The End

Every day and night for the last few weeks, death has been on my mind. It’s what I’ve thought about as I try to get to sleep, and it’s been present each morning: today, from 4am. I’m not particularly comfortable writing about this topic, but by 5.30 I figured I’d get up and try to make sense of my current state of mind.

I think it’s been creeping up on me ahead of my 50th birthday this coming October. I’m unable to bury my head in the sand, about anything really. I’m a doer. I always look to move forward via taking action. And so rather than push these unsurprisingly unwelcome thoughts and fears out of my mind, I’m trying to just sit with them, poke them a little if you will, in the hope that I’ll work through some of the noise. It’s not that I’m feeling morose the entire time, more that I’d like to reach a place close to acceptance so that I can park these thoughts. It’s not even about a fear of my own mortality. It has more to do with being left behind, and most definitely about leaving others behind.

I can’t remember how I discovered it, but I’ve been listening to the incredibly moving podcast You, Me and the Big C: all 31 episodes in the space of a couple of weeks. It’s been created by three women who met on social media as they sought support over their cancer diagnoses: Rachael Bland, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon talk bravely and honestly about living with cancer. Rachael sadly died in September and her husband Steve has taken up the baton. I like to walk and listen, and in the last two weeks I’ve mostly reached twenty thousand steps per day to their now-familiar voices. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve made a pact with myself to try my very best to seize every day.

Then on Monday I saw 4 familiar faces in the international press, 3 of whom were murdered in the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday terrorist attack. A family who had shown the boys and me great kindness in the early weeks of our move overseas. A boy who was in my son’s class, who had come to his 8th birthday party the week before we repatriated a year later. It’s impossible to fathom, and I cannot stop thinking about the sole survivor: what he has already been through, and what is to come.

I’ve just started reading Wave, written by Sonali Deraniyagala who lost her two young sons, her husband and both her parents in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Next on my list is With The End In Mind by Dr Kathryn Mannix, who worked in palliative care for over 30 years. Kathryn featured on this episode of the podcast and I’m hoping her positive perspective will enable me to move forward.

In the meantime I’m going to continue with the positive psychology mindset from The Art Of Being Brilliant. I had the good fortune of listening to one of the co-authors at an event recently and he really was Brilliant. Focussing on having a positive impact on the lives of others is a really helpful strategy. I’m enjoying Random Acts of Kindness at the moment. My current favourite is to place a pound in peculiar places for others to find. I often leave one atop a pack of nappies in the supermarket. It always makes me smile when I walk away. What I really want to figure out is this: how do you pay for a coffee for the stranger queuing behind you? Anyone know?

Runs with son

February was so grim. Tom (13) was hating school and every morning was a gut-wrenching battle. Given my strong bias for action I had to do something. Keeping him at home wasn’t an option so instead I signed him up to the 7k virtual run I was doing. I figured that exercise/endorphins are a game changer for me when life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, so I thought it was worth a try for him too. We did a few short jaunts and then the 7k, which he found really tough: we had to stop a few times, but we got it done.

We then signed up for another virtual run: 50k in March. We’ve done 2ks, 3ks, 4ks, 5ks and a 7k. We’ve run in the dark and in the rain and early on a weekend morning. We’ve run with snotty noses and headaches and whilst feeling crap. We got behind due to an enforced 6-day break because he was poorly. We’ve mostly run together, and sometimes with a local running club. One day he went off to do a 3k on his own (I had an extra 15k in the bag) and he ended up doing 8.3k. Just like that. No stopping. We’ve done 42k and we have two days left to crack out our final eight, which we’re going to do in one go.

Entering a virtual challenge forced us to drag each other out during March when we wouldn’t have otherwise bothered. And what a difference it has made. He’s now perfectly happy going off to school (new friendships have helped), and is of course fitter and faster. And most importantly he has his oh-so-special spark back.

Running helps build resilience and it’s so accessible. All you need is a pair of trainers and off you go. It’s much like life: put one foot in front of the other and keep going. And the other benefits shouldn’t be underestimated because fresh air, sunlight, Vitamin D and being in nature are generally always going to make you feel better. We’ll certainly carry on running together and in a few short weeks it will have become a habit.

I didn’t really think about our March challenge improving my running, but it has. This morning I did a 3k for speed and managed a sub five-minute 1k, which I’ve never done before. The credit for that has to go to Tom and his willingness to put his trust in me, and see our commitment through to completion 💙