I do not remember exactly when we turned off Donald’s life support.
In the days, weeks and months that followed his death, time took on a different dimension. It seemed to matter little then, although I suspect it was nearing midnight, on Sunday 27th February 2000.
That ten years have passed seems unbelievable, that the pain has never truly diminished, does not.
Donald was our 21 year old son with the world at his feet! He had just passed his international ski instructor’s exams and decided to celebrate, by kayaking a Grade 5 Scottish river in full winter spate. How he capsized remains a mystery, but when he was swept into a massive whirlpool, a safety rope thrown by his friend, failed to come close to his grasp across the ferocious, thunderous cavern.
Many hours later in intensive care, with no brain activity present, the awful decision to remove Donald from all clinical support was made.
My Father always told me that being pre-deceased by a child was akin to a living death. That was his way of telling us country children, to take care around farm machinery, or up in the mountains, or fishing alone at night on the river.
Yet what he could not know - how could anyone - was the total heartbreak and utter emotional devastation which would be experienced with such loss.
It was only then, that I began to truly understand how anyone could die of a broken heart! The grief and pain were as physically palpable as was the sense of total abject hopelessness.
Then three years ago, like a bolt out of the blue, I received a call from friends in Midhurst, East Sussex, informing me of the tragic news, that Clare Milford Haven’s 21 year old son James, had committed suicide.
I knew Clare through the Cowdray polo circles and was absolutely shocked. It was not until a year later when I read Clare’s courageous article in the Times could I gain any understanding of what had happened.
Suddenly I realized that I’d embraced Donald’s death over the years in a manner in which I’d granted myself special permission to suggest my grief was more valid, or deeper than others.
It’s not that it was intended. It’s what unconsciously evolved. At it’s most basic I suppose it is what is referred to rather glibly these days as a coping mechanism. For me, it was simply survival.
So, when I read Clare’s harrowing account of the events surrounding James’s suicide, it lent some acute perspective to my situation.
Months after Donald’s death, his ashes were scattered on Schiehallionin, in northern Perthshire, without my knowledge. That it was the wrong mountain, made it somehow even more tragic. But, that’s another story!
That Donald died undertaking what he so enjoyed, does not lessen the pain, not at all.
If however it serves to underline how precious, and tenuous life truly is, then these words will have not been written in vain!