The Great Storm 30 years on: Surfacing trapped memories from childhood

It’s 3:45pm on 16 October 2017, the sky is grey, the wind is really picking up and here I am back in Wealdstone, the town I grew up in, exactly 30 years on from the great storm of ’87.

I was only six, but I recall clearly how we were walking back home from school, just mum, my brother and I, and how the Great Storm of 1987 had hurricane-force winds that caused substantial damage and 18 deaths in southern England.

It was super windy and we were walking home unprotected from the elements. I was six and my brother was four and mum was there with us, so for us brothers, it was just a fun experience – what did we care?

Before we knew it, a loose roof slate flew past our heads, narrowly missing us, and smashed into pieces onto the ground in front of us. My brother and I thought it was cool but mum must have been petrified as we hurried home to get safely indoors before the weather got really bad.

So here I am back in Wealdstone, not far from the school or the route back home to our first house. I see mothers with their young children, the kids playing and skipping and their mothers encouraging them to get into the car or quickly get home.

It’s now 11 years since mum died and it fascinates me how the memories of my youth are starting to resurface, triggered by at times striking, at times mundane moments.

It’s been known that memories prior to a bereavement can sometimes get covered up, perhaps due to the mind wanting to protect me from the pain of recollection. As I continue to let go of the need for control and as the fears built up over the decades start to dissolve, the memories calmly, clearly and lovingly come to light… and they pass.

So here I am, observing these memories, these fond memories of my youth, arising and passing, arising and passing.

I observe the seemingly real protection of our parents, the subsequent realisation that there is no-one in this world who can ever truly provide protection, and the journey taken to identify and embrace the one place where solace, then calm, then stillness and then joy is progressively uncovered.

In the midst of the storm, it is this place that draws me in, humbled with the knowledge, protection and serenity that all is and will forever be well.

Upgrading to the sea view

Tea in BrightonAs I sit for breakfast, overlooking the sea at this hotel in Brighton (Southern England), I look out towards the turbulent waves hitting the pebbly shore and reconnect with my mum’s love of the ocean.

Mum grew up in Mombasa, a relaxing coastal town in East Africa. It’s where she had studied, formed close friendships and first met my dad. My brother and I, as we grew up, would hear stories of the infamous “lighthouse” where all the youth would gather outdoors in the evenings to hang out, for music and hot food – makai (corn on the cob), mogo (cassava) and chips, not forgetting madaf nu pani (coconut water) and perhaps other drinks they never told me about.

We’d had a number of beach holidays together over the years, with our last family holiday together in Aruba, just after I graduated from uni – again close to the water. When I attended a conference near Lago Maggiore in Italy and had sat by the lake on a beautiful June afternoon in 2005, I had vowed to take mum there so she too could enjoy a cappuccino overlooking the lake – but I never got round to taking her there. Now that I can, it’s of course too late.

This September will mark 10 years since mum died. A few weeks after she passed away, most of the family, including my maternal grandmother, had made the day trip to Brighton to scatter mum’s ashes, somewhere along the coastline that I’m overlooking right now.

If mum was here, staying at the same hotel, staying in the same part of the hotel (facing north so not overlooking the sea), I feel I would have upgraded her room to enjoy the sea view from her room. Even with limited mobility, at least she could have enjoyed that. Then I would have brought her down for breakfast to enjoy the sea view from the hotel restaurant. We would have had far too many mugs of tea together, making the most of the unlimited refills!

But sadly she is no longer around and these gestures no matter how grand or small, cannot come to fruition. This makes my eyes well-up realising the futility of my wishes for mum and I to have any more of those experiences together.

On this bright spring morning, as I finish my second mug of tea while overlooking the turbulent waves crashing against the pebbly Brighton shore, my heart is filled with sadness and regret.

