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Read it or Hear it – An Exciting Announcement!

Do you read with your eyes or your ears?  Whether you like to hear your books, study them, (or even do both), this post is for you! 

I am delighted to announce that Living in the Mourning Light is now available as an audio book, in addition to the paperback and e-book versions. Check it out on Amazon Audible and iTunes!

Narrator Caroline Cook is an absolute delight to work with. Listeners will soon realise that she didn’t simply read the book; she felt the emotion within the words too. Her voice has a soothing yet expressive quality which sits well with the content.

***Please like and share this post***

I have a limited number of review copies available to download.  If you (or someone you know) would like one, please get in touch directly with me via PM and I will forward the Audible download code. First come, first served! 

https://books.apple.com/gb/audiobook/living-in-the-mourning-light-unabridged/id1558946081

All Aboard … For Some More Memories

All Aboard the Trigger Train!

… the memory trigger train, that is.  I love how small things can trigger a cascade of memories; I enjoy writing about them and I use some well-known creative writing devices.  Firstly, there is the who, what, when, where, why? trick beloved of story-tellers, and then there is always the option to consider writing about the five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch which combine to produce interesting observations.

The Devon lanes are full of primroses at the moment.  Round every bend and on each corner, these cheerful, resilient little yellow blooms shine in the sunlight.  Their presence triggers a strong recollection for me.  My late parents moved from Surrey to Cornwall on retirement and we often came down to visit.  One day, dad and I were in his car and he pointed to the kerbside “Look”, he said, “all those primroses!  The first of them bloom, just where the sun strikes!”  Dad’s love of the simple pleasures in the changing seasons is definitely part of his legacy to me.  I always think of him when I see the first primroses, and I look carefully to establish if they are indeed, ‘just where the sun strikes’.

This week, it is my brother Peter’s birthday, on 29 April. He would have been 69, having passed away in 2017.  It’s true to say my memories of him are mixed, as he was a complex character and there were long spells when we weren’t in touch.  But latterly, and particularly since Shaun and I moved to Devon, we were able to enjoy each other’s company.  It was the first time as adults that we had lived in the same county and could meet up easily, Peter living around an hour away in Torquay. Peter loved the sea and he often reminisced about Slapton Sands and Torcross in Devon, where we stayed as children.  I remember much about those times too; for instance, the time he and dad went mackerel fishing and we ate the catch for lunch, prepared by the owner of the B and B where we stayed.  We spent happy hours paddling and bathing in the chilly sea off the pebbly beach and I remember the slightly sandy crunch of our ham sandwiches.  Even now, if I make up a flask of coffee to take on an outing, the smell as I unscrew the lid instantly transports me back to mum’s picnics on the beach at Torcross, and in other places.  In those days, motorway services were few and far between and dad often used to park up near a field so we could gaze out over the countryside as we ate a packed lunch, on our travels to the west country. 

In recent times, Peter used to take himself to Torcross on his birthday, walking along the beach and enjoying fish and chips or a cream tea sitting in the sunshine, overlooking the sea.  Perhaps his strongest memory lure however, was far away in Israel.  In his final weeks, Peter became utterly determined that he would take his son, my nephew Ben, all the way to Israel; where he had lived on a Kibbutz when he himself was young.  Despite many difficulties of logistics and Peter’s rapidly failing health, Ben managed to get them both there, somehow.  I know that, traumatic though the trip was, Ben is glad that he fulfilled his dad’s dying wish to share with him some time in the place he loved.  Father and son made some new, albeit very poignant, memories.  Peter died just a few days after their return.

On a happier note, after a recent chat with Stella about memories of her dad, I have started to compile a document that represents my life, so far.  This is proving fun to do!  I started by writing down some key dates and as I began to write about my childhood, half forgotten experiences began to stand out in sharp relief and the more I remember, the more details emerge.  The wonders of Google allow me to revisit former addresses with relative ease and the visual prompts, along with old photographs, are populating the document.

