(A personal commentary about the challenges of being a bereaved parent, mother, father)
Another day, another loch. We are almost at the end of our two week summer break in Scotland. It has been a lazy “be kind to yourself” time, with the simplest of meals and the simplest of pleasures – amazing scenery, long walks, pauses in the mountains and by lochs, spotting wildlife and admiring the always magnificent views.
Yesterday I returned to a very beautiful location called Glen Affric. Returned: we visited once before in the summer of 2015. John walked with me for a distance and then turned back, and I continued on the path in an upward trajectory until I was walking opposite the mountain range known as the 7 sisters of Kintail (I think!).
Glorious sunshine and breathtaking views (which I will share once I’m home and can download the pix from my camera).
There was profound joy in the environment. Profound joy also to be walking with hope that comes from my Christian beliefs and is expressed in so many wonderful songs that I could listen to as I walked.
But believe it or not, even in this amazing time and place, there was also profound sadness. It is hard to put into words. If you’re reading this as someone who is bereaved, you will recognise how irrational grief can be, and how grief can misbehave at the most inopportune times.
My thoughts went like this: I walked here 3 years ago, and at that time my two dear children Pax and Catherine were both dead. (In case anyone new is reading this, Pax died in 1982 and Catherine in 2011.) I am walking here now, for the second occasion, and they are still dead.
Their story has not continued. Mine has. In the 3 intervening years, I was ill and got better. I had pains and they passed. I read books and watched TV. I started running retreats and I helped out at various charities. I walked for Samaritans. I learned to drive. I went to lots of places with my husband. I laughed. I cried. I went shopping. I did the washing. I painted pebbles. I lived.
My story continues still. There seems to be nothing more unnatural nor harder than this for a mother to say: My story continues, but my children’s story does not.
Well, as a Christian I have the hope that their story does continue in a place and way beyond my understanding, and because of this lack of firsthand experience, it is hope and faith. That is not the same as the visible world in which we live.
Hence the profound sadness, simultaneous with profound joy.
I realise, as I walk and reflect, that this is my life. Not as I had chosen or anticipated, because what parent expects to outlive their children? But this is my path. Like the mountain paths on which I put one foot after the other, sometimes it is tough going. Other times it gets easier.
It generally gets easier when I walk with a purpose. There is something about having a goal. I return to North Wales and do the same walk at least once a year, but that walk is to special place of remembrance. As long as I have focal points, I can get along.
It is all quite symbolic, and of course I am not the only one to experience this. Many people find they can manage their post-loss life by having goals. Remember the famous true story of the Calendar Girls of Yorkshire, who set about raising funds for a couch or something at the local hospital where one lady’s husband had died? If you watch something like the London Marathon, so many people run “in memory”. The sister of the murdered Millie Dowler recently completed a book about her sister’s life. All of this makes complete sense to me.
I hope I will return to Glen Affric again eventually. Time will have passed; I will have kept living. My children won’t (not in this world, at least). I will have laughed and cried. Other people will have sadly joined the ranks of the bereaved, and some of them I might hopefully have helped in some way on their living-with-loss journey.
Perhaps this blog will still be going by the time of my next visit. That will be another story for another day.
And so, with the intermingling of joy to be celebrated and sadness to be commemorated, life is lived.