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Malcolm Newman

Malcolm Newman

"Just Keep Swimming": The 10 Lessons Grief and Running (and Disney) have taught me

In February 2016 we found out that the cancer my beautiful dad had fought four years earlier had returned, and he was given a bleak prognosis. He died just six weeks after we found out that he was ill again.

None of this was in the plan – Dad was only 65 when he died which was just far too young. He was so kind, so loving and so funny, but also a deeply honourable man who made a huge impact on everyone he met. Our whole family adored him, and he was the centre of us – the one who kept us all balanced, and together.

So when we found out he was ill, we obviously wanted the very best care for him, and we were all quite clear that the location for that care would be at home. He was such a homebody and so comfortable being in his own space with the people he loved around him. So unsurprisingly, the hospice wasn’t really part of what we saw as being the “plan” to support Dad at the end of his life.

But even the best laid plans don’t end up coming to fruition, and Dad was rushed to hospital four weeks after his diagnosis with pneumonia. The plan (that word again!) prior to this had been that he would go and stay in the hospice for a few days to get his pain under control, and then return home, but after his treatment in hospital, he was transferred straight to the hospice, and didn’t come home again.

If you’d told me a year ago that this would be the best place for Dad to be, I just wouldn’t have believed you, but I’d never visited a hospice until Dad was transferred across from Basingstoke Hospital. I was slightly terrified that it would be a gloomy and scary place, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Hospice was homely, the staff and volunteers were kind and compassionate, and the cake was plentiful (if Dad had been up to eating, he would have really appreciated that – cake, specifically its consumption, was one of his hobbies).

I don’t think we would have stood any chance of keeping Dad calm and comfortable at home, and the kindness and care of the wonderful staff made us all feel safe and loved at the worst time of our lives. Our whole family (Mum, me, my husband and two small children, and my brother and his wife) pretty much moved in for the last week of Dad’s life, and we were all so well cared for.

The most important thing though, was that my Dad, an intensely private and shy person was treated with kindness, dignity and respect throughout his time at the Hospice, and in the hours after his death.

My Dad and I were incredibly close, (I’m not sure if 37 year old feminists are meant to admit to being “Daddy’s Girl”, but I definitely was), and I still can’t really describe how I feel about losing him.

The last year has been a blur, less a nice neat grieving process, more grieving chaos, and in the struggle to find meaning in all of this, within six weeks of Dad dying, I’d decided that I (a very lapsed runner) was going to sign up to complete the ten mile Great South Run in his memory, in aid of the Hospice. Training started as a necessary evil, but became my “head space”, a haven; and it taught me some great lessons about life at the same time. Here they are:

1.    You are capable of so much more than you think: Losing someone you love makes it feel like carrying on is impossible; but you have to. When I started training I could barely run a mile but by October I managed the Run (definitely not with ease, but the fact that I managed it at all is still a miracle to me!).

2.    Goals are important (and so are plans):  I recently participated in a visualization exercise, to work out where I’d be in five years (I know – I was skeptical too, but it was amazing). “Future Me” was so peaceful –she’d managed to accept the absence of someone she loved and kept going. I’m not sure I have a plan to get there but I'm keeping the faith.

3.    Feedback is a gift:  It shows you things you might not have realized. If you feel it’s valid, you have to act on it, whether it’s telling someone you love what’s happening in your head or going to see a physio.

4.    It’s ok to ask for help: As humans we’re not programmed to do things in isolation. Whether it’s talking to one of the amazing bereavement specialists at the Hospice or seeing a physio to sort out knackered knees, it’s ok to ask for support.

5.    Having sponsorship helps you to move forwards: I see sponsors as being people who believe in you and help you to get where you want to be. They are in the wings, quietly being watchfully supportive, there for you when you need them. I’m lucky enough to have this at work and in my personal life.

6.    Remember what’s important: My beautiful daughters have been absolute life-savers this year.

7.    Be kind – always: Whether it’s being kind to yourself on the days that running or grief just feels too much, or remembering that you never know what other people are going through.

8.    Being outside is awesome: Urgh – I can’t believe I’ve just written this. Every time things get too hard, being outside just helps.

9.    Look for the light: I don’t manage it every day, but I try to make sure that whenever I can, instead of feeling sad about what I’ve lost, I feel really happy and grateful that I had such a wonderful Dad for such a long time.

10. Stay true to yourself: I saw a post which said that the hardest part of grieving, is trying to find the person you were before. I like to think that Dad knows that I’m still bloody-mindedly, annoyingly positive, and that he’s as proud of that as I am.

So I need to thank the Hospice for not only their amazing care of my wonderful Dad, but also for the impetus to “just keep swimming” and the wisdom that comes from that. 

Tricia Driver

Tricia would like to thank everyone who motivated her to get through the Great South Run with their generous sponsorship, with a special thank you to her employer, Capgemini, who added an extra £500 to take her total up to £1,850.

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