Jeremy…husband of Catherine, father of Ben, Simeon, Tom, Joshua & Lydia. Up until the end of April 2015, he was pastor/vicar of a group of churches on the edge of Exeter in Devon, UK. In early October 2014, aged 48, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, a stage four malignant melanoma presenting as a tumour on his lungs. The usual life expectancy is 8-12 months. Then, in late December 2014, 23 year old Ben suffered a seizure. After prolonged medical care for what was most likely to have been a viral infection affecting his brain, Ben died in April 2015. Jeremy has up until recently seemed to have responded well to pioneering immunotherapy treatments that can extend life, but from September 2016 is now facing the fresh development of brain tumours and potentially now just months to live. On January 27th 2017 Jeremy took his last breath and went to be his Lord and Saviour. The family share their thoughts, feelings and reflections as they taJeremy…husband of Catherine, father of Ben, Simeon, Tom, Joshua & Lydia. Up until the end of April 2015, he was pastor/vicar of a group of churches on the edge of Exeter in Devon, UK. In early October 2014, aged 48, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, a stage four malignant melanoma presenting as a tumour on his lungs. The usual life expectancy is 8-12 months. Then, in late December 2014, 23 year old Ben suffered a seizure. After prolonged medical care for what was most likely to have been a viral infection affecting his brain, Ben died in April 2015. Jeremy has up until recently seemed to have responded well to pioneering immunotherapy treatments that can extend life, but from September 2016 is now facing the fresh development of brain tumours and potentially now just months to live. On January 27th 2017 Jeremy took his last breath and went to be with his Lord and Saviour. The family share their thoughts, feelings and reflections as they take this painful and unexpected journey.

Painful pathways

Dark pathsThere is both so much to write and yet nothing to write. Tomorrow will be three weeks since Ben died. The days, in one sense, seem so normal, so brutally normal, and yet at times crushingly painful. I go about some of the usual activities, the everyday stuff of life – maybe it’s driving, shopping, putting the bins out – and every now and again, the fact of Ben’s death overwhelms me like a tidal wave and I have to turn my head and clamp my jaw. Other times, when I’m by myself, perhaps showering, and alone with my thoughts, I’ve found myself doubled up in agonised weeping.

tears-silent-language-of-griefGrief is such an intensely personal thing that it’s so often hard to know what to say when people ask how I am. How can it be described when I have this overpoweringly deep ache inside that’s beyond words? I hear the words ‘Ben’, ‘died’ and ‘dead’, and they can’t, they don’t, they shouldn’t belong together in one sentence. Losing a child is the one thing we don’t seem to be programmed for. I’ve not trodden this path before and I don’t have any map for it. The grief ‘process’ is not a tidy thing. The stages are messy and mixed – normality mixed with numbness, acceptance merged with denial, reality mixed with unreality; my mind seems constantly overtaken by this thing, this momentous thing that’s overtaken us. 

Lonlieness of griefOver the years, I’ve given away many copies of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s extraordinary book, Lament for a Son. It’s his diary account of the year after the death of his own son, aged 25. I now find myself dipping into it with a greater intensity. Part way through he writes words that now grab me afresh – 

There’s a hole in the world now. In the place where he was, there’s now just nothing. A center, like no other, of memory and hope and knowledge and affection which once inhabited this earth is gone. Only a gap remains. A perspective on this world unique in this world which once moved about within this world has been rubbed out. Only a void is left. There’s nobody now who saw just what he saw, knows what he knew, remembers what he remembered, loves what he loved. A person, an irreplaceable person, is gone. Never again will anyone apprehend the world quite the way he did. Never again will anyone inhabit the world the way he did. Questions I have can never now get answers. The world is emptier. My son is gone. Only a hole remains, a void, a gap, never to be filled.

Holding hands in griefAnd yet for all this, paradoxically, I’ve still found the occasional quiet, still place. Where times of personal prayer seem difficult, sitting in silence seems to bring some measure of peace. Being held by Father. Aware of the effect of others praying for us. Occasionally as Catherine and I exchange a glance across the room, or quietly lie holding each other, heads on our pillows, we share a few words, even a simple prayer, or we simply look into each other’s eyes…and we know a strength. We’ve been buoyed by some wonderful friends who’ve dropped everything to be with us. Our old friend, Michael – Ben’s Godfather – coming from New Zealand for five days. Our dear friend Hélène, who took over the running of our home for some days to give us space to just ‘be’. So many good friends and family from far and wide who travelled to be at Ben’s Thanksgiving Service and since, to say nothing of the cards, letters and flowers that have arrived. The strengthening effect from all this has been tangible. (For those not able to be at the service, the Order of Service is included below) 

At Ben’s burial in Alphington, Exeter, last Tuesday – a quiet gathering with family and a couple of friends – I was conscious of a peace as I sung the Lord’s Prayer in Maori, holding Catherine’s hand and aware of Dabi, then aware of the tears of one of Ben’s brothers dropping to the ground in full flow as he held onto his mother. It was St Augustine who wrote 1600 years ago – 

“The tears…steamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would, making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested” (Confessions IX, 12)

There is a peace being discovered. I know it’s Father quietening us with His love. 

