20 September 2017

Some Party in Heaven

‘Rejoice Always’ are very pleased to serialise an abridged version of Noel Davidson’s much-loved classic, ‘Some Party In Heaven.’ Although no longer available, there has been great public demand for this book and we are privileged to offer chapters of the text in each of our monthly magazines. Furthermore, Noel has rewritten aspects of his original text to bring the narrative up to date and increase its relevance for contemporary living.

IT WON’T BE LONG NOW

The remainder of that day was spent in a hazy blur of alternating activity and inactivity.

There were times of speaking to doctors, nurses and relatives who came and went noiselessly, like the fog. By contrast, there were moments spent in silent contemplation, sitting beside Thomas, holding his hand, putting cream on his face or combing his hair.

The medical staff asked Phyllis and Hertford if they would consider inviting their parents up to see Thomas, since he was so low. They did, and the distressed grandparents came.

Later that evening, a doctor spoke to Jean Arnold, Tom and Ethel Blakely, and Hertford and Phyllis as they sat together in a state of stunned anxiety, in the ward. “We have done all we can for Thomas,” he explained, quietly. “And we will continue to do everything possible from now on. Just at this minute though, there is little we can do. The body is very, very weak. His condition is causing us some concern.”

Hertford and Phyllis went home at midnight. Papa Blakely insisted he would stay all night and give them a chance to go home for a sleep.

When they arrived home Ford and Wendsley were in bed. The anguished parents went to bed as well, but it wasn’t to sleep. How could they?

At six o’clock in the morning on Tuesday 14 November, 1989, Hertford and Phyllis drove back to the hospital yet again, through dense pea-soup fog. Everything seemed to be closing in around them. They relieved Papa Blakely who went off home for a few hours rest.

Thomas still lay there motionless, semi-conscious.

The morning dragged by.

Relatives came and went all morning, on padded pussy-feet, speaking in hushed whispers. It was as though they were afraid to waken Thomas, but how they wished they could.

As Phyllis and Hertford’s parents and brothers and sisters, one by one, made their entrance and exit, there was a constant flurry of medical activity. Doctors entered and left the ward. They brought needles, charts and stethoscopes. Nurses changed drip-feed bottles and checked the heart monitor. Thomas had his chest sounded regularly.

Everything possible was being done for him, just as the doctor had promised. It was all go.

Then, just after lunch, and in startling contrast to the frenetic morning build up, the fever of activity ceased. Quietness, stillness, a strange tranquillity fell on the ward.

The two grandmothers made another brief visit, in and out again soundlessly.

They entered clutching damp crumpled handkerchiefs.

They left clutching even damper crumpled handkerchiefs.

At a quarter to four in the afternoon Hertford and Phyllis were alone in the ward with their very sick son. This was unusual since there had been a constant coming and going of relatives all day.

The relatives were still around the hospital at various locations, wanting to be close to the situation but finding the silent anxiety of the ward a little bit too close at that time.

Thomas lay motionless on the bed, still in a semi-conscious state. He was perspiring freely. His hair was soaked in sweat. Phyllis leaned over and, with a mother’s tender touch, occasionally dried his hair, face and neck. His face had become a peculiar grey colour. The line of his lips was barely distinguishable.

The only sound was the regular beat of the heart monitor.

Sister Mavis Brush slipped quietly into the ward. Hertford and Phyllis knew this senior nursing figure and held her in high regard. She had been ever so kind to them on their regular visits to Craigavon Hospital with Thomas and Wendsley.

On entering, sister Brush kept both hands behind her, holding on to the handle of the door. She seemed almost reluctant to proceed any further into the ward. She had the look of someone who had something to say, but wasn’t exactly sure how to say it.

It was obvious she had been weeping.

Having steadied herself by the door for a short time she took a few steps forward towards the bed. She was now close to Thomas and beside his distraught parents.

“I am going off duty now at four o’clock,” she said softly. “But I am going home to pray for you both, that God will be with you in what you are about to come through.”

She paused for breath. The sister was taking her time, weighing her words carefully, speaking them compassionately.

“Thomas is very low at the moment. We have done everything in our power both physically and medically to keep him here. He is now barely clinging to life, but he is in the hands of the Lord. For some time now I have dreaded this moment…”

There was a second pause, longer this time. Hertford and Phyllis sat gazing at her. They were in a kind of daze, but appreciated her genuine concern. Even Hertford didn’t resent the reference to “the hands of the Lord.” Here was a woman who felt deeply about what she was saying. He could take it from her. She lived it. Fumbling in the pocket of her uniform, Mavis Brush produced a piece of folded paper. “For some weeks now I have had this poem,” she explained, still holding the folded paper lightly in her right hand. “I feel led of the Lord to give it to you now.”

