Our younger daughter, Michelle went to Warwick University to train to be a teacher where she was very happy. During her first term of her second year she did a placement at a school in Coventry which she thoroughly enjoyed, she became very tired (not-surprising, we thought) and I had to go and pick her up before the end of term. During the Christmas holidays Michelle developed severe tummy ache and we thought she had appendicitis. She went into hospital, but doctors could not find anything wrong. Over the new -year Claire and Michelle were helping with a Christian New-year House party, and Michelle was unwell and ended up in another hospital. When she returned home we had to call out an emergency doctor who admitted her to hospital. Eventually Michelle was diagnosed as having Wegeners Granulomatosis; an illness of the immune system which normally affects the lungs. In Michelle’s case it had stopped the blood-flow to her large intestine which had to be removed.
Michelle spent 15 months in intensive Care at Southampton General Hospital. Lyn would spend most days with her in hospital whilst I would take Nathan to School and pick him up, and do my work. In the evenings and on Saturdays it would be my turn to catch up with Michelle at the hospital. We had many traumatic phone-calls as Michelle had a number of operations and procedures. I spent a few nights trying to sleep in the car near the hospital as we waited to see what happened. Sometimes Lyn and I would wait anxiously in the relative’s room at ICU. For me one of the best names I’ve ever been called is simply ‘Michelle’s Dad’. Each day as I came towards the hospital my body would tell me I needed a coffee which I would buy at the hospital before going to Intensive Care and speaking into the security system “Michelle’s dad”.
We were delighted that Michelle was able to come home for her 21st birthday in July 2006. She came home in an ambulance with a nurse to look after her. Grandparents and Uncles and Aunts joined Lyn, Claire, Nathan and I so we could celebrate her 21st a day early with a barbeque in the garden. On her actual birthday some of Michelle’s University friends joined her for a picnic in the garden at the front of the hospital. Later in the year we were delighted that Michelle could come home for an early Christmas dinner. Christmas day itself had been planned by Michelle who had ordered the food online from Tescos. After I’d taken the Christmas Day service at Church we cooked the food and took it up to Michelle who had her own room complete with silver Christmas tree. Michelle had ordered plenty of Indian nibbles, so we fed the staff as well as ourselves.
Since Michelle went into Intensive Care we had been expecting a time when the damaged parts of her small bowel would be removed and the remainder joined together enabling her to eat some food. The time came in March 2007 when Michelle was offered an operation following which she hoped she would be able to eat again. Michelle had the operation but never really picked up from it, and she died on April 10th 2007. On a number of occasions Michelle had suffered with pneumonia, she would be put to sleep, dosed with drugs, and usually woke up better after about a week. On Easter day Lyn had been with her and she had gradually become worse as the day had worn on. Claire and I had been with Michelle in the evening and could see she was struggling. Once again she was given the treatment, we said our goodbyes expecting to see her awake about a week later. Just before she went to sleep Michelle told me; “Make sure mum gets to Spring Harvest”. On the Monday we drove down to my dad’s in Devon taking the caravan with us. We celebrated my grandmother’s 100th birthday and set off to Butlins at Minehead where Spring Harvest took place. Soon after we got the caravan set up we had a phone call from the hospital saying Michelle was very ill. Within a few minutes we had a phone call from Avon and Somerset Police offering to take us to Southampton. So thanks to Police officers from 3 different forces and travelling up over 100 miles per hour we eventually arrived back at Intensive Care at Southampton. Within a few hours our beautiful younger daughter had died at the age of 21. There was much crying; from ourselves and our family, Michelle’s friends, and the nurses and doctors at the hospital. The day we hoped would never come had arrived; we’d lost our lovely girl.
Next day Claire went back to Spring Harvest where her team were leading worship for the 11-14 year olds, and Lyn and I tried to work out what we would do for Michelle’s funeral. We decided to have Michelle buried at Blackfield Cemetery, near where we used to live, and near Michelle’s School friends. Lyn and I made what arrangements we could and went back to Spring Harvest for the rest of the week.
We buried Michelle at Blackfield and had a celebration for her life at Central Hall, Southampton, to which hundreds came. Friends and teachers came from her school, friends and tutors came from Warwick University, a whole, block was taken up by doctors and nurses from the hospital. As Christians we praised and thanked God for Michelle’s life, and for the way her life touched so many people. Then came the hard task of getting on with life without Michelle. Not only did we miss Michelle, but we missed the staff whom we had spent the last 15 months with. Michelle had a lovely way with people, the staff would confide in her and she would often know someone was getting engaged before their work colleagues did.
