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A Life Less Lost: Chapter 6

...James is taken into theatre. At last things are happening. I can’t sit still. My eyes travel over the words on a page but are unable to make sense of the black and white shapes. I recognise myself in the faces of other mothers. The new ones, like me, are easy to pick out. We’ve yet to adjust to the laboriously slow heartbeat of hospital time. We’re up and down from our seats and in and out of the toilets...

Kimm Walker accompanies her 15-year-old son James to hospital.

Kimm's life-changinging book is interlaced with memories from her childhood in Michigan, USA, some of which were a challenge to her Christian faith.

To purchase a copy of A Life Less Lost click on http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=A+Life+Less+Lost

And do visit Kimm's Web site http://kbwalker-lifelesslost.blogspot.com/

Back in hospital for the rescheduled tests, we pass Dr Edwards in the corridor. He stops to speak to James and introduces himself to me. He is a great bear of a man, quite overpowering in the narrow space. I am impressed and grateful that he has recognised James, after meeting him only once, and freely offers my son some of his precious time.

‘I hadn’t expected to see you today, Dr Edwards,’ I explain. ‘I’ve written you a letter.’ Embarrassed that this isn’t quite normal, I hand it to him. I’m further alarmed when he tears it open to read in front of us.

He becomes very still. A male nurse passes us in the corridor and Dr Edwards stops him with a sharp bark. He’s furious to discover that the tests he’d ordered haven’t been done. I’m sorry for the innocent nurse but hopeful that perhaps it won’t happen again.

James is taken into theatre. At last things are happening. I can’t sit still. My eyes travel over the words on a page but are unable to make sense of the black and white shapes. I recognise myself in the faces of other mothers. The new ones, like me, are easy to pick out. We’ve yet to adjust to the laboriously slow heartbeat of hospital time. We’re up and down from our seats and in and out of the toilets.

I meet a mother with very young triplets. One of them has cancer. She smells of smoke and nerves. I think of Edvard Munch’s painting of The Scream.

Another mother rushes to the sink to wash her hands. I can feel the waves of adrenalin pulsing under her skin. Her eyes are wild with fear. I have a bad habit of studying people. She catches my gaze. Her son is fourteen.

‘They say he only has a one in five chance of survival,’ she pleads.

‘He might be the one who makes it.’ Gentle words, given to me, whisper through my lips. ‘You can’t give up hope.’ I touch her arm, longing to steady her. I’ve thrown her a paper life belt but for a moment it holds and she can catch her breath.

She looks more carefully at me and pauses. ‘Yes, I guess that’s true.’

We talk. She’s on her own. Her doctor husband works abroad so they can afford the private schools they believe their four children need to make it in this world.

They are from Nigeria so she may be right. She is a bereavement counsellor, a statement that chokes her as she tells me. Her son, Foluso has a rare form of kidney cancer. Her name is Agnes. Like me, she is a Christian.

*

I didn’t grow up in an overtly religious household. We did go to church sometimes but not regularly. We also prayed at mealtimes but not often. From about age eleven, I begged to stay in the main church rather than go into Sunday school, finding the stories and games silly and childish. I felt grown up being part of the discussions we occasionally had at home afterwards about the sermon.

My clearest memories of church were the fellowship and refreshments that followed and it was something we did as a family. Best of all were the crisp autumn days when we would call into the cider mill on the way home. This was in a faded old barn, framed by crimson leaves. You could watch the massive wheel turn and smell the tang of crushed apple. The sweet, non-alcoholic, cider was perfect with the hot, sugared doughnuts also on offer.

My grandmothers and both sets of aunts and uncles were Christians, all practicing in churches of different denominations. None of these significant adults in my life were preachy or spoke much of their faith to me as a child. Rather, they lived it in my presence.

Despite attending church classes and taking part in a rite of passage in the Presbyterian Church, I still didn’t know God in any significant way. Nothing I had been taught seemed particularly relevant to me or revealed the possibility of relationship with God. But perhaps seeds had been sown.

Most summers, I would spend a couple of weeks with my cousin Beth in their log cabin. Aunt Joy and Uncle Glen were both teachers with twelve week summer holidays. They built their retreat themselves; hidden in the woods on a bay off Lake Michigan. It smelt of pine inside and the sunrise used to make the knots in the logs glow red. We drank cold mint tea made from leaves we’d gathered by the stream.

I was nine months older than Beth, definitely bossier and possibly more confident. Once, I persuaded her to come out further into the lake, on the slippery boulders, than she’d ever been before by giving her a ‘magic’ pebble that would keep her safe.

My aunt and uncle loved children but, after Beth, had suffered five miscarriages before they had Charlie. One particular day, this precious toddler was standing on a chair at the big table where we shared delicious meals and rowdy games of cards, Monopoly or Scrabble. He was making noisy demands on his mother and Beth and I were ignoring him, intent on our own activities.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he fell and began screaming. Even as children ourselves, we recognised that it wasn’t a normal baby’s cry. My aunt tried desperately to calm him but soon they rushed him off to hospital. Later we learned that he’d had a cerebral aneurysm, which had burst, causing him to fall or because of the fall. Either way there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent the accident.

We were stunned and my cousin distraught. As my aunt and uncle kept a vigil at his bedside, we were left much to ourselves. Desperate to help, I told Beth that maybe, if we were very good, God would let him be OK. I was severely told off for this but didn’t fully understand why, then.

My own family had arrived by the time the baby died but nothing in my experience could help me make sense of what was happening. The vision of that tiny white coffin seemed so wrong, so impossible, so unutterably painful.

Not long after that, my other aunt’s infant son developed symptoms that seemed to point to hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain’. His surgeon operated before he’d received the results of all the tests, leaving the child blind, retarded and severely epileptic. The tests, when they were consulted, revealed there’d been nothing wrong. These tragedies played at the periphery of my understanding, creating more questions and confusion, regarding religion, than comfort. It was to be another tragic event that brought me to faith a few years later.

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