A Future without Drowning

With Courage, Nothing is Impossible. Sir William Hillary, Founder of the RNLI

I am once again indebted to my colleagues and friends at the RNLI for including our story in the current issue of Lifeboat magazine, the quarterly publication that is sent out to supporters of the charity. 

It’s a hard read.  Fifteen years on, the pain of loss still has the power to floor me at times.  But it is difficult to imagine the empty feeling that an RNLI crew must have when a shout has resulted in loss of life to drowning.  As they themselves say in the article, “the reality is that despite our best efforts, we don’t always reach everyone in time.  To save everyone is an ambitious vision.  But one we all share.  Because drowning is preventable.  We all believe that even one person lost to drowning is one person too many”.

It is a sad fact that nothing could have been done to save James at the time.  Accidental drowning still accounts for a number of deaths in the UK and Ireland, though the number is steadily decreasing through the collaborative approach of all the relevant organisations who champion water safety. 

These all form part of the National Water Safety Forum which seeks to ‘reduce accidental drowning fatalities in the UK by 50% by 2026, and reduce risk amongst the highest risk populations, groups and communities’.

Over the years, I have learned much about the impact and value of continuing to relate what happened to James; my response to loss has been to throw my energies into a variety of activities all designed to highlight not only the effects of loss, but the potential for a positive path through grieving and the ability to move onward and forward into joyful living. 

All of us who knew him will live the rest of our lives with a James-shaped hole where he should be; that is fact.  But we can wrap our lives around that fact and be thankful for the wonderful times we had with him, when he was here with us.

Please support the RNLI if you can, and continue to highlight the inherent dangers of water. Innocuous looking or not, it can take life in an instant.

Have you Ever Wondered? All about the Mourning Light

In November, I am going to give a Zoom talk to The Compassionate Friends and although it is primarily aimed at TCF members, who are bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings, the event will be open to all.

My talk will focus on finding the mourning light after loss, and if you have ever wondered how and why the mourning light has become so important to me, this blog post (perhaps I should call it a prequel) will fill in some of the gaps.

Soon after James died in 2005, when I was avidly reading everything I could find about the loss of a child, to try to make some sense of what had happened, I came across a book by Carmella B’Hahn, called Mourning Has Broken.  Carmella’s son Benjaya was unusual in that he was one of the UK’s first planned ‘water birth’ babies in 1986.

Tragically, at the age of five, Benjaya lost his life to water, falling into a river near his home.

A great communicator, Carmella wrote about Benjaya’s life and passing and at the end of her first book, she wrote,

My son/sun is shining still as he did upon the earth, breaking the mourning with his light.

These words stayed with me and I was fortunate to meet Carmella on two occasions, attending her grief workshops, early in my own loss.  I held fast to the concept of light breaking through the mourning over the years and it is still a key ingredient in my personal recipe for living with grief.

As I headed towards publication of my first book in 2014, the title, Into the Mourning Light, kept coming to me.  It seemed wholly appropriate and I sought Carmella’s permission to take a slant on her words; fortunately she willingly gave me her blessing at the time. 

When I was finalising the second book, I had quite a debate with myself about the title, wondering whether I should choose something entirely different.  But the book, though not exactly a sequel to the first, continually affirms the message of being in the mourning light, so in the end, it was obvious to me that I should call it Living in the Mourning Light.

I wouldn’t say I have coined the expression the mourning light, but it is certainly my favourite descriptor for life after loss.  The analogy of the morning breaking after the darkness of the night is one we all recognise; but I wonder whether to challenge that by suggesting that perhaps the morning doesn’t break, but instead it gathers the light and that is what dispels the darkness.

The dusk and darkness fold themselves together like a cloak for the night, and when we wake in the pearly stillness of the dawn that always follows, maybe we should see that as the daily miracle that it is.

It is easy for me to summon up a list of the items that I carry in my grief toolbox which collectively support and sustain my life in the mourning light: but bear in mind that my list won’t be the same as your list.  The commonality of endorphin boosting activities and processes is a given, though the preferences of each of us will be different.  The individuality of grief is a given too; even between bereaved parents who have experienced similar loss and who tread similar recovery paths.  The darkness stays longer with some people than others.  The timeline for grieving is elastic.

Fifteen years since James died, I can still be broadsided by grief unexpectedly, though thankfully this is a rare occurrence now.

