Certain places and types of space have always been very important to Rich and I. We crave remote, austere, wildscapes over chocolate box landscapes, and would pore over walking guidebooks, deliberately looking for the places on the map that weren’t mentioned, knowing then that they’d be quiet, off the beaten track, and very ‘Rich and Hayley’. Whilst we live near a region that is a popular walking destination because it’s ‘pretty’, we preferred to go elsewhere in search of ruggedness and bleakness. Whilst many see wildscape such as mooorland and jagged mountains as empty or full nothing, we see every nuance of colour, every change in texture, and fully embrace the solitude.
We’ve been fortunate enough to walk and swim all over the world. Every holiday was a walking holiday, every weekend a walking opportunity. We relished our adventures, and whilst they were not hard core by many peoples standards, when you’ve living with a condition such as NF2, and have no cochlears, even staying upright is a small miracle, so what Rich achieved was exactly that – miraculous. We pushed the envelope in our own little way, taking on difficult routes, which sometimes became expeditions, but it has always been worth it, for that sense of accomplishment in seeing and doing something that you’re not supposed to be able to do, and for seeing places that not everyone gets to see.
When Rich died, I knew that the only way I would be able to keep my promise to him, to stick around and make our plans to help others happen, was to keep on walking. Literally. Going back to our places and spaces has given me the daily reason to live that I depend on. We lived to walk and swim before, and now I walk and swim to live. Whereas walking used to be our meditation in motion, now it’s become an emotional release. It’s no longer meditative, I’m in too much pain for that, but it’s time that I spend with Rich, doing what we’ve always loved, in places that helped us find meaning when we have often had to contend with pain and suffering. Rich had spent his life in and out of hospital, and the tumours were causing an increasing amount of pain which we could do little about because removing them would only lead to paralysis in different parts of his body. Seeing him in pain, and knowing that he was in pain even when he was trying to hide it from me, because we both felt each others pain, was agonising. But the walking and swimming provided an antidote, and in the case of the cold water, would temporarily numb Rich’s physical pain. He would always have to wear a wetsuit as he was so lean, but it still had the desired effect. Which is why I swim in cold water now, because it helps numb the pain in my head and heart. And because I feel physically close to Rich. I feel what he felt.
The pain is constant. Seven months in and I still don’t want to be here without Rich physically by my side. But that promise. Place and space are the building blocks that allow me to survive. It takes every ounce of strength I have left to pack up, get in the car, and then drive to these places. Being there without Rich is extremely distressing, so please don’t for a minute think the smile in the photographs shows how I look and feel. I smile for Rich, because I want him to know that he gave me meaning, just like I did him, and that he continues to be my reason to live. I want him to know that I carry him with me, in so many ways, and that we’ll always walk and swim together.