intend to 'drop out' and give the money they save to people who need it.

With equal certainty, this will then be matched by another voice, condemning such a killjoy attitude and insisting that we should join in the full festivities, grateful that even such a secular world as ours still gives so much to a major Christmas festival.

This little ritual is a regular occurrence because both voices strike a chord. Sometimes it really does seem as though Christmas Day, when it comes, is more of a whimper than a bang, and all the preparation and expenditure ends in a 'celebration' that for a lot of people doesn't amount to much more than a day in front of the telly, watching special editions of programmes they would have watched anyway.

At the same time, it's deeply built into human beings that from time to time they should push the boat out, and organise occasions when the economical gives way to the extravagant. To refuse ever to do this is not to remain sensible in the face of general foolishness, but to cast ourselves in the part of Scrooge.

It might seem that the answer lies in striking a balance, but the matter goes deeper than this. To know how and where to strike that balance, we need to experience a genuine sense of celebration; we need to know what the point of all the activity is, and what gives it meaning.



Otherwise, Christmas really is just going through expensive, if not time honoured motions, a case of perfectly pointless 'shop till you drop.'

Perhaps this Christmas season, amidst the financial woes of the world, we will think a bit less of the commercial and begin to focus more on our greatest and most meaningful gifts - family, friends, and the greatest gift of all - the one that arrived in a grotty barn on a star filled night.







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Friday

Words of Comfort For the Dying

What do you say to someone who is dying? What words of comfort for the dying can you offer? And especially, how do we offer prayers for the dying?

A parent of friends of mine is currently in our local hospice. It’s sad to see that his deterioration has come so rapidly and particularly in that he has so clearly been fighting for survival. On Saturday, he was unconscious and it was thought that he would soon pass. But on Sunday morning, he was chatting with his wife and hospice staff. This is not unusual.

It’s a common occurrence to see people in the final hours of their lives, moving between a peaceful calm and an anxious state. There is clearly a struggle in their spirit to live. And it’s a fact that the strength of that spirit is undeniably tied to their struggle to remain on this earthly plain. Even though their physical bodies are failing and damaged beyond our ability to repair, the powerful spirit within that individual – that deep instinct to protect our human shell, fights to accept any kind of quality of life that is offered them.

Death is that moment of passing that comes as the spirit acknowledges that these mortal remains are no longer able to sustain its presence. And it is okay to acknowledge this, to accept it as yet another part of our journey. In fact, this is where the presence of family, friends and carers can often help most, with their words of comfort and prayers. The dying will come to accept the new journey that their spirit needs to take.

If you’re a family member, speak of the happy times you’ve shared together, the celebrations you’ve had, the joys you’ve experienced together and never forget to share how much you love them. Acknowledge that this is just an interval in time and that you will all be together again soon.

If you’ve had a spirited relationship with the person who’s dying, acknowledge that you’ve had your ‘ups and downs,’ but reaffirm the power of that love and ask them to forgive any transgression there may have been. Please, do not use this time to be accusatory or stating what your wishes may have been. This time is long past and by your presence and giving of yourself; you are providing the greatest blessing you could ever imagine – for both of you.

One of the greatest gifts you can provide, whether you’re a family member, friend, or professional carer is the gift of touch. Even when words can no longer be spoken, the gift of touch is a potent form of spiritual communication. I often rub the hands or feet of someone who is in transition. There are times when I stroke their hair. These gentle acts are no different than the loving embrace we receive as we come into this world.

And of course, there’s the power of prayer. Never underestimate the strength of that communication. As you offer your supplications, not only does God hear, but the living spiritual being you’re praying for hears as well. Acknowledging that it’s okay to let go, that there is life beyond is a form of blessing. And indeed, you too will be blessed.
Heavenly Father
You have given us so much. Thank You for the gift of life, for all the treasures we received, through the wealth of those who’ve loved us and those whom we’ve loved.
This body You have given is frail and damaged. And now we ask You to grant us peace, as we begin our next journey, to a new life, free of pain and suffering. Ease the sorrow of those we leave behind, knowing that we will always live on in their heart.
Take my hand and lead me now, until that time when we shall meet again, on that day where there is no sunset and no dawn. Amen
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Saturday

A Thought For Advent

This may seem an odd subject to write about at the beginning of Advent, but this year there have been many successes in the arrests of child-traffickers and those who exploit women and children for gain. I see this as a wonderful blessing. But there is still a long way to go.