Once you have begun to emerge from the darkness of loss, once you have begun to unfurl, blinking in the light, like someone waking from a long sleep, you rarely go back to the black pit of despair where you started.  But, you and only you, have to take the first steps along the walk in the darkness, you have to be moving towards the light of hope and life and joy, before you can look back and say, I know this pain is easing, I know this hurt is gradually diminishing. You can choose to look forward towards the light, or backwards towards the agonising darkness from which you have come.  It is easy to say, Well it is obvious, I am always going to walk towards that light.  Why would I want to be in the dark?  But sometimes, you can feel that there is a need to sit in that dark place for a little while, to be fully in it, to realise how far you have come and how much further forward you can go.

And you know, we need not fear being totally alone in the darkness, ever.  For we are never truly alone. 

Whatever your spiritual beliefs, there is massive comfort in knowing that.  For myself, I am daily comforted by my faith and my conviction that those whom I have lost are not truly gone and we will be reunited one day.

Thank God/goodness/heavens for the human resilience with which we are gifted that sees our return to (almost) normal daily living after loss!  The mourning light can never be quite the same as pre-bereavement light; the dimming reflective of that of  the soul light of those whom we have lost, but nonetheless I still hold true to the following, which I wrote in Living in the Mourning Light:

Today, after these years of loss, I can share the optimism that comes from a life full of new connections, exciting beginnings and a truly positive thought process, all of which reflect how it is possible to come out of the darkest despondency of grief into the suffused brilliance and the quiet joy of the mourning light.

I hope these thoughts and feelings are those which I can express in the talk when the time comes.

https://www.tcf.org.uk/content/events/315-finding-the-mourning-light/

Not Changing the Title

I wrote about Covid New Normality in April, and I didn’t truly anticipate there being a postscript now, all these months later.  I have tried very hard not to keep writing about the pandemic but the Muse will out!

Back in 2014, after my first book, Into the Mourning Light, was published, I named my new blog ‘Multilayered Musings of New Normality’ as I felt the title was a good descriptor for the posts which I planned to write.  Little did I know then, that ‘new normality’ was going to pass into common usage to describe how we live our lives in, and most likely post, Covid. 

It is quite annoying, really.  New normality is a phrase beloved of we grievers, we people whom have lost someone dear to us, we people who come to know that we must find entirely innovative, different ways to lead our lives without those dearly loved family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours who previously populated our existence. 

To us, new normality is the place we are dumped into by loss. 

Our new normality, in the early stages, is waking with our first thoughts devoted to that person who is not here anymore. 

Our new normality is to present a face to the world to others, that is acceptably typical of us as we were before.

We are expected to assume new normality almost overnight. Those around us want to see us making progress, resuming our usual mantle and demeanour, often long before we are ready to do so.

So what is the new normal of Covid?

Is it the wearing of face masks, the lack of spontaneity in our lives, the anxiety of what may yet be to come?  Is it the restrictions that mean we cannot travel freely and socialise in the ways we used to?  Yes, it is all those things. 

But there is something extra, something positive that comes from the hijacking of the grievers’ favoured description.  As a result of Covid-19, there are many more people who have gained a better understanding of what it is like, to be thrust from one existence to another.  When the UK went into its first lockdown in March, we had our terms of reference stripped from us, overnight.  We were denied access to our family members.  We were effectively imprisoned in the cells of our homes, which quickly became places of refuge. We were suddenly bereft of the life we had known the day before when we moved around with ease, went shopping, went to places of worship, visited cinemas, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, beaches, cafes, schools and workplaces … 

Our new normal started in lockdown, when those of us who are fit and mobile relearned to rely on our legs rather than our cars and suddenly discovered how enjoyable it can be to walk for an hour and get to know our locality, in ways we had not before. 

Our new normal became helping our neighbours; joining local online groups offering mutual support, shopping and prescription collections. 

Our new normal became spending more time focusing on what we do have rather than what we feel we must have. 

The NHS Clap for Carers on a Thursday evening allowed some of us to have socially distanced, loud conversations with our neighbours from our doorsteps and offered a welcome distraction from being indoors. 

We have quickly become accustomed to seeing face masks and queuing outside shops.  We rejoiced when we could go and get a haircut.  We counted the days we hadn’t been able to see our families and loved the time we could spend with them again, albeit without hugs. 

(From a personal perspective, it is definitely not normal, old or new, not to have hugs.  When will we be able to hug again?  I am sure I am not alone in having sneaked in a couple of ‘let’s both hold our breath’ hugs with family and friends?) 

But we have this lacy veil of fear overlaying everything we do, which is becoming tiresome and wearisome.  We have lost the ability to plan with certainty and that is unsettling in itself. 

Grievers, indeed anyone who has ever had issues with confidence, knows that anxiety feeds on itself and it can quickly become overwhelming.  Seeking out help and practising whichever mindful activities benefit and calm us, can be a great boon in these times of shifting goalposts. 

