Tuesday, 26 November 2013

November Sorrow...

It’s hard to believe that it’s 2 years since I lost Gareth. Two years since I last saw him smile, heard his voice, felt his arms around me. A good friend reminded me a few weeks ago that I have done a lot in that time that I should be proud of…that Gareth would be proud of. I know she was right, I haven’t really stopped…one challenge has led into another…all with an aim of giving myself things to do to keep busy, keep focused on looking forward, keep remembering how lucky I am to have the opportunities to be doing all these things…I know Gareth would have given anything to still be here doing them too, so the thought of that inspires me to not take those opportunities for granted…kind of like I’m trying to live for both of us. And I feel like I have been doing that well…but when November comes around, it all feels a lot harder L

Riding high in the Southern Chilcotin mountains of Canada
Despite having a month packed full of jobs, trips, bike rides, races, all sorts…I’ve felt the weight of sadness and grief slowly descending to sit on my shoulders over the last few weeks. People have been asking me a lot recently if “it’s got easier?” It hasn’t, but I don’t think anyone who has never lost their partner, their closest companion, the person they had chosen to spend their whole life with can really empathise with that. Whilst I have learnt to be grateful for the time and love that we shared, and use the memory of that as inspiration to stay positive and continue to live my life in a way Gareth would approve and be proud of, it never gets easier to think of what happened, and the sorrow that I can no longer share each day with him, or to deal with how unfair it all feels and how much I miss him. I realise now, that you don’t “get over it”, when you lose your husband, you just have to somehow learn to live with it, and try to accept it, and do that in a way which is unique to you, and honours his memory. The last 6 months I feel like I’ve begun to figure this out….I’ve found a job I love, seen new places, made new friends, and started to feel confident in the new “me” and my new life, and I have felt happy again. Not the fully, blissfully content, life-is-perfect kind of happy that I felt with Gareth, a different kind, but still happy.

Float plane biking trip in Canada 2010
Perhaps starting the job of sorting through paperwork for the two of us from the last 5-10 years wasn’t my best idea at the start of the month, but it had to be done, and I’d decided to turn down full time work this winter to give myself the chance to do all this kind of sorting.

Going through paperwork like that is like reliving your life story in documents, and can bring lots of smiles as you slowly look through them and reminisce about the things to which they related…letters from the bank to say the mortgage application for your house has been accepted, from employers to offer you a new job, receipts for the decking built in the garden, mot certificates from the car Gareth had when we first started going out with each other, graduation programmes, receipts from the purchase of wedding rings, marriage certificates, a holiday booking itinerary from our honeymoon, old passport photos, a speeding ticket from the A9 whilst on a trip in Scotland (Gareth’s not mine!), and then the more recent things, that bring tears rather than smiles as I remember them. Death certificates, letters from banks, the tax office, the DVLA, passport agency, insurers, to offer condolences that your partner has died, but to remind you there are affairs you need to sort out. Many of them it has been like seeing for the first time….when they were dealt with initially I don’t think I was really taking it all in. My wonderful friend Anna took over and sorted almost everything for me, just leaving me to sign my name on letters she had written on my behalf. Looking at them all now, I know I couldn’t have faced writing those letters myself. Even now I can’t do anything but cry when I look at them. It’s still all so very surreal to think he is gone.

Ski touring in the Cairngorms
Seeing Gareth’s writing, there on paper, a sign that he was alive, he lived, he was a very real and big part of my everyday life for a long time, but trying to work out how those little signs of life can be everywhere, yet he is not? I can’t describe how confusing that is. When junk mail from random companies still arrives addressed to Gareth, it’s like someone’s stabbing you in the heart all over again. I found the speech that he wrote when he left work before we went away travelling, complete with jokes and a style of writing that were completely him, the birthday card he wrote me a week before his accident, a scruffy bit of paper where he’d written a list of all the routes we’d climbed on our trip, an article in a Science Education magazine that he’d had published….so many things, so much evidence of his life and the person he was and so many vivid memories. 

Unsurprisingly it has taken me a long time to sort through all of this, and there’s a lot of it that’s been carefully placed back as I can’t bear to do anything with it right now.

University Ball, 2004
There are a lot of difficult dates in November;

My birthday is one of the hardest, when rather than cards, presents or celebrating, all I really want is a hug from Gareth. Birthdays haven’t held the same excitement since I lost him. He used to make me feel incredibly special, loved, and spoilt. I can remember my birthday the week before his accident, when everything was so happy, we were so carefree and content with life, spending the day climbing at Red Rocks, and celebrating in Las Vegas, completely unaware of how life was going to change just a week later.

