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.

Six weeks on

IMG_1750As all the sights, sounds and sunshine of a Devonian summer increasingly surround us, our lives are affected by an amalgam of emotions as we live in this strange new land of loss that we’ve never occupied before. Normality carries on around us as Josh and Lydia sit A-Levels and GCSEs respectively. Tom has arrived home, fresh from exams and his first year at Cardiff and Simeon’s finding the gym a great place to be. Catherine carries on at work in school while we both prepare for our house move. We enjoyed four precious days with old friends Phil and Sarah Baskerville on Guernsey just two weeks ago, and then, within a few days of arriving back, we said farewell to the five churches of our ‘Mission Community’ at the end of May and received a good and generous send-off. In these last few days, we’ve been so excited to finally and suddenly exchange contracts for both the sale of our flat in Crediton and then, an hour later, for the purchase of our new home in Exeter. The flat’s sale is due to complete this Friday and our new house next Tuesday. The excitement we feel is palpable – that after all these many months of hoping, wondering and daring to pray for a place for the family to call home, it’s now within sight, thanks to Father’s provision through many who together have made it possible. But it’s been a story of many chapters and one part of it I want to share involves our Insurance Claim forminsurance company.

In 2000, I took out a Critical Illness policy which, back then, was worth a significant £X. Over the years, that policy has reduced in value markedly to the point it was worth only a quarter of what it was 15 years ago. It was, however, now more than ever worth making a claim and putting the proceeds towards the house. And so I completed the paperwork in March and waited. In the meantime, we applied to ‘port’ our current mortgage across to the proposed new property and were initially told we could. All seemed to be going smoothly until we hit a bump in the road with the mortgage company – on May 13th we heard that they wouldn’t be party to a purchase where friends had contributed. The mortgage could not therefore be ported. We were left dazed. Now, with only a few weeks before contracts were due to be exchanged, we found ourselves high and dry. Deciding we couldn’t delay, we went to see our own bank. Part way into the meeting with Luci, their helpful mortgage arranger, having shared our situation with her – my health, our loss of Ben, our need for a home – she left the room for some more information. As soon as she’d gone, my phone rang. It was the insurance company. The call left me speechless and Catherine in tears. Having both received reports from my doctors and considered my case, it had been decided that they were going to pay me out as if it was 2002 – the year I had my first brush with melanoma – when the policy was still worth £X – plus they were going to refund all my monthly premiums since 2002. It was the amount we were, at that moment, seeking from the bank as a mortgage. Just as we were in Luci’s office – not too soon, not too late – the phone call had come. How many insurance companies, I have asked myself since that day, give you nearly four times what you had expected and requested? It seems to this faltering and sometimes struggling disciple of Jesus that His hand was at work. I’d dared to ask Him months ago in prayer, “Lord, would you provide us with the right place to live, and could I even ask that we could be free of a mortgage?” Here now it seems was His response. As Luci arrived back in the room, we were struggling to contain ourselves. We told her our news – she joined in the tears – and we left amazed. No mortgage needed. And now, with so many family members & amazing friends behind us and offering to help with the move next week, we’re full of excitement as we face this new chapter moving in.      

SadnessYet all this is tinged with a pall of sadness. Ben. Gone. Dabi, now returned to Brazil. There’s a strange sense of wrongness I occasionally feel in going about the everyday things in life, as if I shouldn’t. Our precious son has died. Nicholas Wolterstorff puts it well when he writes,

It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us – never to sit with us at the table, never to travel with us, never to laugh with us, never to cry with us, never to embrace us…never to see his brothers and sister marry. All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death. A month, a year, five years – with that, I could live. But not this forever. I step outdoors into the moist, mouldy fragrance of an early summer morning and arm in arm with my enjoyment comes the realisation that never again will he smell this.