There should be no shame in admitting to worrying and feeling the physical manifestations of stress; no stigma to our saying that we need help, if that is the case. The many layers of grief within the pandemic, from the loss of connection with friends and family, to our inability to foretell the future, can feel like an overwhelming barrage of emotions.  When anxiety escalates, we become familiar with the fight or flight response, and this has an undesirable effect on our ability to function normally and cope with what is coming our way.

I believe that Covid-19, with all its ramifications, not only exacerbates grief in the griever, but concurrently provides a better understanding of loss and its myriad experiences to the non-griever, so it is not all bad …

In a spirit of optimism, I am not going to change the title of my blog.  New normality will always mean the same to me. It is the life I live in the mourning light, in the aftermath of loss.  It is my life that contains optimism and joy and love and faith and family and friends and above all, hope for the future. 

Hold on tight to whatever constitutes your own normality. Stay safe and take care, everyone.

Written in loving memory of James Edward Clark, born 35 years ago on 11 September, 1985. 

Always in our hearts, especially on your birthday. 

The Mourning Light

Honey, Hound, Harmony

What do these three things have in common?  A jar of honey, our greyhound and friendship.

Now there’s a question! 

I can imagine you wondering, Where on earth is she going with this?

There’s a progression of events that links the three disparate elements for me.  Firstly, the honey.  Since the beginning of lockdown, like many other people, I have been watching and listening to our local church services on the internet.  After the services, we meet on Zoom for ‘virtual coffee’ and chat.  As there are usually quite a number of us, we are placed into breakout rooms.  In one of these, I found myself chatting with a lady whom I have met at church, but whom I don’t know well.  Pre-Covid, on Sunday mornings, we exchanged pleasantries, but that is about as far as we had progressed in terms of acquaintance.    During the course of the Zoom chats, it transpired that she has been keeping bees for many years and as a member of the local beekeepers’ society, she sells the resultant honey.                                    I was captivated by the opportunity of acquiring some truly local honey and after an email exchange we arranged for me to visit her at home.  We spent a very pleasant, appropriately socially distant, afternoon together and I came home delighted with a couple of jars of clear, amber honey.

The honey tastes delicious and its rich flavour puts me in mind of blossom. Truly, it is a feast for the senses.

Concurrently, I discovered a well moderated Facebook group that explores greyhound ancestry.  All greyhounds born in kennels are branded with ear tattoos and registered in stud books, so tracing their antecedents is quite easy. Through the page, I have discovered much that we didn’t already know about our Shadow.  We knew by the fact that he is tattooed in both ears, that he was born in Ireland. (English hounds have one ear tattoo). Though he never trialled or raced himself, Shadow has an impressive pedigree.  There is even a painting of the very first sire of his paternal line, called Pilot, dating from 1846. (Easier to trace his family than my own!)

Through the page, I have seen photos of many of Shadow’s half siblings as his antecedents were significantly prolific Irish stud dogs, with an impressive racing history.  Whatever your feelings about greyhound racing it is good to see that a large number of these lovely dogs enjoy a happy and pampered retirement, when they come to the end of their racing career.

Listeners to BBC Radio 2 may have heard Sheridan Voysey’s recent input about friendship.  He asks various questions, one of which is, “Why is friendship so important?” and answers, “When the business fails, family bonds break, or the marriage ends, it’s our friends who get us through.  Friendship is an important factor for our health, well-being and happiness.  Being with a friend releases oxytocin and endorphins and reduces cortisol in stressful situations”. 

Thank you for those words, Sheridan, you have a knack of getting to the nub of a concept, concisely and wisely.

I would extend what Sheridan says to incorporate the importance of friendship in grieving, too, because there are times when you are in sorrow, during which your family members might be emotionally too close to be supportive, and you have a real need to offload to friends, who can empathise with and encourage you, in different ways.

Friends are there for you, no matter what.  They explore the full gamut of emotions with you from a silly fit of the giggles to the most profound, heartfelt sobbing and everything in between.

Friends leave ego outside the door, do not envy and trust implicitly.  They are truly invaluable. My dad always told me that you can count your true, life-time friends on the fingers of one hand and if you are blessed with these, you are indeed rich.

So, you may be asking, what is the link between the honey, the greyhound and friendship?

All three things are complex but pure, undiluted by any form of mongrelisation (yes, that is a word, I checked).

Honey is the pure product resulting from the natural, complex process of the bees collecting the nectar and pollen from the local fields, gardens and hedgerows.

The greyhound is a pure product resulting from monitored breeding. 

Friendship’s purity lies in its emotional security that provides a lifelong, mutual and implicit trust.

