A Year Has Passed…

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
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18 thoughts on “A Year Has Passed…

  1. Laurel, it’s amazing to see how the tone of your posts has changed so dramatically since the end of last year. It was so dark then, and now has light and flowers woven into the loss. I also found the lead-up harder than the day itself, although seeing and hearing Mom in the video also brought back the tears and loss with an ache.
    Keep growing up and out into happiness – we long for you to be home already.
    x E

  2. Moving as always. You display a sensitivity but also a strengh of attitude which shows through in your amazing swim. I think that was really impressive. I too am always struck by how film of loved one’s past brings a sense of their livingness back into our life. As time and perspective give us a new viewpoint we are able to celebrate what they were as well as miss them. You express this with dignity and sincerity

  3. Wow. Wonderful post. I think it’s great that you got to swim in your mom’s wetsuit and fulfill a dream of hers in a way, and also spend time remembering her with people who knew and loved your mom. It will be 4 years in November since pancreatic cancer took my mom from us and I still experience moments of intense sadness and the true realization of what is lost from not only my life but that of my kids as well. Today my dad and I were both crying for my mom – he because it is their anniversary and me because I have dealt with a lot of frustrations this year as a mom and wish I had a mom to talk to. The impact our moms made on our lives will always be there and we miss them so deeply because we truly loved them.

  4. I was so moved by reading this reflection, Laurel, so poignant and full of grace and continuing on from your loss. I am so glad you found such a positive and vital way to mark this anniversary, and were able to share with those who could celebrate as well as grieve for your mother with you. There will yet be the stops and looks back and embracing of grief, but less debilitating and more as an affirmation of the ever renewing life your beautiful mother wanted for you, your amazing swim so symbolic of that! Thank you for sharing in a way that opens my heart too.

  5. I am a new follower and looking forward to going back in time to read your earlier posts. I do still have my wonderful mom and appreciate every moment of it. However, there is so much here that I can respond to. First of all….it takes bravery and courage to put your pain and healing out there for all of us to share and experience…for that I say thank you. The athleticism you (and your mom) clearly possess is inspiring (coming from a woman who can barely WALK 30 minutes on a treadmill at the gym). This week for you was cleansing in so many ways….you had full circle moments and I’m sure a spectrum of emotions. Grieving is such a long and arduous journey and, IMHO, there are so many teaching moments we find about our individual strengths and weaknesses along the way. You have reached a milestone and lived to tell about it. You are contributing to your mom’s legacy by honoring her here on these pages…..and allowing us to participate in celebrating her life and your journey. All the emotions…the pain, the heartache, the longing and most of all the love….are raw, powerful and amazing gifts you share. Thank you….

  6. Confession: I haven’t read this post. I’m running late for an appointment and have stopped here without time to read. But I did scroll to the bottom and am compelled to remark upon your mother’s beauty. I’ve read enough about her and enough of your work to know: our world is so much richer for having been graced by your family. Thank you, Laurel.

    p.s. I’ll be back to actually read soon!

    1. I’m back. This time I read every word. Powerful post. I’m glad you had this beautiful time with your family, that you all made your mother as present as possible in so many ways.

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