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The Big Em and M Challenge – one step at a time.
9:43am Wednesday 13th June 2012 in Emma Bird blogs about why she's walking the South Downs for charity By Emma Bird
Em. That’s me. And I’ve been persuaded to get off my lovely, comfortable sofa and walk 60km – nearly 30 miles - across the undulating South Downs next May for charity.
I like walking - when it’s warm and sunny and I can stop in the pub for a refreshing pear cider on my way home.
A relaxing stroll along the flat promenade between Shore Road and Bournemouth Pier is pretty pleasant, too.
But what I don’t like is trudging along in the wet. Uphill is even worse.
One of my worst memories of studying at the University of Bath 15 years ago is not being hauled in front of the vice chancellor for taking my ambition of being the editor of The Sun a step too far and publishing a student magazine with some very dodgy articles but having to do battle, several times a week, with the steep 40-minute climb up to campus.
As for M, that’s my older brother, Matt. Or was. He killed himself three years ago and the moment I found out - at 8.30am on March 30, 2009 – was the moment my life changed forever.
The events of that morning are so vivid, I can recall every single detail from what I was wearing (my favourite tea dress and thick brown tights) to what I had for breakfast (baked beans on toast and a freshly-squeezed orange, apple and carrot juice)
How do I know? Because those are the last care-free moments I can remember. The last moments of normality. Seconds later the phone rang and, as I answered it, my world came crashing down around me, splintering into millions of tiny pieces.
For the first time in my life, I got why clichés exist. I never thought your legs could buckle beneath you yet that’s exactly what mine did and my boyfriend, Mario, had to hug me tightly so I didn’t fall.
And then there was the noise. It took me a while to realise that raw, high-pitched howling, which sounded like an animal in excruciating pain, was coming from me.
Still sobbing uncontrollably, I also began to shake. Tears and black mascara slid down my just-foundation-ed face, snot dripped from my nose and the beans on toast and fruit juice I’d had for breakfast spewed out of my mouth and onto Mario in his brand-new suit. A part of me had been wrenched away and was never coming back.
Suicide grief is painful and protracted, punctuated by ‘what ifs’ and ‘whys’ and it’s taken me three years to get my life back on track. But physically, I’m still weak, which is why walking across the South Downs is more of a challenge than it looks. In those first few unbearable months after Matt died, all of my energy went into getting dressed and taking baby steps through the day. Doing exercise just didn’t enter into the equation.
The walk is important to me on other levels as well. Yes, I want to get fit but I also want to break the stigma of suicide. Unfortunately, people are still far too uneasy and embarrassed to use the S-word, which means family are often left alone at a time when they need help the most.
But, surprisingly, the charity I’ve chosen to raise money for isn’t a mental health one.
Instead I’ve opted to support Winston’s Wish, the leading childhood bereavement charity in the UK. The day after my brother died, I took my nieces and nephew down to the village playground. Sitting on the swings with my seven-year-old niece, who was unquestionably Daddy’s Girl, we talked about suicide, depression and how she was feeling.
Suddenly, our relationship was no longer about tickling each other until we were screaming with laughter. For the next eighteen months, whenever we went out, she would grip my hand constantly. If I had to let go – albeit for a few seconds to get my purse out of my bag – she would grab my coat until my hand could once again hold hers. Like many children who experience grief, she was clingy and needed to keep me safe.
She’s not the only one. Every 22 minutes a child in Britain loses a parent be that through suicide, illness, murder or an accident. And I can count on both hands the number of families I know in Dorset alone where the children are having to deal with the death of a parent or sibling.
Winston’s Wish runs workshops and weekends away for bereaved children in order for them to work through their feelings and a helpline for anyone caring or concerned about a bereaved child.
By walking 30 miles across the South Downs next May, I’m aiming to raise £2,000 for Winston’s Wish. And that’s where you come in. I’m not looking for big amounts of sponsorship because I think that’s unrealistic given we’re in recession. Instead I’m asking you to donate just £1. And if 2,000 people do that then I’ll have reached my target. Over the next year, I’ll be writing weekly updates about my training schedule, more about my life with Matt, suicide and childhood bereavement.
So follow me every Wednesday. Hopefully it won’t be long before I manage to convince you to part with your £1.