15 December 2017

Some Party in Heaven part 4

The deepest misgivings of Hertford and Phyllis were soon to be put to the test. In late summer 1984 Phyllis found out she was expecting a second baby.

Now the anxiety really began in earnest. This was in spite of telling themselves that it probably wouldn’t happen again. “Not so soon, surely,” was a phrase they used often.

Still they worried.

It was also despite repeated medical assurances that the chances of having another handicappedbaby were ‘one in a million.’

Still they worried.

Having learnt to cope with all of Thomas’ special needs they loved him dearly. Inwardly, secretly, however, they longed for another child who would fulfil a dual role. Their hope was that the new addition to their family would be good company for Thomas. That would be very important. Secondly, they would just appreciate it so much if he or she could be like everybody else’s babies – physically and mentally normal. No exercise sessions. No special diets. No particular demands of any kind. Just normal.

As the year progressed, so did Thomas. He was growing steadily and had started to feed better, provided everything was well mashed down. He couldn’t manage big bites or large lumps. Everybody now accepted him. All his relatives had a ‘soft spot’ for him, probably because of his disability. His young parents were becoming daily more confident in dealing with his requirements. When Christmas 1984 came, Phyllis remembered her prediction of the previous year. Yes. There were three of them now. She had been right about that. Yes. They did have a baby to share everything with. She had been right about that as well. There were, however, ways in which the reality of Christmas 1984 differed from the idyllic mental picture that had helped gild Christmas 1983.

Thomas was eleven months old, but he couldn’t sit up, or crawl. He couldn’t even hold his head up. In seasons of silent reflection doubts about his progress and his future prospects, whatever they were, would sneak stealthily into her mind. The young mother couldn’t entertain them, though. Ignoring the occasional aching at her heart, which could easily have translated into bitterness, or even rejection, she tried ever so hard to think positively. She had to.

And what a joy it brought.

Christmas 1984 was a happy time for all three of them. Hertford and Phyllis made sure of that. Thomas meant so much to them. They would do everything to ensure he was comfortable and content.

Then there was this other baby to come. What would he or she be like? Contemplating the birth of their second child brought mixed feelings. It was a restrained pleasure, like being forced to stifle a hearty sneeze. They were both excited and scared all at once. Time, as it so often does, brought the answer to their uncertainty, an end to all the edgy speculation. On 29 April 1985, their second baby, another boy, was born in Craigavon Hospital. A few minutes after his birth, a doctor came out of the theatre and assured Hertford that this recent addition to their family was completely normal. “He is a great little boy. He is as strong as a bull,” was his exact description.

About ten minutes later a nurse brought the infant out for Hertford to see. When he saw the little bundle of humanity pulling up his legs and waving his arms about, he realised what the doctor had said was true. He was witnessing it now with his own wondering eyes. What a relief to the anxious father. All the worry of the past nine months seemed to evaporate in a split second. He was walking on air!

When Phyllis came round from sedation and was told her baby was normal, she could hardly believe it. It was brilliant. Could it really be true? Like her husband before her, she needed convincing. Proof was at hand. The gynaecologist came into the ward, and placing the new baby on the bed beside his proud mother, he slipped his finger into the infant’s hand. Instantly the tiny hand closed on the finger, and held on. Such a simple thing! Yet for Phyllis how sweet! It conveyed such a tremendous message! Yes! It was true. This child was normal. Ordinary. Just like the others all around. It was great! Their fears had been groundless and the doctors had been right. It hadn’t happened again.

When Hertford returned to his wife’s bedside to speak to Phyllis, and gaze in admiration at his second infant son, they decided he should be called Ford. This had been predetermined for months. It just required the rubber stamp of mutual approval, now their baby had arrived safely.

A few hours later Hertford decided he should probably make for home. As he rose to go he said to Phyllis, “I will tell my Da this one’s normal, and called after him.” He had crossed the ward, but before he could finally drag himself away he turned back and looked down at little Ford.

