After dropping the kids off at school this morning, I decided to go for a walk around the local area. The temperature was sub zero and I was not suitably dressed for a walk in frosty conditions, but in the spirit of spontaneity such matters do not spring to mind.
So there I was; wearing bright pink pumps, black trousers and an over-size top with a cardigan and black jacket. I had pink earphones plugged into my ears and my hair was sticking out at odd angles, slightly matted from a night of tossing and turning.
But Hugh Jackman was singing words of inspiration into my ears and my spirit soared forcing my body to march in random directions, taking whatever path took my fancy. I live in a somewhat suburban English town, known for the railway and ‘Magic roundabout’. Which means that the roads were lined with all sorts of houses and apartments and a mini roundabout is never too far away. Between the roads were small pedestrian paths that I like to call “short cuts”, some of them are even sign posted as a bridleway and instead of cement to mark the way, there is nothing but a muddy walkway through a tiny strip of trees.
I really love Swindon, it is rough around the edges for sure, with people from all walks of life, and although it is not a town known for picturesque views or the antique shops you might find in a Cotswold village, there are some real hidden gems. Next time I go for a walk, I’ll write again and show you what I mean.
Back to this morning, I often find when my mind is frozen in time and I’m replaying old memories like a broken record, the only way to get out of it is to move. I did hear that “movement is the cure for grief.”
It has just occurred to me that you may be a new reader, or perhaps you do not personally know me. So I’ll share a little back-story.
I grew up in a seaside town called Weston Super Mare, although the locals fondly called it “Weston Super Mud”, because instead of white sandy beaches, or even golden sand…Weston beach was always wet and the sand was solid and brown.
However, there is nothing quite like the smell of salty sea air and feeling the bitter wind slapping your cheeks as you walk along the seafront. And of course, we had the pier – The fun capitol of Weston according to all the children. Some of my earliest memories are walking along the wooden planks of the boardwalk to the pier. At the front gates, there were corner stands to buy fish and chips, or on the other side, candy floss and donuts. Now whenever I smell vinegar or sugar, I am reminded of those sweet memories going to the pier with my family. I remember holding my dad’s hand and looking down at the wooden planks underneath my feet. The walk to the pier was long for a small child, so I would catch glimpses of seagulls walking around the beach several meters below. The height was dizzying and every now and then I’d feel my hand being squeezed as he reassured me I was safe. Once at the entrance of the pier, the smell of fish and chips had dissipated but instead my ears would ring, as the loud music blaring from the various arcade machines would take over. Walking around the pier was always a sensory overload. Music rang through the large hall, shrill bells and arcade noises clashed with the music and you could hear kids screaming on rides. One ride I hated the most was the Ghost Train which always horrified me to find a gorilla holding a man’s head and swinging it around, and the entrance was dark and only lit with lanterns. Thankfully, I was never forced to go in there.
One day, my dad took me to the “Crazy House” which was a sort of walk-through experience with funny shaped mirrors, spinning walkways, zig-zag paths and near the end, puffs of air shot out of the floor as you walked past. I remember screaming at that part, especially as I was wearing a yellow dress at the time.
It was at the Pier that my dad taught me how to shoot a gun. There was a cowboy stand, with moving cowboy statues and various targets to aim at. Spinning ducks in the pond, a target by a wooden door would reveal a cowboy sat on the toilet with his trousers down. If you were lucky – or unlucky depending how you looked at it – you might shoot a target that would result in water being sprayed out at you and the crowd of people watching. In my opinion, that was the best 20pence I could spend in the Pier.
I grew up by the sea, with loving parents and two sisters and a brother. Don’t forget the family dog (a collie cross) called Bonnie. Our home was filled with love and kindness and a lot of laughter. Those tender years in Weston are some of my sweetest memories. And today, I found myself replaying them in my mind, getting lost in the simplicity and happiness often found in childhood memoires. Oh how I wish I could go back and relive those days. Oh if I could just go back and do everything again.
You see, at the end of October 2017 I found myself once again holding my father’s hand. This time I was squeezing his hand, assuring him he was safe and that everything is fine. On Halloween, he passed away and I haven’t been the same since.
The purpose of this blog however, is not to be doom and gloom nor dwell on the past. Yet, my experiences lately all revolve around grieving for my dad. No one expects to lose a parent when they are in their twenties. I expected many more years with him and so the grief is not so simple.
I miss my dad.
