Today is July 27th 2012 and I'm alone in New York City. I was dreading today. It's the first time I've ever been alone on my late sons anniversary but it's been ok. Today I have felt blessed. Texts, calls, emails, tweets etc have poured in all day from very special people. People that know me well and those that don't, but more importantly people that have big hearts and who care.
This got me reflecting on how I have spent other "July 27ths" over the last 11 years and below is a piece I wrote back in 2009 after my boys eighth anniversary. Nothing has ever topped this 'July 27th'!
It's also strange that 2009 anniversary was all about raising money for a bereavement suite and here I now in 2012 raising money for another suite.
So here it is. I hope you enjoy reading it xxx
Boarding our flight to Tokyo in July 2009, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. For over six months I had been planning and organising a sponsored climb of Mount Fuji, Japan‟s highest mountain. Getting a team of 18 out to Japan to trek Fuji to mark the anniversary of my sons birth and death was no easy feat, so finally as we took our seats in preparation for the 13 hour flight, things finally came together.
Once we arrived in Japan, we managed to catch a few hours sleep before setting off for Fuji before nightfall. Climbing gear loaded onto our luxury coach (we had a chandelier and karaoke machine!), 18 buzzing trekkers of various abilities took their seats as we pulled away from the little town of Narita and into the late Japanese afternoon.
As Fuji appeared on the horizon we were able to at last register the enormity of what we had taken on. She loomed above Japan‟s sky line, dominating everything around her. Small snow caps remained as she ascended into the clouds and suddenly we all felt very, very small.
We geared up at the foot just as dusk joined us. We checked our lights, wished each other luck and set off up the climbers path and into the night. Just ahead of us a group of Japanese girls were walking, their little lights twinkling in the moonlight. As they walked they sang a beautiful Japanese lullaby. I wished that my Japanese was better and I could have translated, it was simply magical and suddenly our trek took on a spiritual meaning.
Fuji is 13,000ft and most of the scrambling takes place from 9,000ft onwards so we knew this trek was going to be long and laborious. We also knew that Japan boasted the world‟s most spectacular sunrise, hence why the rising sun appears on their national flag. We had been told that sunrise would occur at approx 4.30am, so we knew that there was no time for rest. At the stroke of midnight it would be July 27th, my sons 8th birthday and I was determined to see sunrise from the top of Fuji.
But the trek was not easy! If anything those first few thousand feet were the toughest. Even the fittest of the group turned a darker shade of purple as we reunited at each station. The drinks and energy snacks were being consumed fast and a few climbers began to doubt if they could even do it. But we ploughed on and before long we had passed 9,000ft and the tough stuff had begun.
Ironically (as I am air-crew), I‟m actually scared of heights. So my little motto was "don‟t look down‟. Thank goodness it was a night climb as I was unable to see the true heights we were scaling. Sometimes the path neared dangerously close to the edge and I would have to
stop, regain my balance, and make mental notes to myself before I could continue.
It soon became apparent how high we were when the rain, sleet and snow began pounding us.
The temperature suddenly dropped to below zero and the wind picked up. Fuji may be beautiful, but she is also cruel to her climbers. I made the mistake of removing my gloves only to find it was near impossible to put them back on again. My fingers began to swell and my once large gloves now looked like baby gloves. It took three people to pull my climbing gloves back on for me.
It was also at this stage that we lost climbers. Two suffered altitude sickness and one an injury. They had taken rest in one of the many wooden huts at the stations manned by rangers, so we were able to carry on in the safe knowledge that they were okay.
I checked my watch just as we were approaching midnight. I couldn‟t believe how quick time was going. Then I remembered how tired I was and how my legs ached!
As Fuji became steeper and the rocks became bigger I actually began to find it getting easier. I was nearing the top and the adrenaline was amazing. I battled against the elements and actually felt stronger than I ever had. I had battled through so much more eight years ago. If I could do that and come through the other side a better and stronger person, then Fuji would not beat me. She would be my friend and we would share a personal bond.
The last 1000ft were terrific. I felt quite sick at times, but never enough to stop. I saw people turning back who simply could not make another step and others crouching and trying to avoid the weather. I became quite scared at several points in the last 500 ft. It just got so steep and felt so dangerous that I needed to summon up every bit of courage I had to go on and tackle the next rock. And then suddenly, as if by magic, there seemed to be nothing else ahead of me. I climbed the last few rocks and it became more than apparent that this was the summit!
What amazed me the most was how much of a little buzzing town up here it was! There was a large rest hut, hot coffee, noodles and dozens of rangers and climbers waiting for the sunrise. I checked my watch, it was 3.59 am. Seven climbers were missing. I willed them to make it for sunrise which would be happening very soon.
Four made it but sadly three didn‟t.
Then at 4.23am the sunrise happened. It was quite unlike anything I had ever seen before. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up Fuji with all her might. It was as if someone had scattered fairy dust all over us. We also felt as high as the sun and the sound of cheers and cries of delight from the other climbers is something that I shall remember for the rest of my life. I have also never felt close to my son. Not even when I am at his grave, have I ever felt as close to him as I did at that moment. I quite literally wanted it to last for ever.Our little team gathered for hugs and pats on the back. We took photos, congratulated each other and set about actually getting down from the mountain! Nothing could have prepared me for how hard this part would be. I did the first few thousand feet with some of the other climbers but then soon found myself on my own for the last four hours. We took a different route down (a much easier one) and it was just splendid and uplifting to see the mountain and its wildlife come to life on a glorious summer morning. I also clearly remember the pain too. The arches of my feet were on fire and I couldn't feel my lower back. I also looked like I had been to war. As I neared the bottom and crossed paths with climbers setting off for a daytime climb I drew some very strange glances.The base camp at Fuji was alive and busy as I neared it. I spotted some of our climbers slumped on a grassy bank devouring oranges and fresh water. I don't think we even spoke. Just slumped together and unloaded our climbing gear.
After three more hours the team had reunited and we boarded our coach to head home. Alas the karaoke machine was never used.
After a hot bath, I crawled into my bed and fell asleep within minutes...I didn‟t even make dinner that night, but chose to go back to sleep. But I soon made up for that over the next few days.
As any bereaved parent will tell you, you never, ever forget and marking special days is just as important as celebrating other anniversaries with our living relatives.
The money we raised paid for a bereavement suite to be opened in the same hospital where Micky had died.
So a huge thank you to everyone that sponsored us and to those that put up with me in the run up to the climb. Not to mention the brave climbers who managed to keep smiling and even clap after they had heard me sing (very badly) at karaoke, River Deep Mountain High in a Tokyo bar!
"Won't you look down upon me Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
And I won't make it any other way
Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again
Been walking my mind to an easy time my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it'll turn your head around
Well, there's hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground"........................