Shakespeare said “Journeys end in lovers meeting” but what about when lovers part? Not through falling out of love but through the seemingly permanent separation of an early and unexpected end? That journey does not seem concluded somehow, but de-railed, diverted into some strange land called desolation without an answer; it’s not just over the next horizon, nor the next, nor even the one after that. Walking a really long way is much the same as this, until one sees the end and runs with a new hope, a fresh spring in the step… I actually ran when I saw the lighthouse, despite the 424 miles that had preceded that view. I’d told myself it was no big deal and there was no need to be emotional. It didn’t turn out like that at all.
When, by reason of her MS, Ruth lost the power of speech many years before her death, a kind of grief began. Sure, she could nod her head or shake it slightly to tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and by raising a shoulder could indicate that my questions were not leading anywhere and to try again on another tack. But of speech, there was none. Like, but unlike, the loss of holding hands when we had walked when only a wheelchair was her lot, the not speaking forced a further separation that ultimately ended in her death.
Two years before she died I confided in a friend “Ruth’s dying you know” which prompted the inevitable questions as to when, and how I knew. I said “I just know, that’s all, the fight has gone from her and the fire in the light of her eyes is going out.” My friend expressed her sadness and said something like “God knows what He is doing” and over the course of the time that passed, reflecting on it as I have, walking so much this summer, I grieved for the loss of my wife. She was gone before she left me, but ever in her silence taught me much about God and life itself.
As we take nothing with us out of this world it’s the traces in the sand we leave behind that are our true value to our fellow men. The sense of goodness that lingers in the home that you reflect upon following a friend’s departure is the measure of the value of that friend. They may be gone, for now, but the fragrance of the kindness of their acts long lingers in the mind, teaching you without teaching you with words.
MS can be a cruel business. It can steal even life itself, and before that rob the joy from every day. Much fight is expended on cancer, rightly so on runners running and Doctors piling in the hours to find a cure; less so with the less than clear-cut neuro-sickness with its myriad of forms and commonly no definite outcome, as such. For those who suffer from it today, or who will suffer from it tomorrow – and that may be you, or your child, or your loved one, let us do all we can to find a cure so that someone else’s children don’t have to go through what mine and Ruth’s endured.
My eldest, Hannah, a young woman wise before her time, said “Mum’s illness made us better people” – which I believe is true, but I pray that for simpler reasons others’ kids may be made better and have better lives, with softer easier paths to the wisdom of looking after one another, for we know not the day on which we might ourselves fall down and need the hand of aid to put us back on our feet once more. Please give generously at the JustGiving site, details on the right.
This blog is ending soon. A little like the credits at the end of a film, thanking those who’ve played their part in helping me get to the end and raise so much money, I’d like to express my deep gratitude to first and foremost the following, in alphabetical order –
To my dear fiancée for her endless support and putting my somewhat scrappy texted blog entries onto the Web each day, to Abi Askey (my youngest) for her help in booking accommodation in the final stages, to my brother Dave for his kind loans of equipment and very helpful advice at various times, to good old Harry who frequently pressed advice and much-needed amber anaesthetic into my hands after a long day’s toil on the West Highland Way, and for his assistance with transport and the accommodation bookings too.
To my good friend and business partner Nick for acting as Treasurer and for his frequent messages of encouragement. To Tom Peto for all of his help with Fitness Training and weight loss I extend a special ‘thank you’ and a commendation of his services; please just ignore the boxing scene of domestic violence on the first page! And to my dear friend and sister Anina for her and her family’s prayers, her assistance, enthusiasm and for helping Abi with the bookings from time to time too, with a special nod to Gaz and to Steve P for their assistance with my Talks earlier on and at various locations in and around Chester. And to Alastair at Inchnadmamph who with the skilled hands of a surgeon helped me mend my rucksack, a very great act of practical bush-craft in what was at least a two-man job, or so it proved!
I extend my thanks to all those not named, including the innumerable many I met on the Walk who have helped in ways they could not know. My gratitude for a near daily litany of tiny acts of kindness runs very deep, for example to Juliet at the B&B in Invermoriston who, on sensing the somewhat amateurish nature of my endeavours, clasped both my hands in hers tightly in true concern for my wellbeing, or to the lady whose name I do not know who followed me to Fort Augustus and literally ran across the road to press a contribution into my hand with a big smile. I make a special mention too of Hannah Maunder at the MS Society in Scotland for all of her encouragement and assistance with the publicity, both on the radio and in the Press.
To all those who have made financial contributions, and especially to Liz and Steve for their known, generous and sacrificial gift, on behalf of all those with MS and to their extended families I give a special and heartfelt ‘Thank You’ – your gifts have meant so much. I could mention you all by name, but you know who you are and may God shine on you for your generosity and kindness. I raise a glass to Kath, in the pharmacist’s shop, who pressed £10 on me, at time of a low-ebb in the pouring rain – whose own husband goes through what Ruth endured, for her generosity and for her courage in the face of such suffering.
And to all those who have made Comments on this blog or simply sent me emails and text messages of support and encouragement as I have gone along my grateful thanks; more frequently these have meant more to me than you could know as not every day was all plain-sailing, all sweetness and light I assure you. Good Harry who was there will attest to this, as he did at the time on the blog. The nature of the Walk, the common paucity of signal and sheer tiredness combined to make responses to Comments pretty nigh impossible at the time, so please accept my compendious ‘thank you’ now, though I will try to get back to as many of you as I can over the coming weeks.
For those who missed my broadcast on Moray Firth Radio in the Highlands towards the end of my Walk I will soon, on a date to be fixed, be interviewed on Flame Radio on Merseyside, talking about these things with John Cheek, to whom I also extend my grateful thanks for all of his assistance too as this Project has proceeded.
My apologies to anyone I have missed.
I am sure that when Ruth died her long and arduous journey seemed not just to have ended but to have ended well. At her final moment there hove into view not merely a lighthouse, beautiful though Cape Wrath is, but the very Light of God Himself, the welcome greeting of a Father bringing home His child after a really long day’s walk, an arm around the shoulder, the promise of a sit down, a fine jolly feast, and really good long talk. Thanks be to God in Jesus who has done all things well.
The JustGiving page expires and closes at the end of this week so if you are going to give please do so now. All contributions will be welcomed however big or small. A great big thank you to you all!