A grief pondered: Fragments caught in time

A Grief pondered: Fragments caught in time

These scribblings are just me giving expression some of the thoughts that have come to me in my time of bereavement following my wife’s death. Special and choice are the memories that linger long and I continue to savour every one of them. Val was my wife, my love and my life – that has been the privilege that has encouraged and at the same time caused me many anxious thoughts about whether I really appreciated her. Of course I realise that this is the known emotional ‘black hole’ that grieving spouses can get in to: a place of ‘vain regrets’ and of ‘if only’, but it is does not have to be, rather a space for appreciation. The loss of our spouse’s presence can make us who walk this journey heighten and deepen that appreciation. Often self deprecation is part of the process of moving along the path of the life that was once shared but now is trodden alone. There have been times when I have ‘beat up’ on myself, but thankfully I have had an elder daughter, good friends and a fund of commonsense that have prevented me going too far along that pathway. Plus I believe that the Grace of God has been with me and helped me to attend to duties, chores and patterns of life that have been both helpful and healthful.

At this vantage point, Val’s decline and death seem to have been so incredibly fast and my appreciation of the seriousness of her condition was masked by Val’s firmly held conviction that she would be healed. This was something that I consciously didn't want to undermine, but I now regret a time - towards the final weeks - when I acknowledged that I could hold her line with conviction. I dis say that I would continue to pray for her healing to the end.

The following are the brief messages that I placed on the Face-book page for friends to remember us and we were grateful for the knowledge that they did remember us in their prayers.

7 March 2015 

Some of you know or had a concern because Val had been ill for some time. We have now had it confirmed that Val has cancer in her liver, but it is unusual in that the liver is the primary place and our hospital is transferring her to a London hospital where they believe they can do an operation that will possibly be a surgical cure. We are both at peace and trusting in our Lord and Saviour: "Our times are in his hands."

17 March 2015  

I think it good to tell friends that Val has got an appointment at Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead to see the consultant about her liver cancer. This is next Tuesday and she was referred there by our Broomfield Hospital. They believe a surgical cure is possible - but we have some way to go yet. Thank you for your prayers and support - may the Lord God bless you all! We know that our times are truly in His hands!

27 March 2015  

We were a little down from our meeting with the consultant at Royal Free, Hampstead on Tuesday - but today we have learnt that they want to get on with the needed tests as soon as possible starting on Monday next. We are grateful to all the prayers and good wishes of our friends - The Lord is powerfully on our case!

7 April 2015 

Just to inform friends that the surgeon at Royal Free Hospital has said that the tests have found a cancerous area on the good side of Val's liver and therefore is not going to operate. We have been in touch with Broomfield Hospital and they have called Val in for a discussion of the options from here [Thursday afternoon]. Val remains very weak and this gives us concerns about any treatment as yet. I have asked whether there are ways of building her up so as to be strong enough to take treatment - of whatever sort. Our continued thanks for the good wishes and prayers of our friends - Thank you! Our times remain in His hands.

9 April 2015 

Val and I went to Broomfield Hospital this afternoon and the consultant told us that there is nothing more that he could do for Val. The cancer is in both sides of her liver; that was why there was no prospect of a successful operation. Val condition is that she is too weak for and chemotherapy - even the exploratory biopsy would be too much. He said that they try to make her time as trouble and pain free as possible. I asked how long had Val got and the doctor said 'from 6 to 9 months. I said that at least she'll be there for our 50th Anniversary - then we both wept. Our times are in God's hands - He knows what He is doing - may we just glorify His amazing love and all the blessings that we have enjoyed.

It doesn’t seem as though I wrote anything on the face book page in May. This was because this was the month of the stair-lift to help Val get up and down the stairs. It lasted for about a month and then Val was so much weaker that we had to make a bed for her down stairs. To begin with I slept downstairs with her, but soon we needed a night nurse who took over and I was sent back up stairs.

During this time folks came to pray for her and over her – The Clan assembled, the ‘elders’ of the Church came and various other friends continued their support and concern. Val remained quietly confident that the Lord would still raise her up, but always she remained calm serene and confident in her relationship with her Lord. She enjoyed having people around her and would participate in conversation. Some folk have said that she could speak quite boldly and forcefully into particular life concerns that folk expressed.