I think that writing a personal history is incredibly important.  Now that my parents and brother are gone, plus other family members, there is no one I can ask to fill in some of the gaps in my history.  Everyone’s memories shape and round us out, and whether they are happy, sad, funny or tragic, they are always worth passing on to the next generation.

I cannot of course write about memories, without mentioning James.  My memories of him remain clear, bright and untarnished by the passage of time.  And of course I have written much about him and will continue to do so; but it still delights me when anyone who knew him, shares with me something he said or did, a photo or an anecdote. These nuggets of information are like little gifts from the past, to hold into our future.

The memory train travels from station to station throughout our whole lives.  Its passengers number our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and those whom we perhaps didn’t meet, but who impacted on our lives in some way. 

The pot pourri of emotions that comes with exploring our memories is full of spice, flavour and colour – and can be whatever we wish it to be. 

Climb aboard, ticket in hand!  Take a seat, close your eyes and let your mind take you along whatever tracks it wants to follow, on your own memory train journey.

A Reminder to Respect the Water

My memory was jogged into recollection of the Starfish Story last week, after I gave an MS Teams talk to the RNLI, at the request of Ross Macleod, the organisation’s Public Affairs Manager for Water Safety.  The message in the simple story (replicated at the end of this post) tells how individuals can make a difference for the future, in ways they may never have envisaged. 

The focus of this particular talk was less on water safety advocacy and more on how to support the bereaved. 

One of the attendees wrote afterwards, “Thank you Andrea.  The advice you’ve given on how to talk to people who are grieving is so helpful.  I will always remember you relating your drowning prevention and bereavement work to the Starfish Story, which will always remind me of James”.

How heart-warming it is for me to have these kind comments from a lady who never even met James!  The value of continuing to talk about what happened back in 2005 and make it relatable to today, is reaffirmed by such feedback.  Thank you very much, Vicki.

As time goes by, I guess I can say that my particular grief path has provided me with two new voices: one in writing and speaking about grief and loss, and the other in promulgating water safety messages. The two have become intertwined in inexplicable ways, and this legacy for James continues to uplift and support me as I live with loss.

As the restrictions lift and we gradually begin to revisit our coasts and waterways, I hope everyone will please remember that vital message; to Respect the Water.

https://www.respectthewater.com/

https://www.nationalwatersafety.org.uk/

#floattolive

The Starfish Story

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”  asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”  Loren Eiseley

A Faith-based Reflection for Mother’s Day

The late Maya Angelou said, “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colours of a rainbow.”  What better tribute to motherhood can there be?  Today is Mothering Sunday, more commonly known as Mother’s Day.  I thought of dedicating this post to my lovely mum, but that wouldn’t be inclusive enough to recognise the special place that all mums occupy.  So it is for everyone – I salute mothers everywhere and wish us all a very happy Mother’s Day!

Below is the text of my reflection broadcast written for today, kindly shared on Breakfast on BBC Radio Devon just before 8am this morning.

‘Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent and we call it Mothering Sunday.

Centuries ago, it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year. So, each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit the main church or cathedral of their area. It is likely that this led to the custom of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, being given the day off to visit their mother and family. As they walked along the country lanes, children picked wild flowers to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift; perhaps the beginning of today’s more commercial traditions.

Mothers take many forms. Whether or not we become biological parents, we teach and nurture, offering wisdom, example and practical experience.  We pick up our children when they fall and love them unconditionally.  I was very lucky to have my mum and nearly 20 years since she died, she is still greatly loved and missed.   But not everyone has a good relationship with their mother and today can be a difficult one for many reasons. There are those who desperately long to be given the beautiful privilege of motherhood, for whom today is also especially hard.

I was blessed with a son and a daughter, and although my son James died in his teens in 2005, I will always be the mother of two wonderful children. The bereavement organisation, the Compassionate Friends, offers peer support for bereaved parents, which is particularly valuable on days like today. 

For everyone, it is your mum who knew you in the womb, grew you and bore you out into the world.  That gives every single one of us, of whatever gender, the commonality and a God-given uniqueness that make us the wonderful human creatures that we are. 