The trafficking of the young and innocent is an appalling offence. It inevitably affects the most vulnerable and least secure of women and children, making them false promises and offering false hope. These girls from Eastern Europe, often struggling with poverty, come to our country in trust, dependent for their safety on those who brought them over, believing that here they’ll find a loving home, honest work and have legal protection.

Instead, they’re betrayed, exploited and abused by the very people they depend upon. Often lured by women working for the traffickers, the girls are sold the dream of a safe, loving family of other girls in similar circumstances who will care for them and help guide them along the way in their new life. How tragically different the truth is.


Enforced prostitution is an utter violation of women. It is a violation by a whole racketeering industry, which treats them as commodities and robs them of sexual integrity. It is a violation by individuals who want what the women have, without any respect for who they are.

And yet, this is an appropriate Christmas story. For it taps us into the darker side of Christmas. It reminds us this is the kind of world that God came into: a world where the vulnerable are abused and where to be fragile is to be easily exploited. Human violation of the defenceless was as great at that first Christmas as it is now; with homeless refugees on the move, and the slaughter of hundreds of innocent children.

The irony of the Christmas event is that God didn’t come as a great military hero to impose a new regime, or as the world’s policeman to do a clean-up job. He came precisely as one of the world’s most vulnerable: a baby, defenceless, fragile, unable to help himself, utterly dependent on those who were His protectors.

The Christian story challenges the very foundations of all our play-safe policies, our protection against being vulnerable, our fear of powerlessness. For it says instead, that the vulnerable matter, the weak are highly significant, the susceptible are important, the defenceless count. In taking on human vulnerability at its most fragile God gives dignity to each defenceless person, and requires us, in our relationships and our laws, to do the same.

Living without defences, Christ knows the sufferings of people who struggle under evil, whether girls sold into prostitution, or parents of murdered children, and God will act on their behalf. For in the vulnerability of a baby in a manger lies the power of divine love and justice.

The story of Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us.

May your own coming Christmas be filled with warmth and joy!

Father Bill Haymaker+

Publicat în memoria iubitoare de Părintele Bill
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Wednesday

Angels Among Us

A few months ago, when Sarah Gorrell, from BBC Southern Counties Radio, put out an appeal for a knitting instructor to come out to Moldova with me, not in my wildest dreams did I imagine how we were about to hit the Angel jackpot!

The knitting machine I carried to Moldova last Winter was as long as I am tall. To me, it looked to be such a mechanical monstrosity, I simply couldn’t imagine anyone ever grasping its technical aspects. So I was surprised when one of our sewing teachers asked me to find someone to teach her and the children how to use it. And I was shocked to discover several weeks later that a villager brought in another machine, as she too wanted to learn.

Enters Alison Casserly. Actually, it was her mum who phoned the BBC to volunteer Alison. (Aren’t mums great that way!) Alison lives way up north – so far away that she is not able to hear the radio show. We chatted on the phone a couple of times and Alison was ready to come.

I felt badly as my limited knowledge of anything relating to knitting and sewing left me simply acknowledging that we had a machine and that was all I could tell her about it. So on blind faith, Alison prepared to leave her husband and children and travel thousands of miles to a heretofore-unknown smattering of ink on a world map.

As we chatted on the phone, Alison rattled off names of ‘thingys’ and ‘widgetygrubs’ and ‘whatnots’ that she thought she’d bring. All I could do was say that this sounded great. I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about! Alison was much too polite to point out that even a slug knows more about knitting than I did, but I’m sure she was thinking it!

Our first rendezvous was quite out of the norm. Alison and I had never met before the morning we boarded the flight. Whatever age you might be, there has to be a degree of discomfort with the idea of a stranger picking you up at 3:30 in the morning, taking you to an international airport and carting you off to a country that few have even heard of!


Nevertheless, blind faith was the catalyst for Alison. The night before, Alison drove down south to where her mum and dad live. I was warmly greeted at the door by her father. I can't imagine many people being so hospitable at 3:30 in the morning. As I sipped a desperately needed cup of tea, surrounded by people in their jimjams and slippers, their small dog sniffed me with suspicion, no doubt trying to determine whether the scent of my Jack Russell, Mr. Piddles, branded me as friend or foe.

