Is it wrong that I’m enjoying this?
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.
Words from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim:
Must here the Burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?