In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs says of a mother:

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

How well these words transport down the years to our strange times today, as so many mums breathe a huge sigh of relief that they no longer need to be home schooling.  They are all heroines in my eyes, including my daughter.  This is the second year that Covid has kept families apart on this day; let us hope and pray it will be the last. 

To all mothers, everywhere, I say: Happy Mothering Sunday’.

Living in the Moment

“How are you feeling today?” Shaun and I often asked each other this question in the early days after we lost James. We were, in a sense, checking in to each other’s emotions. It was a facile question, for at the beginning of the grieving process, we were cocooned by a dreadful kind of emotional numbness as we began to try to assimilate our shock and trauma. 

There was no roadmap for us in 2005 – we had to muddle through as best we could and learn as we went along.  If you think about it, is that really so different to the way we have had to confront the changes wrought by the pandemic?

I find one of the most prevalent ramifications of grief to be anxiety which ebbs and flows varying in its intensity. An effective technique that for me, offsets the irritating and worrisome feelings is a tool that is often used in creative writing and of which I have written before; it involves consideration of the five senses. 

It is no bad thing to have a spell of introspective examination from time to time.  It is nourishing, it settles your mind and it is a focus that takes you away from those awful “What if …” mind chatter questions which persistently swirl around in your head.

If you are not especially visually minded, studying a photograph can help, or listening to a piece of music.  For the purposes of this post I am using the image above, which is where we walked on Exmoor last weekend, not far from our home.

Sight: Sky, land, trees, hedgerows, fields, colours, patterns … beautiful countryside

Sound: We thought we heard the first song of a skylark.  We definitely heard the plaintive mew of the buzzard, and the distant bleating of sheep in the fields.  In between the swishing sound of the occasional passing vehicle, the silence was absolute

Smell: The moor has its own scents.  A light floral fragrance fills the air, periodically interspersed with an earthy animal aroma: it’s not unpleasant, but the oaty, warm smell I associate with ponies.  If I were creating a moorland perfume, I would say it has undertones of woodsmoke, notes of green grass and a top note of gorse vanilla

Taste: The air tastes fresh, clear and cool like a draught of spring water; refreshing and pure

Touch: Prickle of gorse, soft dampness of moss and the dry papery feel of lichen-covered tree branches. The trees have no leaves yet, just twiggy fingers pointing to the sky. The rough tree trunks are stooped into bent spine shapes by the wind; yet they feel alive, vibrant with the growth to come, you can sense it when you press your palm against them

To the usual senses, I will add a sixth, and that is the sense of emotion.  How are you actually feeling? Are you joyful, sad, tense, calm?  What is your gut saying to you? Listen to it, as it is never wrong.

As you figuratively journey through these impressions on your senses, your mind is likely to drift into a peaceful, meditative, prayerful state where you can effectively focus on accessing your innermost thoughts. 

Now is the time to offer up your worries and anxieties; let them drift into the ether, where they will do no harm, and enjoy the sensation of relief

Now you are free to enjoy a sense of gratitude for where you are, right in this moment. 

Now your feet are in contact with the ground.  Your face tilts to the sun and you are at peace. 

Now you and the space you occupy are in perfect harmony.  Examine not just your physical wellbeing, but measure your emotional barometer too, and then you will truly know, how you are feeling today. Happy drifting!

So you Want to Write a Book?

Today I realised that I have been writing this blog for nearly seven years!  The statistics tell me that this is post number 153.  Writing the blog acts as an electronic journal and certainly helps to chart my progress along the grief/life highway.

