In Her Words: Patricia St John – A difference in death.

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I’ve just finished reading Patricia St John’s autobiography, “In Her Words”. It’s a very easy and encouraging read with some lovely stories from her life. This is one from when she was nursing (pages 82-84):

“I vividly remember one incident that steadied my sense of values at a time when I needed the reminder. It was a stifling afternoon and in two small single wards downstairs, two expatriate men were dying. I was specialling them, going from one to another.

In one room lay an Englishman and his wife sat beside him; in a quiet dispassionate voice she told me what had happened. Her husband was a trainer of Arab racing steeds and they lived in a palatial house up the mountain surrounded by beauty and luxury. Cocktail parties were held in his house night after night and the wealthy, expatriate population flocked to his home. All was going well, until, one day, he complained of a violent headache and went to see his doctor. He was warned that his blood pressure was exceedingly high and told, among other things, to stop drinking alcohol. .

A few nights later he woke in a panic. ‘I can’t lie here thinking about death,’ he said to his wife. ‘I must take something to help me forget.’ He went downstairs, drank heavily, and had a stroke. That afternoon he died without regaining consciousness, and as I stood looking down on him, I felt acutely sad and depressed; so much in the years behind – all that life could give of riches and pleasure; but for the future he had felt only fear and hopelessness, so what had it all amounted to?

But one stride across the passage in another small room lay Don Samuel from Spain. We were still in that era of history when a Protestant could be imprisoned for his faith, and Don Samuel had spent months in a cell. On his release he had joined his wife and children in Tangier and it had been a joyful reunion with the hope of a happy united family life. But within a few weeks it became clear that the poor diet and harsh conditions had taken their toll; he was already suffering from advanced cancer of the stomach and that afternoon he too lay dying, with his wife and family sitting beside him.

But just as he seemed to be drawing his last breath, a look of incredible joy dawned on his face. ‘Fetch the doctor,’ he whispered, ‘I want him to see what I see!’ I ran to Outpatients and Farnham ran back with me. We were just in time; Don Samuel was pointing to the ceiling. ‘Look! Look!’ he was saying in Spanish. ‘You must see it! To the light, to the light! I’m going to Jesus – oh, can’t you see?’ … he was gone, and we were left staring at the whitewashed ceiling, but some glory lingered in the quiet room and the message hung in the air: so little in the years behind; so much of hardship and persecution and pain, but ahead, a beauty and fulfilment that we could not even begin to imagine, and wasn’t that really what life was all about?”

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