Good news 3Just two days after the burial, and the day we said goodbye to my parents as they returned to NZ, Catherine and I visited my oncologist to be told that the tumour on my lung has shrunk by one third, and other smaller lesions present in other places in my body remain unchanged. We couldn’t quite grasp it. That news came a day after an unexpected phone call from our insurer saying that my illness policy was being backdated twelve years to the time of my original (and apparently, back then, less serious) melanoma diagnosis in 2002 and was now going to pay out enough for us to be mortgage-free in our intended new home.

With both these pieces of good news, evidences of God’s goodness, my mind confronts me with the question, “If these, why not Ben also?” But my heart quietly mediates, not with an answer, but a response, “Remember what God said, ‘Behold I am making all things new’…there is the Day coming when it’ll all be alright, when it’ll all become clear”. It all serves to remind me that Father weaves the golden threads with the dark ones as He works all things together for good  and that God who in Christ suffered for us on the cross, and who took the sting out of death for those who love and trust Him, walks with us in all things.  

Ben’s Service of Thanksgivingclick to enlarge

Ben's Funeral SheetBen's Funeral Sheet 2

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Comments on: "Painful pathways" (14)

  1. Anne Thomson said:

    How beautifully you write Jeremy, how well you convey your struggle with this (to me) unimaginable pain. So many questions we will never know the answer to this side of eternity.
    It’s wonderful news to hear about the tumour shrinkage, the provision of your home and the wonderful support of your friends. I pray you all continue to know the comfort of our loving Lord . We are continuing to lift you in prayer . Sending love to you all.
    Anne Thomson

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    • Thanks, Anne. It’s so good to know your support and friendship. Michael brought the tangible reminders of it with him when he came. J

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  2. Love you, Jeremy. Continuing to pray for you and your family.

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  3. Yvonne Howarth said:

    As usual, I find myself uplifted after reading your words Jeremy. Yes death has lost its sting, but the pain remains as we try to carry on in this life, without our loved one.
    It’s good for us to know that it’s normal its ok, to feel the pain and the loss as Christians. Overcome with God’s love yet overcome with grief. Bless you for sharing your private thoughts.
    Ben lives on thankfully, just waiting in his Heavenly Father’s mansion, for the day he will be reunited with his family and friends. I have a picture in my mind of Ben, with bright happy eyes, a shy smile turning up the corners of his mouth, fully restored to full health and strength, sitting at his Heavenly Father’s feet, with our Lords hand on Ben’s shoulder.
    The news from your oncologist is wonderful, may this continue to improve, as we continue to lift you up.
    Love from us all here in the Howarth household, as we thank God for Ben and all he meant to so many.
    Much love Yvonne. Xx

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    • Thanks Yvonne…and for your family’s part in Ben’s life too all those years ago in Upton.

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  4. Jennie Archer said:

    Like Yvonne I have been so moved by your posts Jeremy. I find them incredibly encouraging .I suppose we all ask ‘Why’ as you said. If there can be good news about your tumours which is such wonderful news why not Ben? Your thoughts and understanding about this were so very helpful. I can only say ‘Thank you’ for all your thoughts and deep wisdom
    God bless you all richly and hold you all closely to him
    Always in my prayers
    Jennie

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    • Thanks Jennie for this encouragement. Easy answers tend to be the glib ones…but I sense as we press on into knowing Father’s heart and character, there’s the assurance that ‘all shall be well’. J

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  5. Christine Curd said:

    Oh Jeremy, I identify so much with this.mi can remember yelling at God, why not Sam? Bit sensing that even as I did I was like a small child being held tight by Father even as the anger of grief vented. I hadn’t realised before the sheer physicality of grief and that feeling heart broken, a sword through your heart also, feels so,literally true. The Lord strengthen you in these dark days and may you also find unexpected green pastures. Parallel tracks, so often. But am so very. Very pleased about the finances.

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  6. Chris Boughton said:

    Hi Jeremy. Tomorrow is the 19th of May & 8 years to the day since you married myself & Lara Boughton. My father in law Brian Strange. I’ve followed your blog & can’t express in words what I feel & think. You’re post from a couple of weeks ago particularly struck a chord – “Instant Access”.
    All I want to say is I have an intense relationship with God since about the age of 7. There is no doubt. I like to think of it more as “knowing” rather than “believing”.
    What I love about the way you write is your connection with God, while at the same time having an acute awareness of the fragility of humanity.
    Ephesians 6:10-17

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    • Chris, it’s so good hearing from you. I remember your special day and send you both much love and congratulations on eight years. It’s wonderful to know about your continuing relationship with the Lord. What you say about ‘knowing’ God rather than just believing is so true. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words when He says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (John 17:3). It’s a relationship, not a religion; it’s a not about distance, or observing rules and regulations- it’s about a relationship of knowing and being known. And that relationship with Christ issues into eternal life. It’s so great to know you’ve found it too and from such a young age.
      Thanks for the encouragement…especially from Ephesians 6 – good to put into practice! J

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  7. Thank you for your continued inspiration to us all.
    I don’t have any fancy words, just a verse that God has laid on my heart for you:
    2 Corinthians 4 v.6-12

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  8. Clive and Tina Upton said:

    Psalm 131:1-3 [A song of ascents. Of David.]

    My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. [2] But I have stilled and quietened my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

    [3] O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and for evermore.

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