The Shadow of Death (or…When the Chips are Further Down)

“Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil; For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me…”

…and I continued reading through the twenty-third psalm to one very frightened old lady.

Mum tells me that her 11 days in hospital were the worst time of her life so far. The scientist in me understands what they were doing, why it was necessary to sample her, measure her, shovel pills down her, take her for a scan. But to her, she had become a pin cushion, a pain-racked subject at the mercy of medical professionals, available to be pushed, pricked, prodded and rolled over. She felt it was little better than a concentration camp, except that the perpetrators of her ordeal carried out their work with a basic kindness.

The greatest terrors happened after dark. It seemed one of the ladies in Mum’s ward was deeply troubled, and started shouting out at night. Two burly nurses came and carted her away. For Mum, this coincided with an unpleasant dream, and she fully expected the same ‘heavies’ to come back for her later! They didn’t, and the disturbed lady appeared back in her bed the following morning.

My sister, and two neighbours, spoke to her through a special video link. It helped that Mum had been talking to a male nurse who knew her next-door neighbour. He turned out to be an ‘angel’, looking out for her and facilitating these calls. Our family, and Mum’s friends, sent photos and videos which I was able to show her on my phone. Indeed the family news occupied much of my visit times. But I needed something more, something that spoke into Mum’s distress.

I haven’t been the one suffering the ordeal, but it has shaken me to the core and is rocking the foundations of my faith. I could write you a good dissertation on why God allows suffering. But it’s altogether different when the victim is someone close to your heart, the person who bore you, suckled you, watched over you, brought you up, and has loved you as her son with a passion all 70 years of your life. Her cries of distress resonate back from the deepest chambers of my soul.

Again and again, I have been driven back to basics, as I have sought daily to bring fresh encouragement and speak hope to despair. After hearing about Mum’s nocturnal terrors, my only reply was to find Psalm 91 on my phone, where verses 5,6 told us,  

“You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,

Nor of the arrow that flies by day.

Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness…”

One of my contributions was to write a lament, a prayer that expressed the pain Mum and I were feeling. Hers, physical. Mine, emotional.

Eventually I became fond of the ward staff who were trying their best to cure people in challenging circumstances. They helped me fasten my apron when I couldn’t tie a knot behind my back. They didn’t make me feel stupid when yet again I put my mask on the wrong way round. I proved just as useless at kitting up as I am at bridling horses! I gave them a ‘thank you’ card on my final visit.

On Day 7, the senior nurse who had overseen Mum’s care announced that they were planning to discharge her. To cut a long story short, she was discharged on Day 11 and now has a place in a care home where the next phase of this drama is being played out. My sister took centre stage for four days whilst I went with Jane to visit our London family.


I could write a whole article in praise of the Science Museum and Natural History Museum. Equally so, on the joys of taking one bright-eyed four-year-old boy around their galleries. He was fascinated by the space rockets, the planets, the ancient aeroplanes, the cut-away body that showed a growing foetus like that of his sister-to-be. He loved the dinosaurs (other than the scary T-Rex, whom he declined to visit), the whales and sea mammals, and he ‘made’ four different types of volcanos on a simulator.

When I next saw Mum, she was able to enjoy our trip to London vicariously. This interlude was a part of God’s provision for my vulnerable soul, every bit as much as the Scriptures. So far, he has never ‘failed or forsaken’ me. And for the future? I have to trust.

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