Is It Possible To Grieve for Water?

Six weeks ago today I lost my water.

My solace, my comfort, my relief from everyday life. Somewhere I’ve cried, screamed, grinned and howled with laughter in. I’ve forged friendships I never thought I’d have in it. A place of celebration as well as a place to reflect and sometimes dwell. Long swims, short swims, warm swims, icey swims, skinny dips and wetsuit clad whooshes.

Of course it was never “my” water, but a shared space used by, and important, to so many. It wasn’t just me who lost the water but a whole town.

For anyone reading this who doesn’t know me in person I live in Whaley Bridge. That little Derbyshire town that topped national headlines for a week in August 2019. The place the dam partially collapsed after heavy rain and left my water, not as a beautiful place of escape, but as a threat to lives, homes, businesses and the very existence of the place that I love so much.

My water was Toddbrook Reservoir.

That dam wall was my daily walk to school with my boys. Some days blowing a hooley, others shrouded in mist, sometimes blinded by glorious sunshine reflected off the water.

My newly found paddle boarding spot. The activity that enabled me to introduce my family to the water I loved too.

It’s been an odd and surreal few weeks.

The initial week will go down as the most surreal I’ve experienced in my life so far. Watching my village on headline news, listening to sirens and the unmistakable double thwack of the Chinook helicopter desperately trying to plug the hole. I could get out of the village and my home was safe, I wasn’t in any imminent danger or inconvenience.

I felt lost, unable to help in any significant way other than to walk down with water and the occasional batch of cake or bacon sarnies to the rescue crews. The place I would usually go to for comfort now out of bounds, my water slowly being pumped away by heavy equipment and men in hi-vis jackets.

Yet I felt proud. So proud that I lived in a place that pulled together and worked so hard to feed and water those amazing emergency response teams, where houses were offered to those evacuated, where we all really did look after each other. None of it was forced or asked for or done with arms twisted round backs. The immense community spirit that was talked about on the news wasn’t for effect it was one of the few things the media did actually get right that week 😉 It reinforced one of the many reasons I love it here.

I cried that week. More than I felt I should. The thought of the water, previous swims, future plans, messages from friends just a few of the triggers that set me off.

I felt guilty that I was so upset about a bit of water. Guilty that I, safe up on my hill, was upset when others had been evacuated and could potentially lose their homes and livelihoods. Guilty that something I adore so much could now be such a threat to so many.

Six days after the dam broke I saw the show SWIM for the second time. A show about grief and open water swimming created by a local swimmer and friend.

I’d never really thought a great deal about grief before and I’d certainly never considered it as something that could relate to the loss of a place or a thing. In my head it was an emotion linked to the loss of a person. The death of a fellow human being you were close to.

But SWIM talked about real life scenarios that happen during grief. Feeling fine and happy in the moment then suddenly, out of the blue, remembering what’s been lost and drifting away, glazing over, distancing yourself. The anger that others around you don’t feel the same. That they don’t understand. How can they be going about their business normally when this huge thing has happened? How do they not feel it too? The sudden, unexpected tears that appear when you’re not even thinking about what’s been lost.

That was how I felt. That had been my previous six days. I was grieving. I still am to some extent.

It sounds like I’m belittling grief. That’s not my intention. The loss of a close loved one is intense and deserves all the attention and love you can give it, but grief doesn’t just relate to the loss of a loved one. It turns out you can grieve over the loss of anything that’s important to you. The feelings and emotions are the same. They might just vary in their intensity and longevity. And they certainly vary by person.

So, am I grieving for the water?

I don’t know. Maybe.

Perhaps it’s more the memories, the might have beens, the plans, the opportunities. I suppose they’re similar to the loss of a person. It’s the memories you have of that person that you miss. Those moments when you’d have turned to them for advice or conversation or comfort and they’re not there anymore. It’s those that cause the pain and upset.

But for me the contact too. To me, that hug of a loved one isn’t dissimilar to the cool hug I feel from that water and those surroundings. I felt so comfortable in that place that, for me, it really was like a hug from Mother Nature. Not something everyone wants or can relate to but something that’s important to me.

So, what’s happening now?

The dam will, at some point be fixed. The reservoir will return. They’ve promised!

There’s still a little pool of water left hosting the remaining fish that haven’t yet been re-homed. There’s construction equipment and floating pontoons, new roadways and bridges where once there was water and trees.

My walk to school has re-located to the park below the dam wall. A daily reminder of what’s happened as I walk past the wall so expertly filled by those Chinook pilots with bags of aggregate. The football field we walked across now a construction compound.

The Short One and I have other places to swim. Not new places. Places we’d used before but now we need to use more frequently. Only a few minutes further away but they still don’t feel like “our” water yet.

Other than that life has returned to normal. The village is bustling again, the kids are back at school.

Still though, every so often I have moments. A lump in my throat as I walk past the dam wall. A sick feeling when I drive past and see mud where once there was water. Those times when I would have just nipped down the hill to my favourite place to clear my head cut short when I remember it’s no longer there. The people asking how I’m coping without the reservoir. Sometimes there are still tears.

I still feel guilty for the tears. I don’t feel like I deserve them. I haven’t been through trauma. I know they’ll pass in time. I try not to inflict them on others (though I realise I’m kind of doing that here). I don’t expect others to understand or empathise with them. This is my own weird odd grief. I’ll get over it in time. I certainly never thought I’d be grieving for water though!

In my search for what this whole thing was I had a nosey at these websites. They mostly relate to the loss of a loved one but if you’re feeling similar, for whatever reason, they might be worth a look.

6 Replies to “Is It Possible To Grieve for Water?”

  1. Thank you for such an emotive article. Grief is unpredictable, and I understand your unsettling feelings when something so familiar has been traumatised.


  2. Lovely piece. I’ve only just started wild swimming this year, since the summer! I’m still swimming at the mo but I’m aware that could stop at any time if the weather changes and I know I will then there will be grief as the swimming is giving me so much! X


    1. Hi Teresa, Just keep going through winter. Sounds more bonkers than it is. I wrote a lot about swimming in winter throughout December last year. If you go back through the archive you might find some useful tit bits 🙂 Good luck xx


      1. Aw, thanks, I have been looking through some of your winter articles, they make for encouraging reading but I’m not making any promises!! However, I do have the advantage of being in West Cornwall, sea swimming ( or dipping as I like to call it) which I know is a darned sight warmer than up your way!! 😂 Xx


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