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.

I don’t miss you, mum

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

Dear mum,

Today marks six years since we were last together,
Yet it seems we have not been apart.

You may not be here with us in person,
Yet you live through each and every part of me.

There are days I find myself drunk in the darkness,
Yet I remember your laughter in both ups and downs.

At times I feel stuck and struggle to breathe,
Yet your calm and patience is now setting me free.

No problem too big and no matter too small,
Always eager to listen and be present at all times.

It may be six long years since you were last with us,
But your light continues to shine bright within me.

I don’t miss you, mum. Your virtues live on.

Your son,
Suraj