Writing is a large part of processing loss for me.  The act of committing thoughts and emotions to paper is a useful tool for anyone with a story to tell, and we all have one, don’t we?  I am often asked questions around the process of writing so here are my top ten tips for today:

  • Choose your writing media

Have a notebook or electronic device handy for jotting things down as they come to mind.  Sometimes I have an idea for a topic and need to consider how to frame it.  The physicality of committing something in writing acts as a trigger for me to work on a particular subject.  I often make handwritten notes which might take the form of lists, then I move to the pc to research, expand and polish a piece.  And don’t forget to read!  – as I have quoted before, prolific author Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

  • Organise your files

My system for writing both my books involved creating a number of folders on the pc.  The main folder was dated and called ‘A New Book’ and the sub folders each contained a single chapter.  There was an additional folder for references.  Trust me when I say there is nothing more tedious than getting to the end of a long publication and having to go back to the beginning to reference! – and you need to ask for permission if you are quoting, say, from a newspaper article. It is so much easier to do as you go along.  I had additional folders named for contributors, introduction and acknowledgement, as well as a folder into which I placed quotes which I might wish to use.  My blogs live in a folder imaginatively named Blog Posts …

  • Identify your Audience

Ask yourself, “Who am I writing for?”  There is a certain amount of egotism in authoring. It can be a useful exercise to count how many times you repeat the letter “I” in a piece.  Remember you are trying to create something that is interesting to your audience.  You are imparting your knowledge and expertise plus/minus problem solving.  The readers want to know how you can help them, not about how you can help you!  This is especially important in grief writing, which calls for balancing your experience with others’ expectations for the future. Looking at reviews for other books in your chosen genre is helpful in refining down your key topics.

  • Write about what you know

This seems obvious, but when you read a waffly article, you just know that it has been cobbled together through the author’s mastery of Google and/or Wikipedia. I could write at length about macro photography because it is something I have experienced, but I wouldn’t know where to start if I were asked to write about wedding photography.  Similarly, I can express the feelings of being the mother of a teenager who died accidentally, but I cannot, and would not, compare that with the emotions wrought by the loss of a toddler. 

  • Identify the Structure

Structuring a piece of writing is, I think, key to its impact.  Every story, whether it is truth or fiction, needs a framework on which to build; it is a skeleton to be fleshed out and clothed with words.  My second book contains a certain amount of personification in that I represent hope, faith, light, resilience and joy as characters in the story that is my own personal grief journey. Knowing when to stop writing is as important as writing the first line.  If a piece feels too long, it probably is!. Contributions from others offering different perspective are invaluable.

  • Pick your Title

It is vital to have a descriptive book title that gives some indication to the reader what to expect from your book.  This is particularly important when your potential readers will turn up a huge number of titles as they search the internet for key words.  I was happy that no one had used the title Into the Mourning Light in 2014 or Living in the Mourning Light in 2020.  Always check first! 

  • Knock out that Writer’s block

If you are a runner, you will know that some days you feel that you can run like a gazelle, but at other times your legs feel leaden.  So it is with writing. There are wonderful times when my fingers can barely type fast enough to keep up with my teeming thoughts and I bash the characters onto the screen, unedited, just as they flow.  The obverse side to this can be periods of stultifying dullness.   I find the best remedy for this is to step away from any kind of pressured writing (ie a book or blog) and write stuff that ‘doesn’t matter’; it is what I call my light and fluffy writing.  Creating fiction, poetry or descriptive writing often frees up other parts of the creative brain.  Belonging to a writing group helps, too. Even if you are not in the mood to write yourself, hearing others’ work stimulates your own creativity.

  • Edit, polish and proof *VITAL*

However particular you are, you will never be able to proof your own work to total accuracy.  Using a professional proof reader is essential to avoid not just typographical errors, but repetition, use of weak words and dodgy syntax, for example.  During the creation of my second book, I used two proof readers, because the book changed considerably between the time of the first draft and when it was nearing completion.  It can also be very useful to have a select few people read and give feedback on some, or all your chapters when they are in their raw state.   This is easily achievable through email or file transfer and this kind of pre-publication review allows you to polish your work. If a piece isn’t ‘hanging right’ I find that reading it out loud can tell me what I need to tweak.  Knowing when to stop editing is tricky, but you develop a feel for this with experience.  Share widely

Unless you are fortunate enough to be talent-spotted by a publisher or agent, you will have to do your own marketing.  There are numerous ways to get the word out there, easily found on the internet, and having a social media profile is key to promoting your writing.  It doesn’t come naturally to most of us to promote ourselves, but if you wish to sell your book you have to develop an authorial presence and this may mean putting yourself in the limelight more than is comfortable.  Once you get some positive feedback, this becomes more natural.

