Changing Times and Tides

As a family we continued our love of swimming and swimming outdoors into the current times. However as I alluded to in the last blog, cancer had taken both my parents – my Mum in December 2014 and Dad in June 2018. During that intervening period I discovered the wonderful TriSwim who started up open water swimming at the local Honnington Farm Lake. Memory recollects this was the summer of 2016 that my local outdoor swimming adventures began. Alongside this wonderful venue was also Haysden Lake, within the Haysden Country Park in Tonbridge, Kent. I managed to elicit sometimes time to swim two evenings a week on my way home from the office, due in no small part to the benevolence of husband Richard who ensured the children were collected from after-school club or their childminder on his way home from work earlier on. Both venues were lifeguarded with kayaking lifesavers. From May through to September these venues would allow these wonderful opportunities. I never thought how much I would come to rely on being able to relax and get peace of mind swimming outdoors.

Haysden Lake, Tonbridge – July 2020 – Taken by Anne-Marie Billingham

Inevitably I swam mostly in just a swimsuit, hat and goggles. Due to lakeside conditions I quickly adopted wetsuit boots to save my feet, it was just sensible to do so. This is my preferred swimming attire to the current day, although I have upgraded the neoprene thickness of my wetsuit boots to gradually 5mm. This is because now for the first time I am swimming into the winter months in 2021. However that is for later….

My Dad passed from cancer in June 2018. Although I had booked with TriSwim for earlier swims in the May 2018, the pace of helping Dad with hospital appointments which necessitated 80 mile round trips as he resided in Croydon, meant it was not possible to throw myself in the lake in the 2018 season. We as a family had to satisfy ourselves with our August jaunts to Selsey, and the fabulous West Wittering Beach. However over this time it became apparent that my husband Richard was getting very tired and with a couple of ongoing issues, was unable to swim much with us in the sea on that holiday in 2018. We also took our first voyage to the fabulous cottage in Borth, where the children and myself swum at any opportunity from the beach just across the road. Richard enjoyed the week away but was mostly recovering from minor day surgery just before, and he was not unreasonably feeling quite despondent about this.

September 2018 and return to work and school for us all. In October Richard and ultimately also I had the news no-one wants ever to receive. He received a bladder cancer diagnosis, and the news that it had spread to his liver rendering his condition terminal. Palliative chemotherapy was given but for Richard he always questioned how much it really helped him as he felt his condition worsening, and his concern about leaving us and when. The chemotherapy began Christmas 2018, finally completing before Easter 2019.

Over the period of Richard’s treatment it is telling that I cannot remember hardly doing anything for my well-being as a carer, mother and full-time working civil service accountant. Swimming indoors was done when I could, however the 2019 outdoor season with TriSwim came and passed me by. By June 2019, I had taken stress leave from work as Richard’s condition had worsened and the local Hospice in the Weald took Richard into their care as an in-patient around the 10th July, 2019. Friends and family, and the children’s schools were amazing over this period when I was also starting to settle our younger boy Henry to his secondary setting.

We said goodbye to Richard at 10:30pm on Saturday 27th July. Not before he had requested that I find someone else for his place on our booked holiday to Selsey due to start end July as he would not be well enough to come. Truly a remarkable man to the very end, loved at work by his colleagues, and loved by us – family and friends.

Eddy, Henry and I did actually make it away to Selsey for the two weeks as we were quite frankly instructed to. With time to talk and swim, we tried to start processing what had just befallen us as a family.

Evening on West Sands Beach, Bunn Leisure, Selsey – August 2019

Being able to visit West Sands so immediately after Richard’s death provided the children and I with time and space to talk. I know I spent a lot of time in the water and we were able to have a visit from our friends during the time there. We spent time doing the things we’d enjoyed always as a family, and I hoped we’d carry on wanting to do. I realised that certainly I wanted to be outside more and in the water. During August there was inevitably many things to do and I found myself writing a poem for Richard’s funeral. I share this with you below:

SWIMMING by Anne-Marie Billingham 23/08/2019

My eyes are brimming
Waves of emotion
Inside me causing a commotion
I have to pace it out strong
To push our days along

I think back to our 2004 Scottish sojourn
Swimming isle to isle oh how I yearn
Our freezing knees landing on the beach after Isla to Jura
And swimming with the seals off Scarba
As we swam out for the mainland that last day
Our memories of joy before rejoining the daily fray

Sharing Cornish moments of “joy” swimming against the clocks
A freak wave on Poldhu beach threw us against the rocks
We swam back from the brink
I knew I’d seen visions then in a blink
Which is another reason why we taught the kids to swim
So their safety won’t cause our tears to brim

We practiced swimming indoors and outside at the local lido
Year in and year out without further ado
Enjoying the days out relaxing if we could too
To be entirely recommended we might say – to you
Swimming is an antidote to stress
As well as helping me to fit the right size dress

Every year we head to the sea
As a family buckets and spades in glee
Memories of West Wittering and Selsey abound
Lots of swimming there altogether as the waves sound
Covering ourselves in the smooth golden sand
We loved those times they were grand

The children and I hold all these memories dear
The way forward for us is clear
We must swim on as Richard decreed
Keeping our family time together indeed
I must carry on swimming down at Haysden Lake
And the children must practice so they can leave me in their wake

After we said goodbye formally to Richard on the 23rd August, 2019 with family and friends, we had much to think about and imminently the start of Year 7 at a new school for Henry. For Eddy it was a return to the known, but still apprehensiveness as to the way forward. We were and are very grateful to our friends and family for their support, you are all just amazing.

As it is clear by now, swimming outdoors is a massive part of our family life. My next blog instalment will take you through how ensuing events rendered me the desire for such a fulfilling hobby that now has me swimming into the winter for the very first time. It is incredible truly.

Thank you for reading.

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