Radio 2 are currently running a series of Pauses for Thought in the early hours that I have contributed to. This morning just before 3am they broadcast a particularly appropriate message for how I am feeling at the moment in my walk4andy. I’ll post more later but for now you can find the broadcast at 52:40 by following this link.
Ok, this has been the hardest post to write so far and so should come with a health warning! The walk4andy was meant to be about Andy, about celebrating his life and doing something positive in his memory. And yes, I am spending a lot of time thinking about him and talking about him, but if this was meant to be a hardship endured out of love for him or for some other wonderfully holy, altruistic motive, then I hate to disappoint but that’s not how it really is.
I have loved the walking and the fresh air, I have loved the stunning scenery and the time to think, I have loved the company and the conversation, the sense of achievement at the end of each day. But this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, is it?
It’s not the first time I’ve felt a lot of guilt on account of Andy…
It started when I was just a few years old and managed to cut off the end of his finger in the chain of his bike. Oops!
Then there was the time I hit him in the eye with the cricket ball, chased him round the house with a pair of scissors and there was the ‘sleeping bag’ tobogganing down the stairs incident which left him with a bleeding head wound!
But as we got older, and Andy was diagnosed with VHL, I too was taken for regular testing, put through CT and MRI scans, blood tests, eye tests and so on to make sure it was caught early should I too develop VHL. I was well aware that Andy was ill but not really how that might impact me, but it felt like a shared experience to some extent at least.
Around the time I went to university I was offered the option of a blood test. The faulty gene had been identified and I could have the DNA test to see if I was likely to develop VHL in the future or at risk of passing it on to my children, not something that was high on my agenda at the age of 18.
The test came back clear some time during my first year in Cambridge and I still have the letter telling me the news in a very brief and official kind of way. I’m quite surprised I kept it, as it didn’t really mean a lot to me then. I just carried on with all the fun of being a student!
It has only been later in life, as I’ve gone on to get married and have children, to work and make friends, to meet others whose lives have been affected by complicated illness or family tragedy. Over the years, the guilt began to take root – why Andy? why not me? Apparently, it was 50/50 either way.
There was a part of me that was relieved when I was diagnosed with diabetes at 28. Finally, my life wasn’t the perfect world I thought it must seem to Andy, and I had my own inherited illness. I’m so ashamed that I felt that way but it’s the truth.
Of course, when Andy died, it was worse. Much as I missed him, the pain at losing him was mixed again with what I guess could now be called ‘survivor’s guilt’. It could so easily have been me that had had VHL, that had died at 38, leaving Andy to mourn my passing. What would he have done? How would he have marked the ending of his brother’s life?
Guilt is something Christians can be particularly bad at handling, which is something of a surprise when you think that our whole belief system is built on God’s grace removing our guilt and sin, setting us free through Jesus’ death on the cross from those burdens we like to carry around with us. The Bible says that ‘as far as the east is from the west, so far ha he set our sins from us.’
As I walk from the west coast to the east, I am learning to see that it is not my fault that I was the lucky one, but that I can choose what to do with the life that I have been given now, the post-40 life that Andy will never see. The culmination of 3 and a half years working through all those emotions is the walk4andy.
This is why it matters so much to me. Yes, it is an opportunity to do something positive in his memory but, perhaps selfishly, it is also about freeing myself from that burden of guilt and finding my own path to forgiveness and freedom so that I can do what I know in my heart Andy would have wanted which is for me to squeeze every drop of hope and joy and love from the years of life that God has granted me in his unfathomable wisdom.
With just over a week to go now, I had the chance today to get in a final practice walk of a decent length from Evington to Mountsorrel (about 12 miles I reckon including getting lost round the back streets of Rushey Mead, a detour into Birstall to find a loo and following the meandering of the Canal!)
The weather was fine and I left in good heart from St Denys with Geraldine, our Lay Reader. There was a lot of pavement pounding to begin with but we found a route which exposed to me parts of the city I certainly hadn’t seen before!
Unfortunately, I had a hypo just before arriving at Watermead Country Park on the edge of the city. Having done all the right things (halved my bolus with breakfast and put on a temporary basal), I’m not quite sure why that happened but I do know that the continuous sensor I will have on my arm for the real thing will help me to take preventative action sooner.
There were lots of beautiful moments but a couple of things from today’s walk really stand out for me:
First, the amazing provision of hospitality at the Catholic Church in Birstall. We arrived desperate to find a loo and somewhere for Geraldine to treat her blisters. Brenda at St Theresa’s welcomed us with open arms and gave us a cup of tea and some biscuits too (party rings – my favourites!) She even had the right stuff to put on Geraldine’s blisters – literally a Godsend.
The second was the fantastic welcome from the gang at Christ Church in Mountsorrel where I had planned to finish my walk during their Coffee/LunchDay4Andy. I was deeply moved to see his church family rallying once again even after such a long time to show their support and love for him. I was also very thankful for the delicious bacon sandwich and a proper mug of tea! Thank you, lovely people!
So that’s it for the serious walking until I’m up on the Wall on the 25th. But today has taught me once again about the wonders of God’s provision and I couldn’t help smiling as I found an extra spring in my step after passing this pub by the side of the canal … (and no, it wasn’t because I had popped in for a quick pint, this was 11am!)
‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul firm and secure.’ (Hebrews 6.19)
Andy and I grew up in the village of Mountsorrel halfway between Loughborough and Leicester. Although I didn’t appreciate it growing up, the village has a lot going for it with the Butter Market, Soar Valley Leisure Centre, canal, farm, quarry and newly opened heritage railway.
It also has a great church. We didn’t go to church much when we were growing up but when Andy moved back to Mountsorrel he decided to do an Alpha course at Christ Church. The friendly folk he met, especially Christine and Mick Butcher, had a massive impact on him and he made the decision to go back to church. Here he is talking to Bishop Tim back in 2009 at the Cromwell Road Coffee House (he appears with his mouth full about 7 minutes into the video!).
For Andy, friendship was always important (as well as food!). Through the human contact he experienced as part of the church family at Christ Church, he had a profound and life-changing experience of the love of God. In fact, he told his friends there that he thanked God for his VHL because without it he wouldn’t have met Jesus.
And just as his new-found friends had an impact on him, he had a lasting impact on them too. He is still fondly remembered, and I am so thankful that the church in Mountsorrel are holding two events to support my walk and raise money for VHL.
The first is a Quiz4Andy on Friday 5th May at 7pm, probably with lots of questions about cars that I wouldn’t be able to answer!
The second event is a Coffee/LunchDay4Andy on Saturday 13th May 10am-2pm. There will be lots of Andy’s favourite food including bacon sarnies and chocolate cake. I’m planning to join them on the Saturday, walking from Evington to Mountsorrel (about 10 miles) to be there in time for lunch.
St Paul talked about the church family being like a body where if one part hurts the whole body suffers. I love the fact that I still have brothers and sisters in Mountsorrel who feel what I feel, will pray with me when I’m finding things tough and who want to do their bit to help. Thank you to all of you!