10        Check out the Competition but Never Compare

Finding a niche in a saturated book market is no easy task but if you have focussed on the foregoing points, you should be able to bring your conceptual idea to printed fruition.  It is easy to be disheartened by other writing and authors that you perceive as being better, but hold fast to your self belief!  When you reach the point of publishing, you have come a long way since the concept of your book first came to mind.  In many ways, publishing is a new beginning rather than a final stage. You have done all the hard work involved in writing and editing and you can feel a tremendous sense of achievement that your product is the best it can be.  Be proud, be very proud. Keep marketing, maintain your writing profile and encourage reviews (something I am not very good at, but anyone is welcome to review my books at any time).

 Happy writing, everyone!

Listen up …It’s Getting Closer!

Listen up! It’s Getting Closer …

I am pleased to share brilliant progress with preparation of the audio version of Living in the Mourning Light.  Now it’s time for me to introduce the lovely narrator who is doing such an excellent, professional job.  Caroline Cook is a freelance radio presenter and voice over artist.  Our meeting last year was facilitated by local friend Becky Haxell, who kindly introduced Caroline to the idea of interviewing me about the book’s publication, which we managed to do for BBC Radio Devon, fortuitously just before the first lockdown. 

Caroline and I kept in touch and I often hear her dulcet tones on the radio.  I am so glad she was keen on the idea of recording the book for me, I honestly couldn’t think of anyone better to take on the project with the sensitivity and empathy required by a book about grief and loss.

None of these processes happen on their own! I am grateful too to Elizabeth Bond for lending her ears to road test a couple of draft chapters for me. 

Today, Caroline has sent me what the Audio company refers to as a ‘retail clip’; a taster, if you like, for the book’s contents.  We think this section, which comes at the start of Chapter 8, stands as a good introduction to the general tone of the book and what it is about.  Do have a listen!

So, you may well wonder, when will the audible book be available?  Final tweaks and minor edits remain to be made to each chapter, but all eleven have now been recorded, so it shouldn’t be too much longer.  The whole recording will then have to be uploaded and approved before it goes public. Look out for the next update soon!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/18NEj_gM7ZKpy2fUgX-Bc712_Uv6k5aUC/view?usp=sharing

Caroline Cook, Presenter, Voiceover Artist, Narrator

Bread, Salt and Memorials

Jimbo Bear

Clearing out a kitchen cupboard the other day (yes, definitely a lockdown effect) I came across a small glass jar; the type that usually appears on a hotel breakfast table containing jam.  The hand written label, in my late mum’s neat script, says ‘Salt’ and indeed that is what is inside.  As I held the jar, a cascade of memories tumbled into my mind. 

Jewish tradition has it that when someone moves into a new home, they are given a symbolic gift of bread and salt: bread, so the owners never experience hunger, and salt so their life will be full of flavour.  The loaf of bread has of course long since gone, but I reflected that the little jar of salt has moved house with me for the best part of 40 years.  Mum gave it to me when we moved to the first home we owned in Addlestone when Stella was just a baby, before James was born.  Three more kitchen cupboards in the Addlestone area held the salt, then Shaun and I moved to Knaphill in 2012 and most recently to Devon in 2017.   For every move the little jar has been carefully packed and unpacked and placed at the back of the cupboard.  It is synonymous with my mum and given all the memories, represents a far greater memorial than its size would suggest.

When I gave a Zoom talk about the mourning light, to The Compassionate Friends in November, one of the questions I was asked was this:

How did you deal with James’s room and possessions after he died and what do you have as physical reminders of him?