“As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return, he will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more” (Job 7:9-10) 

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

Trust StreetI find myself sitting on the sofa regularly, staring at a freshly mounted photo of Ben on the side table, or listening to the sound of his voice in a recording he sent me last year, my mind doing somersaults as it’s confronted with the seeming violence of this new reality. But at the same time, I also find myself gently confronted by Father who, when I was struggling even to open my mouth in church recently and feeling so overtaken by Ben’s death, I sensed quietly spoke deep into my heart saying, “Jeremy, my gospel, my story, my purposes overarch everything in this world, in life, in your lives, in your life…they catch Ben’s life, his death, your grief and all that you feel up so that nothing is lost, nothing is without meaning…and so, will you simply hold onto me? Will you trust me?” My only response? “Of course Lord…where else can I go? You and you alone have the words of eternal life”

But nonetheless, it’s right to lament. The scriptures remind us in this way…

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4)

HopeI can see it there in those words. The follower of Jesus does grieve, but grieves with a particular kind of hope, knowing something precious. I grieve holding onto the certainties guaranteed by Christ, by his death and resurrection. That because he died and rose, those who’ve placed the weight of their life’s trust on him, even though they die, will one day also rise bodily to inhabit the very real new heaven and new earth that scripture promises. And that in the meantime, Ben’s there before the wonderful throne with Christ, amongst the “spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrew 12:23) having an amazing time. So it’s HOPE writ large I have…not some wishful, baseless ‘pie in the sky when you die’  hope, but the sure and certain hope wonderfully provided by the ever precious Word of God. Yes, the days can be varied. Some moments, I sit tearful, disbelieving it’s all happened, but then other times I experience a strange euphoria that causes me to smile, knowing that Ben is ecstatic, more fully alive than me…safe and punching the air with joy and a jubilant abandon. He’s there with Jesus, living the dream – Jesus, whose hands and feet still bear the scars of the nails that remind us how it was all made possible.

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Comments on: "Six weeks on" (7)

  1. Jeremy – you leave me speechless, amazed and full of praise. Your life is like a rollercoaster of incredible events, with God’s hands there in the middle of it all . It is such a privilege that you want to share it, with us together with your thoughts and feelings.
    You must have thought about Ben being here in England, with all his family, when he became ill, and spending his last days surrounded by you all. If he had been in Brazil when it happened…. another part of God’s perfect plan
    Alison x

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    • Thanks Alison. There are all sorts of ways in which we saw God’s hand – if it hadn’t been for Ben becoming ill last summer and me going out to Brazil to see him, my doctor here at home most possibly wouldn’t have taken the cough I developed in Brazil as seriously, and hence a quicker diagnosis and treatment. If then it hadn’t been for me being diagnosed, Ben wouldn’t have come back to the UK where, when he fell ill, he received the best of treatment and care.

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  2. Yvonne Howarth said:

    Yes I marvel at God’s hand in all this, your ill health Jeremy, your trip to see Ben, you becoming ill again, Ben coming home and the list goes on.
    Not for us to ask why but to just trust, you have shown us this above and beyond.
    As always you tend to the flock, whilst sharing your thoughts you give us answers that are needed, hope and reassurance. Blessed assurance Jesus is mine, thank you Jeremy for the nudge.
    I’m excited for you and all that’s happening with the house and flat, God’s blessings on your new home. Wonderful to see God working even up to the last minute, reassuring you that he had your back once again, how surprised you must have all been.
    Ben’s absence must be so hard, I’m glad you can see his face with his Heavenly Father’s. I hope Simeon, Tom, Josh and Lydia are coping with the loss of a much loved brother, I think of them often, especially Simeon as he becomes the eldest.
    Much love to you all, be assured of love and prayers. Yvonne. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Yvonne. It’s true that in the middle of some unanswerable questions, we’ve seen evidences of his grace and goodness.

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  3. James Stickland said:

    Hi Bro. Thinking and praying for you. Your right, sometimes when I think of grandparents who are with the Lord, I ask Jesus to give them a hug and tell them that I love them and I’ll see them soon.
    Love to you and Catherine
    from Michelle (Shell) and I

    Liked by 1 person

    • James & Shell…in my mind, we’re still all looking as we were in 1989 at the London City Mission! Father God was faithful and good to us all back then, and that’s good reason to know He still is now. Love you guys.

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  4. David Williams said:

    Half way through another ordinary day for me, just reading my emails from the weekend and working through a mundane “todo” list, comes your latest blog instalment. I just have to pause, not only in thankfulness to the God who daily bears you up, but also to enable me to turn back humbled to my own tasks, seeing them in the light of his sovereign goodness. Thank you, Jeremy.

    Liked by 1 person

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