It is almost four years since you died. The summer was much like this one: cold and grey and wet. It didn’t matter much then. None of us was bothered about getting outside. We wanted to sit with you; spend as much time as we could with you. We wanted to hold back time, to stop its flow, to halt it in its tracks. We couldn’t, of course.
This morning I went to the river. It was a day that most people would shun. Mid-June, and yet the air was barely 10 degrees. I have no idea what temperature the water was. You wouldn’t have cared. You would have been out in your canoe, looking for kingfishers, given half a chance.
I lowered myself in by the weir. The river was black and silver under a slate-grey sky. I looked down, but the water was so dark I couldn’t see the tiny fish I knew were there. I couldn’t see the pebbly bed, dotted with mussel shells. I waded out of the shallows and dipped my shoulders down and pushed away. The cold cloaked me like a silvery shroud. The current was strong. The rains of the past couple of weeks have filled the basin – in some places it has already burst its banks. Here, in the shallows, is the only safe place to get in. I had to push and kick, push and kick to get away from the pull of the weir, out into the wider water.
And then I was free to swim more slowly, to breathe more deeply. I fixed my eyes on the mother mallard ahead of me. Last week she was sitting on the pontoon, nestling her brood beneath her, sheltering them from the world. This week she has been teaching them to swim, to break free. I watched as she fussed around them. She kept one dark eye on my bobbing head, opening her beak in a low warning quack. It’s all right, I told her. I won’t hurt them. The ducklings milled around, unsure of their direction. One broke free, boldly making for the lilies, then turned back, startled by the drops of rain from the overhanging trees.
I thought of my own brood. My daughter, your granddaughter, is about to start her placement year, going into hospitals in and around Birmingham to continue her studies in medicine. She is only twenty. She is going to be seeing things I will never have to see; dealing with things I would not have any idea how to tackle. At twenty I was carefree, innocent. I had no idea what to do with my life. I was still following you and Mum. I was not bold enough to break free, even for an instant. My son, your grandson, is desperate to forge his own path. He has been straining at the leash for years now. Ever since you died.
The river was drawing me back. I was getting tired and could feel the cold taking hold of my hands and feet. I decided, reluctantly, to turn back. The current immediately caught me and propelled me. I hardly had to move to stay afloat. I thought of my new path, the one I am about to take. I am moving away from this place soon, following my heart, following the river, letting it take me to the sea. My husband and I have always talked of this, since the first day he took me to his family’s place in Cornwall. It was the place where we fell in love, the place where we looked at each other and knew that we wanted this to be for ever. I have resisted this change though. Since you died, I have not wanted any more change. Your death, Mum’s death, the loss of my childhood home – it has all been too much. There has been too much letting go. I have not wanted to let go of this place as well.
But this morning, as I turned and let the current take me, I realised that letting go is what I need to do again. And again. And again. That this is part of what life teaches us. That sometimes you just can’t fight the current any more. You need to turn and let it take you where it will.