BUT, Sylvie, before the accident you were just not like this." Sylvie was propped up in a hospital bed. Ned, her twinbrother, pulled his chair closer to it.
She was fond of him in spite of all his troubles troubles with exams, girls, bosses, mum and dad. Perhaps because of them. All the same she wished she could run away from this conversation. But she was much too weak and too tightly strapped up to do that. In any case, there was not an obvious place to run to now.
"All this religiousness, I mean. It's just not healthy," Ned went on.
"Look, Ned, you don't really understand. You have thrown over Mass and all that. It's seven years since you last went to church, when we were 16. It sounds stupid, I know, but the fact is, praying for Dermot somehow makes him seem closer."
"Sylvie, it's four months since you and Dermot were in that crash. They are now saying here that once you've had the last lot of plastic surgery and they've got you used to walking again you could be your old self. But Dermot is dead. Your praying is just escapism, fantasy. Your boyfriend is buried, gone. He's gone, hear me. I know if you two but why are you suddenly staring at me like that? Oh, no, Sylvie, please don't cry like that..."
Two nurses moved briskly and then a doctor. Sylvie was given an injection. The Ward Sister said something to Ned and he vanished.
It was evening when Sylvie came round. Celia was sitting next to her, the warm humorous woman from some special unit in the hospital who had done so much for her when the pain had been extra dreadful.
What seemed a long while went by before Sylvie started talking.
"In the early days," she said, "when things were so bad, you showed me how much easier it is for people to cope with pain if only they can relax. And that, you told me, not only means stretching and letting go but also all sorts of other things thinking of things different from yourself and not losing hope, and learning to see pain as something maybe even with some good in it, something that can teach us something about life."
Celia nodded. After a minute Sylvie went on: "But do you remember too how, when you found out that I prayed, you told me that praying is not simply something that happens in the head? That it affects the whole of us. That the state of our body affects our praying and our praying effects our body. So praying could help me to relax, you said do you remember?"
"I remember," said Celia.
"Praying made me feel near to Dermot," said Sylvie. "And that of course made me want to pray more. And then, today, Ned my brother in a curious way made Dermot's death really real for me for the first time. And the panic came back, and some of the old passion. But also an awful numb feeling. A feeling that nothing much has meaning."
It was not until half an hour later, just before she was leaving, that Celia said gently: "We have to let the dead go. I had to learn that myself, my dear. If we don't, we're not loving them properly we're trying to keep them as we want them to be, and that's no way to treat even a dog. It takes time, of course. I believe, though, that prayer not only can help us let go of ourselves and relax, but also help us let go of somebody else, somebody who has died. I think if we turn to God, who is in the deepest depths of us all, being outside all limitations, we can slowly begin to see the dead as they really are in the care of God."
Sylvie was not sure that she knew what Celia had meant. But that night, lying awake in a still ward, repeating fragments of prayers she had learned in childhood. God for her was the one who comes, who touches us, touches our hearts, the one who spans every division. Lying there, she became aware as never before in her life of all the division in the world, all the loss.
And becoming aware of this gave her much to her surprise a kind of strength.
Dermot was there of course, but he was part of something bigger. In all that division and loss it was the deeply unhappy face of Ned that she kept seeing the face which/only a little earlier she had wanted to push right out of her mind. Dear Ned.
As she at last dropped into sleep it was Ned she was praying for.
The writer has drawn here on conversations with two friends: the late Ursula Fleming, author of Grasping the Nettle: A Positive Approach to Pain (Fount) and Peter Speck, co-author with Ian Ainsworth-Smith of Letting Go: Caring for the Dying and Bereaved (SPCK).