Friendship takes time to develop and cannot be forced.  Just as the bees cannot be urged to collect the pollen any faster, nor the greyhound to walk in the rain or indeed, get off the sofa!

If you are looking for a creative exercise yourself, try linking three seemingly unrelated items; you may be surprised by the results.

Repairing and Transforming – reflections on fifteen years of loss

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Embrace your grief, for there your soul will grow.  Carl Jung

Have you watched a BBC TV programme called The Repair Shop?  This lovely series, broadcast from the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex, describes itself as an antidote to throwaway culture.  The premise of the programme is simple:  viewers apply to the show to take along family heirlooms that are damaged or broken, and the skilled craftspeople on the team lovingly repair them, restoring them to their former glory.  The items don’t necessarily have monetary value; they are precious because of the memories and back stories associated with them.

There is much to admire about the programme.  It is gentle and heart-warming.  The care and attention lavished on these invaluable pieces of family history is amazing; the skill of the menders inspiring.  The experts are specialists in their fields, such as Steve the horologist and his sister Suzie, who is proficient in repairing leather items.  As the programme rolls along, we see the objects gradually coming back to life and we hear the reasons why they mean so much to their owners.  Ultimately the owners return looking excited and nervous.  They anxiously count the moments until the Big Reveal. The repaired item is concealed under a cover of some sort and it is wonderful to see the joyful expressions on everyone’s face when the cover is taken off.  Often the owners are overwhelmed by emotion and I find it hard not to cry myself, witnessing the reaction that is engendered by the end result.  The object’s owners are invariably full of gratitude for what these incredibly skilled individuals have achieved for them.

The key word here is transformation.  Transformation magic has been performed on an item that was damaged and worn; now restored to a reasonable facsimile of the original – it has not been made into something new and shiny, for that would be wrong. The knocks of time, surface dents and superficial scratches are left untouched to reflect the passage of the years and the history of the object.

I pondered why I am so affected by the programme.  I feel emotional along with the participants, and I think it is because there is a striking correlation between what is achieved in the Repair Shop, and what we can achieve in processing grief, in the longer term.

In the early days of loss, we feel broken, as though we can never be whole again.  A part of us has been torn away, leaving a raw area that hurts to touch.  We don’t function properly; we lose confidence and we are hesitant in moving forward.  We may overwork feverishly or get stuck in inertia, or vacillate between the two, like a clock that needs mending.

What helps us to recover, to begin to transform ourselves back to a semblance of normality?

We accumulate tools that help to support us and sustain a form of directional progression along the grief road, although it is often of the ‘two steps forward and one back’ variety.  We have good days and rubbish days, but as time passes the rubbish days happen less and are not so acute. We may find that grief softens over time, allowing us less regret for the past and greater anticipation for the future.

In the Repair Shop, some objects’ owners express that they feel guilty for neglecting the possessions and letting them fall into disrepair.

There is tremendous guilt and regret in grief, too.  “If only I had, I only I could …” will be familiar thoughts, particularly in early grief, but we must let that guilt go; for it serves no purpose in moving us forward.  Like the edges of torn material in the Repair Shop, gradually our fragmented thoughts come together, not perfectly, but in better harmony than before.  Being present in our own grief, allowing ourselves to experience and accept the raw emotions that it produces, allows us, eventually, to experience a transformative process that is healing in itself.  Love is pain, is healing, is love: round and round it goes.

During various creative writing courses, I learned that the construction of a successful short fiction story (the writing of which continues to be my nemesis!) relies upon a given formula.  That is to say, the lead character is introduced with a problem to be solved.  As the story unfolds, there is inevitably a turning point, when everything changes.  This creates the drama of the story and prevents it being a tale that my tutor would describe as a “So what?” story – in other words it is uninteresting, not worthy of reading.             This is another great correlation with the grieving process.

The problem is clear – it is the death of a loved one.  The turning point is less obvious.  I would find it very difficult to pinpoint with accuracy the time that I felt a turn in my grief for James; truthfully, it evolves day by day.

But looking back down the time that has passed, I can chart progression with certain key milestones.  The achievement of publishing Into the Mourning Light in 2014 and Living in the Mourning Light in 2020, mark significant headway, along with my association with the RNLI and other organisations, none of which would have been possible earlier in my loss.

The catharsis of writing and speaking about grief and loss is personally vital to me on my individual pathway; from the start I knew that I had to find a focus that would allow me to try to make some sense of the senseless tragedy that is the loss of James.  Being associated with The Compassionate Friends, one of the charities offering support to bereaved parents, allowed me opportunities to connect with others who really understand the issues around child loss.  I have often said that there is no substitute for being with someone who has experienced similar loss and with whom you can share the broad spectrum of emotions that assail you.

