What a year 2019 was, or wasn’t. The first time I missed a Scottish winter for 20 years, a trip to Africa cancelled at the last minute, a climb in India scrapped because of lack of interest and a cycling trip to SE Asia cancelled because of injury. For some just that would be disastrous enough, but all those setbacks paled into insignificance on March 20th as, out of the blue, I lost my Dad. The literary world is strewn with poetry, prose and paragraph about death, but no words can describe the feelings of loss I had and still have. I’m happy that he left us peacefully, with his loving family around him. He felt no pain or suffering and I thank God for that. Only the night before, he’d been on top form, laughing and joking with me at a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme Presentation. It was a striking lesson in living every day of your life to the fullest of your abilities.
Life fell into stark perspective very quickly. I immediately cancelled a mountaineering trip to Morocco and supported my family, particularly my partially sighted mother as best as I could.
The tone for the year was set – Caring for my Mum, sorting my Dads estate, trying to find balance in life, crying, remembering and celebrating a life well lived. It has been a physically and emotionally exhausting time, but I love my family very much. There’s an old phrase which says that ‘You’re never a Man until you lose your own Father’.
Well, we shall see…
One thing that stood out was the amount of support needed to navigate the financial and social aftermath of my Dads death. Society has become addicted to the internet and though it has increased speed and convenience, at times of loss, you need people. You need to sit with human beings and sort out paperwork and signatures, transfers and documents. The race for financial gain and efficiency has taken many of the people from our high streets, and businesses now expect us to do the leg work (apparently in the name of customer service). I can’t remember how many miles I drove because local banks had closed and businesses centralised. I was lied to, put on hold long enough for a moon landing and mistreated by many high street names. To top it all, many businesses wanted signatures and whilst I understand the legal side, telling a lost and frightened 80 year old lady with severe Macular Degeneration to ‘sign inside the box only’ when she can hardly even see the paper was a joke. When I questioned this farce, I was blankly told ‘we don’t make the rules’. Powers of Attorney or not, this system needs to change.
I also, and very sadly found that unless vulnerable people have strong family or friend support, the system will forget them and let them fall off the end of the world. I put my Mum in this category as she had no idea on how to navigate the difficult paperwork and application forms and social care would have let her wither and starve in her own home. I do not say these words lightly. I write them with the awful experience I have seen at first hand. Again, things need to change…
At times like this I find solace in the outdoors, particularly where my Dad and I spent so many wonderful years together. I am very fortunate to have been schooled, advised and loved by such a wonderful man. He was always proud of his Military Service as an MP and followed their motto to the end – Exemplo Ducemus, Latin for “By example, shall we lead”.
Only a few weeks after we laid my Dad to rest, I traveled to South Africa to cycle the JoBerg2C Mountain Bike Race with my great friend Sibusiso Vilane. Mum and Dad had bought flights as a gift for my 50th Birthday and my Mum was determined that I should go. My training plan was in tatters and emotionally I was a mess as half of me wanted to go, but half wanted to stay. I’d never felt like this in my life about an overseas trip, but I flew south across the great continent and met Sibu in Johannesburg. My lack of preparation took its toll and I brought up the rear with a braced right knee after straining a ligament. A huge cheer greeted Sibu and I as we completed the race and I’m thankful for the great support given. A few days relaxing on Safari helped wind me down before I returned home in the early summer.
Upon my return a routine set in of work and caring, work and caring. I did get into the Peak District a little, but much of the early year was restricted by home commitments. We learned a great deal as the months passed and with family support, I enjoyed time in Snowdonia with both the Buxton Mountain Rescue Team and the Bassetlaw Hill and Mountain Club. My grateful thanks to everyone involved for your love and kindness. There were to be more losses in 2019 however…
Earlier in the Year Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi were killed on Nanga Parbat. Because of my Belper connection with Toms mother, Alison Hargreaves, the press were soon on the case. I was away in Canada on a family ski holiday, but the calls and interviews kept coming. The modern WIFI invaded world finds you, wherever you are. I’ve worked with the press for many years and accept the calls, give the interviews and balance my views as best as I can. I cannot bear speculation, sensationalism or suggestion. I work with only the facts.
I may not have known Tom, but I certainly knew Martin Moran. For years he’d helped guide me through not only the mountains, but also my injuries. When the news broke of his loss, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Again the press called for interviews, but the most important request was from Martin’s wife, Joy. She asked if I would speak at a ‘Celebration of Life’ in the beautiful village of Torridon. Having lost my own Dad only weeks before I perhaps wasn’t in the best of emotional states, but I drove the 500 miles and shared my memories before a packed hall, then headed the 500 miles home. My second speech about a life well lived…
I could write something about Martin and his life, but fellow Mountaineer Andy Perkins puts Martin’s life into words much better than I ever could…
I’d enjoyed plenty of cycling time during the summer, preparing to lead a trip across Vietnam and Cambodia in late November. One beautiful October morning I was peddling south on the A6 when a car driver failed to see me and pulled out, straight into my path. I face-planted hard into a window, landed on my knees and sprayed blood across the tarmac. Of the bystanders, everyone knew how to call an ambulance, but no-one knew any 1st Aid and I had to give instructions as to my own treatment – a sad reflection on modern society. Thankfully I could still stand, but spent hours in A&E getting checked, cleaned up and stitched.
I hadn’t visited A&E since my Dad died and received treatment in the same room I sat with him those few months before. In the few moments I had alone, I lay on the bed talking to him as if he were right beside me.
The scabs peeled from my face and the stitches came out, my blackened eyes cleared, but a hobble remained as my right knee had taken a real battering. Gone were any thoughts of leading the cycling trip to Asia, as were my plans for any early winter climbs. I was under orders to take it steady well into the New Year. It took an argument with the NHS to finally get my knee scanned, which showed severe bruising to the femur, but thankfully no lasting damage. Only a few days ago, I received the all clear to begin training again, but the bone is still heavily bruised and will hurt for a long time to come.
A graft site on one finger required emergency surgery due to a nasty infection, almost requiring further amputation, but thankfully all is now clear.
I hobbled into the Kendal Mountain Festival during November and found great friendship, love and even a little peace. It’s a huge part of my social calendar and the question I always ask when I leave is “what date next year..?”
The world is not built on the false smiles of social networking, nor the pleas of sympathy and pity. 2019 has been a year built on death, but as Anais Nin said ‘I postpone death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by giving, by losing’.
I’m prepared to live, to suffer, to risk, to give and to loose. In my mind, it is the only way to live.
I’m not one for wishing my life away, but 2019 has been filled with much loss and sorrow. Thankfully the end of the year has brought new light, which promises a brighter 2020…
May I wish you all a most wonderful, peaceful and prosperous New Year…
God bless you Nigel
You have had a tough run and do well to put it on social
It’s tough losing parents as they leave a void immeasurable
Especially when you lone them do dearly
You haven’t seen me since 1994 when we walked the kinder charity 25 mile that you roped me into with John Clark mick slater
And don hill
My name is paul jackson
And I follow your posts and great achievements too
I hope the new year is kinder to you
Thank you for your kind comments Paul. I love my Father very much, as I do my Mother and this years loss has hit the family very hard.
I remember the walk well and still have the certificate..!
I hope you’re well and the 2020 brings you a wonderful year.