By Sue Lupton

On July 12, 1982, a mini-van traveling on Forest Road near Newport left the road and overturned in a ditch. The 17-year-old learner driver, Catherine Lucas, escaped with cuts but her mother, the passenger, died instantly.

Twenty-three years on, Catherine has written an extraordinary and moving book, Carry Me Home, that starts with her mother’s funeral and describes her long battle to overcome the tragedy and find happiness.

For many years she buried her grief and guilt, apparently happy and successful, but inwardly tormented. She was a student at Carisbrooke High School at the time. Her family were well known on the Island. Her father, Cyril, had been county council chairman, and ran an oyster fishery at Newtown, while her mother was involved with the IW Pony Club. The family lived at Dodpits House, near Yarmouth.

Catherine’s mother, Sheelagh, or “Tate” as Catherine called her, was giving her a driving lesson on the way home from school when the accident happened. Afterwards, Catherine still had to drive past the spot frequently. “In the beginning, it was impossible to take in, although there was a big hole in the hedge where the car had gone through,” she said.
“Now it is just one of those things that happened, which is proof that it is possible to heal. It is not because I have hardened or become callous. I have been through the grieving process and come to terms with it.”

It took eight years for Catherine to conquer her guilt at having lost control of the car. The turning point came after watching a television programme about fatal accidents in which a nurse talked of her huge guilt at having killed a child who ran out in front of her car.
In the book, Catherine wrote:
“Deeply shaken, I saw that the nurse was a mirror for my own situation, because we were both blaming ourselves for something completely beyond our control. In that moment I realized that I was not actually responsible for Tate’s death. I had not meant to kill her and even if the accident was my fault, the outcome of it was not.”

A year after the accident Catherine finished school and went to university. She worked as a television producer before moving to America for eight years, where she wrote her book. She returned to the UK two years ago, to train as an Interfaith Minister and now lives in London, where she works as a counselor. She spends much of her free time in Yarmouth.

Her father now lives in America, but her brother, Geoff and many of her friends still live on the Island. ‘I love the countryside here. I love to cycle down the railway track or go walking on the downs.”

Explaining why she wrote the book, Catherine said: “I wanted to show that it is possible to heal, no matter what has happened or how terrible it seems. I also wanted to share my spiritual journey, to show the extraordinary potential for love, peace, joy and wisdom that is within us. These are the spiritual riches that are hidden within us. Oh, it sounds so corny when you say it out loud like that,” she says smiling.

The remarkable thing is that in the book it doesn’t come across as corny. Catherine’s writing is so polished that she succeeds in relating the process in which her grief, pain and self-doubt give way to spiritual wholeness over a period of 14 years, without making the reader cringe with embarrassment.

Catherine was aware of this potential pitfall. “I wanted to share the most exquisite and ecstatic experience – you have just discovered the meaning of life and you want everyone else to experience it too – but unless you are very careful, if you try to put it into words, you will sound like a lunatic, or terribly corny and put people off.

“I wanted it to be a book about spirituality that anybody could pick up and read. So many books are off-putting. We all have that longing for meaning and connection in our lives and many people don’t know where to look for what they are searching for. I wanted the book to be easy to read and accessible, so that it might help people find their own connection.

“Everybody has tragic and difficult things in their lives, but there are deeper levels of healing, healing the whole person and their spirit. That is why I called the book Carry Me Home. It is about coming back to the source of who we are.”

Catherine’s gradual transition from atheist to believer is at the heart of the story. “I found myself going through a process of spiritual awakening rather reluctantly, because I was such a vehement atheist. But I was always fascinated by the big questions: Why are we here? What is the source of everything?”

She understands why people are sceptical and wary of religion. “Many people are put off religion in their teens, just as I was. We are given a lot of false ideas about God. I know a lot of people who have been completely alienated by that.

“We have these ideas that God is an old man in the sky – what a ridiculous concept that is. Or that if we are good we are rewarded; if we are bad we are punished. This leads to complicated questions. For example, the accident, was that because we had done something bad?

“It is easy to think there can’t be a God if God can let things like the Tsunami happen. But this is a childish understanding of what God is.

“I discovered that there is an invisible, ineffable presence that is shimmering at the heart of everything. It is in us, in the earth, in seaslugs and supernovas. This presence is beyond all words and concepts, but for want of a better name we often refer to it as God. It is also the source of love, compassion, wisdom, peace and deep abiding happiness,” said Catherine. This is what I mean by finding the spiritual riches that are within us.”

At first, the prospect of writing the book was “absolutely terrifying.” Catherine worked on it for six years, while living in America. “While I was writing it, I was researching spiritual traditions and psychology. First, I spent six months writing my personal story, which was very cathartic and emotional. I did a lot of lying on the floor howling my head off as I went through the grieving process. I showed the story to my agent and a friend who is a commissioning editor. They both said, “yes, it is very well done but it lacks intellectual rigour.”

Catherine then wrote a different, more analytical book, focusing on spiritual traditions and the way we develop psychologically. In the end she wove the two together to produce Carry Me Home, which was quickly accepted by Penguin.

Catherine had ambivalent feelings about revealing her emotions to the world in a deeply personal book. “I have wondered why I am baring my soul like this and thought, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t’ But I realized that this is part of the process of healing, because it is the process of revealing myself.

“It has been difficult to talk about spirituality. I was frightened of being judged. At times I have felt I would rather not go public about it all. But equally, I know how important it is to talk about these things.

“We all grow up thinking we have to hide who we really are and put on an acceptable face, so although it is revealing, it is revealing the real me. And there is a great freedom in saying: ‘Well, this is who I really am.’”