MARCH 2013 – Newsletter #7

Sometimes it is hard to know what to write at certain times in our lives. You see as I sit staring at the page nothing seems right in either order or content. Indeed, it feels as if the very meaning of the words are lost in their truest sense. But I know it is just me, really, sitting here staring at this page wondering what to say, or whether to even write at all.

As I was thinking these thoughts I remembered the messages and emails, letters and personal contacts, coming from all over the world. As they arrived Cathy and I had read them across both time and distance. It was this memory that finally made the decision to write what you are now reading.

In the writing I also know and remember how Cathy so loved hearing from people who understood and appreciated why we wrote our story in the first place. To understand our reasons you really have to live – more than anywhere else – in a place of marginalised people. For it is true that many people’s daily lives and stories are often discounted. It is what happens in the face of the prevailing stereotypes of what people think of as being ‘blindness’; when a person’s very ‘worth’ is measured, weighed, and found wanting by the inclusion of the term blindness itself.

With that fact in mind our eventual book evolved into part autobiographical travelogue, part education, and part motorcycling story. Much as with any form of disability there were barriers to overcome in the writing and these barriers still exist to this day. Being extremely pervasive, they will probably always be there. However, we knew and accepted this fact at the outset as to do anything else would have been naive. Now while we both may have been many things in our lives, neither of us were that. Thus we knew it would be hard to be heard simply because of Cathy’s blindness and we also knew how, inevitably, the blindness would stop some people from even considering her story. After all, what could a blind woman possibly contribute to our understanding of the world and its peoples?

That background being said, in many ways the real beginning of this newsletter sits within the book eventually published; ‘Touching the World: A Blind woman, Two Wheels and 25,000 Miles’. The title words to us summed up not only Cathy’s experiences but also so many people’s reactions when they met us. For truly did Cathy’s enthusiasm and optimism touch many of the people we came across in our travelling of the world on our old bike.

It was also on those pages of our story where the seeds of these words were actually planted in the epilogue, although we didn’t know this at the time. For it was within that section, at that time, where I talked of Cathy’s diagnosis with cancer within weeks of our return to the UK. When that diagnosis descended upon us, we fell from the heights of exhilaration to the depths of despondency in one fell swoop.

Sadly through the subsequent three and a half years, with all it’s twists and turns, the illness proved to be insurmountable. Despite an iron resolve and a determination that would put many of us to shame, Cathy could not overcome this illness. So it was that my Cathy died in Warrington on 31st January 2013.

Sadly it was an ending we had known about for some time although we never broadcast nor openly discussed it. This was true even when we did the occasional appearance around ‘the book’ or ‘the trip’. Much like many people caught up in a terminal illness, the concentric circles of information started with immediate family members before spreading outwards, much like ripples in a pond. It is also true that we never sought to hide Cathy’s condition but then neither did we talk about it. It became very much an ‘as and when’ situation.

Often the telling of the news revolved around having to refuse personal appearances, book signings, requests for articles, or interviews and all such like. With the mainstream media we met nothing but understanding and kindness while turning down requests to even film our wedding; arranged by friends and family in a most beautiful day and coinciding with the end of Cathy’s daily radiotherapy.

These polite but firm refusals were initially met with puzzlement as it is generally true we live in a world where people chase their own sense of self importance. The puzzlement would last until we adopted the ‘as and when’ procedure; the telling of Cathy’s status. Then they would understand. After all, some things are just too personal to share in this way and our marriage was one such event given our circumstances.

Throughout all of this period we were totally and resolutely supported by our publisher as we turned away from publicity in the face of what was happening to us. For that we both could only ever thank him.

Cathy’s projected timescales also triggered the publication date of ‘Touching the World’ being brought forward. This occurred as we all wanted the concrete proof of the achievement to be placed in her hands while it was still possible. When that day came, as it did, then she knew that one part of our long journey together was complete. Happily, she also had a final chance to revisit it all over again when the audio book was released.

It was also around this very time that a person commented about the way we were counting our married days together; how it ‘must be love’. As I said at the time, and subsequently at the Memoriam Service held on the 13th February 2013;

“Imagine somewhere deep inside you where another universe exists. It is a place so far beyond your own understanding or comprehension that you can only stare at it wonder. In that place Cathy is my sun and moon, she is my sky and stars, she is the very air I breathed.” 

As you may understand, I miss her within that place where Cathy and I existed with, and for, each other. She was me and I was her. She was much loved and she could feel it within our everyday lives. We both did. It was the way it was with us.

Sometimes in my darkest hours I try to remember how lucky I have been. You see in our time together we did so much. Not only did we laugh hard and love truly, but we cherished each other.

This feeling evolved from within our past lives where we were both forged by loss. Some of will know, and perhaps understand, how these forces inevitably shape you in profound ways; making you into something, and somebody, else. If you are lucky you will emerge from such times appreciating each day, each person, and each experience. Therefore, we both knew the value of each and every day along with what we had together.

I was also lucky in another way.

You see, eventually, we had 189 days to say goodbye. It sounds so long looking at the number of days but it was not. Nor could it ever have been long enough. This is the way it is, the way it feels in the profound sadness of our parting. Within each of those 189 precious days not one occurred where the smell of fresh flowers did not fill the air in our home.

For you see, my Cathy loved flowers.
As I did her.
My life. My love. My heart.
Hasta luego.

Bernard Smith

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Jane in the forest - Go Ape

Jane in the forest – Go Ape

Nepal river rafting.

Nepal river rafting.


Cathy Birchall (Smith)


Ireland – my sister’s wedding.


The Athenian Hovel where everything was banned.


Chile and meeting a distant relation of Biscuit.



Smiling as always


The Flowers of Peru


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4 Responses to MARCH 2013 – Newsletter #7

  1. Stephen Hawkins June 26, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Dear Bernard,
    So sorry to hear the sad news about Cathy. “Touching the World” was a real inspiration for people who use our services.
    With best wishes and sincere condolences,
    Stephen Hawkins
    Chief Officer
    Sutton Vision (formerly Sutton Association for the Blind)

    • Bernard February 25, 2015 at 10:03 am #

      Hello Stephen – as you may guess I’ve been out of the lopp over recent times but have now started to surface again. Thank you for your kind comments about Cathy.

      She was, and still remains, my girl.

      Best wishes.


  2. Sara Meyer November 10, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Dear Sir, I just completed reading yours and Cathys book and sat astonished at the brave adventure and beautiful writing. I looked up your website just to see what you are doing now. When I came across this newsletter I was saddened by Cathys death and your struggles with it. With that said there is joy in the experience you had together that no one else on this planet will ever match. Extraordinary. Thank you both.
    Sara Meyer, Minnesota USA

    • Bernard February 25, 2015 at 9:57 am #

      Thank you so much Sara for your thoughts. Apologies for not responding sooner but I have been travelling and I also somehow missed this comment. Thank you so much. Best wishes. Bernard.

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