This time last year, I described myself as an adventure racer, mountain runner, author, wife and mother. Less than three weeks ago, I was forced to change that description to include the term, widow.
I have lost count of the amount of people who have approached me since that day and told me that they are lost for words. I too cannot begin to describe all the thoughts and emotions I have been through since Pete passed away. All I know for certain is that depression is a horrible, horrific illness. It brought an incredibly bright, intelligent, funny man to his knees, convincing him that the world would be a better place without him when nothing could have been further from the truth.
After Pete’s death, my head and heart soon rushed to our two boys. Aran and Cahal are too young to understand what has really happened. All they know is the simple fact that Daddy is gone. A friend advised me to ask Pete’s friends and families to write to our sons, to tell them all about their father. Cards, photos and letters have since flooded into our home, full of memories of Pete. Though I doubt Aran and Cahal will remember their father, they will at least get to know who this formidable man was.
Many people also knew Pete because of my books. It was Pete who stood at the roadside as I tried to complete the Wicklow Round in 2008; he who lowered me into the bath when I had stopped two summits short, trying desperately to wash off the mud, sweat and tears that had accumulated during my failed attempt. It was Pete who encouraged me to write my first book, to put down on paper all that I had learned so that others could be inspired to mountain run in turn. Pete also had the starring role in my second book, Bump, Bike and Baby. Those who have read it have often come up to me and told me I had married a saint. Pete was always pleased when I put a positive spin on things.
Ultimately, I could sit and reminisce about Pete until the day I die, but the reality is, life goes on whether I like it or not. I need to start covering the bases that Pete did. I need to get back to work, to provide for my young family. I need to find positive male role models for the boys, so that they learn to become resilient, responsible men. I am also aware I need to leave space to grieve when yet another wave of despair unexpectedly washes over me.
Standing at the funeral on New Year’s Eve, receiving consolation from Pete’s friends and family, I was bowled over by how depression and suicide is far more prevalent than I ever thought. Many told me of their cousin, brother, husband, mother who also succumbed to the disease and took matters into their own hands. It made me wonder, is there anything can be done, that I can do to help stem this tide?
Writing this blog post is one way I hope someone, somewhere can be saved. Speaking about depression is apparently the first step to breaking the taboo.
A recent conversation with a fellow ultra runner also sparked a thought. Was it because ultra running, especially in the mountains, throws at you so many issues that some sort of resilience is built? Over the many weeks when Pete suffered from tormenting thoughts, I often drew on examples when I had been caught out on mountains or in races, where I had to dig deep down to save myself and others. When I told him these stories, I was amazed how he didn’t have similar experiences of things going wrong where he was forced to summon up such strength. He had lived a gifted life.
Now faced with raising two young boys, I wonder if the outdoors will help build my children’s resilience for the years to come. I’ve asked an incredibly strong and bright young woman to teach them to rock climb. I’ve decided to travel to Scotland this year, to introduce them to this wild terrain. I will also continue to bring them orienteering and mountain biking, so they will get lost and fall over, and learn to rise again.
Raising my two boys to be more resilient will not, however, turn the tide. This is where I hope my new initiative, Happy out Adventures, will do something more. I’ve wanted for many years to teach others, especially women, how to travel safely in the mountains and to learn to embrace the outdoors. The mountains have taught me so much, given me so much strength, and have been my solace for many years. It is my hope that by helping others, especially women, to have the skills, knowledge and confidence to travel in the mountains that they can teach this to their sons and daughters in turn.
I realise I am embarking on this very soon after Pete’s untimely death. Sometimes however, life forces your hand, but I am sure Pete would fully support me in my endeavours.