It is interesting, isn’t it, that a small jar of salt can conjure up such a raft of memories spanning over 30 years?  So, I hope that is possible to convey that you need little in the way of material personal effects to hold close the memories that come to mind, when you are thinking about your lost loved ones.  But like everything else in the grieving process, how you deal with people’s belongings after they have gone is an entirely personal and individual choice.  James’s room was, naturally, full of his clothes, books, possessions and photos – so many photos! as he was an avid photographer, like I am.  He had not occupied that particular bedroom for long which meant it was not too untidy; as he had been at Uni most of his things were in reasonable order. 

I remember how difficult it was to move anything at first.  His room looked as though it was awaiting his return.  I could not bear to wash his dressing gown and it hung on the back of the door for some time. His clothes were packed away and apart from some particularly special items, were gradually given away to charity shops, usually through a friend or colleague who took them outside the radius of our local area, which felt easier to do.  I offered his friends a memento if they wanted one, and some of them felt comfortable enough with the idea to take photos or books.

After a while, we decided to have a change round of how we occupied the rooms in the house, and it felt right to turn his room into a guest bedroom.  However, clearing the room was a very emotional process. 

I would offer a word of caution and say, if you decide to throw things out, once they are gone they are gone! – and you can’t get them back.  I found it was easier to bag up and box up items about which I was unsure, so that I could revisit them in due course and make decisions when I felt strong enough. 

It is a good analogy for the grieving process actually; you have all these boxes with lids on.  Sometimes it feels right to take off the lids and examine the contents then put back on the lids.  Other times, you can’t bear to open them.

I bought some decorative storage boxes and Shaun renovated an old wooden chest, and these contain the most precious items; those that I will probably never part with.  The boxes are in the loft now; it is enough to know they are in the house but I don’t need to look at them very often. I couldn’t even tell you exactly what is in each one. 

Photographs are always to hand and I have stored the most precious of these electronically – not simply on the home computer; I pay a small annual fee to a company which I have used for photo storage since the early days of the Cloud.  Another word of warning to those whose images might all be on electronic devices … make sure that you have some physical printed photographs to keep in frames or albums, otherwise all your precious images could potentially be lost.

A friend of mine had a particular place in her home where she kept a photo of her son alongside a battery-operated candle and string of fairy lights.  She always placed fresh flowers on the table and this corner was her special quiet place for communing with her boy.  Other parents leave rooms untouched; it is an entirely individual choice.

In 2013, I had two memory bears made from three of James’s favourite shirts; this is a lovely idea for a very personal memento. Our Jimbo bear sits in the guest bedroom and my daughter Stella has the other. 

We have moved home twice since James died and both times, my favourite framed photo of him has travelled in the car with me to be the first thing I put up on arrival.  I learned an important lesson with moving house; moving away geographically does not mean leaving behind your memories.

None of us choose to join the ranks of the bereft, but once we arrive, along come aspects of the grieving process that represent choices, even if we don’t recognise them as such at the time.  Some people choose to grieve privately.  Others, like myself, are prepared to open our stories to audiences. I have come to realise that both my books, Into the Mourning Light and Living in the Mourning Light represent a particularly individual form of memorialisation for James.

Long after I have gone, the words I wrote about my son will mean something to others, and to people who never met him.  I consider myself lucky to have the gift of expression to share James in this way, but everyone will find their own individual route to creating lasting and meaningful memories, even if they are as simplistically evocative as a small jar of salt.

Oh No, Not About New Normality Again …

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that I recently changed the name of my blog from ‘Multilayered Musings of New Normality’ to ‘Multilayered Musings from the Mourning Light’.

This is not a thinly veiled marketing ploy for my book, Living in the Mourning Light (honestly!) but there is a significant contributing factor that led to the change.

First and foremost, I think that the phrase New Normality has become seriously overworked by the media to represent our post Covid life (whenever that should arrive). 

To any griever, new normality is the planet on which you find yourself after you lose a loved one. 

I had no need to notice or acknowledge the saying prior to losing James, but when I joined the Compassionate Friends, soon after his death in 2005, I realised that new normal was a common descriptor for the post loss arena in which the griever lives.

