Going back

Last updated on March 18, 2022

Sea and waves

Part 1: Going back

“It’s your Mum. She’s in hospital. Come back quickly.”

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.

Part 2: Being Back

When I told people I was returning to Thailand, it brought a smile. They said words like “closure”, “going full circle”, “facing the past”. It was considered a brave journey, fitting neatly into the narrative of how best to heal one’s wounds – to go through the fire and come out lighter and brighter on the other side.  It was seen as a good idea.

That idea burned as I approached Koh Phangan. A decade since I received that call, and every urge within my body was screaming “You must get out”. “Don’t get off the boat. Go back. You’re trapped”. My mind tried to calm the body’s wails but the unease was buried deep. Like memories carried by scent, place is a pungent trigger.

The days passed on the island and among them were golden moments – smiles, laughter and joy – but the current of discomfort held its ground.

I faced it. I reasoned with it. I felt it. I let it be. I sat with it, held its hand and breathed through its buoying fear.

It did not leave me alone, but grew branches of a different shape. I did not have to fear the same fate. I would not receive that call – my Mum no longer around to return to. The now is worse than before. The closure does not come. You cannot cure a death.

Stories don’t always come in circles.

Have you had any experiences like this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

30 thoughts on “Going back”

  1. Victoria, you are always inspirational in your writing even though you bring tears to my eyes. I hope the journey is a healing one for you. x

  2. “Grief does not go away, it merely changes shape.” I know exactly what you are saying but had not heard it in those terms which is so true. You take care and think of it as serendipity. Will follow with great interest

  3. I don’t know what to say. You have always been and continue to be the bravest person I know. Desert Island disc?

  4. I think it’s sometimes good to revisit places that hold bad memories to create new good memories.

    Enjoy some solo travel time and the yoga retreat 🙂

  5. Beautiful words, as ever, Victoria. Heading back to that beach is a wonderful chance to shed some new light on an old memory. Your line about grief rings so true, too. I hope you have an amazing time out there xx

  6. Beautiful words Victoria, I wish you all the love, luck and freedom in the world as you embark on this exciting/scarey/scarred solo journey. I admire your strength in the face of losing both your parents so young. You have created a beautiful life for yourself! Xxx

  7. Victoria, I admire your ability to “dress your thoughts” and turn them into words! It takes some poetry to describe a wonderful garden and it takes courage to describe a dreary attic. This time your essay may not have sprinkled plants, but brighten the darkness…
    I wish you the power and patience for this time. There’s nothing wrong with sitting in that attic some time for it may increase your joy and perception of the moment you sit on a wonderful wooden bench in a garden again. Grey will turn into green at some point, you just need to keep walking.
    Solitude is faithful friend, so use that time and the silent dialogue! My very best wishes Victoria and may the “return” give you enough strength and confidence to move into the direction that feels “right”…
    Take care, Oliver

    • As always, thanks for such a lovely comment Oliver. It always means a lot to hear such thoughtful, considered words. I was just having a look through your blog. It’s full of lots of excellence! Thank you.

      • Thank you so much Victoria! Believe me, to hear such a lovely feedback from you means a lot to me!! It was wonderful to see that you took the time to take a look around and that a few things resonated with you as well. I’m sure our virtual paths will keep crossing every now and then… 🙂 Take care!

  8. I’m so sorry to hear about your parents and your uncle. It is wonderful that your Mum embraced your dreams for travel, and it is wonderful that you spent so many moments by her side. Though a different experience, I lost my father to cancer after his 2-year battle with the disease and it was not an easy time of my life. It is something that you always carry with you, but I hope that you can cherish the great memories that you shared with her, just as I do of my Dad! What you said of grief, that it never goes away but changes shape, is very true. You’ll never stop thinking about the people that were closest to you. I can see how traveling back to Thailand can bring those memories back. I hope you have a great time at your yoga retreat and all of your travels!

    • Thank you Lauren, and I’m sorry to hear about your Dad too. Grief is a tricky thing but with it comes a greater capacity for compassion. There are things to be thankful for even within sadness. Thank you.

  9. Sometimes it’s important to revisit places that feel “unfinished”…have a beautiful time on that beach (Russ & I will be on a beach somewhere ourselves in Thailand – woop!) Your mum will be right there with you for sure, loving & supportive as ever. 🙂 xxxx

  10. Victoria, this post made me tear up. Your mom sounds like an amazing woman and I hope your pilgrimage back to that island gives you exactly what you need.

  11. Oh Victoria, What a difficult post to read. Although my mom did not have MS, she did have diabetes and cancer and felt trapped in bad circumstances of marriage, etc and yet she,too, encouraged me endlessly to follow MY dreams, since she hadn’t found the strength to truly pursue her own. She died on Christmas day, 9 years ago this year, but the lessons she taught me about living life on my own terms have never left me. I hope you found peace in a place you love, knowing she is proud of you!

    • Thank you for your lovely comment and for sharing your story too. My Mum also died on Christmas Day. It sounds as though our Mums had a lot in common in terms of their bravery in encouraging us to follow our dreams. I too feel eternally grateful for that. Thanks again for sharing your story.


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