Over time, as I have learned to process the specific grief that comes with being a bereaved parent, I have gained a broader understanding of how we respond to other losses in our lives, too.  Each loss is different, yet there are similarities which we come to recognise as inevitable.  Just as the items in the Repair Shop are unique, so too are our emotions and stories bound up with our genetics and individual family history.

On 28 July it will be fifteen years since we lost James.  Fifteen years! And if I were to lay my early grief before you, represented by a hole in my life, that hole would be a certain diameter and an infinite, immeasurable depth.

Now I lay before you my life; as it is today.  My life surrounds the grief hole.  My life is filled with a myriad of different things that sustain and fulfil me, from family and friends, to work and leisure, to writing, and my hobbies of photography and art, to walking the dog and exploring the beautiful place where we live.

The grief hole is still the same diameter.  Its depth is still infinite and immeasurable.  But 15 full and fulfilling years of life have been lived around that hole of grief and loss.  When the turning point in my grieving process came, well, it doesn’t really matter.  But it is fact.

As for transformation, our faith and spiritual beliefs may offer a little insight into the mystery that is this human life, and what happens when it ends for us on this plane.  Spiritual support ideally needs to be holistic, uplifting us mentally, physically and emotionally.

When we lose a loved one, our grief never stops. Loss becomes a permanent part of us, but at the same time it can activate new pathways: affecting us in mind, body and spirit; transforming us into survivors of loss with a new strength of purpose, resilience and empathy.

Never is the saying of carpe diem more appropriate, than when it is applied to those who have loved and lost.

Seize the day.  Live as full a life as you can, and make your life extraordinary.

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Written in loving memory of James Edward Clark (11.09.1985 – 28.07.2005)

Always loved and missed.  Forever in our hearts.

Covid-19 and Grief

The other day, I heard someone on the radio say,

Welcome to the club that no one wants to join”.  He was talking about the current Covid-19 situation but his words really struck me because they were exactly those that were used when I joined The Compassionate Friends organisation shortly after James died in 2005.  For those of you who don’t know, The Compassionate Friends (TCF) is an organisation that supports bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings after the loss of a child, of any age, in any circumstances.  TCF was a lifeline for me in those early weeks and months and my association with it continues, as do several deep friendships made through my membership.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic is analogous with grief.  We are not talking about an individual’s grief, but a collective grief that spans the world.  Rarely has there been such a leveller, that sees multi-millionaires and those living hand to mouth in identical fear of the whisper of the breath of coronavirus.  None of us know the outcome, or can predict it, and that makes us fearful.

C S Lewis said, “No-one told me that grief felt so like fear” and the combination of mourning for our lives pre-Covid and the uncertain future we are all facing is indeed grievous and fearful.  Our complacency has been shaken up; our faith rocked, our foundations have become slippery shale instead of steady ground.  And it is tough to live through.

But, where would we be without positivity and resilience to drive us forward?                   Living in the Mourning Light (yes, that is a shameless plug for my book since marketing opportunities are limited right now) deals with a variety of attributes: those of hope, light, faith, resilience, joy, optimism and grace.  Now more than ever, we need to gather as much strength as we can from the things that gladden our heart and restore our faith, to find and fortify our optimism for the future.

In pre-Covid times, I would be advocating that we all go off and do things to boost our endorphins, most notably outside and socially.  The current rules dictate that we must look indoors for much of our succour.  But there are many options to consider; from reading, writing, drawing and painting, to cooking, baking and completing brain puzzles such as crosswords, jigsaws and Sudoku.  Our daily exercise is an opportunity to reconnect with nature, photograph the colours in our environment and have time to think, uninterrupted by the usual noise and clamour.

The internet offers many opportunities for virtual socialising, from quizzes to barbecues. I have been enjoying virtual church services with Zoom coffee chats afterwards, and an on-line retreat.

Shaun and I are lucky to live in an area where we have lovely walks from our doorstep, and we make the most of the opportunities to enjoy fine weather.  I feel I have a new appreciation for my home comforts, too.  Home is our refuge and the place where we need to feel safe.  I remember when we lived in Addlestone, in the early days after losing James, that coming home from outings or time away was hard.  Home had become the place where we learned that something terrible had happened to him, and it took a long time to get past that feeling.  Thankfully this is not part of my Covid grief.