 2 June 2015 

A number of folk have asked 'How's Val doing?' Truthfully she is getting a lot weaker. Our Farley nurses are there to help and I am having to get used to the idea that I need a break and allowing others in to help with 'Val sitting'. At the moment her calcium levels are too high in her blood and she is waiting for a hospice or hospital bed for a procedure to correct this. Val is not able to move much, but still enjoys our garden flowers. We still hold the 'our times are in His hands' and are at peace. We are hoping we can make it to August 7th and our anniversary (50!) - but for now it is one day at a time - and there is grace to help in our times of need. Thank you for your support and prayers for us - may the Lord bless you all abundantly

10 June 2015  

Hi friends this is just to keep you informed as to Val's general condition. Basically she is failing fast - I am amazed at the speed of this cancer. Various aids that we got in for Val are now of no help to her - stair lift, Zimmer frame, wheel chair, etc - Val is laying on a hospital bed in our lounge and attended by a succession of Farley nurses - all seeking to give her some TLC. We are both at peace which is remarkable - someone asked Val how she was and she answered 'Well' - as in 'Well with by soul!' It is humanly speaking just a matter of time and that not long now. We thank the Lord for the kindnesses and thoughtfulness of so many people, but especially to our friends. Our times are in His hands and He is working out His good purposes - One day we shall understand - but for now we are sad - yet for Val it is a win - win situation! May we continue to know the merciful touch of our Heavenly Father.

18 June 2015 

My beloved Val went into the presence of her Lord at 12-30 pm today. Her departure has been in less than 5 months since we sensed something was wrong with Val, but the undetected cancer had been at work longer. Val declined slowly and delighted in various friends who called to see her. Latterly Val was ready to go and yesterday getting frustrated that she was still with us. Today she passed over peacefully - and I just know the trumpets sounded her arrival! My daughters shared my vigil round Val bedside and helped their dad in many ways. Thank you friends for your support and concern, may the Lord bless you all.

27 June 2015 

Just to clarify for friends who have asked Val's Thanksgiving Service on Wednesday July 1st, will be at St Paul's Church, Hay Lane South, Braintree CM7 3DY Also the 'dress code is Bright' Things are coming together slowly and trust that all in the Service will reflect Val's impact on us all. Please let me know if any want more directions than these.

25 June 2015 

Just to thank friends for their prayers and support in these difficult following Val's death. Her funeral will be on July 1st - Her committal at Braintree cemetery at 2-30 pm for family and close friends and then the Thanks Giving Service at 3-30 pm in St Paul's Church in Cressing Road, Braintree, which will be followed by refreshments. Hey, and what a load of paper work is required, etc when don't you don't feel you are really up to coping, praise the Lord for family and friends who have gone out of their way to support and advise - for an independent type I'm having to learn new lessons. I am delighted with the appreciations of Val that have come in and it is good to think how much she was loved and appreciated.


The Funeral took place on July 1st and Val was buried in Braintree Cemetery.


7 July 2015 

My thanks and that of my family are for all the cards and appreciations of Val's life which we have received. Last week was tough and at the same time amazing. On Wednesday (July 1st) we buried Val’s earthly remains in Braintree Cemetery - the grave diggers had chosen a good spot - that was just what she would have wanted. The Thanksgiving service at St Paul's Church was filled with friends and all who had appreciated something of Val's life impacting their own. Though hot there was a calm serene service with all the participants making their distinctive glimpse at the life and work of one of God's instruments for good. We are so grateful to all those who gave their testimony to Val's influence each in their own way. I met so many folk and it was a delight to share with them, but I was conscious of so many others with whom I didn't have time to greet and share. My thanks are to all for their support, prayers and help in many ways. The Vicar and members of St Paul's Church gave us such care and help. 
Thanks be given to the Lord God who enables us to appreciate the good lasting and wholesome values of life - Val shone as an influence for good.


Golden Wedding Anniversary -August 7th 2015 - we almost made it darling - but what great years we have shared! In memory of Val Ives - intensely missed!


18 October 2015 

Hi friends - today and this moment is four months since Val died - life does indeed go on, but absent also is so much colour, sparkle and sheer enjoyment that it really does leave the life I have left as something more grey and lacking than I ever could have imagined. I still hurt deeply and just when I think that I have had a few good days, the hurt returns. I know all about the grieving cycle and the various therapies that do help some people. I also praise the Lord that Val is with Him and that IS far better, but I really do miss Val. She was God's gift to me - and to so many others in the different spheres she graced - so I give thanks for the years we were together – sweet, sometimes bumpy, rich, amazing and always so colourful. They say that regrets often stalk the mourner - yes they can bother me at times, but the Lord knows that we loved, laughed, enjoyed and delighted in each other as fully as we knew - and that remains so special - it was central to my life - Thank you Val - Thank you Lord.


