We have been here so often with you in the past, in all weathers and seasons. Today the Atlantic rollers are at peace. They glide across the familiar golden sand, sparkling in the early autumn sunshine. A welcoming glow spreads across me; the warmth is soothing and I breathe deeply, enjoying the salty freshness. Above, seagulls fly freely in a cloudless sky. In the past their shrill call has sometimes jarred, but now it blends into a soulful, if not haunting melody.
Kilmory Beach frames the entrance to Loch Sween, where you spent hours diligently searching the shores for sea creatures. The gulf stream provided a rich selection of crabs that scuttled around your feet, tiny fish, sea slugs and many other species you’d put into your yellow bucket to study. Fascinated, you scrutinised each one, but always insisted on putting the precious finds back in their home afterwards . . . then telling us you wanted to be a marine biologist when you grew up.
I think of you and your sister, Jo, picking up shells, laughing and chasing each other along the sand, whilst Dad and I watched proudly over the two wonderful children we had brought into the world. Back then, it seemed that life and joy would last forever.
In the distance the Paps of Jura tower over the watery gap, while around us, sheep munch on the boggy grassland and cast glassy stares at us before continuing. They are unperturbed by our presence. It seems we are the only humans in existence. Has this timeless landscape been created exclusively for us – a place where we can all still be together?
Walking down the muddy slope towards the beach the breeze blows gently across my face, and I’m aware I feel freer than I have for weeks. Dad struggles to open and close the rusty latch on the farm gate and Jo says, ‘It’s important to follow the country code.’ Despite our heavy hearts we smile at each other. ‘Well,’ he says. ‘I suppose we could just jump over it and land in the dirt.’ Jo screws up her impish nose, taking a small step back and giving him a cheeky grin.
As we reach the shore we can hear the tall grasses rustling in the surrounding dunes. A peaty burn trickles onto the beach and into the sea. We jump across it whilst oystercatchers hoping to find shellfish peck furiously in the pungent seaweed. Large pieces of gnarled driftwood scatter the area, washed up remnants from when the Atlantic had been angrier, and Dad and I settle on one just above the tideline. Jo prefers to sit in the sand, scooping up handfuls of the pearly grains and allowing them to flow through her fingers.
All three of us are deep in thought, but as I watch Jo biting her lip, a lump rises in my throat. Her dream had brought her here on that midsummer dawn only six weeks ago when after two years of battle, the tumours in your spine triumphed and took their final evil toll. You had only been a teenager for six weeks.
I know how much she misses you, her big brother who was so proud to have a little sister and who always looked out for her. When you got sick she looked after you. The two of you were inseparable for the nine special years you had together.
After a while I get up, and removing my walking boots, splash along the water’s edge. It is cold but invigorating. I find a razor shell resting in the shallows and kneel down on the tide-washed sand, using it to write a message. To Nick with love, then I carve out a heart, adding four crosses – a kiss for each of us, the family I cherish.
I know the message will soon be washed away, but we will return year after year to Kilmory, to this special place where Dad, Jo and I find solace; a freedom to dwell on our memories of your short life, a peace from the grinding pain of grief. I will be able to write to you again and again in the sand.
Returning to sit with Dad, Jo joins us on the piece of driftwood. Her chin quivers slightly, and I pull her closer to me. Dad moves nearer, putting his arm around both of us, and together we watch the tiny wavelets move to the rhythms of the earth, ebbing and flowing, backwards and forwards. They swish towards us over tiny pebbles on the shoreline, then, on returning to the sea, leave behind lacy trails – proof of their existence.
Reluctantly I need to accept life can never be the same, but the reliable constancy reassures me. I compare it to when humans have lived the life fate planned for them, then return to where they came from: when you returned, you not only left behind cherished memories, but a precious legacy for us to hold onto, and now I am certain that you will always be with us, in your own unique way.
As the sunlight dances on the sand, the tide slowly draws nearer. It seems to whisper to me, and my heart bursts with sweet agony – pure, motherly love, and immense gratitude that you were given to us, even if for such a short time.
Lead Image: A Quiet Day on Kilmory Beach by Gordon Doughty