I’ve maybe come across in the past as somewhat indestructible. Unfortunately that’s not the case. This is basically a story about getting knocked for six and trying to deal with it.
There are quite a few key ingredients that combine and interrelate to make this an especially difficult time:
- Our mam passing away just four weeks ago
- Eileidh passing away (suddenly) last weekend
- The high pressure SNOMED-CT course that I’m currently doing demanding intense levels of study
- Software that I’ve written going out on field trial (for evaluation) next week
- Going on holiday shortly
On their own, I could probably manage to deal with each. Thrown in together, I just feel like I’m drowning in the Sea Of Good Cope.
Because I’ve lived three hundred miles away from our mam for over forty years, I’ve been used to not seeing her for months at a time and in that respect her passing has not greatly affected my day to day life. But knowing that the end was coming, rushing down the road against the clock and being there for those last few hours left an indelible mark. At a stroke, forty years of three hundred miles melted into insignificance. In the week that followed, while I was sorting out all the funeral arrangements and stuff, the bike was my escape: maybe, just maybe, that was because I was down the road, exploring new routes and generally trying to keep myself busy. But even so, my nerves were frayed, and I knew it.
That week down south was interspersed with SNOMED study. The advanced implementation course waits for no one and the modules come thick and fast, so do the assignments and the assessments. If you fail a module, you get thrown off the course. It’s a brutal regime and I only just crept over the line in the second module of six because my head was all over the place and I didn’t have the time or the motivation to apply myself properly. I need to pass these modules because the research and development work I’m engaged on in the day job has a drop dead date that cannot move: and therein lies the pressure.
Three days after I got back up the road from England, I made the 350 mile round trip to Aberdeen for Eileidh and Harrison’s wedding. I loved the day (to bits) but the drive was demanding. Less than a week after that we were back down the road for our mam’s funeral. I think until the funeral’s out of the way, you’re still in an unstable emotional state and the slightest thing can set you off. With that as a backdrop, I was trying to juggle work, study and cycling and really only delivering on the latter: the miles remained good because I was focussed on Eileidh and her fight for life. My nails, that I had done in gold and pink back in March, were starting to look a bit tiresome but hey, Puddles herself was having her good days and bad days so that was never a problem: we were in this thing together: the nails were my vigil and I wasn’t changing that for anyone or anything. It was never about the look, just the reason why I had them done.
So back to the SNOMED course for a moment. At the outset, the directive was to get piled into modules A and B as soon as possible because the learning curve goes vertical from module C onwards. I started module C ten days ago. By vertical, I mean that the student is required to understand and act upon stuff like this: “Description Logic cannot infer whether a primitive concept subsumes another primitive concept unless there is an IS A relationship between the potential subtype concept and the primitive concept”. Here’s another example: “Negative context values require the logical direction of subsumption to be reversed”. You simply can’t get wired into this stuff and hope to understand what’s going on without having your brain on a turbo setting. For moi, the timing could not have been worse.
Last weekend, Jane and I were booked on a surprise weekend (for her) in London. She was going to see Adele at Wembley, the final gig on the 123 date world tour, except she didn’t know. How I managed to keep it a secret for six months I don’t know, I made it through to Saturday morning however, and when I woke at 4:30am (insomnia rules okay) I checked the time (cos we’d to be up at six) and had a quick swatch at my phone: there it was on the news: concert cancelled. So then I had to tell Jane why we were going in case she wanted to cancel: not a chance. We went, spent eighteen hours travelling out of the next sixty but we did at least have a good time in between.
On the final approach into London, probably somewhere around Milton Keynes, I got a message from a friend informing me that Eileidh had passed away. The train was full and I was just getting to the bottom of my second Stella. Maybe I would have gone on to down a third but the news downed me instead. On a packed train, I had tears streaming down my face, could barely speak and was thrust back into that dark place that I’d been in only three weeks before. But this time it was worse because no way was I recovered from the loss of our mam.
I’ll be honest right now and say that the Puddles Of Tears blog that went out 24 hours later on Sunday morning wasn’t written after the event. Gail had phoned me late on Friday night so I knew the end was near: but that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. My issue was that my eldest lad Ross gets married tomorrow and I knew that once I got back up the road, I would have precious little time to get my head round the blog while I was already at loggerheads with SNOMED and the wedding prep. So I wrote my appreciation of Eileidh, and how she changed my life, on the way down the road on the train. If you believe in the way these things happen, I put the laptop away about half an hour before Eileidh gained her angel wings. Ever since our paths first crossed, there have been spooky coincidences: I started LCFN because of Oscar, then Eileidh was diagnosed the day after Oscar passed away. Eileidh was the focus of the LCFN 20,000 mile celebration, and ironically I’ve cycled 20,000 miles since we first met (LCFN was at 11,000 back then). Then when our tribe flew out to America in July 2015, Gail and her family were on the same plane 24 hours later. Ditto the return. The coincidences just kept on coming.
There are no two ways about it, Eileidh’s passing has knocked the stuffing out of me. She was the reason I carried on past 25,000 miles. I’ve been fundraising for her for the best part of two and a half years, and through the efforts of people in and around LCFN, together we’ve probably managed to lob six or seven grand into her pot. Eileidh became LCFN and LCFN became synonymous with her journey. We just soldiered on with smiles on our faces (actually mine has always been more of a grimace because climbing has never been fun).
But on Monday, I couldn’t face going out. It was like the bottom had dropped out of my world. Carrying on was no longer about the wee person who had inspired the journey for so long. What was I to do? I basically found myself at a crossroads. I have pushed so hard for so long, I suddenly found that I couldn’t push a single day longer. So when I got home from London on Monday, I decided to mothball LCFN as it has been for the last four years, for something that I can manage for the immediate future.
Eileidh was five. She will always be five. Late on Monday afternoon, I spent half an hour trawling Google Maps looking for a route that would give me five miles: but more than that, I wanted it to spell out the number 5 on the road. I found such a route. Like the whole Eileidh and Puddles thing itself, this was clearly meant to happen. The distance on the road from one end of the 5 to the other turned out to be precisely half a mile: turn round and trace the route back and it’s exactly one mile back to the start. Five laps is five miles. And now that route is a named segment on Strava. It’s there for the whole wide world to see and cycle. It’s my final defining present to the girl who changed my life.
It’s called #ForeverFive