I intended to write about the trip on here as soon as we got back but the effect of the trip literally rippled on for so long after our return that I never got round to it. I spent the months immediately after that week getting to know a lot of the new friends I’d made a lot better in the real world and was honestly so caught up in the euphoria of it all, there were frankly a lot of things I put on hold. It had sparked off such a positive period in my life at the time, writing about it seemed a lot less important than living it. That said I was eventually able to put some of the experience down in words a year later but again did not get round to posting it because of other things that were happening at the time. So today, with this years trip having been cancelled and my fellow pilgrims currently dealing with life during a global pandemic instead of just retuning from another glorious week in the south of France, I thought it best to share that post and hopefully some of the joy and positivity the whole experience brought.
This was written in April 2019
So, I finally got around to writing this. Almost a year in the making and nearly as long since my last post. I have missed writing and I definitely didn’t forget about all the support you guys give me on a daily basis. But for the first time in a long time… I don’t feel bad for not writing. This is the longest I’ve gone without posting but I think I’m okay with it because of the journey I’ve been on of late.
I’ve already shared the beginnings of this journey with you albeit many months after each phase of said journey. I questioned the nature of living with disability in early 2017 and wrote about it towards the year’s end. I struggled with a lot that year. But with a little help, I summoned the strength to get myself back out into the real world. I got in touch with old friends and hung out with current ones (at the time). My social life began to look more like I’d wanted it to and I thought “Things couldn’t get any better”.
Then through one of ‘said friends’, I got the idea of volunteering, helping out others going through what I did almost a decade ago. The feeling from helping someone else see the light at the end of the tunnel like others helped me post-injury will always give me purpose. Indeed I’d found my calling and I thought “Surely things couldn’t get any better”.
Then one of my new colleagues suggested I go to Lourdes. There were a lot of hurdles in making it happen but thanks to my fellow Therapeutics Care Volunteers, the Middlesbrough Catholic church and some key individuals Lourdes became a reality and I was proven wrong again – Things could indeed get better.
On the 25th of May 2018, I boarded a plane for the first time in a decade, this time bound for France. And so began the most memorable week of my life post-injury. On arrival at our accommodation, the Accueil, a purpose-built accommodation/hotel for supported pilgrims with health care needs. It looked like a regular hospital ward on the inside but with no hospital staff. It was surreal. All the care was provided by fellow pilgrims and church members (officially dubbed ‘brancardiers’ and ‘handmaids’) who’d volunteered their time through the week, supervised by other fellow members who were nurses, doctors, and pharmacists. It took me off guard how regular everyday people with little to no care experience would roll up their sleeves and with a little guidance, completely dedicate themselves to caring for those who couldn’t. Everything from engineers, small business owners and university students to musicians, pensioners and, I’m certain, a couple of millionaires, these people worked harder than some people I know who actually got paid for the same job. Safe to say they earned my respect. There was a strange sense of safety and calm. Everyone was approachable, helpful and delightfully curious. Genuinely taking interest in each other’s lives and forming unbreakable bonds. I met my roommate and partner in crime for the week on entering my room. Soon enough, awkward introductions turned into copious amounts of banter and philosophical discussion. If for no other reason, I was bound to enjoy the week thanks to him. But there was so much more in store.
Over the next week, I would meet and become very fond of a lot of people from very diverse backgrounds. Some would tell me how I reminded them of their children; others would tell me where they wanted to be when they reached my age. Some would enjoy learning to get me up in the morning; others would stay up late at night with me and talk about all sorts. I even had a constructive discussion with a priest about the existence of God; then later shed a tear during mass (Catholic church service). It is absolutely impossible to put everything amazing about this week in words without writing a bible’s worth of blog posts. So instead, I made a little video that I hope captures at least a little snippet of my Lourdes experience.