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“It’s your Mum. She’s in hospital. Come back quick.”
I got that phone call eleven years ago, aged 19, sitting on a beach in Thailand.
Mum had been diagnosed with MS when I was three. When I was ten, I remember describing it to my friends: “It just means she can’t walk”. From then onwards, the MS took many more things from Mum, until she was eventually mostly bed-bound, but it never took her spirit. I’ve written before about her determination for me to build my own life rather than sacrifice my plans for her.
The year before that call in Thailand, I’d taken a gap year, travelling solo to nine countries over six months. My Dad had died the year before and I have no brothers and sisters so I left my Mum by herself, albeit with her carers and our extended family. Choices like that weren’t easy but they were made simpler by the fact that Mum was first and foremost my Mum, not my “Mum with MS”. Parents want the best for their children. Mine was no different.
The long way home
The journey home from Thailand was fraught. I had to take a ferry, and a series of three flights, landing in Heathrow 36 hours later. Mum had a chest infection. They weren’t sure she’d make it. The days passed in a panicked blur. But then one day, as I sat crying by her bedside, her eyes suddenly opened.
“What’s wrong with you?” were her first words. My tears turned to joy.
Mum lived another seven years, jousting with more infections along the way. I moved to London and I continued to travel in Europe but I held off on the long-haul flights. That journey once was more than enough.
Now, eleven year later, I’ve booked a flight back to that beach in Thailand. I go in May, first to Singapore using the flight I won through storytelling, and then onto The Sanctuary on Koh Pha Ngan. I had debated using the flight for something more adventurous, hiking in Borneo or exploring Burma, but that beach is calling me back.
And back again
There is hesitation in this choice. Memories and grief may lurk in the island’s shadows but sometimes darkness is better faced than left to pounce.
The last few months have prodded at my grief. My uncle died in February. He had MS like my Mum and the memories flooded in. Grief does not go away, it merely changes shape.
But life is as it is. I try not to dwell. I make the most of what is now. There’s a lot to be thankful for, and baths in gratitude are a welcome remedy for sadness. They smooth the jagged grief.
So off I go to Thailand for a yoga retreat. I’m travelling alone as Steve has work to do in Sweden. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts – a return to my days of solo travel and a time for retreat and recuperation.
I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.
[Update: this is what it was like]