Letting Go is Not the Same as Forgetting

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I don’t know why, but today feels like a day for remembering.  It’s not an anniversary, or a birthday, or a special day for any particular reason.  But I feel like I’ve been so caught up in the here and now, so busy assimilating all the new experiences of our first Spring living in the Devon countryside, that somehow my remembrance of James has slipped down the page.

How’s that for an admission?  I can almost hear a sharp intake of breath from the recently bereaved.

“What did you say?  You can’t be a very good mother.  How can you possibly forget?  How can you not be thinking of your son every waking moment?” 

Well, hang on a moment, don’t get too carried away.   Is it so wrong after nearly thirteen years, to allow myself to shrug off the mantle of grief now and then? Is it wrong not to feel guilty for doing so? Letting go is not the same as forgetting.

Perhaps it’s time for a chat with James to clarify things.

“Gee, thanks, Mum, nice of you to tell the world you’re forgetting all about me”.

“Now, I didn’t say that, did I?”

“No, but you implied it. Are you, as they say, ‘over it’?”

“Never, James.  I can never be ‘over it’.

Let me tell you how it is.

How could I forget 19, nearly twenty years of your life with us?  Those 19 years still underpin everything I see and do.  Trust me James, I don’t waste my days, and do you know why I don’t waste my days?”

“Is it because you feel you’re always having to make up for me not being there, or is that too vain?”

“Very mature observation, son.  You’ve obviously grown more sensible now that you are in your thirties!

No … I don’t feel that I have to make up for your not being here, in the same way I don’t want anyone else who knows and loves you to feel that.

But, and it is a big but, any parent who has lost a child, indeed anyone who has lost anyone close, will live differently to a new default setting.  We must value the life we have left, for none of us knows how long that may be …

After all, we have a better understanding of how life can be snatched away in an instant”.

“I think I get that mum.  Are you happy these days, would you say?”

“Yes, son, I can truly say I have attained proper happiness again.  It has taken a long time.  It has taken a lot of working through the trauma, distress, shock and pain of grief.  But the joys in life seem heightened when I allow myself to really embrace them”.

“How have you arrived at that point, mum?”

“Wow, James it has taken so many different directions to reach the place that is comfortable, it would take an age to list them all.

But most importantly, I have had to learn to trust in the renewal of optimism and positivity.

I have had to learn to have faith that things will get better.

I have learned that I can step out of the darkness, into the mourning light”.

“Do you still see things that jog you into memories of me, Mum?”

“Yes, of course I do.  Why only today, I was in a shop and I saw one of those wooden artist’s mannequins, you remember you had one?  You can pose it into different positions and draw it …Something like that takes me back instantly to remembering you.  Whatever else might change, those memory jogs certainly don’t.  And of course, some music always takes me back immediately.”

“Ok, you’re beginning to convince me”.

 “It’s simple, really.  I know that by remembering you, you are with me always.  But like I don’t need to be in a Church in order to pray, I don’t need to be remembering you every moment in obvious ways …”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if I am out walking, I will see something that makes me think of you and smile.  You know we moved to Devon last year and the road we use most frequently takes us through a place village called Bolham.  I can imagine you … you would have called it Gollum, or Bottom, just to make me laugh.  I can picture that.  Those sorts of personal memories are very special”.

“I’m glad you are happy, mum.  I’m sorry not to be there to share more stuff with you but I am pleased that you can enjoy life in a new way.  Does anyone in Devon know about me, by the way?”

“Ah, that’s an interesting question.  You will recall that at the start, I wanted to tell anybody and everybody.  These days I am more selective and I choose whom to share you with.

I’ve made a new friend, and I told her recently, because I knew she wouldn’t react negatively … some people can’t handle others’ ‘stuff’ – but she gets it.  And that’s comforting.  I will always need a variety of go-to people, and what is interesting that many of them never met you, but they all feel they know you!”

“That’s good to hear, mum.  I am glad I left my mark”.

“James, you have no idea. Sometimes on a clear night I look up to the skies and marvel at the stars.  You are one of those stars, and your light shines brightly in all those whom you left behind, with love, and optimism.