It is no coincidence that I have illustrated this blog post with images of stiles.  Simple in design, stiles simultaneously represent a barrier and an access point.  Traversing a stile can be a bit like moving forward, in grief terms.  First of all, you clamber up one side of the obstacle, which can be difficult in itself.  There’s a balance point at the top; often this is where I hold on to the post and pause a moment to take in the views around me, enjoying being higher off the ground than usual and reflecting on a feeling of freedom. Then there’s the somewhat ungainly hook of the legs over to the other side.  As I step down and feel the solid ground beneath my feet once again, I feel a sense of achievement and readiness to move forward. In stepping down, the pressure that I feel at the back of my kneecaps, not really pain, but a feeling of pressure, reminds me of how grief mellows from visceral hurt in every nerve and muscle to a quiet awareness that is bearable – most of the time.

The pandemic has undoubtedly stirred up my personal grief rollercoaster.  The daily news bulletins and dreadful sadness of those who are mourning people cruelly taken by this wicked disease, revive familiar feelings of loss and sadness.  I weep for those families so affected and for the families who cannot carry out the usual observances and rituals following a death.

The anxiety of grief is present for most of us now.  We need to be able to take control of the threat of Covid.  Our ways of doing this are simple enough – to keep washing our hands, social distancing and mixing with as few people as possible.  But even   when we are doing what we are told are the right things, we still have the anticipatory grief, the concern that we could so easily lose someone we love, or be taken ourselves.  It is very hard to find the balance here.  I find the only way I can succeed in doing this is by taking each day as it comes; a familiar tactic to those who are newly bereaved.

Grief is never simple.  Its complexities vary with each individual scenario and we are not automatically equipped with the right tools to deal with all its nuances in these uncertain Covid times.  Acknowledging that we are grieving for our old life is useful, and it helps not to dwell too much on all the cancelled dates on the calendar. 

I would like to ask Covid-19 – I wonder how you feel about your global impact?  Did you know you would stop us in our tracks?  Did you know you would turn our world upside down?  Your dark identity impacts upon us like a sudden death. 

Today, I sometimes find myself debating whether significant events happened BJ or AJ. (Before James/after James). Now that almost fifteen years have elapsed since he died, there can be a blurring between the before and after and I can’t always remember.  I hope that the time will come when I can feel the same about Covid.  Did that happen BL or AL (before lockdown/after lockdown?)

Some positives that come out of this time for many of us are a renewed sense of community, more time to evaluate the beauty of the world around us, and an appreciation for the simpler things that we took for granted before.  Stay safe, everyone.

Post Coronavirus New Normality

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
― M. Scott Peck

When I went out on my Corona Camera walk the other day, I was thinking of M Scott Peck’s book, ‘The Road Less Travelled’.  I was indeed walking along a road close to home that is now less travelled.  It is aptly named ‘Windwhistle Lane’ and I can attest that in the winter, yes, it certainly does.  And I can’t help but think that the road we were all travelling pre pandemic now stands behind us as an easy highway.  The new road, the one less travelled, offers us opportunities to reach destinations we had never even thought of; in terms of how we will emerge after it is all over.  We are heading for another ‘new normality’, an expression that is being bandied about quite a bit at the moment.  It is one that will be familiar to almost every griever.  When you lose someone you love, you are immediately thrown into uncharted territory.  You have to learn pretty quickly how to present your ‘new normal’ face to the world.  My experience is that people expect to see this visage relatively quickly.   They find it easier to cope with someone they recognise as being a reasonable facsimile of the person they knew before. 

But, is this way of being, the way we are living now with Covid-19, our new normality? 

It is normal for today and tomorrow, but please God it will not be normal in six months’ time! 

It is remarkable how quickly, with stoic resilience, we are adjusting to the restrictions placed upon us.  (Well, the majority of us, anyway). The things I miss are likely to be the things that everyone misses – family and social interaction, hugs, lunch with friends, a jaunt to the pub, a meal out, a stroll round town or at the coast … the list is long.  But I accept that it is necessary and sensible to take on board the things we must do to ensure our future.  The message is clear enough:

By staying home and doing what we are told for as long as it takes, we can each become a life saver. 

Today, all those things that we took for granted yesterday seem especially wonderful! –

We hardly thought, did we, about planning holidays abroad, both near and far, or jumping in the car and driving off to visit family and friends …  these things will be more precious, more appreciated perhaps, in the future. 

I wonder if we will all have a new attitude of gratitude, or will we soon slip back into our hedonistic, self-serving ways?  I hope for the former.

There are positives to our new normal – some of them quite unexpected.  Having certainties in our future makes us lazy.  We procrastinate because ‘there’s always tomorrow’ – but when tomorrow becomes less definite, we have to step up to the plate and do those things that we were putting off. Cupboards are de-cluttered, lawns cut, painting and decorating under way and gardens ferociously weeded.