To a bereaved parent, new normality – certainly early on in grief, is all the following:

  • Waking every morning with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, wishing you could turn back the clock.  That is one of the hardest things to bear in early grief; the first few moments of waking when reality slams into your heart again and again with the knowledge that your beautiful child is gone.
  • A constant refrain running through your mind which may begin ‘If only … or why me … or, how could this have happened?
  • A feeling of emptiness that leaves your heart aching and your mind racing, or vice versa

However, there is better news to come.  As time passes, you realise that your new normal becomes your current normal and you can face the days with more action and fewer tears.

Your new normal becomes a mask that you put on the moment you wake.  In the early days, that mask used to slip on my way home from work.  I would drive home through a haze of crying and shouting to the world that what had happened was not fair.  But these incidences gradually lessened.  New normal morphs into current normal and ultimately to old normal.  You cannot change what has happened, so you have to adapt to what is happening today, tomorrow and the following days.

In Covid terms, new normality is already establishing itself in many respects, for example with the relative ease with which we have become accustomed to seeing others wearing masks.  The term social distancing has fallen into our everyday language.  I wish I had shares in Zoom! – for this is one of the platforms via which we have become adept at meeting with others, virtually.  It has become new normality to wish others to stay safe at the end of phone calls and emails.                                                                                                                      New normal is less face-to-face contact, less shopping, and worst of all, less hugs! 

We talk of tiers and tears in the same breath.  That’s not normal at all, whether new or old.

New normality will not be the same as old normality.  How can it be? when we are not the same people that we were before – and that applies to Covid as well as to grief and grieving. 

In the same way, the mourning light is not the same as the light in which I lived before loss.  However, the mourning light represents to me the absolute best that I can hope for, the best that I can BE, all the time whilst travelling through the grieving process, not just for James, but for those other family members and friends whom I have lost.

The positives of the mourning light are that it is a gentler place.  It is softer, kinder and more forgiving. 

Will that be the new normal of Covid when it is over and when some time has elapsed, as it has since we lost James?  This year is our sixteenth without him. 

How will we all feel, I wonder, when the Covid pandemic is a 16 year old memory?  It is impossible to contemplate and envisage now. 

In 2005 I found it impossible to contemplate and envisage life 16 years after loss.  And yet, here I am … proving it is possible to live a fulfilled, joyful, hopeful, optimistic and happy life in the mourning light.  I am thankful for the innate resilience which propels me forward on a daily basis. 

Perhaps we should name the post Covid times the extraordinary era.  Extraordinary is a word that fascinates; break it down and you have two words, extra and ordinary.  But the extra doesn’t mean an added bit of parmesan on your pasta or gravy on your roast dinner – rather it is meant to convey something outside, thus ‘outside of ordinary.’ That neatly sums up what has happened to our, previously taken for granted, ordinariness.

Something extraordinary goes above and beyond what is expected and this can be good or bad.  I think I will coin this term for future use: here we are, living in the mourning light, in the extraordinary post COVID-19 era. 

There you have it; my first 2021 multi-layered musing from the mourning light.  Hopefully it is extraordinary!

Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021

At the turn of the year, I generally write a blog post, reflecting on the year that has passed and heralding the new year ahead.  In a break with tradition, I thought instead I would produce a photo diary to mark 2020:  a year like no other.

It was difficult to choose just one photo from each month, but here they are, each with a few sentences to enliven them.  I hope you enjoy this pictorial calendar! I wish everyone a healthy and happy 2021 and thank you all for continuing to enrich my life, in whatever role you occupy.

January

A rainbow over Knightshayes illuminated one of our many walks there.   We are lucky to have this place almost on our doorstep, although we haven’t been able to visit as much this year, for obvious reasons.  Little did we know that when we saw this rainbow, all would be different in a matter of weeks.

February

Living in the Mourning Light was published this year, and an image similar to this forms part of the front cover.  This is a view on the road out of Bampton, where I drive on my way to work in the mornings.  When the mist sits in the valley below, I often feel compelled to stop and take some photos. 

