Ain’t ya got no gingerbread

I think it’s fair to say that 2020 has been a rough year for most; for me, the problems of 2020 actually began back in November, November the 2nd 2019 with my introduction to Flora Walsh. I think you all know the circumstances of what happened that day. The knock on effect was that over the next couple of months, I became anxious about going out. Found myself jumping at the slightest of winds. Looking at every tree that I came near. There was at least one occasion when I woke for work and the prospect of a forty minute drive through the New Forest, when the sound of the wind ripping through the trees in my garden was enough for me to abort, go back to bed, and hide away. Every drive that I took at night became difficult and extremely tiring. And it’s not that the accident happened at night, it’s just that I knew the trees were there moving around in the wind, and I couldn’t see them, I could respond or react to them. The one thing that kept both me and Jacob safe that day was the fact that I saw that oak tree fall, and was able to react to it. The one thing that all my “what ifs” hang on, is the one thing that haunts me. 

Something that took me by surprise in the first few months after Flora’s death was how sensitive I became to my emotions. I’ve always been a closet film cryer. I’m a sucker for a sad movie, that moment when the lump grows in my throat, and that little bit of salty water escapes from the corner of an eye. However that has become so intense for me recently, and not just films, but music too. I seem to constantly be on the state of near hysterical teary breakdown. There was one evening when a Dolly Parton song “Me and little Andy” came on the goggle box… and I just blubbered, out and out broke down and wept…. I don’t know why, but I can’t even read the lyrics for it now without welling up.

Bizarrely enough, lockdown kind of put and end to that. I threw myself into work, it allowed me to concentrate, and push away the unimaginable. I obviously didn’t go out so much. I almost forgot about the whole process. It just slowly slipped to the back of my mind. But, as we head back in to the winter, the winds are picking up, and Flora is on my mind a lot. The last week I have been on edge with everything going on outside my window. Events of that day remain with me as they probably will for the rest of my life.

“Death doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes”

I’ve been relatively lucky with death. If lucky is the correct word to use in this situation. I’ve always said that the reaper hasn’t taken from me directly. Sure, I have lost grandparents, I’ve lost Aunts,  I’ve lost work colleagues, and I’ve lost friends. So yes, I have been around death lurking at the fringes, and I think a lot about it…

I think about a lot about a friend who lost her child to Cystic Fibrosis at young age. I think about my cousins who have lost their mother. I think a lot about my wife who’s mum was taken away from her way too early.I think about my parents who have lost their parents. But I generally don’t have to spend time thinking about my loss.

“There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down”

The death of Mike Singleton shook me, I wasn’t very close to Mike, but we were at the stage where we talked online most days, so I missed him, I missed his conversations, I missed having someone to talk with, and question about his game. The death of Flora has been completely different. I didn’t know her. The only link we have is that we were on the same road, around the same place, when that old oak tree was brought down by winds apparently from the fringes of Hurricane Pablo.

“I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there.”  – I am the sole chronicler of that moment, and it’s important that the family had the option to know what happened. But being that chronicler has taken its toll.

“Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes.”

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Into your hands, we commend…

Today I attended the funeral of a woman that I never knew in life. In fact the first time I met Flora Margaret Walsh, she had been dead for mere seconds. Flora was killed in a tragic accident when the forces of nature reasserted its dominance over our modern way of life. A forty tonne Oak tree, that likely started its life as a discarded acorn many years before Flora’s birth almost seventy years ago, was uprooted by freak 80mph winds, the roots gave way in soil, waterlogged from weeks of un seasonal rain, and the tree crushed the car of the unsuspecting Flora, taking a life, and blocking a road for almost twenty four hours.

The medics assured me that Flora was killed instantly and likely knew nothing about it, and as reassuring as this is, it does mean that the horrific sound of the tree crunching the car, will toll as a death bell in my mind for the rest of my life.

Since witnessing the accident I have found myself thinking, “was there anymore I could have done?” I know for sure, that there wasn’t. I watched two fire engines full of firemen, unable to do any more over the following hour, than support the tree and make the car safe for the other emergency services. It would be hours later before Flora could be removed from the car after a team of specialised tree surgeons dismantled the oak with a series of very calculated cuts. But still, time and time again I come back to that moment and examine every decision and action I made.