I sincerely felt nervous for Alison and as we headed up the M25, I found myself talking even more than usual about anything and everything. There were points when I felt I should just shut up, but in some ways, I was afraid she’d back out at the last minute and go back home.

During the flights, there were times when she was very quiet and I chose to let her reflect, uninterrupted, on the adventure that lay before her. As the tiny aircraft pulled up to the Chisinau airport building, I tried to read Alison’s face. What I felt I saw was a healthy balance of excitement and apprehension. Certainly an appropriate reaction to the experience, especially in light of some of the things she had heard.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget Alison’s words a full week later, when I asked her for her thoughts about what she had experienced. She was full of emotion about her profoundly powerful journey of self-awareness, and discovery.

I had to hold back my own tears as I listened to her. Alison had experienced what I find myself longing for each time I leave Moldova. She not only could see, hear, and feel the powerful sense of pride that exists in the hearts of Moldova’s children, but she was able to see hope in their eyes.


The children were perplexed that a perfect stranger would travel thousands of miles to come help them and ask for nothing in return.

Alison demonstrated a gentle admiration for them; for the fact that each and every child considered the education they are receiving as a gift; the fact they take pride in what they have, which by material standards is little or nothing. Instead, their measurements are in friends, the power of families, and community pride. And as Alison so poignantly pointed out to me, despite the fact the homes many of them live in would have been condemned in Britain, those homes are immaculate, the streets are clean, not a scintilla of trash, not a marking of graffiti, and not a single disrespectful young person.

We live in an addictive society where those who live their lives as sponges have the audacity to complain that the level of handouts they receive, their free homes, their free medical services and medicine, are simply not enough. When we offer money to Moldovan children, it’s like the Parable of the Talents. They’re humbled by the responsibility for which they’ve been entrusted. They want to find ways repay the trust you’ve invested in them.

I received an email from Alison this week. She was almost stumbling over herself with excitement, telling me about all the people she has shared her experience with, the plans she has for returning to Moldova and the creative ideas she’s developing to help the children achieve their goals.

Sarah Gorrell and the BBC helped me plant that small mustard seed of hope. Alison is becoming the Vine and Branch of hope for so many of our youth.

What a wonderful gift. Thank you Sarah. Thank you Alison. And thank you God for hearing my prayers.


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Thursday

Lest We Forget

I am profoundly saddened to have received a letter earlier this year from my Bishop's office advising us that there’s a number of Church of England clerics who are refusing to allow Remembrance Day Services to take place in their churches this year. Their given reason is that they perceive such services to be glorifying war. How absurd!

The first ‘Day of Remembrance’ was observed in 1919. Originally it was called Armistice Day to commemorate the armistice which occurred on November 11, in 1918, signalling the end of the bloodiest war the world has ever seen. This was the first formal occasion to remember those who died.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, the British and Australian governments officially changed the name to Remembrance Day as ‘Armistice Day’ wasn’t considered an appropriate term for honouring all those throughout the world who had sacrificed their lives.

I will not hide the fact that I was deeply disturbed by the letter I received. I just as with countless others, give thanks on this day for all those who sacrificed so much, not only for our freedom and values, but for our children and their children to come.

These young men and women, often not much older than children, who left the comfort and safety of their homes, marched into the very depths of hell for us. There was no sterile tactical force, where euphemistic descriptions of ‘insurgents’ and ‘counter strikes’ were used. No, these soldiers faced their enemies, often having to look another frightened man (child) in the eye and making decisions that no person should ever be forced to make; to kill another human being.

Many left their homes as young innocent children. They exchanged that comfort and safety for mud and ice, rain, and fear. The fear was so intense that you could smell it all about you-that is unless it was replaced with the stench of death. Many of them had their bodies ripped apart. Many tried to save themselves after discovering their intestines hanging outside their bodies, only to collapse in the relentless cold mud and ice a few minutes later.

I buried a man last year who had only one arm. His other arm and both his legs had been blown off by a German grenade. But two friends of his who were at the funeral, told me that despite his legs being missing and his arm dangling beside him, only held on by threads of tissue, he refused to leave his fellow soldiers. He was firing at the enemy until they physically removed the gun from his hand.

You see, in real life when in battle, soldiers don’t fight for their country so much as they fight for each other. The rule is 'perish if you must, but save your mate first.'