It may be helpful to adopt a few life-affirming thoughts at a time when we are grieving for our pre-Covid-19 lives:

  • I will and I can achieve new normality when the pandemic is over
  • My life is different but I am still standing, still functioning
  • My identity is new:  I am not the same as before.  The pandemic is part of me, but my old self is still there too.

Anyone who has read some of my writing will know that I often challenge the linear nature of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s ‘five stages of grief’.  The stages originally described the feelings and emotions of terminally ill patients and they have been adapted to form the DABDA model (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance).  

I am revisiting these categories again relative to the pandemic:

Denial:  Denial is protective, in grief terms.  It allows you to process loss and absorb shock, particularly in the early stages.  Denial creates a way of living that is preferable to reality as it is less painful.  But denial is not so helpful in this situation.  We are so bombarded with edicts and warnings from the government that it is difficult to exist in a state of denial.  I am sure I am not alone in finding that I can only tolerate a small amount of the daily updates; just sufficient to know what is the current state of play.

Anger: It is futile to be angry about the origin of coronavirus, just as it is futile to be angry when our loved ones die.  But we may find it helpful to express and dissipate anger by physical means, using exercise to clear our heads of negativity.  Anger, in itself, can turn us into crusaders, against whatever is making us angry and it has the flavour of reality about it rather than being a nebulous concept. 

We have a choice with anger; we can choose to channel it positively.

Bargaining:  the concept of bargaining offers false hope that you can change events through your will, for example, “Dear God, if you make sure I don’t get coronavirus I will never complain again …” is asking an awful lot on both sides!

Trying to bargain like this is a natural quest for pre-Covid 19 normality, but it may be more comfortable to adopt a fatalistic stance and utilise our inborn hope and the faith we possess to see us through the darkest times until we come out into the light again. (Yes, I know that sounds very familiar!)

Depression:  If you have ever suffered from depression you will know how it saps colour from life.  There is no doubt that the restrictions and turbulent times during this pandemic will have an effect on our mental wellness and stability.  If you are not depressed and simply trying to cope day by day, trying to keep a positive mindset and using the many resources available will help. 

Clinical depression requires professional intervention and if you are truly depressed you cannot simply ‘pull yourself together’.  

Acceptance:  Coming to terms, assimilating and living with are all expressions that I accord to my own particular and personal grief following the loss of James.  I have often said and written before that I do not believe any bereaved parent can ever truly accept the loss of a child. 

In the case of Covid-19 I believe we will all come to accept that the pandemic affected each and every one of us, resulting in grief for the life we used to live. 

For most of us, we will move forward, growing, learning and evolving in the new normality that is our post Covid reality.

Grief never stops, but it abates, and when you realise you can smile and laugh and interact again without feeling guilt or remorse or sadness, you have truly arrived at your new normal.

Stay safe everyone. 

Stay home.  Protect the NHS.  Save lives.

For Mothering Sunday

In Menorca c 1970

My dear mum has been gone now 19 years and I still miss her every day.  But to say I am motherless sounds horrible.  It sounds like it negates all the love and nurturing my mother gave me; love and nurturing which I try to emulate with my own beautiful daughter. 

Sadly, I am not alone in knowing what it is to have and to lose a mother. 

Time passes and with it go the birthdays, love stories, anniversaries, family arrivals and departures, house moves, new jobs, maturity and learning. And each milestone is a mile more along the road that we don’t walk together.

I am the mother of a daughter who is herself the mother of two beautiful children.  How my mum would have loved her great-grandchildren! 

And I am the mother of a son.  A son who is no longer with us, who died 15 years ago this year.  I hope he is with his Gran.  He loved her and never missed an opportunity to snuggle up with her on the sofa, he on one side, my daughter on the other.

Sometimes I see my mother when I look in the mirror.  Sometimes I see my daughter there too.  Our continuum is unique to us, yet it is part of that bigger scene with my mum at the top, the kindly matriarch whose presence is felt even though she is no longer here.  Her wisdom was passed down, through me to my daughter.  The next turn of the family wheel will see that knowledge and wisdom evolve and develop. My daughter will pass it on to her daughter.  So goes our female history.

Many women make the journey to motherhood without a mum.  They manage admirably and instinctively.  It’s in their DNA, I guess. Those women might reach out to other mums to mother them.  If you are lucky enough to be on the receiving end, what a privilege it is to own and embrace that special status.

I read somewhere, ‘All women are mothers, because all women bring life into the world in some way’.  Whether or not we become biological parents, we nurture, we teach, we enfold those whom we love and support them in any ways they need.  We do not need to have given birth to someone to love them as unconditionally as we would love children born of our bodies.