With that she stepped forward and offered the paper to Phyllis. Sister Brush kissed the broken-hearted mother on the cheek, lovingly and spontaneously, as she reached up to accept it.

“Is there anything, anything at all, I can do for you, Hertford and Phyllis?” she enquired with great tenderness.

“Yes, Mavis, there is something you could do for me,” Phyllis replied.

“I would love to nurse Thomas again. Would that be possible do you think?”

“No problem. I can sort that out for you OK,” the sister assured her.

Then she gave the instructions. “Hertford, could you lift him out of the bed onto Phyllis’s knee, after I switch off the monitor? I will wheel the drip trolley round.”

When the bleeping of the monitor ceased there was silence. It was a deep, intimate silence. This was tender-together time. The sister placed a blanket around Thomas’s legs as he sat on his mother’s knee. He was so pale. His breathing was very laboured.

The little body was worn out. Spent. Exhausted.

It had nothing left to fight back with.

Hertford rhythmically massaged his son’s cold feet.

In a final gesture before leaving, sister Brush put her arms around both of them. She didn’t feel the need to say anything more. She was weeping unashamedly now.

After she had been gone about ten minutes, Phyllis interrupted her nursing vigil by asking, more for something to say, than because she really wanted to know, “I wonder what this poem is all about?”

She tried unsuccessfully to shake the page open. Hertford helped flatten it out across her free hand.

Cradling her extremely sick son with one loving arm, Phyllis read the poem silently.

TO ALL PARENTS

“I’ll lend you, for a little while, a child of mine,” He said,

“For you to love while he shall live, and mourn when he is dead.

It may be six or seven years, or twenty two or three,

But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for Me?

He’ll bring his charms to gladden you, and should his stay be brief,

You’ll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief.

I cannot promise he will stay, as all from earth return,

But there are lessons taught down there I want this child to learn.

I’ve looked the wide world over in my search for teachers true,

And from the crowds that throng life’s lanes I have selected you.

Now will you give him all your love – not think the labour vain,

Nor hate Me when I come to call to take him back again?”

I fancied that I heard them say,”Dear Lord, Thy will be done,

For all the joy this child shall bring, the risk of grief we’ll run.

We’ll shower him with tenderness and love him while we may,

And for the happiness we’ve known, forever grateful stay.

And should the angels call for him much sooner than we planned,

We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes, and try to understand.”

No wonder sister Brush had considered it appropriate. No wonder either, that she had waited until now to present it, tearfully, to them.

“Well, what’s it about?” Hertford asked. “You surely must have read it all by now.”

By way of an answer, Phyllis began reading the poem aloud.

As she struggled to read it out to him the words of the first line seemed to linger with her throughout the whole poem.

“I’ll lend you, for a little while…”

“Lend you – lend you, lend you, lend – lend – lend…”

The poem seemed to be all about a loan. A child had been lent. Not given, lent. Phyllis knew from experience that the idea of a loan was that it had to be paid back, somehow, sometime.

They had been privileged to be given Thomas on loan. What joy he had brought.

Now the loan period was over. The repayment date had arrived. God was about to reclaim His precious possession.

This was reality.

Would they be able to “brave the bitter grief that comes?”

Could they, would they, even try to understand?

At half-past four Phyllis thought Thomas was a little bit better. His breathing did not appear so laboured. Tufts of blonde spiky hair were sticking out all over his head.

“Could you lift him back into bed again, Hertford?” she asked her husband.

Just as Hertford was straightening the limp, unconscious body of his oldest son in the bed, and Phyllis was smoothing the bedclothes and preparing to comb his hair yet another time, sister Brush reappeared.

She hadn’t gone home, obviously. She had grown to know Thomas and his devoted parents well over the past six years. How could she possibly go home, have her tea and then watch TV, leaving them in this heart-rending position?

When she had reconnected the heart monitor and checked the drip, the sister sounded the young patient’s chest. Hertford was on one side of the bed, Phyllis opposite him on the other.

“It won’t be long now,” she whispered. “His breathing is becoming very shallow. Hold on to his wee hand Phyllis. Hold on tight.”

The parents didn’t need to be told what “it” was, that wouldn’t be long now. They knew, but just couldn’t believe it. Their minds refused to entertain it. Surely this couldn’t be happening to them.

Nor did Phyllis need to be told a second time to “hold on to his wee hand.”

She did, and she would, for as long as necessary.

Until “it” happened.

They didn’t have long to wait, either. Sister Brush had been right.

The darkness of night was beginning to obscure the foggy grey of the foggy day. Street lamps were struggling to stretch piercing fingers of light into the encircling fog.

It was ten to five.

Thomas gave a tiny smile followed by a heavy sigh.

Then he departed for heaven.

There was an uncanny, eerie silence.

The laboured breathing had ceased. The beeping of the monitor had stopped.