Celebrating my birthday in Las Vegas

Climbing in Red Rocks in the week of my birthday
The 12th, the day of his accident, which I will never forget as long as I live. How life was turned completely upside down in a second…from a morning like any other on our trip, journeying to the crag together, planning routes, seeing Gareth happy, lively as usual, thrilled to have just led what he described as “the best route he had ever climbed in his life”, on top of the world….to the sheer confusion after he fell, the terror and total fear, the disbelief that what was happening was real. The subsequent rescue, transfer to the hospital, and the longest 10 days of my life which followed…when I think of them now, despite the feeling that time and life were suspended, and everything was happening in another world that wasn’t our “normal life”, I can picture and remember every day, every detail so clearly, like they are permanently etched in my memory. It feels hard to breathe again, and like I’m being spun round and round until I’m so dizzy I can’t think straight, so many emotions and memories and thoughts all jumbled up in my head that I can’t concentrate on anything for even a second.

Gareth watching the sunset on the northern Californian Coast
And then the 22nd, the day when he finally slipped away. I remember well the call in the middle of the night before, to say he had suddenly taken a turn for the worse, and knowing, despite all the prayers, wishes, and hope I could muster, that I was going to lose him. It felt like my life stopped too that day, like I wanted the world to end, because I couldn’t see a way I could possibly carry on without Gareth. The days, weeks and months following, it seemed like someone had pressed a switch, and turned off all the colour, sound, beauty, and happiness in the world. Everything was dull, lifeless, meaningless, I hated life, and being alive. The world was carrying on like nothing had happened, and yet life as I had known it to that point was over. I had to deal with things in those days that you never even consider you will have to think about as a 30 year old. Organ donation, death certificates, organising a cremation and collecting your own husband’s ashes. I can’t begin to describe the emotions related to all of those things.

Beautiful, empty Pacific Coast beaches in Northern California
So November will never be an easy month, but I’ve tried to be positive and plan things to do on and around those days that will allow me to smile and remember happy times together, despite the sadness I know will inevitably be there.

I’ve rediscovered a love of Peak district mud and winter riding after several weekends catching up with good friends. The thrill of sliding around on wet leaves and muddy tracks, dirt splashing in your face, finishing a ride soaking wet and clothes filthy, before sitting warm and dry at the end with a cup of tea and a chip butty or a slab of cake in the café….simple pleasures.

Signs of a good ride...muddy legs....

...and a muddy grin :)

Post ride compulsory cafe refuelling
Spending time on the farm with my wonderful mum and dad, who are the most supportive, patient, understanding and loving parents I could ever wish for, taking the new puppy for walks over muddy fields and seeing her delight at chasing pheasants and squirrels (Gareth would have been impressed and tried to encourage this for sure!)

A solo trip to Coed Llandegla on the 12th, with time to stop and think, cry a lot but laugh a bit too, and be thankful for the love of biking that Gareth gave me. I came across a section of trail that made me smile too. It literally had my name on it. It must have been there when I’ve been before, but I’ve never stopped and noticed it until now. It’s a swoopy, fast, fun section through the woods, currently blanketed in a carpet of golden pine needles, that left me grinning from ear to ear, (and therefore with grit in my teeth…must remember to keep my mouth closed when smiling during winter riding!) I know Gareth would have approved of it.

My trail :)
There have been visits to spend time, drink tea, eat cake and catch up with close friends who I haven’t seen in a year as I’ve been abroad working, and hopefully more of these throughout the winter.

There have been lovely kind messages from friends, and also from strangers, people who have read the article I wrote back in June, that was recently republished on the Total Women’s Cycling website. People who’ve been moved, or motivated, or inspired in some way by what I wrote and what I’ve been doing. It’s been really nice to read them, and think how proud Gareth would be of the effect he, and I, have had on the lives of others.

And finally to Scotland. A trip to Kinlochleven to do my first ever Enduro race (more about that next time), followed by a week spent visiting friends, and enjoying some solitude in the beautiful, wild Highlands, on foot, bike and ski. Remembering many adventures over the years with Gareth in places that we both loved.

Scotland in winter...awesome views all around

First ski day of the winter, in typical Scottish conditions...there's a great view somewhere behind me!

