The excitement and anticipation of climbing onto an aeroplane for a weekend of new experiences with an old friend has its own unique thrill. Here, in the space between leaving and arriving, I find a moment of calm in which to begin to piece together the past few weeks.
The anniversary of my mother’s death was, predictably, not as I had expected. It has loomed menacingly on the horizon for months, evoking a feeling of unease and fear, yet blew in on a crisp, refreshing wind. Her partner Dirk flew from Cape Town to London a week before the anniversary, and after I had completed a delightful 10km running race on the following Sunday morning – a major health milestone for me – we all drove down to Cornwall to spend the week with some very good friends of my mother (who, over the years, have become friends to us all). To complete the group, my mother’s lovely cousin Connie and her delightful dog, a whippet named Agent, joined us as well.
The week was filled with beauty, adventure, comfort, superb food, and wonderful company. I walked barefoot and felt my city-tender feet reconnect with the earth, and revelled in the open spaces. Dirk had brought my mother’s wetsuit along as well as his own, and was planning a 5.18km swim that they had wanted to do together later in their fateful holiday last year. He took me for my first ever long sea swims during the days before the anniversary, and I was so captivated by the wild magic of the sea that, despite my inexperience and lack of training, I decided to try and swim at least part of the way with him. We arranged for one of our hosts, Annie, to take over from me in the second safety kayak, alongside my husband in the first kayak, and strapped my paddle to her craft so that when I got tired I could clamber on with her and paddle to the finish.
Dirk and I about to embark on a 2km training swim to Gull Rock (the island in the background) the evening before the ‘big swim’
I could write an entire short story about the experience of that swim, but for today let it suffice to say that Dirk and I swam the whole way alongside each other, slowly and steadily, for 3 hours and 10 minutes, from Gull Rock to Portscatho. There were times I felt angry that chance dictated I was the one swimming in that wetsuit at that moment rather than my mother, but I moved through the anger to an acceptance that all I could do is feel grateful that I was able to be there at all, carrying forward a small part of her plans and dreams as best I could.
We ended the day by watching a video of her memorial for the first time, after my best friend had managed to get the footage to my brother, and he to edit and upload it onto a website we could access. More than anything I found the video inspiring – it reminded me of how fully she had lived her life, and how many people she had profoundly touched. Her legacy is within us all, and we carry it forward in our own unique ways.
The next morning we watched the video my brother put together last year of clips of my mother herself. This was the most powerful part of the week for me, as seeing her there in front of me – hearing her voice, watching her playing with her grandchildren or a game of volleyball – I could suddenly see exactly what was gone from our lives. The old familiar ache of her loss hit me right in my stomach, and the tears flowed freely once again, but the most interesting result of feeling this intense loss again was realising that it had been predominantly absent for some time. Somehow, what this anniversary gave me was the realisation that while I will never stop missing her, loving her, and wishing she was still alive, and the journey of grieving her will continue in its various forms and phases throughout my life, the loss is finally becoming easier to bear.
On holiday in Cornwall in 2008, with our hostess, Annie, on the far side of her