So this was death.

This was the final parting, the last instalment, the ultimate repayment.

This was “it”.

Suddenly the silence was shattered by a shrill scream.

“Thomas! Thomas! My wee Thomas!”

It was Phyllis. It was a mother’s piercing wail.

Hertford and she felt they just wanted to run away, taking their little treasure with them. Could they not whisk him off to some secret hideaway, somewhere they could go to visit him when they wanted, hold him when they liked, forever?

Having allowed the absolutely-beside-themselves parents a lengthy period of uninterrupted deeply personal grief, sister Brush appeared again.

When she had sympathised feelingly with Hertford and Phyllis, she began to guide them back towards reality. It was difficult, oh so difficult. Almost impossible.

“Would you like to have him home later on tonight?” she enquired, sensitively.

“Yes, we would. Of course we would.” This was the instinctive and understandable response of a grief-stricken mother whose mind was struggling through the mist of a mythical world of disbelief.

Of course they wanted their Thomas home. What else would they want?

“Well then, I’m really awfully sorry but I will have to take him away now. Some preparations have to be made you know,” she explained with infinite tenderness.

“We know that. We know,” said Hertford. “Go ahead.”

Those last two words didn’t come easily. They took some strength to say.

Phyllis couldn’t say anything now. She was speechless, struck dumb.

Hertford and Phyllis stood, side by side, numb with grief and stunned with shock, watching their Thomas, covered with a sheet, being wheeled away from them, out of the ward and down the corridor.

Tears flowed freely from swollen, reddened eyes.

How could they be expected, ever, ever, ever to understand THIS?

‘SAFE IN THE ARMS OF JESUS’

Hertford and Phyllis drove home from the hospital in absolute silence.

They were dazed. Confused. Dumbfounded.

As they approached their bungalow, down the lane, they noticed that all the curtains were drawn. Caring relatives were in before them.

They had come to help prepare them for the sense of loss, the tragedy of bereavement.

Approaching the front door, the heart-broken parents were able to see up the hall through the glass panel. Wendsley was lying in the hall, rolling over. They paused, weeping, on the step. How were they going to tell him his older brother, his playmate, wouldn’t be coming back? How could they ever get him to understand that he would never become excited again at the sound of the big loud bleeper on the big yellow bus, for it wouldn’t be coming back either?

When they managed to compose themselves sufficiently, Hertford and Phyllis stepped inside their home. Although a number of kind and loving relatives were there, waiting to comfort them, they were struck immediately by an impression of emptiness. There was a feeling that something, someone, some vital part, was missing, and it was gone for good.

Things were never going to be the same again.

Unable for the moment to face the assembled well-wishers, Phyllis scooped Wendsley up from the floor and carried him into her bedroom. There she sat with him on her knee, and cried and cried.

How could she ever attempt to explain this to him? Could she even explain how she felt to anybody, for that matter? It would be impossible.

It brought some sense of comfort to have Wendsley on her knee, hugging him tightly. At least he was still there.

At a quarter-to-nine the undertaker arrived with a little coffin.

Phyllis stayed well out of the way while Hertford and some others removed Wendsley’s cot from the boys’ bedroom, so Thomas could be left in his own room. Only when all the minor removals were complete did the grief-stricken mother pluck up the strength to venture in.

Thomas was home. That was what she had wanted.

As she sat alone, and devastated, in that room with the body of her little son, Phyllis realised something else.

It was something different, something comforting.

Sitting looking at the wallpaper which she and Hertford chose for their sons’ bedroom back in those happy moving-in and decorating days, she remembered a comment she made more than once at the time.

“I love the way the clouds and the rainbows are looking down on the boys,” she remarked. “This is their own little heaven.”

There slowly dawned upon her numbed soul the consciousness of a tremendous and indisputable fact. Thomas was now IN heaven, the real heaven, the heaven of heavens, where God lives.

He was looking down on the clouds and rainbows! Could he be looking down on her too, sitting there alone, overwhelmed by grief?

Thomas was now at home, but it was in his final, eternal, happy home.

Her ever so slightly soothing reverie was interrupted by Hertford entering the room.

“Phyllis, the undertaker would like to speak to us for a few minutes.

There are some things he needs to know about what we want put into the paper. Can you face it?” he enquired.

“Oh yes. Don’t worry Hertford, I will come,” she replied, and followed her husband into the living-room.

Wendsley lay on the floor gazing up at the three adults towering above him, as they began to talk.

“There are just some details I need to know so I can put a notice in the paper,” the undertaker explained.

Hertford and Phyllis nodded. They were going to find it tough, but they understood. The man had his job to do.

“There are three main questions,” he went on. “Firstly, what was his full name? Then what age was he? And finally, what time do you want the funeral at? I presume you will want it on Thursday.”