I have since joked that I now have a mild case of Dendrophobia, a word that I didn’t even know existed a month ago, but in all seriousness, for the last month I have found driving around the country roads of the area I live, on the edge of the New Forest, particularly difficult. Used to having to drive with your eyes peeled to the side of the road, scanning for Deer, Pigs, Cows, Sheep, and Ponies, I now find myself watching every tree with a fearful anticipation. The worst has been at night, when I can’t see the trees, can’t see them moving in the wind. I know they are there. I know that they are moving.

It’s no exaggeration when I say that I potentially owe my life and that of my son, to a small branch that fell in front of my car and made me navigate around it. It was this that made me pay more attention to the uprising of the wind and the movement of the trees at the side of the road. Without it, I’m not sure that I would have seen the tree fall and I wouldn’t have been able to stop in time. It’s strange that I didn’t remember this at the time, only later when giving my statement to the police officer.

I find myself feeling guilty. I feel guilty that I have spent a month struggling with something that happened to someone else. I feel guilty every time someone asks me how I’m feeling. Because honestly, I feel sad. Yes I have images in my mind of what I saw in the car, yes I’ve seen the tree taking its tumble night after night, yes I’ve heard the re-occurring crunch of wood on metal, but I’m alive, and Flora isn’t. I feel guilty every time the narrative appears to be about me, because it’s not about me, it’s about Flora, a woman who was on her way to visit her husband in hospital, and never made it. But I have to juxtapose this with the need to talk about it, I can’t hold this inside, writing about it is the means to help me understand and hopefully come to terms with what was a tragic moment in time.

Today couldn’t have been any different than a month ago, blue skies, no wind, and a warm low winter sun. I met Flora’s daughters, Lucy and Claire, and Claire asked if she could give me a hug. I had been in two minds about going to the funeral, I felt that I needed to go, it seemed that I might find some closure, felt that I should meet the family, but I didn’t feel quite right about it. However, in that brief moment, held in the arms of a woman that I now have only a small but tragic link with, as she said thank you to me, it lightened by heart, and I think she gave me the little extra strength that I needed to move forward.

I don’t recall ever crying at a funeral before, but I cried at Flora’s. I cried for her, I cried for her family, I cried for my family, and I cried for myself.

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in the giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Flora is survived by her husband Martin, daughters Claire and Lucy, and 6 year old grandson Nye.

Donations in memory of Flora are for Knitted Knockers and Waggy Tails Rescue.

Waggy Tails

Knitted Knockers

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Yesterday was a difficult day…

It was late yesterday afternoon before I managed to watch the Rugby final. At half time I really didn’t care anymore and forwarded it to see the final result. The match just seemed irrelevant.

Yesterday  morning before the match I popped out to pickup Jacob from his friends. On the journey home we witnessed a tree come down a kill a woman in her car.

Jacob and I had stopped meters away, a mere second from being underneath it. We saw the tree come down, it was a bizarre moment, almost slow motion, but it was obvious the woman had’t seen it, we were able to stop in time, but the tree landed directly on top of her. I’m pretty sure the sound of the tree impacting the car will haunt me.

As first person to the car, it was obvious that she had’t made it, there was no signs of life, but to be honest with the state of the car, it would have taken a miracle. I’ll spare everyone the details. More people turned up, but we were powerless.

We watched helplessly as the various emergency services tried to work out what to do, but later sat in the back of the fire engine it was clear that they were no longer trying to get to the woman to help her, they’d called it, and it was now about recovery. The huge tree was still unsafe, a number of times we watch the fireman run from the tree as vicious gusts of wind threatened to dislodge it even further, indeed a little later the bow cracked. Eventually a special team arrived on the scene to start dismantling the tree in order to get access to the car.

One of the firemen who been looking after confirmed that she was dead and that she would have died on impact, I’m not sure it it’s true or just to ease the worrying, but apparently she wouldn’t have known or felt a thing.

Finally I gave my statement and the police recovered my car through the mass of emergency vehicles and we were able to leave. Driving back the way we’d come it was unnerving to see a large amount of other tree debris that had come down behind us.

I thought watching the match might help distract me, but it didn’t, and it just seemed so pointless. In the end, I just didn’t care. Part of me is glad England didn’t win, I’m not sure I could reconcile the joy with the utter sadness I feel.

Strong winds: Woman killed and ferry travel disrupted

Woman killed after tree falls on car in East Dorset

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