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After the sudden loss of her 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, Natalia Spencer felt she needed to do something to honor the little girl. That desire motivated Spencer to embark on what she calls a “Walk of Love,” a 6,000-mile trek along the British coastline.
“Elizabeth particularly loved the beach and the sea and we visited the seaside a lot. After she passed away, I went to the seaside and it was the first time I’d felt any comfort,” Spencer, 41, of Cheltenham, England, told TODAY, via email. “I knew this was what I had to do. It was something I could do and it would somehow make life more bearable.”
On Valentine’s Day, Spencer began walking Durdle Door in Dorset, England, the last beach she took Elizabeth before she became ill.
So far, she’s journeyed about 1,500 miles, walking through Dorset, Cornwall, Devon and the entire coast of Wales. Every day, except Saturday, Spencer walks 20 miles. Often locals join her; many times they share stories about losing their own children.
“The walk has shown me that something so tragic can bring people together from all walks of life and that some good has come out of this awful personal loss,” she said.
Everything changed for Spencer on Nov. 22, 2015. Spencer noticed Elizabeth was ill with what she thought was a chest infection. But the girl’s health worsened rapidly; doctors diagnosed her with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a life-threatening immune condition where the immune cells damage tissue and organs.
This led to septic shock, causing Elizabeth's organs to shut down and stopping the blood supply to her limbs. Doctors transferred her to Bristol Children’s Hospital where she spent 18 days on life support before passing away on Dec. 10.
After Elizabeth died, Spencer struggled. She stayed with friends because it felt too hard to live in a house with the memories of Elizabeth. In January, a friend urged Spencer to go for a walk and the two ended up at the Gower Peninsula in Wales. That’s when she realized she wanted to along walk the coast for her daughter.
"The walk gives me something structured to focus my mind on and enables me to cope,” she said.
“The hardest thing is not having Elizabeth by my side. I miss her more and more each day. Some days are easier but other days there are little things that trigger memories from our life together and the grief comes over me like a wave."
While walking provides Spencer with time to grieve, she’s also using the trip to raise £100,000 (about $144,000) for the Bristol Children’s Hospital. She admired the doctors and nurses and wanted to raise funds to allow another family access to treatment.
“This level of care and expertise comes at a high cost and I want desperately to prevent another parent going through the same loss,” she said.
Spencer expects to complete her walk next spring. She’d love to finish on Valentine’s Day, but doesn’t know if that’s realistic.
“Elizabeth would have loved this adventure and would have so enjoyed doing it with me. I like to think that somehow she is with me every step of the way.”