the swire

I take to the hills. In the weeks and months that follow my mother’s passing, I take comfort in walking the winding paths and streams and valleys that were so beloved and reminiscent of her place in the world. In the early morning, I explore this land that she called home and find comfort in the connection I find.

I take the road from small village to high hill, climbing from the valley floor to the heights where I can view the broad and remote landscape that brought her so much peace. It was here that she renewed her connection to herself, to the child and young woman that she once was, to the wife, mother and grandmother that she became, here in this place that held such deep and personal meaning for her.

I pause as I reach the summit. It is early January, mid-winter, and the air is cold. But there is light, a clear and gentle light that stretches far above me, far below me.

This is a light that brushes the tapestry of winter colour that surrounds me with warmth and compells me to turn my lens and my thoughts away from the feelings that lie only too close to the surface throughout these difficult weeks and months. Instead, I turn toward this unexpected warm light that has appeared on this cold January day and I focus on what nature has laid before me.

I am alone as I walk these hills and I allow myself to expand into the vastness. I allow my thoughts to wander as I make my decisions about aperture, iso, white balance; as I decide what to include in the frame, what to leave out. I think about my mother. About 90 years of a life well lived with its full share of laughter and grief, birth and death, joy and sadness but above all, its full share of life. My mother claimed no regrets about the life she lived. From this wild and remote valley she travelled far. With one child born in Scotland, the others arrived in Assam and Uganda. They grew up in Western Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand. She returned to Scotland, widowed in her early 50’s, to start over on a life that centered around friendship and family and especially the beloved grandchildren who came in time.

I think about our relationship. The response to the loss of a parent is complex, no more so than when you have been acting as their carer in the months and years before their passing. I forgive myself for the times I found the role challenging, doing my best to navigate a system that is often unforgiving and inflexible, unsuited to the needs of an ageing parent experiencing dementia with all the frustrations that this difficult illness brings. I allow myself to be proud for the way in which we were nevertheless able to support her to remain in her own home until the very last few months. I feel enormous gratitude for the legacy of the life she gave me, for all the support and kindness and learning she provided me, for the fact that her special place was this wild and wonderful landscape that I walk through. I begin to let go.

To let go is not to forget. I have been provided with memories enough to last the rest of my own lifetime and beyond. And if there are days when the sadness returns or the connection needs strengthening, it is to this place that I will return. To walk, to remember, to seek comfort in this special place that meant to much to her, my lovely mother.

The path that I walk is known as The Swire, a high road that crosses over between the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys in southern Scotland. I also take a liberty in writing these words many months after I take this walk, but the grace that I experienced remains with me still, as clear as it was when I stood on the summit on that early January morning.

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