“I wonder if this fellow will be able to drive a tractor or clean out a chicken house?” he mused. Hertford was seeing one of his aspirations realised. He now had a son and heir of the kind he had always imagined.

PART 5

After Hertford had gone, Phyllis sat on the edge of the bed, taking a leisurely look around her little private ward, savouring her surroundings. Sleeping in the cot beside her was baby Ford. On top of the locker was a pair of ornamental blue boots with yellow crocuses growing in them. Hertford had been out to do some shopping, after he had seen his newborn son!

As the news of this second child for Hertford and Phyllis began to filter through the Arnold and Blakely network, the bouquets began to arrive. Flowers seemed to grace every useable space. When the door was knocked, Phyllis called “Come in!” cheerily, expecting to see another orderly arrive into the ward with yet another bunch of carnations or chrysanthemums. She was mildly surprised, then, to see the door edged open very gingerly, tentatively. A nurse who Phyllis didn’t recognise slipped into the ward.

“Hello, Mrs. Arnold,” the visitor began. “You probably don’t know me, but I know you. May I come in a minute?”

“Certainly, come on in!” Phyllis replied warmly. She would welcome the opportunity to speak to someone. She was in the mood for a chat and usually found it more satisfying to talk to a person than a vase of flowers.

“I have seen you coming and going to physiotherapy with Thomas over this last year,” the caller explained. “I am just up here to congratulate you on having another little boy. It is great to hear that everything is OK too. I am delighted for you.”

Phyllis warmed to this kind nurse right away. And the kind nurse knew what to do next. Leaning over the cot, she admired baby Ford. After she had gone through the whole range of ‘weight-atbirth’ type questions, she launched straight into the ‘who-do-youthink-he-is-like?’ routine. It was typical mother stuff.

In the course of conversation Phyllis learnt that her new-found friend had two children, one of whom was handicapped. The other was a normal, healthy, active child. That rang a bell with Phyllis. Wasn’t that her family situation now as well?

As she rose to go the nurse said quietly, “Phyllis, I have a poem here that has been a great help to me. I would like you to read it sometime at your leisure. Perhaps it will help you to understand about Thomas. Understand, I mean, that he is a very special child.

And indeed you could discover you and your husband are very privileged people too, God has chosen you for a specific purpose. To care for His very special child. I think this poem will make that plain.” Phyllis was intrigued. “What’s the poem called?” she enquired. “It is called, ‘Heaven’s Very Special Child,’ the nurse replied, as she offered the young mother a sheet of folded paper. “Thanks very much, I will read it right now,” was the eager response.

As Phyllis began unfolding the paper, her visitor walked slowly towards the door. “I have stayed long enough,” she remarked. “I will go and leave you in peace, Phyllis.” And with that she disappeared, just as gracefully as she had come.

Phyllis swung her legs up onto the bed, then she propped herself up with the pillows. Whatever this poem was about it must be very important. A nurse had considered it worthwhile to seek her out and present it to her. She was determined, therefore, that she was going to enjoy it. When she had made herself comfortable, opened and then flattened out the piece of paper she had been given, this is what she read,

‘Heaven’s Very Special Child’

A meeting was held quite far from earth,
“It’s time again for another birth,”
Said the angels to the Lord above,
“This Special Child will need much love.

His progress may seem very slow,
Accomplishments he may not show.
And he’ll require much extra care,
From the folks he meets down there.

He may not run, or laugh or play,
His thoughts may seem quite far away,
In many ways he won’t adapt,
And he’ll be known as ‘handicapped.’
So let’s be careful where he’s sent,
We want his life to be content.
Please Lord find the parents who
Will do this special job for You.

They will not realise right away,
This lending role they’re asked to play.
But with this child sent from above,
Comes stronger faith and richer love.

And soon they’ll know the privilege given,
In caring for this child from heaven.
Their precious son so meek and mild,
Is ‘Heaven’s Very Special Child.”’

Having read the poem through once, Phyllis felt compelled to read it again. Then again. And again. It gripped her. It transfixed her. After the fourth or fifth reading a strange sensation came over her. It was as though time had put on its brakes. It felt as if she was being suspended somewhere between heaven and earth. It was an awesome, yet unbelievably reassuring, sense of God.

