Each morning after Mass,  Fred would follow us out of the church.

“How’s my girls?” he’d ask and then he’d grin at my daughters and say, “You’re the only girlfriends Laura will let me have!” They’d smile. They liked being Fred’s girlfriends. 

We loved Fred Allan. He had a lot of time for our family. Whenever we met up, he was never too busy to stop and chat.

“I'm a convert like you,” he told me one day. “Laura’s a cradle Catholic. Many years ago when we were courting, we attended some marriage preparation classes. But there was something Laura didn't know. The priest was preparing us for marriage but he was also giving me secret lessons about the Faith. The week before our wedding, Laura and I went to Mass together. When it came time for Communion, I stood up and approached the altar and Laura kept whispering frantically, ‘Fred, you can’t come up for Communion!’ and I whispered back, ‘Yes, I can! I’m a Catholic!” Fred laughed out loud as he remembered that once-in-a-lifetime moment. “You should have seen Laura’s face!”

I thought about that story for a long time.  I know I couldn’t have arranged such a surprise for Andy. On the day I entered the Church, Andy was standing right beside me, just where I wanted him. I could never have kept such a secret from him. But Fred was different. He could keep things to himself. And then later enjoy the surprise.

“How’s that daughter of yours, the one who entered the convent?” he asked one day. I confided how difficult I sometimes found having a daughter who was technically not my daughter any more. Fred listened intently.

Before we parted, he said, “You and Andy are doing a great job with your family. You have such a great love for each other. I can see that. You and Andy have something very special. You’re not like me and Laura.” I floated home with my head in the clouds. Andy and I could do anything together. I was absolutely certain about that. Weren’t we bound together by a unique love that would see us through any difficulty?

Later I told Andy about Fred’s words. “Well, if Fred says we have a very special love, perhaps we do,” he grinned. "Maybe we're not doing so badly after all."

Several years ago we moved to a village outside town, and discovered Fred and Laura lived only one street away from us. One day Andy and I went for a stroll together up to the village shops. We met Fred getting out of his car.

“When Laura and I were younger, like you two, we’d walk up here all the time.” Fred waved his walking stick in the air. “But I can’t walk very far anymore. Now I have to drive.”

That was the first time I’d noticed Fred was getting frail. But he was still cheerful. He didn’t complain about the walking stick. He just made the most of it.

“I met Mr Allan up at the shops,” announced Callum. “He’s dangerous. He has a new weapon!” Fred may have been an old man but he could hold his own with teenage boys. “Mr Allan chased me out of the shop with his walking stick.” Callum laughed. Fred knew how to have fun with the kids.

About 18 months ago, I was in the village post office. While I was waiting to be served, I glanced at the community notice board and read:

The funeral of Fred Allan will be held at St Michael’s Church on Thursday at 11 am…

It was Friday. Fred had been buried the day before. I stood in the queue not believing what I’d read. How could Fred be dead? Had he been sick? I’d seen him only a few weeks ago and he’d looked as lively and as cheerful as ever.

I asked the post mistress about the notice: “Did you know Fred Allan? Do you know what happened?”

“Fred had cancer. It was discovered only recently. It had already spread to all parts of his body. He might have lived a little longer if Laura hadn’t been involved in a car accident.”

Laura had been nursing Fred at home. One night she needed to drive into town. On the way out of the village, she was overtaken by an impatient driver on a narrow dangerous section of road. With nowhere to go, Laura drove straight into the cutting. The rescue team cut her from her vehicle and she was taken by helicopter to hospital.

There was no one at home to look after Fred so he was also admitted to hospital – a different hospital to Laura.  When Laura was finally released from hospital she came home to an empty house… and a life without Fred. Fred had died while she was recovering from her accident. She never got to say goodbye to her husband.

“How is Laura?” I asked.

“Laura is devastated. She and Fred were soul mates, you know. They were everything to each other. They had a very special love. Fred couldn’t live without Laura. I don’t know how Laura will live without Fred.”

 I remembered Fred’s words to me: “You and Andy have something very special. You’re not like me and Laura.” Fred certainly knew all about real love, so why did he say such a thing? And why didn’t I realise the truth of the situation?

I guess I wanted to believe Fred’s words about our love being unique. I wanted to believe we had something no one else had. And Fred wanted me to believe that too. He was quite willing to keep a low profile and let Andy and I be the shining stars in order to encourage us. Yes, Fred knew all about love. Love sometimes means keeping quiet, not making comparisons, not talking about ourself, not singing of our own achievements but instead taking an interest in others, putting them first, making them feel special, telling them what a great job they're doing...

The last time I spoke to Fred we were chatting about our homes. “I could tell you a few stories about your house!” he declared, his eyes sparkling. For some reason, he didn’t elaborate. Maybe we were distracted by something. I assumed we’d return to that subject another day. But time ran out. What would Fred have told me? What would he have surprised me with? I often wonder but I’ll never know.

It took a long time for me to get used to the idea I'd never bump into Fred unexpectedly ever again, never hear another of his surprising stories or see him smile. Yes, he has gone. But there is something that will stay with me forever: what he taught me about love.

In real life, I can try to put into practice what I learnt about love. But "Love sometimes means keeping quiet, not making comparisons, not talking about ourself, not singing of our own achievements but instead taking an interest in others, putting them first, making them feel special, telling them what a great job they're doing..." seems very much at odds with the blogging world. Is it possible to reconcile the two?

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  1. “You and Andy are doing a great job with your family. You have such a great love for each other. I can see that. You and Andy have something very special."

    It seems to me that Fred was right.

    God bless.