This sums up living in the mourning light perfectly, a clear light which manages to include the veil of sadness represented by the mist. 

But it is a positive light, even in this rather monochrome view, as the sun is there too.

March

There are few places better than a harbour on a bright sunny day, and this is one of our favourite places to visit.  Minehead may not be top of the list compared with the open North Devon beaches, but it has its beauty nonetheless and I always feel as though I have been on holiday after a day trip to the Somerset coast.

April

I have always enjoyed watching birds in the garden, but never envisaged that a handsome male pheasant would become a regular visitor.  His plumage is iridescent in the sunshine and he does a good job of hoovering up the seeds that fall from the feeders.

May

This month saw us taking numerous walks from our front door as we were not permitted to do much else!  The swathes of wild garlic, photographed here a scant ten minutes away from home, scented the air with a pungent fragrance.  I have Riverford Organics to thank for some recipes – delicious pesto from the young leaves and cheese and garlic scones.  After the flowers die back, they are replaced by small round seed heads.  These were picked, brined and pickled to create wonderful, tiny garlic flavoured capers, a superb addition to fish and salad dishes.  I have only just finished the jar.

June

All these flowers grow naturally in the fields and hedgerows around us.  This is my go-to type of photography, when I can focus (literally) on these small, natural marvels and take solace from the beauty of  their form and colour.

July

This is such a special photo because it reflects one of the few times some of the family were all able to get together freely this year.  Stella, Pete, Charlie and Grace live about an hour away from this place, and so do we, in the opposite direction.  Thus it is a good halfway meeting point.  It is South West Lakes’ Roadford Lake, just off the A30.  We didn’t know that a wildflower meadow had been planted and arrived in glorious sunshine to see these lovely blooms. 

August

This is another favourite awayday viewpoint of ours; and it looks particularly beautiful on a hot August day.  The location is North Hill looking down overlooking the coast at Bossington and Porlock, Somerset.  The fragrance of the heather hung heavy in the warm air that day and we felt blessed to be enjoying such heavenly surroundings.

September

This month, I fulfilled my ambition to get out of bed early enough to see the sun rise on Exmoor.  This image also encapsulates the promise of the mourning light.  The gate is indicative of a way forward, and the rosy dawn holds promise for the day.  I remember my thoughts that day as I reflected on the restrictions of the pandemic, and felt heartened by the fact that however dark the night, the dawn still brings the light, day after day after day.  The stillness and peace of the morning were uplifting in the extreme.

October

Witnessing a roundup of the Exmoor ponies was another ambition this year, and Shaun and I were lucky enough to be able to photograph the Anchor herd.  The owners of the herd permitted the photographers to place themselves in some especially good locations and it was a thrilling experience to watch these wonderful, stocky, sturdy ponies gallop past us.  It is a tribute to the care and attention by such breeders as these that the bloodline of the species, unique to Exmoor, is able to continue.  We felt privileged to be part of the day and can’t wait to do it again next year.

November

November can be a drab month, but the autumn colours of the trees at Tarr steps seemed especially vibrant this year.  We had a wonderful morning’s walk in the golden light and felt thankful for the natural beauty and history of this place, which reflects Exmoor’s hills and valleys so well.

December

Since we moved to Devon I have dabbled in some artistic efforts.  The restrictions of Covid meant that my art classes stopped, but I was signposted to Belinda Reynell, a local artist offering art tuition online with Zoom classes and downloadable tutorials.  The classes are great fun, and most paintings are done using palette knives and scrapers, rather than brushes.  This loose form of artistic expression is surprisingly liberating, and I am quite fond of these snowy trees. I hope you like them, too!

The year in summary

From countryside to coast, we have been able to enjoy outings all year round.  I am especially pleased to share this image showing Shadow standing comfortably in the (rather soggy) woodland, as he had surgery on the tendons of his paw in April and is no longer troubled by the corn that made him lame.  So now, he can enjoy longer walks with us.  

Happy 2021 Everyone, from Beautiful Bampton!