These soldiers never had the chance to debate whether war was right or wrong. For all the horror stories we’ve heard over the years, we lose track of the sight that our soldiers saved lives as well as took them. They fed the hungry, tended the sick, clothed the naked and ministered to the poor.

These citizens gather each year to remember those who did not come home; families who had been robbed of everything-fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, lost innocence, lost youth, and lost dreams. And they gather to give thanks-thanks for all the gifts God has bestowed on them. These men and women know, from the depths of their souls, what hell really is and therefore they appreciate and celebrate the joys of living, as few others know how.

I will forever be in gratitude to all who have served and lost their lives in war. The very fact that I may write this today is a result of the principles for which so many have died.

On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, we too shall be honouring the lives of those who so courageously gave so much for our freedom, our children’s freedom, and our country’s freedom.


It is the very least we can do.


They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them


‘for the fallen’ (4th stza) by: Laurence Binyon

posted for Fr Bill







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Wednesday

Thank You Sarah

It was just past midnight as I sat in hospital with my friend Sarah. Her children and grandchildren had gone home for some much needed rest. It was obvious that Sarah was at the end of this life's journey and preparing for her next. The nursing staff had kindly moved her into a private room, affording more privacy and dignity.

I had brought with me a small radio and a book, which I read to Sarah during the night. And I was prepared to offer her Viaticum (a prayer of provision for her journey) as morning broke. It was our private time together.

It was close to 2AM when Sarah opened her eyes. I had stopped reading and was watching the shallow rise and fall of her frame as her body instinctively fought, clinging to the last vestige of life. The music that softly played from the small radio was Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending.

I asked Sarah if she would mind my saying prayers for her now. She had such a sweet and lovely radiance in her face. I found a tissue in my pocket and wiped a tear that ran from her eye. I stroked her hair and briefly thought of her sisters and children.

Almighty God, look upon Your servant Sarah, as she lies here in weakness. Comfort her with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sarah surrendered her mortal life a few hours later, with dignity and embraced in love.

Thank you Sarah. Thank you for the honour of being my friend.



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Friday

It's Life Jim But Not As We Know It

During a recent visit to one of our areas many homes for the elderly I was outraged to hear a carer yelling at one of the residents. The carer didn’t know I was there. I had just entered the door of the home, as I usually do, and I heard his vitriolic diatribe coming from within the house.

As I looked around the corner I saw a frail woman clinging to her Zimmer frame, (walker), trying to move down the hallway. The carer was standing at the door to the toilet with an angered look on his face. I needn’t repeat what the man said, but he was berating her because she urgently needed to use the toilet.

The man’s demeanour changed instantly when he saw me, as I crossly demanded to know what the problem was. His excuse was that she couldn’t hear so he had to shout. I was angry and I know it showed on my face. I asked him if he required any assistance. The carer said ‘no thanks’ as he stood waiting for the woman to finally reach him.

As she went into the toilet, I immediately turned to look for the home's manager. There was no one to be found. There were four residents in the sitting room. Two were sleeping (or so I hoped), in their chairs, one was rather absently staring at a blaring television and the fourth resident was gazing off into nowhere.

I eventually learned there was only one person in the home to care for everyone. The manager had gone out to ‘buy groceries.’

Set aside the fact that this was altogether illegal, these people, who were incapable of caring for themselves, were at the mercy of this one foul mouthed and heartless individual. He certainly did not demonstrate compassion for the woman’s plight, nor did he demonstrate patience.

I tried to look at the situation objectively, trying to feel badly for the carer over the fact he was left alone to care for all these people, but I quickly snapped out of that mindset when I reminded myself that the other residents I saw would not have been an inconvenience to anyone. And the language he used towards the frail woman was unacceptable in any setting!

The experience left me with extremely uncomfortable images as well as guilt. There is a powerful verse in the Bible that says ‘Don't cast me away when I am old; when my strength fails, don't forsake me.’ Psalm 71:9
Homes such as these are a product of our Western society. And sadly, it’s the ‘other end’ of the spectrum of problems we have with today’s youth. In the middle, (well, actually throughout), it is a clear barometer for the erosion of family values, as well as the family unit.

For young parents it’s easier to leave all of the education for our children to the schools, and when the children become adults, it’s more ‘convenient’ to leave the care for our parents to institutions.

Every month there’s someone heralding new discoveries that will extend our lives even further.


When will there be a discovery on how to extend living?



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