Our daughter Eleanor died on 21st April of this year
Me: Of course we’d been on holiday without you before, but not without you being on this earth. We’re in Ballachulish where the only good day saw me on the first summit of Beinn a Bheithir, lacking the strength to go any further. If you’d been with me, I might have refused to admit I was knackered and maybe gone on.
El: Considering how often in recent years I’ve had to admit my weakness, that would’ve been daft. But big boys have their pride.
M: We’ve seen so many of your West Highland landmarks in the last week: the Cafe at Tyndrum, the track to Inveroran, the tree growing through the rock on Rannoch Moor, the Kingshouse Hotel, Buachaille Etive Mor, the Horse Riding School at Glen Creran. We even stopped at the Wide-Mouthed Frog Cafe. It’s been a bit of a pilgrimage really.
E: Are you blaming me for being dead?
M: No, certainly not. Yet I remember that you did say often enough that you wanted to die. I suppose I saw that as drama, as a provocation. But maybe it was your real wish?
E: You know as well as I do how hard it is to be sure of your real wish. But I don’t think I was grandstanding. It was more…..more factual: I was an addict who couldn’t or didn’t want to give up her addiction, which did such damage that my body was packing up on me. And I was in constant pain from osteoporosis and stomach ulcers, that the thought of an end to it all was quite attractive.
M: And as I understand, you thought heaven was a fairy tale, so really you were looking forward to nothingness?
E: When you’re in constant pain, nothingness can seem very attractive, but truthfully I thought God might have something better in store for me. I wasn’t suicidal, however. I knew you had to wait your turn.
M: Pain is strange. It tells a body – of a woman, a bird, a tree- “this is harmful, don’t do it,” and yet many joyful achievements in sport, the arts, giving birth, struggling for justice, involve pain.
E: The suffering teaches us compassion and the painful achievement teaches us fortitude. Both have their counterparts here. Although we have no suffering of our own, we suffer out of compassion with the worlds; and we have opportunities to grow which still require fortitude. For example, I am still learning to be myself without booze.
M: We are still learning to be ourselves without you. Although often, like in this holiday, you are never far away.
E: I am infinitely far away, like God, and therefore able to be near.
M: Can I ask you a question?
E: You can ask…
M: A minute a go you said, “worlds, plural, compassion for the worlds.” Was that telling me something that human beings don’t know?
E: You’ve asked yours, now here’s mine: in whose imagination is this conversation taking place?
M: Mine, you mean..
E: Whatever I am, I’m not a source of supernatural knowledge; but I’m not just an absence either.
M: What then?
E: The presence of love.