While it’s been almost a decade since mum died, these feelings of regret are surfacing only now. I realise too, that while there’s nothing I can do to make up for all that’s left undone, it’s certainly within my reach to simply observe what’s coming up and let it pass in it’s own natural time, in it’s own natural way.

I have a choice now to either get bashed about by the rough waters or to upgrade to the sea view and calmly observe whatever comes up. Like each wave along Brighton’s coast that builds up momentum and gradually comes to rest, even these turbulent feelings will comes to pass.

Resolving the unresolved

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

Those who know that their life may be coming to an end tend to want to get their affairs in order and make amends with anyone they have a fragile relationship and unresolved issues with.

But what about the relationships where you lost someone suddenly and hadn’t had a chance to resolve the conflict before they died?

The unresolved

There was this couple, both in their early 50s, married for over 25 years. They had many struggles in life but somehow worked together to overcome them.

Then one day, out of the blue, the wife (let’s call her Anne) got upset by what her husband did. It was only something small and didn’t really matter all that much, but it upset her and she gave him the silent treatment. The husband (we’ll call him Michael), who was used to this silent treatment over the years, didn’t bother to try to shake her out of it. He knew it was something she did to help herself deal with life. But Anne thought she was teaching him a lesson!

A few days went by, but she was still upset at him. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. Still no word from her. Michael tried to get her to see sense and come out of her silent treatment, but Anne stood firm. At this point she didn’t even know what she was angry about, but thought there must have been a reason so she stayed adamant.

Then one dark winter evening, while Michael was walking home from the station after work, he got knocked over by a car and died at the scene of the accident. His wife, upon finding out about what happened, was flooded with feelings of anger, resentment and guilt.

She was angry at the driver for the accident and at her husband for leaving her alone. She had resentment towards her husband for not giving her a chance to make amends (even though he tried many times). She was riddled with guilt for not breaking the silence sooner and resolving the issue, the tiny insignificant issue, that she had been holding onto so tightly.

Anne was carrying these feelings for many months after her husband passed away. So what did she do to finally resolve whatever was unresolved?

Resolving the unresolved

After several months of turmoil brought about by these feelings, Anne sat down one quiet evening with a hot drink, a pen and a notebook.

She started to make a list of all that she was feeling and trace those feelings back to the initial cause. Then, when she thought she may have found the root cause, she went back a little further and found the real reason. Anne realised that what caused the original frustration wasn’t really all that bad and that she ought not have held onto the silent treatment for so long.

She thought about the driver of the car and realised that no matter how much at fault he may have been, any anger she harbours will only cause herself more suffering.

Anne also thought hard about the resentment she felt towards Michael not giving her a chance to make amends, and that it really wasn’t in his hands to resolve the issue.

She thought about her own guilt and realised that any guilt she felt was just causing her more pain, more suffering.

As the months moved on and the years passed, Anne learnt to let go of the anger, the resentment and the guilt. Along with that, she freed herself from the pain and the sorrow and now lives a calmer life – a life with clarity and purpose.

How to resolve the unresolved

If you are still harboring unresolved issues and feelings following the loss of a loved one, what can you do to resolve them?

1. Get clear on what caused the hurt: Take some time out for yourself and think deeply on the root cause of the feelings that are causing you so much turmoil? Are they truly justified? Can you afford to keep feeling them? What value do those feelings bring to your life, and what might you want to replace them with to increase your level of peace and happiness?

2. Write them a note: Granted, the one you loved may no longer be around, but it may help to write a note addressed to them. You don’t need to post it or show it to anyone, but write out your deepest feelings, the causes, how you feel now and how you want to feel. Write whether you love them. Write whether you forgive them. Write whether you understand. Write what you have learnt about yourself. Write to love more. Write so that you may grow.

3. Be kind to yourself: Most important, care for yourself, so that you may free yourself from suffering. Be kind to yourself so that you can release the shackles that have kept you bound in turmoil. Be kind to yourself so that the ill feelings simply lift away and let you lead a peacefully calm and purposeful life.

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