I recently lost a good friend to cancer; here are some of my walking thoughts on life and death .

Winter:

The dogs ran forward full of joy and enthusiasm. I walked behind.

Bare trees, skeletal lollipops, stood stark in a row against a flaming sunset. Guardians of life through this winter season, dormant before spring’s awakening. Bare bones untouched by the roaring furnace behind them. Unlike the funeral ceremony this afternoon, where mortal remains extinguished by flame, released a beautiful soul. As a committee member, I attended the funeral as a representative of the Dog Club they had been part of, when young like me, they too walked behind dogs on sprung feet for mile upon mile.

 During the service, I was moved to tears, not as you might expect for the deceased, but because the voice of the stranger beside me sounded like my late Grandmother’s rich alto, mature and poignant with the vibrato of age.

Geese startled, at least a hundred, flew from the water meadow beside the path. Their low-pitched calls and wing-thrumming of collective flight resonated through my chest as they banked overhead. The sunset flames disappeared, masked by sooty clouds, casting shades of ash over the early evening.

Spring:

The dogs ran forward, not mine this time, but equally full of joy and enthusiasm. My friend and I walked behind.  Past the same trees, today, decked in their full springtime splendour. Her hand rested on my shoulder, she shared my eyes, her own sight taken by neoplastic invasion. She trusted me to call the path, call the dogs, and as her elected power of attorney, call the shots at the end game. Sometime in the near future. My field of view was by necessity diminished. I saw, not trees and sky, as I had before, but only the bruised and worn grass of the path and the tiny self- effacing wildflowers of the bank. My eyes could not sweep the sky and horizon, they needed instead to map crevices, roots, hazards. Walking slowly, I no longer said to her, “Oh look!” or ‘Did you see?” Instead I warned “Careful, uneven patch.”, “Step up here.”, “Slippery bit ahead.” We had walked many miles together over the years, across vast moors and arable fields following these same dogs. I brushed away a tear she could not see, and we continued our uncertain way.

Summer:

The dogs ran forward, full of joy and enthusiasm. I walked behind.

In the Spring, she followed me. Today, I had followed her. Coffin-clad and decked with cultivated blooms, she was carried to her place of rest. Once again, I sang, and I cried, but this time not with nostalgia for my Grandmother, nor as a detached club representative. I did both with love, for my young friend, that I knew so well. She had often joked it would be her who helped me in my dotage. Suffocated by grief, I burst from the ceremonial confines of her funeral, and escaped into, the wide, wild solitude of our regular walk. I rejoiced in the familiar solace of trees and sunshine-sky, then guiltily dropped my eyes to the path, remembering that we would never walk here together and she would never see them again. Until I become accustomed to my survivor guilt, I imagine it will be so.

Autumn:

The dogs ran forward, full of joy and enthusiasm. I walked behind.

The copper and russet leaves on the trees are rich against a cobalt blue Autumn sky. They match my hair. Loose around my face, the wind plays with my hair, tangles, and teases, the tresses dance to its piping. I am at peace surrounded by warm colours, at home in their glow, which promises conkers, comforting soup and ginger cake which crumbles, spiced onto plates, every last morsel to be picked and licked off sticky fingers.

There are no funerals today.  I don’t consider the dying of the year as a death. And if I don’t, then I must let go of my grief and engage with life, just as I engage with the turning of the seasons.  The fallen leaves of autumn are a quilt for germinating seeds, through winter. The past, a bed from which emerges the future, bright and hope-filled.  I pick up my pace, invigorated by the freshness of the air on my face, swing my arms, then skittish, cannot resist the urge to run, a few steps and twirl in circles as if I’m a leaf in the wind. The dogs pause to look at me in surprise, then cavort around me, natural in their joy of the moment. Companions in the dance.

copyright Angela Cairns 2019

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