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Changing Gear: A bike ride from Britain to Bulgaria. Coping with bereavement with positive change

Article by Eileen Sutherland

We all cope with bereavement and grief in different ways- Eileen shares her journey following the death of her son.

In July 2006 when I was 54 my husband and I cycled from Britain to Bulgaria. I was unfit, overweight and had a dodgy knee. He was fit, an experienced cyclist and very strong. So naturally when it came to allocating panniers, tents, bike boxes and thermarests I voted that he carry them. He (Allan) manfully took the brunt of the weight but due to lack of space I did have to carry some stuff. As a result there was a lot of shouting and crying from me as we cycled across Holland and Germany. But by the time we reached Austria I was taking things in my stride. My Lycra cycling shorts were starting to ‘bag’ around my bum and tum and I was able to eat and drink anything I liked without putting on weight. It seems that cycling 40 miles a day on a regular basis solves the slimming problem!

‘After 9 miles we stopped to eat in a little cafe in Vrouwenakker. What a meal: wonderful goat’s cheese sandwiches, fabulous coffee and a creamy dish of home made yoghurt with the vanilla pod still in.

‘Hey, I’ve just realised I’ve cycled nine miles before breakfast,’ I said.

‘I was wondering when you’d realise. It wasn’t too bad was it?’

‘No, really good. My only worry, if this keeps up is that I might start behaving like your family, y’know, saying things like,’let’s get some miles under our belts and work up an appetite.’

‘You could do worse,’ said Al.

Allan’s family was much more sporty than mine. They were used to going for long walks/hikes/bike rides before stopping to eat. My family were inclined to cut out the activity and go straight to the food!’

We needed to live differently

Of the 7 countries we cycled through Serbia was my favourite. It was in Serbia that I found cycling to be a mediative activity and one that brought me on occasions, closer to God/Source/Spirit – whatever you like to call it. And I needed to find that feeling. The reason we’d decided to undertake the journey was because our middle child Matt, aged 26 had died while on holiday in 2003. We’d tried for 3 years to continue to live as normal but found we couldn’t. We needed to live differently.

During the bike ride I wrote a diary, noting down distances cycled, names of towns, my state of mind etc. When I got back home I wanted to write a book that expressed how I felt and one that would honour Matt. After Matt’s death Allan and I attended sessions run by The Compassionate Friends (TCF) an organisation for parents who had lost a child. At TCF meetings there was a library of books, some written by other parents. I’d found them helpful and hoped if I wrote something it would benefit others in the same position.

The bike ride was a catalyst for change

However I wouldn’t want you to think my book is all doom and gloom. Matt would have hated that. There are some fun bits too. The bike ride was a catalyst for change and although I’d much rather have my boy back, I’m trying to embrace the future.

You can find Changing Gear at : http://tinyurl.com/co5b6ee

I blog at: www.sixtyonabike.wordpress.com/

And our website is: www.hotnitsa.com


If anyone would like more information about TCF, bike riding in middle age, strawbale building, writing etc please contact me on eileensutherland2003@yahoo.co.uk I’ll be delighted to hear from you.




Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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