This is a guest blog for World Kidney Day from Pete Dreyer, the son of the much loved and missed Lindsay Upton.
I’ve always been someone who lives in the moment, or at least in the near future. I suppose I conform to a stereotype that’s often levelled at my peers in that sense – the instant gratification generation – I’m happy to cross bridges when I get to them, and happy to run from problems until they catch up to me.
When Cristina asked if I’d like to write a blog for GMKIN, I said yes without hesitation. It wasn’t even a question in my mind, of course I would! GMKIN gave so much to my mum and I, and I do – despite moonlighting as a full-time culinary school student – still write for a living. Although today is World Kidney Day, this blog isn’t really about kidneys at all. My Mum, Lindsay – Lindsay24 on the site – came to you as a kidney patient, but her involvement with GMKIN was so much more than that, and that’s what I’d like to talk about today.
Over the last two months I’ve started this blog at least dozen times, and each one has finished in a digital trash can. I’ve spent more time than I ever expected pondering over where to begin and where to end, and more recently, whether those two things even exist as part of this story. As it turns out, writing about Mum is as difficult as losing her in some ways – it’s another bridge that you just don’t know how to cross until you get there.
I think most of us have a moment in our adolescence when we recognise our parents as human beings with their own desires, fears, regrets… rather than automatons who buy us stuff when we cry and patch us up when we fall over. I was about 16 when I had that moment with Mum.
My Mum had been an outstanding athlete before I was born. She regularly played (and beat) blokes at her local squash club, and in today’s world, she would undoubtedly have made the cut as a professional footballer or netball player – she represented her country at the latter. But the Mum I knew was frail, not the scourge of Croydon’s squash clubs. I knew she had been ill when I was very young – too ill to have custody of me – and that she never seemed to eat much, certainly not anything resembling a full meal. I remember, specifically, the moment when all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place in my head and ‘ping’ – the light-bulb came on.
It wasn’t long after that that we talked about her eating disorders for the first time. It’s only in recalling that moment that I realise how incredibly brave she was to let me in – she suffered with eating disorders and depression for most of her adult life, and even then, she was already an expert at pretending things were fine when they weren’t. Her bravery was the start of a long process where I grew to know her better than I ever would have done if I had just been her son – we were close friends first and foremost, and we confided everything in each other.
But like many close friends, we fell out a lot. In my youthful ignorance, there were times when I blamed her for not being there, or not being the person I wanted her to be. At her funeral, I read a poem that used to be on the wall at my Gran’s house, called Footprints in the Sand. I always liked it, but it seemed to take on new meaning after Mum’s passing. It goes like this:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord, across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand – one belonging to me, and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed you the most, you would leave me.
And The Lord whispered, “My child, I love you and would never leave you during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Even when I was too blind to see it, Mum was always there to guide me and carry me through. I know she never saw it that way, she always thought she wasn’t enough – a very normal symptom of her illness. I obviously wish she hadn’t suffered through illness, or struggled with her demons, but I’m not ashamed of her for those things – in fact, I couldn’t be more proud of her. She woke up almost every day to stormy skies and distant hope, and yet she gave everything of herself for the people she loved. And long after her passing, she continues to shine down on the world, bringing light to the shadows and giving us a new perspective on life
And yet, for significant stretches, Mum walked her path alone. That’s not to say she didn’t have people around her who wanted to help her, but… I suppose what I’m getting at is that, no matter how much you might love and want to help someone, sometimes, you just can’t. Empathy is so crucial for people dealing with significant demons in their lives. I understood the facts of what she was dealing with – I could answer an exam question on anorexia, or bulimia, and I knew how uncomfortable she found dialysis, and how she worried about it – but I couldn’t actually understand what she was going through every day. I couldn’t put myself in her shoes. It was only after she passed away that I recognised so much of her in myself, and found a way to see the world through her eyes.
But in GMKIN, Mum found a community that could understand some of what she was going through. I know it took her a little bit of time and a lot of courage to to reach out to you all and reveal herself, but when she did, you accepted her without judgement. My generation is often criticised for not placing enough importance in the real world, for living our lives behind a screen, but in this case, the screen is so important. That separation between the real world and the digital world is a safety net for those who find it hard to believe that others will accept them, and even harder to accept themselves. GMKIN let her confront that on her own terms – she could share what she wanted, when she wanted, and that allowed her to gradually feel comfortable with all of you and ultimately, with herself. It’s the difference between being forced to sit in a room and talk to someone about your demons, and being given an iPad and told you can write anything, anytime and people will be there to hear you. It doesn’t take a whole lot of empathy to see which one of those is preferable.
Mum was very proud to be part of this community, and so grateful to have people that knew who she really was and accepted her with open arms. I want to thank you all for the contribution you made to Lindsay’s life – you all had a lasting, positive effect on her, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. Even in writing this, I can imagine how she must have felt when she published her first post on GMKIN – this is nothing compared to that, but sharing personal stories is nerve-wracking at the best of times! I think the legacy she would want to leave is to say that, whatever your personal struggle is, whether it is depression, or CKD, or anxiety, or eating disorders, or anything else – there are people out there who can empathise and understand what you’re going through. If you feel isolated and alone, and you think you have to suffer in silence because no-one else gets it – that’s a symptom of your disease, not a truth. If she had the courage and strength to share her story, then I can follow her lead, and so can you.
You can read Lindsay’s first blog via this link, Coming Out