I had long marvelled at Shaun’s fortitude and stoicism.
I had stopped going to his employing church three years earlier, as soon as I’d finished what I considered my duty.
In early 2005 I’d been asked to take over the music for the 11 o’clock service for three months, for the Director of Music’s sabbatical. Each week (unpaid, of course) I gave the church fifteen hours or so of my life: setting up a chamber group; pulling a choir together; organising rotas; finding an organist for each service. We had rehearsals at our rented accommodation: if we’d had our own home I would have wined and dined the musicians too.
(People commented kindly on the transformation. Because it was the more conventional service, preferred by older members of the congregation, it had been known as the “graveyard slot”. I considered it the civilised spot.)
I was gritting my teeth, until the last Sunday of those three months. The last Sunday I ever set foot in the place. (Apart from the one-off visit I mentioned a few days ago, enabled by Paul McKenna’s empowering techniques for overcoming trauma.)
From then on, I stayed away.
My absence was misunderstood. The number of well-meaning exhortations I received, telling me to “forgive” (from members of the church that had failed to house us; caused us to be split up for nearly a year; then accommodated us in a cottage less than half the size we needed; and from whom we had never yet received an apology, let alone any hint of reparation) could have powered a most exquisite psychological torture chamber.
Eventually I emailed one of them back, curious. “Why do you think I haven’t?” She had invited me to attend the church fête. I had thanked her, but explained I couldn’t face it. “The fact that I can’t do something, doesn’t mean I don’t forgive.”
Oh, she said. I see.
Shaun didn’t have the same freedom.
Day after day, week after week, month in and year out, he continued with his characteristic calm, dedication and professionalism. At a job he was finding insupportable.
I could never do that, I thought. (But of course I could. If I had to. We all do, don’t we? If you have no choice, you do what you can’t do.)
You don’t join the clergy for money. Nor indeed for promotion or status. You have a calling to serve. The reward is the work itself. The job satisfaction is all. There is nothing else.
(That, and just enough to live on if you have a stipend, which many clergy don’t. And a roof over your head, and your children’s. In theory.)
Shaun has always given his all. Never held back any part of himself, or indeed of his home or his family. He did it because he believed in it, with all his heart and soul. When he was the parson of Parson’s Green, he loved his flock as his own family. We all did.
So imagine, when he came home from work and his only words were: “I need a drink.”
The feeble vine bends and bows, giving way at the earliest pressure.
The mighty oak stands firm in the storms and the hurricane; the rain soaking its unseen roots and loosening them; the cruel winter winds battering its proud, tired head. Until the day comes when, exhausted and hollow as it is, one squall rips it up and tears it from the soil.
One Sunday afternoon that September, the great oak broke and fell.
Like a car driven and driven with no oil, suddenly unable to do another mile. Another inch.
He just stopped.
For weeks afterwards he sat in the midst of his normally noisy family, completely alone. Hearing nothing, seeing nothing, saying nothing; registering no one. For months, grey and unrecognisable, unequal to even the simplest tasks.
His mind bears the trauma still, his once flawless and astonishing memory now commonplace.
For six months even Bink’s health took second place. I have little idea of what she did or how she filled her time or survived during that next half year.
On the Monday morning, the day after he cracked and crashed, I took him to our GP; the best we’ve ever had. The number of times I’ve seen Shaun in tears I could count on one hand: in that surgery was one of them.
She listened a lot and talked a little and gave him a questionnaire to answer, to measure his level of depression. I looked over his shoulder as he did so. For most of the questions, I scored higher in my head than he did on paper.
As she was signing him off work, I said, “We need to come back, for me. I need to fill that in too.”
I had hoped Shaun would accompany me, as I had him. “I’m so sorry,” he shook his head sadly. “I don’t think I can. Do you mind?”
Not me, too.
“I just can’t face it.”