15 May 2020 by Jess Borham
One week before the UK went into lockdown due to COVID-19, my Dad died suddenly. My grief has shaped my experience of the global pandemic and my experience of this global pandemic has been shaped by grief. Both the grief of the collective loss I share with everyone else living through this difficult time, and a private deeply held grief for the loss of my Dad.
It is through this last month that I have learnt so much more about what I need to get through and thrive in everyday life. With both ordinary and extraordinary challenges and times of stress, and what I need to process so much change.
In these past two weeks I have come to fully understand and appreciate the role walking in nature plays on my personal happiness. I knew it before, but now I really feel it. I feel it both in the joy it can still bring me at a time when joy is so hard to find and in my longing for the adventure and freedom of walking that isn't possible right now.
My Dad taught me to love long walks and being in nature. To take my time and notice what is around me. That walking with no real destination in mind, hands resting behind back, dog walking at his heels, along for the adventure, and that the warm sun and a cold pint at journey's end are some of life's greatest pleasures.
Being restricted to walking only close to home, in one of London's busy boroughs has been one of the greatest challenges of this last 5 weeks. Not least because it is hard to enjoy being out in the local park or wandering the local streets when you have to be vigilant of your distance from others. I find myself very aware of my potential risk as an asthmatic and keen to observe expert recommendations on preventing, spreading or getting the virus - leaving me anxious and unable to truly relax on my daily short walks. I miss the feeling of being able to let my mind wander and process some of the hugely difficult realities of the past few weeks more than I can quite explain. Now I see just how much I rely on the freedom of a long walk and escaping into nature to cope with everything life throws at me.
But then we must adjust and find new ways of meeting our needs and caring for ourselves in these challenging times.
One morning I crept about the house at 5am readying myself and my dog Frida for a dawn walk with some of that same excitement and adventure in my heart of the recent past I'd longed for. We headed out at first light and made our way to the local park and a walking circuit we used to do often, before lockdown made the park too overcrowded for us to walk during the day. It's one of those London walks where for parts of it you can forget you are in the city and are hidden from the rest of the world, with only the spring flowers and recently re-emerged bees for company. Frida and I had the run of the place for the first hour of the day as the sun rose over the tops of the trees and bathed us in a glorious orange light. And in this moment, grief had its chance to rush over and out of me freely. Releasing much of what had been tightly held into the spring dawn.
My feet carried me forward and toward another stage in the journey. Without that time to be in the company of the trees, I am not sure I would have quite managed that painful and difficult week, when I had to bury my father under a tree in Epping Forest with just 5 others in a closed ceremony. Whilst important and special, it wasn't quite fitting for a little man who was larger than life and had made an impact on so many.
Another day I reached a local bit of woodland with a large pond full of ducklings, surrounded by a vivid green moss. By some luck of the draw, I found myself with an hour alone by the water during the faded spring evening light. After watching the ducklings bobbing about, I meandered amongst the trees and searched the ground for wild garlic whilst Frida splashed through the boggy water to cool down. This time spent in nature healed a big part of my broken heart.
I find myself still struggling day to day with my local dog walks but grateful I do have access to green space, my health and those moments to feel connected to nature and able to walk in peace. But there is also plenty of time to fantasise about the next hiking adventure, sometime in the future. Adventures where I can get safely lost in the wilderness. I also feel closer to my Dad as I walk with my own dog at my heels, reminding me of the many summers spent following him along paths, canals and through parks on one our many adventures together.
Walking for me and many others is a lifeline now and has become more important than ever. It has the power to do so much for so many people, both when we can walk together again in the future and when we take ourselves off alone into the green to give ourselves room to breathe.
If you are experiencing grief and struggling to cope, Cruse offer free confidential emotional support by phone 0808 808 1677 and email. Visit their website for more information and advice.