Hertford took responsibility for supplying all the necessary information.

“He was Thomas Jackson Arnold,” he said. “He was six years of age.

Well, five years and ten months to be exact. And I suppose one o’clock would be a suitable time to have the funeral, if that suits you.”

As he noted down the details, and confirmed the time of the funeral on Thursday 16th November, the undertaker was conscious of something tugging at his trouser leg. He looked down.

It was Wendsley, with a tiny handful of trouser leg, holding on tightly.

“What an attractive little boy,” he remarked. “He has such a charming smile and what lovely red hair!”

“What lovely red hair!” This observation, made ever so kindly, jolted Phyllis. It took her right back to the night he was born. Wasn’t that what the nurse said then? Indeed it was all she had said.

“Believe it or not, Bertie,” Hertford disclosed, “but Wendsley is handicapped as well.”

“Oh is he? I didn’t realise,” the undertaker replied, obviously surprised.

He could be forgiven for not realising. No one did, unless told, for Wendsley just looked like any other little boy.

Phyllis by now had found her voice. She had regained sufficient composure to allow her to contribute to the conversation. “Wendsley is really going to miss Thomas,” she reflected. “They were great playmates. The pair of them spent hours together, just rolling over and over on the floor. He won’t know what has happened to him.”

Acutely aware of the fact that Phyllis was in a very unstable emotional state, the undertaker prepared to leave. “I must go now and see to these things,” he said, moving towards the door. Then, turning as though he suddenly remembered something he should never have forgotten, he asked, “By the way, is there anything else you want me to add to the notice for the paper? I mean a verse from the Bible or something like that.”

The question didn’t apply to Hertford. He didn’t know any verses from the Bible.

Phyllis was the one who knew. She hadn’t thought of a suitable verse from the Bible, but there was one title of a hymn she decided she would like. “Could you put in ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus’?” she requested.

“No problem,” was the immediate response. “That sounds like an appropriate line.”

Phyllis thought so too. She was sure Thomas was there. It described precisely the position as it was revealed to her a short time before in silent meditation. Her son was in heaven, ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus’.

More relatives began to arrive. In twos and threes they came, all sombrely dressed and full of sympathy for Hertford and Phyllis. They hugged the young couple warmly and expressed their condolences sincerely.

“We are very sorry for what has happened,” they whispered. “This is awful. Don’t be a bit afraid to let us know if there is anything we can do.”

There was genuine heartfelt grief. A real sense of death, and what was even more shocking, the death of a child, hung heavily in rooms where red-eyed relatives spoke only in whispers.

Phyllis was so distressed she felt she wasn’t thinking straight. She didn’t know her own mind. A mystical recognition of the unreal had returned. When was she going to waken up out of this? Surely this couldn’t be anything more than a bad dream, a haunting nightmare?

When was she going to come to her senses?

As midnight approached a local doctor arrived to see Phyllis, who was by that time lying on the bed. She was staring at the ceiling in a stupor of grief, too drained, too exhausted, even to cry.

“I’m really sorry about Thomas,” the doctor began, with deep feeling.

After waiting a moment she went on, “And how are you coping, Mrs.

Arnold? Do you want any tablets to calm you down?”

“No. I don’t need anything I’m sure,” Phyllis replied. “I think I will be

OK. I am a bit worried about Wendsley, though. He seems to be taking another cold.”

“Don’t worry about Wendsley,” the doctor was reassuring. “I will listen to his chest and get him an antibiotic which will probably clear things up in a few days.”

The doctor invited Phyllis to ring her at any time if she needed anything, before leaving the room in search of Wendsley. She found him in the living room with his dad and a few others.

Having given him a thorough examination she returned to the bedroom, to Phyllis. She had an idea. It seemed, to her, a good, sensible idea.

“Mrs. Arnold, I have just sounded Wendsley’s chest. He has a slight infection, but nothing to worry about. However, I could have him admitted to Craigavon Hospital, at least until after the funeral,” she suggested. “If you would be agreeable to that, then he could be given any treatment he needs, and you could be assured he was being well cared for.”

Phyllis agreed this would be a satisfactory solution. Ford was already being looked after by helpful relatives. Now Wendsley would be in good hands as well. It was a prudent plan.

The doctor phoned the hospital there and then to make all the necessary arrangements.

Thus it was that in the early hours of the morning, on Wednesday 15th November, Hertford and his brother-in-law Estlin took Wendsley into Craigavon Hospital. He was wheeled into the same ward out of which

Thomas had been wheeled some seven hours before.

It was now the turn of Herford and Estlin to drive home from the hospital in absolute silence. Minds were dumb. Speech was frozen.

Visibility was down to eight to ten yards.

The fog was terrible.

It hadn’t lifted.

Continued next month….

Noeal Davidson