April sunlight streamed in through the window. The clusters of flowers stood about like guardians of the heavenly realms. Colourful, celestial custodians. Baby Ford snuffled and wriggled occasionally. Many of the lines she had read struck home to the mother’s heart.

‘He may not run, or laugh or play.’ It had been some experience grappling with that realisation.

‘And he’ll be known as ‘handicapped.’’ There was that word again. Hertford and she had spent many agonising months learning to entertain that word in their thoughts not to mention speaking it from their lips. It seemed so harsh. So real, so cold, when you saw it in print. ‘Handicapped!’

The underlying message of the poem was what mattered, however, and it was different. It shed a new light into an old gloom. ‘Please Lord find the parents who Will do this special job for you.’

Were Hertford and she really THAT ‘special?’ Could they be, actually, ‘special’ to God? Well, yes. They had been giving little Thomas ‘the much extra care’ he required. They had their feet on rung number one on God’s ladder of ‘Special.’ They had also been able to come to terms with the recognition that ‘in many ways’ Thomas wouldn’t ‘adapt.’ It had taken some time but they got there. Eventually. Now they were two steps up, and climbing. Had they not developed a much richer bond of love as a result of their shared experiences in that first year with Thomas? Of course they had.

Phyllis was beginning to feel good about all this. She was starting to congratulate herself. Feel smug, almost. When she reflected on this poem she could identify at least three ways in which her family was special to God. This made it three rungs up the ladder. And still climbing.

Then came the shock.

When Phyllis reached forward to put her foot on the next step of this imaginary ladder to God, which she was mounting with growing enthusiasm, it wasn’t there! There was a rung missing! There was a great gaping hole where the next step should have been!

She was on the ladder of Special.
She was up the ladder of Special.
She was STUCK on the ladder of Special.
What about the ‘stronger faith?’

The challenge penetrated like a fiery dart into her self-congratulating soul.

‘Stronger faith.’ Where WAS her faith in God?

Buried. Hidden. Forgotten.

God spoke to Phyllis directly through an awakened conscience in the sunlit solitude of that private ward. In His divine wisdom He had arranged for her to be left undisturbed for twenty minutes, alone with her thoughts. The bouquet-bearers had stopped knocking and her baby was still asleep. His tiny mouth opened in a tiny yawn every so often. All was still.

Phyllis allowed the poem sheet to rest on the bedclothes in front of her. She felt happy and sad, mixed-up and guilty, all at once. As she scrutinised every inch of the body of her infant son, again and again, as he lay there beside her, perfectly healthy and blissfully asleep, she felt grateful to God and ashamed of herself. She had been wrong to be so harsh. It had been one big mistake to presume that God had been punishing her. ‘Heaven’s Very Special Child’ put a whole new complexion on the situation. It was something she had never even thought about before.

Lying right back on the pillows, Phyllis closed her eyes. As she did so a welling-up tear overflowed down her cheek.

“Lord, forgive me,” she prayed silently, earnestly.

“Forgive me for thinking You were punishing me by giving me Thomas. I see now the reason for it all.”

Pausing a moment, she opened her eyes to check on little Ford, then closed them again to continue fervently.

“Lord, I want to come back to You. Help me. Help me, please. I’m so sorry. I have so much to thank You for. Thank you for Hertford. Thank You for Thomas. And thank You for this lovely, normal baby boy.”

Her prayer ended with a heartfelt request for divine assistance. She had been away from God for too long. It had been a struggle trying to cope without His power. “Help me to be strong, Lord,” she begged.

“I want to be strong for Hertford. I need to be strong for Thomas. I would like to be strong for Ford. And I would love to be strong for You.”

When she reopened her eyes the spring sunlight was still streaming into the ward. The flowers still held their heads up high. Ford was still sound asleep. Phyllis was aware of a glowing radiance on her cheek. She was also aware of a growing peace in her heart.

She had started out on the long road back.

Noel Davidson