RIP, Bettina

2016 has been a year when many celebs have died.  November 2016 was also when a non-celeb died.  (I hate that euphemism, “to pass away.”  What does that expression mean, anyway?)  Bettina, my ex-colleague from my first “posting” to Germany in 2000-2003, died “after a long illness” (the favourite euphemism for cancer, never chronic arthritis or backache).

When you’re moaning about the your bus being late, or your email server being down, or strolling round the just-opened German Christmas markets, please spare a thought for Bettina’s soul, her friends and her family.

Nobody wants to die early.  Nobody wants to die slowly.  Nobody wants to die.

I remember going to one funeral six years ago.  The minister said:

Heavenly Father, we thank You for B’s life.  We thank you for her death.

Yes, we do thank you for her death.  We want to live.  Do we really want to merely exist, in pain and suffering?  I don’t.  We thank You, God, for Your grace and ask You to welcome Bettina into Your arms.

Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

Sunray Heading Downhill

Sunray.  His children used to call him “Dad.”  His daughter nowadays calls him “the sperm-donor.”  He’s been a  “problem child” all his married life and in the years thereafter.  Serial borrower.  Serial non-payer-back.  Heavy drinker.  Alcoholic.  Serial nuisance caller, trawling his address book for people to phone up to fifteen times a day.  Serial texter.  “U R ME PAL”; “CUM N SEE ME”; “GET ME A BTL OF ROSE PLS”.

I used to write to him every week or two, either a proper type-written letter or a postcard to boost his morale.  I used to phone him once a month.  Has he ever written back?  Once this year.  He now has a professional caseworker from the Royal British Legion, the Armed Forces charity.  Her summary to me?  “Yes, he’s a very difficult case.”

So, what’s the future.?  It’s not bright.  It’s not orange.  When someone is that deep in the rut of late-stage alcoholism combined with borderline personality disorder or sociopathy, there’s little you can do.

  • Poor physical health
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity
    • Osteoarthritis of both knees
  • Estranged from most of his family
  • No real, flesh-and blood, friends in his locality
  • The kind of personality that means people give you a “wide berth” (his favourite expression)
  • Poor hygiene
  • Etc etc

Does he actually want to live any more?  What are the reasons to live any more?  To even get out of bed?  Would death be a relief for him?

Choose the action, choose the consequences.

Have a consequential day, won’t you!

There but for the grace of God (2)

Ruined Life

 

John T***** – what’s he doing?
“Fifteen, twenty years,”
Some joke.
But not for him,
Or those who loved him,
His Christmas card list
Of ruined lives.

Christmas –
Just
Away
To
Separate
One
Year
From
The
Next.
Commas in his sentence,
One with no full stop.
Doing time,
And himself inside.

Not for him –
Mortarboard and gown,
Only lock and key.
Free snaps thrown in.
And Rachel?
Killed by the pressure of his finals.

A long time till
The Happy Return.
Buttery bars are sadly lacking
In jail.

So what then?
Prison gate graduation.
The time for walking
Beaming proudly
Towards loving parents –
A joke.
A ruined life.
Add it to the list.

There but for the grace of God go I

(Vocab point for non-native speakers of English: “Es hätte auch mich erwischen können.”

It’s October 1989.  I arrive as a fresher in my room at Nottingham University, ready to start my degree in Russian Studies.

“What a big room,”  say to myself on entering, then a few seconds later, I find out why.  I’m sharing the room.  Room-mate: John, a New Zealander, studying Classics (Latin and Greek an’ all that.)  He seems a fairly reasonable bloke.  If I can share a room for nearly two decades with my own brother and survive, I’m sure I can share a room with John for a few months.

In the end we tolerated each other.  I was a little immature (which fresher isn’t?).  He was somewhat alpha-male.  I was a bit of a scruffy, unwashed student.  He was often the life and soul of any party, albeit occasionally passive aggressive.

Cut to April 1991.

An Oxford undergraduate goes missing during exam time.  More “Dog bites man” than “Man bites dog.”  Then it turns out the fingers is pointed at the boyfriend, my ex-roommate.

“Nah,” I think, “it’s just the ‘meejah’ (media) turning on the scruffy, long-haired student.  A fortnight later she’s still missing.  Ex-roommate gives press conference, begging her to come back.

His body language.

Her body.  Found under the floorboards of her student house.  He had killed her.

Cut to December 1991.  I am on my year abroad in Russia.  My fortnightly call to my mum.  She tells me ex-roommate had been convicted of murder.  A few days later I receive in the post newspaper clippings from the British newspapers.

I am still stunned.  You don’t meet someone, especially a fairly affable person, thinking, “Hmmm, potential murderer?”

Since his arrest and conviction I have given two TV interviews, shortly after his arrest, and then shortly before his release.  My assessment of him then was that he was fundamentally a decent, likeable guy, but something must have gone wrong in the months leading to the crime.

My assessment now after a quarter of a century of thinking is less generous.  Let’s leave it at that.

In the end I can only admire his victim’s parents, devout Christians, who forgave him and even said they’d like to visit him in prison.

In the end he “only” served 12 years.  (The average life sentence in England is 13-15 years.)

In my younger days I was a stereotypical fiery redhead.  The whole case made me think and made me calm down.  It made me re-assess people.  First impressions aren’t always right.

After his sentence, John returned back to New Zealand.  I hope he has been a decent member of society post-sentence.

Have a decent day, won’t you!

Should we always pray for that miracle?

The big C.  That “short illness” that gets mentioned in obituaries and news reports.  My former colleague, B., has cancer again.  Four years ago she was treated for breast cancer.

Now it’s back.

With a vengence.

It seems the tumour cannot be operated on, so chemotherapy is the only option.  Sadly, the chemo has not been been effective, and it has made B. feel very unwell.  Judging by the text that a mutual colleague forwarded me yesterday, the prognosis is not good, with the chemo being stepped up, and B. not being able to work.

Today, I asked my house group to pray for B.  E, our house group leader, prayed for healing for B.  I prayed for that, too.  Then coming home tonight,  I wondered, should we always pray for a miraculous recovery (for want of a more suitable expression), or is it better to pray for comfort, peace, tranquility and acceptance of death when someone is probably terminally ill?

I don’t know the answer.

Have a prayerful day, won’t you!