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Author: Ali MacDougall

She was shrivelling like a rose without water after he died. Washing, eating and sleeping were things she had done then. When he was here. Not now. Raggle-headed she wandered to the wood with their dog, whose ears went down when she screamed and wept, he stayed close, the spring in his step gone.

All suggestions fell flat. Medication made things worse. Therapists seemed to say the wrong things. The health service had nothing else to offer the endlessness of her grief. Friends fell away, no canoe trips or dips in the river at Abbey St Bathans this year. Just nothing. The bright little dog wanted walks and she dutifully met his needs, in the woods or at the beach.

One day they swam together, his little legs paddling hard to keep up with her as they struck out through the waves near the harbour. She felt different in the sea. The salty coldness blocked out her grief and she felt a wholeness as every body system adapted to the new environment. She felt waves, tides and seaweed enfold her and carry her along. She went again. The tide was out and she had to go beyond the harbour to swim. Toppers were heading to Craigleith, their sails flapping wildly. A couple told her she was bonkers from the harbour wall. She felt alive and kept powering through.

Swimming days were better. She realised there were little chunks of time that hadn’t been occupied with thoughts of him, how he died, why he died, what she could have done differently. Swimming days required a good breakfast. Hot chocolate. A nice warm shower.

A friend joined her, full of trepidation and fear of the cold. Together they shivered on the beach, her friend watching in awe as she strode off, waded in and went under with a primal scream. 'Come on!' she yelled.

Her friend gingerly paddled in. It was beyond shocking. She wanted to turn and run to the car but the face peeking out from between the waves and a woolly hat and the voice commanding 'One, two three,' urged her in and under. Extremes of cold and exhilaration hit her. It was fabulous. Three strokes and out. To the towel, her coat, the car, home, skin red and mind glowing.

6 months since that day. Both women have bloomed. The shrivelled rose has flowered again, her batteries recharged with wave power, she is coping with her loss and enjoying her own company. The tired friend has grown new shoots, feels rejuvenated and energised, is loving her new relationship with the sea and the surf forecast.

The now almost daily trips to the harbour, the catch up on the details of each other’s lives, the half hour swim. The discovery one day, half way across the bay that fifty years ago their mothers at opposite ends of the planet, had prepared grapefruit in exactly the same way made them laugh all the way to the other side. The restorative flask of cocoa. The repetition of an experience which is never the same twice.

It’s food for the soul. It makes us bloom.

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