A friend of mine suddenly passed away several weeks ago. Her name is Caroline Ashby and a year or so ago, she moved away from the East Midlands (of England) where we met, to the Sussex shores of Brighton so that her daughter, on the autistic spectrum, could attend a college there. The day before her celebration service, I had driven down to Brighton and some time around bedtime, found myself walking alongside the pebbled beach in almost pitch blackness. Hearing the sea, I was drawn off solid land to sit in the dark with my heart, and so I wrote this poem…
On Brighton Beach, at Black of Night
I’m sitting here with the sea.
Listening to her thrash and relentlessly beat the beach.
Close to you, my reason for being here on this Brighton shore;
yet only able to touch you in my memory.
Here on the pebbled beach in the dark,
I have only my lilting grief for company.
Even the slicing ocean wind won’t carry my cares away.
Yet I shan’t fight the melancholy or seek to blot it out,
for I know it has its time and purpose.
But then, like the sea, the question hurls itself at me… Why you, why now?
I hadn’t let these thoughts haunt me till this moment.
Had instead simply surrendered to the shock…
My inner voice murmurs to us – if anyone had a huge ‘why’, a reason to breathe –
it was you my love, it was you; since all your roads led to Brighton
and Brighton had blossomed into a magnitude of precious possibilities.
But on this darkest of nights, your breath is now the wind grazing my face and pushing me sideways.
So… I can be blown out to sea by that voice, or else I can breathe with the rhythm of the wind… This then, is what I choose:
I can only know that this was YOUR time – whatever its length,
and feel blessed by sharing some of it with you.
And I promise I shall always keep and caress the gorgeous gift and genuine joy of knowing you.
You’ve created a huge legacy of love, in your daughter
and your mission to see the autistic spectrum as a prism of light with endless colourfully sparkling possibilities, rather than to box it up into monochrome black and white…
Here on the beach I’m suddenly sprinkled with rain.
It’s a benediction of new perspective and shifting stones as I heave myself upright again.
As my heart is now lighter, the wind can blow me back – from stumbling darkness, onto shining, solid land.
~ Sandra Peachey
Caroline was a true advocate for Autism, which was in every way, her life’s work. Her family have therefore set up online links to various charities in support of her memory, including
Research Autism: www.justgiving.com/CarolineAshbyResearchAutism,
as well as Cancer Research UK (she had a brain tumour) and Humanists UK (she had a beautiful Humanist Celebration Service). It would be amazing if you could make a donation. Thank you…