After some months off I re-commenced ministry half time and eventually went back full time and continued for about 13 months. Then I conked out. I was signed off sick with depression and eventually left my pastorate, not because I’d stopped believing in God, but because I was exhausted. I’d spent 15 months combining a demanding full-time job with caring for my son, daughter and wife, and now it was my time to rest. I received counselling which helped. One counsellor said to me; “So you think you are better than Jesus do you?” I was quite taken aback; no way would I ever think myself anywhere like the person of Jesus, let alone better. Yet he was right; the New Testament shows us a Jesus who was tired, hungry and thirsty. John's gospel shows us a Jesus who wept, yet I had continued as if my emotional and mental needs did not matter; that’s why I had conked out, because I had not given myself permission to feel the pain, anger and frustration of what we had been through as a family.
In June 2009 Lyn, Nathan and I moved into our own home in Woolston, looking out over the sea, Nathan had a great view of the Isle of Wight; we look out over trees and could hear the ships and ferries going past. We had already started worshipping at Testwood Baptist Church at Totton, and continued there soon becoming members. As the autumn of 2009 progressed and we began to settle in our own home I began to wonder what was next. I had bought sound and lighting equipment so wondered about running a disco.
FOREST FLAME DISCO
I have a friend who is a web-site designer and began work on the Forest Flame Disco website. In April 2010 Nathan and I carried out our first professional engagement; our first wedding disco. I continued working hard over the next few years advertising, and in 2012 Lyn joined the team and has been working 1-2 days a week doing the administration. I’ve met some lovely people and have often had to pinch myself saying “I’m getting paid for this” as we have run discos at various parties. Getting home between 1 and 3 am has been the hardest part of the work and I’ve usually been absolutely shattered most Sundays.
A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
One day I mentioned to a friend at Testwood Baptist Church that I would like to do some voluntary work. He took me out to lunch and it was just as if a penny dropped. Although I do not get paid, it suddenly felt as if God had opened up a door after years of everything being shut to me. Initially I spent my time doing care-taking jobs but eventually moved to ministry among the over 60’s. I now spend one day a week as Honorary Assistant Pastor leading a team taking services at 6 local Nursing Homes. I spent 8 months as a voluntary visitor at Southampton Hospital and now work as Assistant Chaplain there one day a week.
I have often struggled to find God’s direction for my life; it often seems as if God says NO more times than YES. Things often seem clear-cut in the Bible whereas in our every day-life things can often seem confusing. I am grateful for the apostle Paul’s statement in Philippians; “My God will meet all your needs through His glorious riches in Christ Jesus”. I have often found myself praying my heart out when large bills arrive, or when I don’t have many disco bookings in the diary. Sometimes He answers; sometimes nothing seems to happen no matter how hard we pray. I have tried to live trusting in God; Jehovah Jireh; My provider. Somehow God has provided for us as a family; we have never been without food, and have never been without Hope. We have experienced pain and hurt but look forward to the eternal life that Jesus came to bring where, according to Revelation 20, there is no more pain, suffering, or death.
We moved to Calmore near Totton in 2014, and Nathan our son spent a year as a drummer with Youth For Christ band The Sense. Our daughter Claire is married to Rev Peter Timothy who is the minister of Park Baptist Church, Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk.
Our Pastor at Testwood Baptist Church, Gordon Tuck has a saying; "If you are not dead, you are not done". There is still a life to be lived, my prayer is that yours, like mine will be lived under the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, King of Kings.
At Testwood Baptist, our senior pastor Gordon once suggested putting stones in a jar each time God answers a prayer. Lyn and I started doing that; our rising level of stones reminds us of God’s daily presence. I have to say that being thankful is not always easy for me; especially when it seems that we have had so much taken away from us. However, as I reflect I have so many things and people to be grateful for.
I am so grateful to my family; Lyn, my best friend, my wife and mum to our three lovely children Claire (now married to a Baptist Pastor in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk), Michelle, (now in heaven with Christ and my mum, and Lyn’s parents; one day we will be together again), and Nathan. My grateful thanks to Claire, Michelle and Nathan, for all we have shared together so far, and will do in the future. My thanks to the congregation and staff at Testwood Baptist for loving us and standing with us as God gradually puts us back together again.
My deepest thanks to all the staff at Southampton General Hospital who looked after Michelle, as well as keeping an eye on us as a family. My particular thanks go to the Chaplaincy team who helped keep me on the straight and narrow. Bill, I can never thank you enough for your care of me, God bless you now out in the pastorate.
A big thank you to Michelle’s friends who came and visited her in hospital, time and time again, some after a long drive from the Coventry area. Sara, Sarah, Tara, Mel, Becky and Louise, we have so valued your friendship and have been so privileged to share as your lives have developed. We miss our time spent with you and Michelle.
I also want to say a big thank-you to the people who have been part of my congregations; I have enjoyed sharing life with you and have been blessed by what we have shared together. My particular thanks to the good people of Bitterne Park for your love and support during Michelle’s illness; thank you for lifts; meals; prayers and the many ways you have helped us in our darkest times.
To friends from around the country, thank you for your friendship from wherever and whenever we first met and as we continue through life.
Forest Flame Music; Music to uplift the soul!