During the first lockdown, once restrictions were eased to allow small gatherings outside, a friend called to invite me for a walk around Regents Park.
It sounded so refined, so Jane Austenish; taking a stroll after lunch in beautiful grounds.
My friend had recently suffered a terrible tragedy and she knew I had suffered several major losses in a short period, not long before.
So, our first walk was bittersweet. It was lovely to be out, finally. The park was in bloom. It was a pleasure to be able to meet someone outside our respective ‘bubbles’. But much of our conversation, that first walk, was about grief and loss. Sadness nipped at our ankles as we wandered among the rose gardens, avoided the ducklings around the lake and stepped up close to the tulips to see if we could detect any fragrance.
That’s not to say we were miserable during the couple of hours or so we walked and talked. There was actually something uplifting about speaking so openly about our sad experiences and feelings. Being out in the open allowed us a depth of reflection too that we might not have achieved if we had met for coffee or dinner in a restaurant. There was no food to distract us, no fear of being overheard by diners nearby, no need to keep our faces neutral to tell the waitress ‘it’s lovely, thank you’ every time she came over to ask.
The fresh air was a balm after weeks of being cooped up at home. The surroundings were a delight to the eye. The exercise from walking was effortless and enjoyable. I fully understand why ‘walking therapies’ are growing in popularity.
Every so often I stopped to take photos for social media (my friend, wisely, doesn’t bother with such cesspits as Twitter and Facebook.
After the walk we both, almost simultaneously, sent each other a WhatsApp message : “That was so lovely, we must do it again.”
And we have.
Every few weeks we now book a couple of hours out and go for our stroll around the park. We still talk about grief and loss because as grief and loss author Dave Kessler puts it “When people ask me ‘ how long should I grieve, I say ‘how long will they be dead?’”
But we talk about many other things too. We laugh about fun things, moan about work, despair at the state of the world, share small wisdoms and exercise tips, recommend films, restaurants, theatre shows and books – the usual shebang.
Our friendship has deepened because sharing grief strips you of pretences and masks.
My Regents Park walks have been one of the highlights of an unusual year.
I’m sure we’ll continue them post lockdown too.
My 5 tips would be:
- Pick a pretty place to walk, if you can. Fresh air is great but nature’s beauty is so uplifting
2. Make it as regular an event as you can.
3. Put it in the diary as a ‘must do’. It’s time for yourself and it’s an essential wellbeing practice not an ‘indulgence’
4. If you can, keep the group small; ideally just you and a friend, maybe two at most. Too large a group and it becomes chit chat, not really talking.
5. Let your mind and thoughts wander to subjects that come up. The more relaxed you feel, the more you’ll open up.