Beautiful, wild, remote, Torridon in winter
On the 22nd, I decided to travel down to the Lakes, and to spend the day riding around Borrowdale. It’s a particularly special place for me, as Gareth and I had so many trips to ride or climb around here, and loved it so much that we chose to get married here. On a beautifully hot and sunny May day, we celebrated with as many family and friends as we could in the grounds of the Derwentwater Youth Hostel, an idyllic spot on the edge of the lake, surrounded by picturesque fells, and a day that could not have been more perfect…one of the happiest days of my life. We had some pictures taken up past Ashness Bridge, above the lake, at a spot called Surprise View, and I remember being up there on that day, with the most incredible scenery and mountains that we loved around us, looking into Gareth’s eyes, and feeling so incredibly lucky that I had found and was marrying the man of my dreams. 

A perfect sunny Lakeland spring day, and one of the happiest days of my life
Ashness Bridge
It’s a spot that I wanted to revisit on the 22nd, somewhere to go to sit and think of him, talk to him, and remember. It’s also somewhere I wanted to spread some of Gareth’s ashes. There are other places where I’ve done this too, sometimes with a few friends, sometimes alone, but always in places that were special to Gareth and I, and that I know he’d approve of. Having lived a life where he was always off climbing or biking in different places, I don’t think he’d have wanted his ashes to be scattered in just one place…

Autumn view from a special spot
Ashness Bridge
 It was a beautifully, clear, cold autumnal day, and I was able to sit for a long time, with no-one else around,  just remembering…thinking of all the happy times, but also all the daily things I miss about Gareth and life together…
I miss waking up next to him, and how reassuring his presence next to me was.
I miss the familiar sound of him returning from work, switching the kettle on as he walked past, and calling “hello, it’s me!”

Big wall climbing in Yosemite
I miss him when I’m driving in the van, with an empty seat next to me where he should be.
I miss him when I’m getting frustrated at not being able to fix something on my bike, knowing that he would have known what to do straight away.
I miss him when I make a cup of tea, and it’s just one cup not two.

Local trails in the snow
I miss him when I’m pleased with myself for having done or achieved something, and he’s the only one I want to tell.
I miss him when I want a lazy evening curled up next to each other on the sofa with a takeaway and a film.
I miss him when I’m out with friends, and he’s the only one missing from “our gang”.
I miss him when I have to make a decision about something and I want his opinion and advice.

Building Inuk-shuks in Squamish mid ride!
I miss him when I’m feeling happy, and want to share it with him, or sad, and to be comforted or consoled.
I miss the way he knew when something was wrong without having to tell him, and knew exactly how to cheer me up.
Adventures together on our honeymoon
I miss him when I visit places that we’d been to together, and I can’t reminisce with him about past memories.
I miss him when I’m lying in bed, and I can’t hear him breathing next to me or feel the warmth of his body on the other side of the bed.

Peaceful van spot in Honister Pass, Lake District
I miss the jokes, the funny eye rolls, the playful teasing and friendly competitiveness that were part of daily life with each other.
I miss having someone who was always equally as keen for an adventure, and not having to worry about finding a partner to be able to continue doing those things.
I miss the daily hugs, kisses, signs of affection that were a daily part of life, and made me feel so loved and special.
Skiing in the Alps
I miss the way we used to justify to each other why a particular purchase was “essential”, knowing that actually, both of us understood each other’s way of thinking and were perfectly ok with the purchase anyway!
I miss continuing to grow older together, and the new adventures and challenges I know we would have looked forward to.
Shredding the trails in Hood River, Oregon
I miss him in a million ways L

I spent the rest of the day of the 22nd riding old familiar Lakeland trails, before heading to Chris and Henry’s house for a fun weekend of winter scrambling on Blencathra (with a new added element of excitement provided by taking 2 border terriers as our guides!), and a ride exploring a new part of the Lake District to me, around Swindale and Haweswater.

Chris and Tilly the dog walking down from a snowy Blencathra

A new part of the Lakes to explore with some brilliant trails
So it's been good to be busy, and have some time away during a difficult month, and I now have plenty of winter plans to think about..

Somewhere, not too far away, I know Gareth knows everything I’ve been doing, and that he’s happy I’ve begun to build a new life, and is proud of the way I’m doing it. Following my dreams, doing what makes me happy, and not compromising on those things because I feel pressured by society or others to do so, being true to myself, and to his memory.

There’ll be lots more adventures this winter, next year, and hopefully in many years to come, both on my own and with friends, and I know that even though he can’t be with me, Gareth will never be far away, and will continue to provide my inspiration for a lifetime of adventures…Always thinking of you Gareth xx

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