17 November 2015 

It is pure nostalgia, but today would have marked 53 years since I asked Val Millington to go out on a date - to Stamford Bridge!! - the match wasn't much, but the tea and chat afterwards were such that we became an item and so that began our relationship. I am so thankful that Val agreed to enter my life - I was graced indeed!


24 December 2015 

Just to wish my Face-book friends a Happy Christmas and a very good New Year. I simply paste my Christmas letter for this year - it says it all.

Christmas Letter for 2015

Much of my life stopped on June 18th when Val died. Since that time life has been a roller-coaster with unpredictable low times and normal times. A kind friend wrote me a statement that I believe was good advice: “Life will never be the same again, but it can still be good.”
The support of friends and especially from the Church at Warren Road has been choice and so special. I have seen quite a lot of Alison, who has had her own grieving as well as keeping an eye on her dad, but that has helped me. Alison as been busy with her school work and recently she has been recognised for some promotion. Work has helped us both grieve and at the same time get on with living. Katie, Glen and the family moved away to Stafford because of Glen’s new job. It was all happening at the same time as Val’s death and added to their own stress, but they have relocated and Glen and the children are happy in their new situation, as is Katie, who minds the new home at present. 
I have continued to preach at BEC and do the main things expected of me, but it has been good to welcome Peter and Mary Hawes on to the Leadership, so that the church has a team again.
I have had a number of ‘projects’ that helped me cope – most of these were phases of the grieving process. I have gone through the photo albums and appreciating the times we had – so many memories and very little that I would have changed – and then that seemed to be mainly my own lack of appreciation of Val. I don’t think that I have changed much in the house as yet, but those changes will come and I’m in no hurry. The Clan and Church friends have been available when needed – and they did note that I am a person who tends to cope – I have always been a ‘utilitarian’ – ‘do what you can’ and if a situation or people are not responding – then leave them be and do the things you can. I have not concerned myself too much with things I cannot fix. Yes I would dearly love to have Val still with me and I really don’t know why the Lord took her home, but I do trust that it was for some greater project of His grace and goodness that I cannot see as yet. I can still speak with emphasis that ‘God is good and God is love!’ and that He is always worthy of our trust.
Folk warn me about ‘anniversaries’ – but friends please don’t hold back – remember with me the grace, sweetness and giftedness of Val – I delight in that – I really do! There are still tears, but the emotional roller- coaster is becoming steadier!
May the Lord’s blessing of Christmas be with us all in abundance!

Much love – Keith


Sent: ‎Sunday, 21 February 2016

Dear Elaine and Tom

Thank you for your letter - and I am sorry to hear that you were not aware of Val's home-call - until recently. Mind it sounds as though you have had plenty on your plates in moving and relocating!

Val became un-well Christmas 2014 - we both thought we had flu, but I recovered. The doctor was treating Val for a stomach disorder and at the end of January sent her for an ultra-scan. This revealed something on her liver and later that month we were told it was cancer. Right through March Val was sent to a London hospital with hopes of a 'surgical cure' - this after three wasted and difficult journeys for Val. These were building up our expectations with false hopes. The bottom line was that Val was so weak and the progress downwards meant that she could not have sustained treatment of any kind, let alone an operation!

Back at our local hospital and the doctor there said that there was nothing further that they could do - it was April by now. Palliative was slowly started and by May we had a stair-lift put in, but in truth Val only had the use of it for a month. By June she was in a bed in our lounge. For most of the time I was able to cope and able to get her up when needed, but as the month wore on, night staff took over. Val had good support from all the nursing staff.

To begin with Val was convinced that she would be 'healed' and had Scriptures and accounts of those who had battled against cancer of the liver. Many friends came from our Church and beyond and we prayed and anointed Val. She had some good seasons, but the decline continued. Those weeks Val smiled in a serene way and was a blessing and help to all those who visited her.

Our daughters were a great help to us and we kept up our vigil until the Lord took Val home on June 18th, then I realised what a short and sudden happening this must appear to so many - 5 months from diagnosis to death!

Yet we knew the hand of the Lord on our lives. Val loved our new house that we moved into in May 2012 and she was surrounded by flowers and friends to the end.