    1. Victor,

      Just like Fred, you are very encouraging. The right words at the right time can give people just what they need to keep plodding along in the right direction. Thank you.

      God bless!

    2. Sue,

      From what I have read in your many Blog posts, I am CERTAIN that Fred was right.

      God bless you and yours.

    3. Victor,

      God indeed gave me a huge gift. He sent me a wonderful husband at a time when I was really very far away from the Church. And God has sent Andy and I many blessings in the years we have been together. He is always filling in the gaps in our parenting. There's something else He has given us... wonderful family and friends to encourage us. God is certainly very GOOD!

      God bless you!

    4. Victor,

      I was thinking: although God has blessed us enormously and I have Andy who really is the love of my life, we aren't perfect. I hope my blog posts don't give this impression! We have our own failures and challenges like everyone does. Face to face friends know this. It can be so difficult at times to convey the right impression just using words.

      God bless!

    5. I agree Sue. No one's perfect. Especially me.

      As for my Blog posts ... I wonder what impression they give of me? Now that's a thought ... perhaps a competition is in order. What do you think of Vic M from his posts? No ... perhaps better not ...

      Keep smiling Sue.

      God bless.

    6. Victor,

      The problem with failures and imperfections is that it's quite OK to talk about one's own. However a family is made up of many people who have a right not to have their faults exposed to public scrutiny. This can be tricky when writing honest blog posts and why I concentrate on positive stories. I suppose I could write about my own faults...

      What do I think of Vic M? He is generous, kind, very amusing, has suffered and maybe is still suffering, he is a talented writer, faithful member of the Catholic Church, encouraging, a good friend... his dress sense isn't anything to boast about though... well, you brought up the subject!!!!

      God bless.

    7. Ha ... ... I did find that lost silk tie. It was in the cat's litter tray. I mean ... who would put a silk tie in a litter tray? It was totally ruined. It was very expensive too. I bought it ten years ago from a garage sale for twenty pence.

      God bless.

  2. I've wondered this, too. Maybe, it comes down to whether, as bloggers, we are givers or takers. Do we grasp at followers and seek praise and attention? Or, do we selflessly give of ourselves, sharing our time, ideas and knowledge - serving God by serving others?

    Wondering whether my blog serves a useful purpose is one of my biggest problems with blogging. It seems that there must be holier ways to spend my time than to sit in front of the computer, putting my life on public display, when the blogging world already has an oversupply of talkers as opposed to listeners. That's not meant to sound cynical - just a reflection on the nature of blogging.

    I'm off, now, to finish writing a blog post(!)

    1. Vicky,

      I guess our posts wouldn't be very interesting if we kept quiet and didn't share our lives!

      Fred would tell me about his life but he never said, "Hey look at me and how well I'm living my life!" How do we as bloggers also avoid looking like we think we're perfect? Being able to laugh at ourselves? Being able to admit our mistakes as well as talk about our triumphs? Blogging about both our ups and downs? Though I don't suppose anyone will want to read if I fill my blog with complaints!

      We can do a lot of encouraging of other bloggers through the comments section.

      Useful purpose? There's plenty of room in the blogosphere for all kinds of blogs. And plenty of readers too. If you enjoy writing and blogging, keep doing it!

      I'm glad you're writing another post!

      God bless.

    2. "Though I don't suppose anyone will want to read if I fill my blog with complaints!"

      Why not? Try us.

      I have a complaint ... I've lost my tie ... the silk one ... pink with yellow dots.

      God bless.

    3. Victor,

      I can't actually think of anything to complain about at the moment. And if you've lost your pink tie with the yellow dots, you'll just have to wear the lime green one with the orange stripes!

      God bless.

  3. Oh Sue, in tears reading this... very sweet.

    1. Amanda,

      I felt so very sad when I heard that Fred had died while Laura was in hospital. They weren't together and didn't get to say goodbye to each other. Yes, Laura must have been heart-broken...

      Thank you for reading my story.

  4. What a wonderful story about love...and now, since you shared his words about it, may I ask you about your daughter in a convent?

    I suppose, like many people, one reason I read blogs is for the conversation. Yes, it's one-sided in essence, but for the exchange of ideas by people I'd like to meet in person some day, well, it's very nice to read.

    Probably if I lived a few blocks away and got to visit with you in person occasionally, I wouldn't have time to read your very interesting and thoughtful posts.

    Lastly (maybe lastly, maybe I'll think of some more to add) you add to the kindness in the world with your replies to practically every single comment. I can't think of many bloggers who do that, and I really like it!

    1. Amy,

      I love having conversations on blogs too! I take the time to write replies for a couple of reasons: to thank people for taking the time to comment. I appreciate this! Also, I love exchanging ideas with and getting to know people who read my blog. It's like chatting via the Internet. I would love to chat with you in person too, Amy. I'm sure we'd have lots to share.

      My daughter? Felicity left home at 18 to join a contemplative order. After two years she returned home. It wasn't meant to be. I greatly admire her for being willing to offer her life in this way. It was a time of great sadness and even grief for me. Once a daughter enters religious life, a mother's role is over. She has to pass her daughter onto the Mother Prioress, her new mother. I no longer had any claims upon Felicity. I found this very difficult. Even when she came home, we couldn't return to our former relationship. It has taken us years to get back to being mother and daughter. Now once again, I am enjoying her very much! There are a couple of stories on this blog about Felicity and her convent experience: "The Offering" and "A Mother's Heart". They are listed on my faith post page at the top of the blog.

      Thank you for sharing my post, Amy. I hope you will have time to come back and chat another time!


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