I miss the times we shared with each other, the Sunday afternoons playing chess, the weekends digging in the garden and tending to the plants. I miss the moments we sat in the car together to get Chinese takeaway while listening to the Carpenters on the radio. I miss the profound teaching moments, like the time I stuffed McDonalds rubbish under the driver’s seat and caught glimpse of my dad watching me, as I sheepishly pulled the rubbish back out he said “Let you remember this Laura, when you’re tempted to do something you know you shouldn’t, know that someone is always watching.” I miss the hugs, the bad jokes and the constant reassurance that he gave me that I was doing well at something or to “keep going! I believe in you!” I miss seeing him play with my sons, teaching my oldest how to play chess, my youngest called him his “best friend.” I miss seeing them follow him around the house, hounding him with questions.
I miss him.
But more than that, I miss the memories we never got to make. Every birthday, every baptism, every wedding or Sunday dinner…he should be here. Every time the family gets together, he should be there.
An uncomfortable lump has formed in my throat and my eyes are stinging while typing, so I can not continue, but hopefully you get the point. My dad died and I’m not over it. Not even close.
But the thing that I’m noticing is that there is a huge wealth of knowledge and wisdom to be gained by the massive loss in my life. There IS beauty in this world. Life AND death is beautiful. These are the lessons I aim to share so that someone out there, who is also hurting, also asking questions, will benefit from what I have shared.
So, back to my walk this morning, I was marching up a steep hill. The thought came to me that it felt like I had a heavy backpack on my shoulders dragging me back down as I was trying to make my way to the top. I have no idea why but my mind thought about every negative comment someone has made to me, or every negative statement I made about myself. The air was freezing cold against my cheeks, but it wasn’t like the sea air I loved, it was like the cold air hung still and frozen, like I was trying to walk through cold water. I realized that my body, whether I consciously knew it or not, had memories clinging to it. Negative memories wrapped around my legs, making them slow and heavy. Harmful words pulled my hair and weighed me down. Painful memories pushed hard against my chest, and I suddenly felt like I was facing an intense battle.
Of course, most of this was just “in my mind”, but the cold highlighted something that I suspect may be the case for most people. You know how easy it is to remember something a friend said to you that was horrible? You can play out word for word a conversation that made you feel angry, hurt or betrayed?
What if we had to write down these words and conversations onto pebbles and carry them around with us? What if we had to fill a backpack with loads and loads of pebbles with all the damaging comments made to us? Because, I suddenly realized that I am spending a lot of energy carrying all of the “what if” scenarios, the “you’re not good enough” remarks and even the memories of someone giving me a “funny look,” assuming they are making cruel judgments about me.
As I walked up this hill, I started to visualize throwing these pebbles, one by one, into the sea. “Fat Laura” goes flying through the air and skims across the water until it dropped out of sight, leaving a ripple behind. “Lazy”, “Drama Queen,” “Air Head,” Don’t give up your day job,” “Pathetic,” “Loser” all went flying into the sea.
As I continued to walk and practice this visualization method, something rather remarkable happened. I felt a shift in my body, a release of some sort, it was as if I was literally carrying those pebbles and as I let go, my body relaxed and the weight on my chest lessened. I was healing.
About ten minutes went by as I continued to think of all of the negative statements I was holding onto and throwing them away in my mind’s eye, until I found myself at the very top of the hill and turned around to see how far I had come.
The sky was clear and a stunning crystal blue, the sun peaked through two houses and shone on the back of my head as I looked down at the houses below. I just stood there for a few moments, soaking in the sun’s rays and breathing in the cool air. All my fears and anxieties were now at the bottom of the ocean in my mind, and I was left feeling lighter, freer and my mind clearer than it’s ever been.
As I slowly made my way back down the hill, the question came to mind, “If carrying negativity weighs me down, what would happen if I carried positivity?” I thought about nice things people have said to me, or acts of kindness I had received. I thought about the gentleman who opened the door for me at the shop, the elderly man walking past me who tipped his hat and gave me a smile, the way my dog’s bottom rocks side to side as she wags her tail, so happy to see me after being out for 10 minutes. I thought about how it feels when someone gives me a hug, when a friend sends me a message saying “thinking of you,” when someone in my family tells me they love me.
Each positive memory felt like a flame inside me. Which I know sounds like a bad thing, but in this case it was warmth, a burning passion to keep moving forward, go with purpose, have faith, carry on. As more and more flames were added, a great fire grew and burned within me, driving me to believe that actually, I’m not so bad at all. Actually, there is hope for a better future. Actually, not ALL is lost.
I returned to my car a better, lighter and happier person -all with the help of some good music, fresh air and a little inspiration.
I am ever confident that our loved ones walk with us. They cheer us on, they tell us to keep going, and they comfort us when we are down. Perhaps the notion that they literally do walk with us is just too much for you to believe, but at least think about this, every single memory you have is locked away in your brain, their words, their deeds, their love is all there. So, in whatever way you want to believe, they are with you. They will always be with you.
Moral of the blog post: Release the negative and hold onto the positive. Letting that fire in your belly grow and let it direct you to who you want to become.