Her thanksgiving service was on July 1st and the Church was packed out and there was a powerful sense of the Lord's presence. Val is buried in our local cemetery, but as I have often said that Val is with her Lord - just her earthly remain are buried there.

Well my life without Val was reflected in my Christmas letter - so you will know that I am making slow and, at times, tearful progress. I have been able to share some of that progress on Face book - which has been a help.

I continue in my pastor’s role of a small local church and they continue to be supportive and loving.

We had hoped for a few more years, but Val was ready for her Lord - and I have been reading her prayer diary which just breathes that warm appreciation and worshipful anticipation of her Lord in her life.

I don't know whether this is too much detail, but as a friend said to me - 'Life will never be the same, but it can still be good.'

Trust you are well settled - we had to cancel a trip we had booked to Tenerife in February 2015 and just missed our 50th wedding anniversary, but I am gradually thinking about getting away for a break, with my elder daughter's help.

Take care and much love


June 2016

On the occasion of a memorial plaque on a bench in Beckers green Primary School, where Val had served as a Governor and latterly as Chair.

This was a moving presentation organised by the head teacher Helen Ryan and it brought the whole school, whole all sang movingly before and after Sarah Hayward, our friend the local vicar and school governor read a story that she had written that saw the School as a Beehive. Sarah saw Val as one of the owner’s helpers for keeping the Beehive making its sweetness for the world. It was a moving experience and the children were all magnificent - even a harden teacher like me had a moist eye! Val loved her time there and loved the people - sadly we didn't know it would be so short.

17 June ·2016 

It is a year since Val died - yes June 18th has come round and I have been re-reading my journal of those declining moments. I continue to be grateful for support and prayers from friends and family. I have been through a number of phases of grief - but I am not sure how many to expect! I think my appreciation of Val has deepened and become focused on the delight in all that we shared. I had thought of putting some more pictures of Val on to Face book, but I feel that I have put enough on display. I seek to fill up my days, but it remains a bit of a trial when I return back to Stilemans Wood and I know that I am by myself - Val's appreciative comment when she sat in our conservatory - "Keith, we have been so blessed" - remains with me and she did feel just that!. Strange how we could both be distinctively ourselves and yet share so very much. I will continue to miss Val and many things can evoke tears of good memories - but I am determined to enjoy all those memories that we shared and to give thanks to the God who brought us together in the first place.


26 August · 2016

I am sending many thanks and grateful appreciation to all who sent me their birthday greetings in one way or another. It has not been an easy week with many memories - funny how some friends warned me that the second year of lost can be worse than the first. I think that one reason may be because a bereaved person is slowly connecting with more of themselves - and just how many things there are that you can no longer share. But I am sustained and supported - all part of the Lord's provision and in that I will rejoice! My thanks to all!


December 2016

Hi, it’s that time for putting pen to paper and to wish relatives and friends a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year. Most people speak of Christmas as a time for the family and that is good, but with the remembrance that Christmases past can be a ‘bitter sweet’ kind of experience; Val always loved Christmas. I am now into my second year without Val. The phases of bereavement are different from person to person, but for me, more ‘feeling’ has come back, which indicated to me that for the first year I had clamped down on my emotions. So I have found myself more weepy than last year, but in a different way; last year was a raw and painful hurt, now the loss is more the missing the companionship and just the sheer wholesome company of sharing life, however it came to us.

I have been discovering how to keep in touch with Val! – I read her journal and prayer diaries. Initially I was disappointed because I looked to see what she said about me, but there was little. There were details of her concerns and prayers for people and events that bothered her, prayer for help and change in people’s attitudes and circumstances, but nothing about me. Then I realised that that was because she was secure with me and I wasn’t a concern. O when I was in hospital, Val mentioned me, but usually there are just brief mentions for and of my preaching in the churches. That was a gift of graciousness for I had been wondering whether I appreciated her truly and what did I give to her? – Now I can see the stability of our relationship that enabled Val to reach out to so many – and in so many ways.

Braintree keeps me busy – the family of the Church in Warren Road – a dear set of people who care; then there is Beckers Green School where I do some guided reading – keeping Val’s concern for the youngsters a focus. Also I have just become the chair of the Christian Youth Organisation for Braintree and Halstead. They are a great team of folk and have been of great help in our local schools. All these are part of the affirmation of family and personal values that are often under attack in our society today.

