It is a glorious spring day on the northern coast of England, and I am seated on a bench overlooking the sea, in a village called Robin Hood's Bay. It is an ancient settlement, with remains found that date back 3000 years, and first mentioned by a topographer of Henry the VIII in 1536.
Yesterday I walked to this village from Whitby, where I am staying, this weekend, on the first part of my pilgrimage to visit the places Stan and I loved. Of all of them, the village of Whitby, and this northern coast, were his favourite. He often spoke of retiring here, where he said they had 'proper winters.'
All around me families stroll along the shore, children running happily toward the waves with their plastic shovels and buckets filled with sand. Couples walk hand in hand, deep in conversation or silent in contemplation. Dogs of all sizes frolic along the water, chasing balls and rings thrown by their owners into the sea. The water must be freezing, but no one seems to mind. The English have stripped down to shorts and tank tops and let the waves curl around their bare feet. It is the first real warmth we have had all year. We have been so desperate for the sun.
It has been a gorgeous weekend. I have walked to the places he loved best. I have ambled along the grounds of Whitby Abbey, a monastery that once held a community of Benedictine nuns and monks, set high above the village, at the top of a hill, said to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker's "Dracula's Castle". I have visited the seaside museum, in Robin Hood's Bay, where Stan and I read the exhibits and played the games like little kids. I have visited the independent book store, where he waited patiently outside, while I got lost in there, pouring through the collections of plays and poetry and children's books.
My time here has been peaceful, and solitary, walking for miles along the cliffs that hug the shoreline, and climbing amongst the slippery rocks while the tide was out. I like to think he has been here with me, walking alongside me, sharing my steps. Stan had problems with mobility, so he couldn't walk far, and hiking was not a love I could share with him. But he would try to go as far as he could, then he would find a bench to sit and watch the world, while I walked for an hour or two without him. When I'd return, he'd be sitting, happily, in the same place, observing, listening, being. He was the most patient person I have ever known.
On Saturday, I walked from the trail down to the seaside, and climbed around on some slippery rocks, trying to get closer to the waves. With one unmindful moment, I fell, hard, against them, almost smashing my face, and possibly breaking my thumb. It was an isolated cove, with few other people, and I realised that, had I broken a leg or something, it would be hours, probably, before anyone would find me. And, I thought, what if no one finds me? There was no phone service, there. And no one knew where I was. Eventually, someone in Stan's family might become concerned and send a search party, perhaps a day or two past my planned return. But by then I might have perished.
And, if I do break a leg, or an arm, or a hip, as women my age are prone to do, in a fall, I thought, who would look after me? I am not one to ask for help.
The next day, stepping amongst the rocks at the seaside, I was much more cautious, and afraid to take risks. I can't afford to get hurt. It made me feel the full depth of this being alone.
There are so many things I miss about sharing a life with my beloved husband, but, of all of them, it is the sense of having someone look out for me that I miss most. There is no one to do that, now. I know there are people who care, but it is not the same as having a person. Folks who have lost their spouses will understand. It is the feeling that there is someone who has your back--that there is one person in the world who cares if you are hurt, or sad, or feeling poorly. It is the safety in knowing that your person will be there, when something goes wrong, to help you through it, to ease your suffering. It is the security of knowing that you do not have to traverse this often difficult path of life on your own.
For a few, short years, I had a brief respite, when I was a part of something bigger, when I had someone to share the burden, when I knew that someone had my back. But he is gone, and I am, once again, on my own, forced to rely on my own resources. I have been taking care of myself since I was very young, and today, it makes me feel so tired.
I climb the path to the top of the hill, overlooking the sea, to take the bus back to Whitby. And I remember the day we climbed this hill together. I was so excited to get to the top, so that I could take a photo, to capture the beauty of this place, but the climb was very hard for Stan, and he had to pause, often, to rest his legs. He'd sit on one of the many benches they provide, and ask me to join him, and I would, though I could barely hide my desire to make it to the top. His mobility issues made him able to pause, more often, to move through life more slowly, more mindfully, to see the world around him, to watch, and listen, and be. He didn't have to take photos to capture beauty. He was able to be a part of it, as it happened.