Christmas 1970 was fast approaching,
and dadís symptoms were growing worse with the passing of every day.
For several months he had been unable to eat solid foods. Now, even liquid
sustenance was causing him great distress. The prospects for a happy festive
season were bleak indeed.
Mum tip-toed out of the bedroom and carefully
closed the door behind her. Gently resting her index finger against her
lips, she turned to indicate to me that dad was sleeping peacefully. Moments
later, the anguish on mumís face seemed to grow in intensity, and she whispered,
ďDavid, what can we possibly do to make dadís Christmas more comfortable?Ē
Playing for time, I replied, ďLeave it with me,
mum, Iíll give it some thought.Ē In truth, I didnít know what thoughts
might enter my mind, or what Ė if any Ė solutions might be found in answer
to mumís heartfelt plea. However, I knew there was a very special place
near at hand, where I could contemplate her question and its profound implications.
At that time, I was a Sunday School teacher at
St Johnís Anglican Church in Penge, south east London. I enjoyed round-the-clock
access to that cavernous, neo-gothic building, and so I knew at once that,
that was there I would be able to find the kind of peace and solitude to
confront a truly challenging moment in my life.
Later that same day, I sat in the tranquility
of St Johnís Church, drinking in the aloneness of the moment while, at
the same time, searching for the words to express my deepest thoughts.
Eventually, as if from afar, I heard myself softly offering-up a simple
prayer. ďLord, we know itís going to be dadís last Christmas here on earth,
and we want so much to make it a peaceful and joyous time for him. Please
grant him some relief from his symptoms, so he might enjoy at least a little
Christmas Fayre.Ē After several more minutes of quiet contemplation,
I walked out of the church, and into the noise and haste of a south London
rush hour. Nevertheless, deep down in my heart, I was at peace. I knew
my prayer had been heard.
Two days later ... December 21, 1970 ... mum telephoned
me at home. Her voice was hushed, and full of hesitation, as she
alerted me to an unexpected development. ďDavid: look, Iím not quite sure
what to make of this, and I donít want either of us to get our hopes up
too much, but dad hasnít shown any symptoms since yesterday morning. He
has even had a bowl of vegetable soup today, plus a couple of cups of tea,
and he hasnít once complained of feeling nauseous. Do you think itís worth
getting-in a turkey and a few Christmas goodies after all?Ē My response
was emphatic. ďYes, I think thatís a wonderful idea mum!Ē
Within the hour, mum and I were in the local supermarket
loading our trolley with vegetables, fruit, nuts, crisps, mince pies and
soft drinks, not to mention bottles of assorted wines, beers and spirits.
A can of Ye Olde Oak Ham was also high on the agenda, as was pork sausage
meat, and ... of course ... a turkey big enough to feed a small army.
Our shopping expedition was not complete, however,
until mum had purchased a special Christmas card for dad, plus a bottle
of his favourite cream sherry. With every passing minute, I felt a growing
certainty that my intercession in St Johnís Church just two days earlier
was being answered in a remarkable way. Consequently, I was in two minds.
Should I tell mum about the prayer I had offered-up for dad? Or should
I simply place my trust in that inner voice which seemed to be saying,
ďBe at peace, my son, thereís no need to tell her.Ē Needless to say,
the trusted inner voice won the day.
Christmas Eve morning arrived, and mum telephoned
me to report that dad was still free of all the symptoms heíd been suffering
until just four days previously. My wife and I, together with our two year
old daughter Jacqueline, arrived at mum and dadís council flat opposite
Beckenham Place Park at four oíclock that same afternoon. Jacqueline
was already excited and full of expectation over what Father Christmas
might be bringing her. And, to be spending Christmas at Nana and
Nandadís home! Well, that was something extra special for her: a genuine
We all enjoyed a light supper, while the turkey
cooked in the oven, filling the whole flat with that distinctive Yuletide
aroma. Dad even remarked on his appetite, and how he was looking
forward to Christmas Dinner. A little later in the evening, he tried a
sip or two of brandy. Much to everyoneís delight, he suffered no
adverse effects, so mum presented him with an early Christmas gift: his
bottle of Harveyís Bristol Cream sherry.
One small glass-full was sufficient to last dad
the rest of the evening, but he showed a little less temperance when it
came to another of his favourite tit-bits. Salted peanuts! For as
long as I had known him, dad couldnít resist salted peanuts. And on that
Christmas Eve, he quietly munched his way through two medium-sized bags
It was just like the Christmas Eves of old. A
cosy, rosy, warm and cheerful evening, full of laughter and background
music courtesy of Perry Como, Andy Williams and Tony Bennett, among others.
For several hours, we were all lifted high above the trauma of dadís terminal
illness, and into the light of a traditional family Yuletide gathering.
In fact, more of the same was to follow.
For the first time in six months, dad ate a proper
cooked meal on that Christmas Day, but not before heíd polished-off a home-made
prawn cocktail starter, plus a glass or two of white wine. A small portion
of Christmas pudding with single cream followed the main course, after
which dad went-on to enjoy a Christmas Night laced with the odd mince pie,
several more glasses of sherry, a couple of brandies and, yes, another
bag of salted peanuts. I couldnít recall how long it had been since Iíd
seen him eating and drinking so heartily. However, not once did he
complain of nausea or discomfort.
In fact, dad thoroughly enjoyed himself over that
Christmas and New Year period, and he remained entirely free
of symptoms until January 3, 1971. In the weeks that followed the debilitating
symptoms that had disappeared so suddenly on December 20 began to re-appear
and, at length, he was admitted to St Christopherís Hospice in Sydenham.
He passed peacefully into the higher life on the evening of June 23, 1971,
but more than forty years on, I continue to feel his presence in my quieter
These days, when December comes around, I still
find time to ponder the extraordinary events of Christmas 1970. Given that
dad was so desperately ill, with the effects of those strength sapping
symptoms convulsing his poor body for many months previously; some slight
relief over that festive period would have been a welcome respite for us
all. However, against all the odds, that hoped-for slight relief
had been surpassed and dadís symptoms had completely disappeared for a
period of two full weeks. Surely, that speaks of one thing only: a truly
remarkable Christmas miracle.