... So it’s all the best for this time of the year and let us remember to hold fast to the true values of individuality and family – for me they are fully seen in Jesus Christ; that become more and more precious to me! Thank you for the concerns and prayers that have been expressed – I am grateful and thankful.

Much love and every blessing- Keith


June 18: 2017

Today was the second anniversary of Val's death and I have moved on, but still not used to the 'aloneness' that dominates my life when I return home or visit familiar locations and certainly hear music that we shared a liking for. I find that there are things to do; the Church is a family where there is mutual support and loving care; family and friends are at hand and there for me to call on. Yesterday was a day to re-look at the photo albums and enjoy the memories of the past times - they were good times - times of colour and sparkle; there were bad times, but we faced them together and were the stronger for it. All I would say to couples who fear what has happened to me - cherish all your moments together and live life to the full - when your time comes and you might be the one left alone - you will have the memories of your past happiness and those memories will not mock you, though they will often bring a tear - but they are a testament to the fact that that you loved and were loved by one who brought purpose, laughter and appreciation. I miss Val deeply and I thank the Lord for bringing us together in the autumn of 1962.


November 6th 2017

Today would have been Val's 75th birthday - another landmark passes. It is two and a half years since Val died and being alone does mean that I miss her, but it is more than companionship, Val made her own contribution to our lives together that was so special. Val had colour, sparkle and authenticity. I have things to do and these 'day to day' affairs have occupied my time since she died and I am grateful to God for being so occupied. I still find myself crying out, but most often it is a short whimper because of a quick reflection. I have so many memories; so many reasons to be thankful for that day in November 1962 when I first asked her to go out with me and she accepted!
Grief has limited me - I can't think too much about the future - plans do not come easily for Val was such a large part of the way we talked and thought about what we were doing or needed to do. In the time since Val's death I can see phases of grief and I genuinely don't know whether my present attitude is a settled one, but I am grateful for the help and prayers of my family and friends - especially my daughter Alison who has kept a careful and loving eye on the 'old fella' - these have helped me stabilise and find much in life to enjoy. I do seek to enjoy life's moments and appreciate the bits of other peoples' lives that I can have a small share in. I continue to feel the Lord's hand on and in my life- it is not what I would have chosen - but it is still very good! Praise be to the Lord!


February 10 2018

Having just published the above material, I have thought that I needed to still make some up-dates from time to time. How long does grieving last? - how long is a piece of string? This varies from person to person, but I can get a little anoyed with folk who just assume a person is over that death of a loved one because it has been 12 months, eighteen months, etc. There is no time limit on grief, although there should be phases that enable us to cope.

My daughter Alison said that she had begun to grieve before Val died and I feel the same. What did this mean? It meant that I coped with what needed to be done, but I was coiled, cold and controlled. Initially I walked through what I needed to do and looking back some might have though that I was unfeeling, but the emotions began to catch up with me as I got in to the second year after Val's death. That is something that can still catch me; the other day I was walking through a shop in Braintree - a shop I hadn't been in to for some time, but I went through the Ladies section and that was where I had seen Val so many times and often arranged to meet her. My eyes filled and I found myself almost looking for her smiling face - but no - I was still alone.

I have tried to insist on friends and family feeling and being free to talk about Val on every occasion that they feel prompted by something: I delight in seeing Val through other people's eyes and hearing their memories and appreciations. I have always delighted in and been proud of my wife - though I know I haven't always shown that as I should. It has been good to review the 'good times' that we had as a couple and as a family. Val always loved being with people and I loved the way her confidence grew and developed over the years; in our early years together she was rather shy and laccking in personal self-confidence in certain areas. Of course she developed a net-work of contacts and it was good because she shared - particularly prayer needs - but also just the state of play in the lives of friends. She did so much here and this side has closed down and some contacts she had are really lost to me. Of course without Val, some folk view me differently: as C S Lewis found i 'A Grief Observed' - some people can be embrassed and others just do not know how to talk to me. Never mind: I am grateful for those family and friends who get in touch and see how the 'old fella' is doing.

I am grateful to God for the work I have in the Church and in being able to go into our local primary school to hear reading in the fourth years; I always find it encouraging to be with youngsters and see their progress and the development of greater confidence - to the point where they begin to enjoy their reading. Val would have enjoyed doing what I am doing - she also was delighted to see youngsters come on and flower in their way. Do I still miss her - don't be siilly - of course I do. I will also live and enjoy the life I have because this is what I know she would have wanted.