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Reform Magazine | December 7, 2023

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On the pilgrim way: ‘Sometimes my cry is “How long, O Lord?”’

Sheila Maxey faces desperate times and strange blessings

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As I wait for Kees to die I am haunted by the Taizé chant ‘Wait for the Lord whose day is near: wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart.’ Mostly it sustains me, but sometimes my cry is a desperate ‘How long, O Lord?’

I have discovered a new fellow feeling with all those desperate people around the world who are living in limbo, with their lives apparently on hold: the refugees and asylum seekers waiting in camps and detention centres for documents which will allow them to begin a new life; those waiting for the slow work of healing after an operation or serious illness and hoping to get their lives back again.

Yet my position is different. The outcome I am waiting for, and sometimes longing for, might bring a new kind of life, but hand in hand with grief and loss.

Of course, my limbo is infinitely more comfortable than theirs. Kees is bedbound, has no pain, eats little, sleeps a great deal and is very pleased to greet me and all visitors with a smile and with conversation, some of which is related to our reality. He has some difficult days of agitation when he desperately struggles to get out of bed, demands his shoes and has an urgent need to organise a meeting or get to the airport. I was challenged the other day by the comment of a widowed friend who said, ‘These are very precious days – I wish I had realised that.’ In my sadness and my constant tiredness I often find it hard to rise to that challenge.

There is, of course, no limbo, for me or for anyone else. There is only each God-given day. Each morning I say (sometimes through gritted teeth), ‘This is the day the Lord has made, let me rejoice and be glad in it’.

My friend’s challenge was to keep watch, and I have very gradually realised that there are some strange blessings in this time. In past years, jokingly, Kees has said he was sorry he could not be at his own funeral and hear others sum up his life – appreciatively, of course! Now his wish is partly granted as so many visitors come to see him, say how much they admire and love him, and even now, in one of his lucid times, get wisdom and comfort from his words.

As his dementia increases and he so desperately wants to get out of bed, it is actually a blessing that he cannot stand or walk. We could not have contained him at home – he would have been out of the door, with or without shoes, on his way to the station or the airport.

My friend’s challenge is also to take heart, from all the family and friends who accompany me on this journey. They bring me comfort, food, a chance to shop or go for a walk, and cheering news from beyond our four walls: two granddaughters with exciting summer plans, a June family wedding, the progress of our son’s vegetable seedlings.

Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex


This article was published in the June 2022 edition of Reform

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