As women, we might be mothers, stepmothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, friends, confidantes, colleagues, neighbours. 

Whether or not you are a biological mother, whether or not your mother is here, it is your mum who grew you and bore you out into the world.  That gives every single one of us, of whatever gender, a commonality and a uniqueness that makes us the wonderful human creatures that we are.

I have managed to get through this post without mention of how today is affected by Covid-19.  This is a unique kind of Mother’s Day. 

But despite the restrictions and contingencies we are all facing right now, and in celebration of all mothers everywhere, I say: Happy Mother’s Day 2020!

Mum holding me in Torcross c 1958

Writing, Authoring, Signing …

When you’re a writer, what is it that makes you feel like a writer?  Being a writer is committing your thoughts and ideas to paper and sharing them, or not, as you choose.

But when you’re an author, what makes you feel like an author?  There’s a subtle difference and I feel better placed to answer the second question because of the way the past few days have gone. 

It started on Sunday when I signed Living in the Mourning Light for my friend Alison, who was visiting from Sussex.  We have known each other eleven years and it was a pleasure to personalise her copy of the book. 

Yesterday, I had a message from a friend who lives near Bampton.

’Hi Andrea, I wondered if I could pop round and have you sign two copies of your book for me?  They arrived today and I am giving them to friends.’

Wow, what a compliment!  I love that my readers want to pass on the book to others, that is a real recommendation.  J duly popped round, and she told me a little about each of the women to whom she was giving the books.  I like to write a special dedication in books. 

This is one of the great joys of being an author:  signing and individualising your work when you are sharing it with others. 

Also today, I signed a copy of the book for Stella.  No, not my daughter Stella … but the Stella who is our house guest at the moment. She and her husband John are staying with us this week while they house-hunt.  They have sold their home in the USA and plan to relocate somewhere local to here, which is very exciting for us but somewhat stressful for them!  I have known Stella since school days and she remembers James throughout his formative years.  It has been lovely reminiscing about the children when they were growing up.

Today was also special for another reason, as I was visited by a presenter from BBC Radio Devon who spent an incredibly long time chatting with me before recording an interview for her programme.  It was a direct contrast to the off the cuff interview I did a few weeks ago in Surrey.  I will of course share the link when the programme is aired.

I have been pondering why Living in the Mourning Light is reaching a wider audience more easily than was my experience with Into the Mourning Light.  Is it because the book is written with a broader remit or that I am more confident in my abilities as a writer and author?  Probably a combination of both.

I love that people are reading the book.  I would however be even more elated and delighted to see further reviews of the book on Amazon which will help to raise its profile and therefore reach even more readers.  If you have read the book, please could you kindly review it too?  Thank you!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Living-Mourning-Light-Andrea-Corrie/dp/1916271804

Can you find Quiet, Beauty and Space?

Our lives are

Over-crowded

Over-excited

Over-strained

We all want quiet

We all want beauty

We all need space.

Unless we have it

We cannot reach

That sense of quiet

In which whispers

Of better things

Come to us gently.

I was surprised to learn that these words were written 125 years ago, by one of the co-founders of the National Trust, Octavia Hill, who was a social reformer and philanthropist in her time. 

The fantastic legacy of the Trust lives on in many places. Indeed, the rolling hills and parkland at Knightshayes is one of our favourite places to walk Shadow.  The quiet beauty of the space never fails to lift the spirit; it is lovely to be out in the countryside, even when it is, as it has been for weeks, wet and muddy!

Quiet, beauty and space.  Three separate concepts that are impossible to imagine at the outset of grief.  Taking them one by one:

Quiet – grief is most certainly not quiet! It is tumult, it is discordant, it is constant babble, a tinnitus in the mind that takes over your rational thinking processes.  How do you begin to find a lessening of that chaotic inner shouting?  Only by separating those over-crowded thoughts, calming the over-excited emotions, and lessening that strain can you start to find and appreciate …Beauty.  Grief is not beautiful.  Grief is ugly, tear-stained skin and puffy eyes.  But after the storm, after the torrential outpourings, after the mad renting of the wind that blows through your heart … then comes the serenity.  Then comes the relaxation of your tense muscles to allow the natural peace to return, that gives you the face that tells the world you are in recovery, you are not wearing your loss as starkly as you were.  Your grief does not define you quite the way it did. You can begin to embrace …Space.  I still need space for my grief.  My grief takes up as much space in my heart as it ever did, but I accommodate it differently.  My heart muscle has grown around that aching hole in the middle.  It is still there but it is blanketed by layers of love and time that make it bearable. 

No, I am not ‘over it’.  No, I have not forgotten it.  But I live with it.

That sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently is mine.