My appreciation for your life, transforms the years since your passing into something bearable.  I hold what was so precious and special in the past as treasure deep within my heart and soul.

This is my truth and certainty at today’s point in the process of living with loss. So, even if you aren’t top of my ‘to do’ list every day, rest assured you’ll never be forgotten.  Got the picture?”

“I get that Mum, thanks for checking in with me.  Talk again soon.  Love you”.

“Love you all the world, James”.

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Easter Thoughts

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We are approaching Easter; the time of year that brings the message of rebirth and regeneration which is one of divine, inborn hope.  But before the rejoicing on Easter day, comes the despairing anguish of loss.

Thinking of this, I found myself reflecting on a quote from a poem by Pablo Neruda,           “my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping but I shall go on living”.                         It put me in mind of the early phase of grieving, when you are so traumatised, so utterly shocked by loss, both physically and mentally, that you are torn between a desire to be with your lost loved one, or to carry on with life.  It is fair to say that for a while, you will be an observer of life.  You cannot fully participate in anything when the enormity of your personal tragedy subsumes everything that you try to do.  Thank God that this phase passes! – the tragedy, the enormity of your loss does not diminish, but your reaction to it does.  You cannot resurrect the person who has left you but you can lovingly remember them and they live on in your heart.

Although James is no longer physically here, I feel that even now, as we approach thirteen years since his passing, that he is in my heart, my soul, my very breath.  He walks with me, beside me and in my shadow.  I know that I will ultimately be reunited with him.  This belief comforts me.

When I wrote Into the Mourning Light four years ago, in hindsight I believe that I was only just beginning to live in the mourning light.  I now I have a better understanding of that particular place.  It has a parallel with Easter because it is a resurrection of sorts. The dawning of mourning light is only possible after the darkest of darkness …it is the obverse side to despair and its light grows bright and true.

The mourning light reflects a commitment to having the strength to embrace life again.

The mourning light represents my renewal of myself.  I am a new and different human being, necessarily changed by the loss of James.  Other losses also changed me, but none have been so profound.

I knew my son; after all we shared a body for nine months before he was born! – and I know that even now, part of him resides within me.

It is the part that is love borne from grief; the deep well of emotion engendered by mourning that is not diminished by time.

It is the part that brings me renewed joy in life.

It is the part that guides my hands to typing, writing, gardening, cooking.

It is the part that encourages me to be the best possible version of myself that I can be.

It is the part that fires my creative inspiration.

It is the part that fuels my evolving spirituality and religious beliefs.

It is the part that drives me to keep on learning, keep on exploring.

And perhaps most importantly it is the part that ensures that I engage fully with family and friends, sharing mutual love and support. 

 I know that I benefit from all the loving support that comes to me.  My inner senses such as intuition, compassion and empathy, are heightened since James died and I am sure this is due to my exploration of the many ways I can learn more about, and live with, grief.

I am very grateful to each of the many contributors who generously continue to shape my new life in the mourning light.

As Winter slowly gives way to spring, bringing a renewal of hope in the greening of the trees, whatever your belief, you can share in the joy of Easter, if only through a surfeit of chocolate!  The underlying message is one of rebirth.  It is perhaps a good time to reflect on the messages in your own life that enrich, sustain and drive you forward.

Happy Easter!

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English as she is spoke (and writ)

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Question:  “How are you?”

Answer:  “I’m good.  I’m really good”

This Q and A is often heard, but as a pedantic grammarian, it sets my teeth on edge.  I invariably want to respond, “Oh, you’re not bad or naughty then? … but are you well?”  because to me, the word ‘good’ has an entirely separate meaning to the word well’, or even to ‘fine’, which is an acceptable idiom that is our common response.

In fact, even ‘fine’ carries its own mildly amusing acronym, standing for ‘Flippin’ Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional’.

Answering that you are ‘good’ is a bland response that does not invite any further investigation.  When I am asked how I am, I generally assume that I am being asked a blanket question, in other words, how is my state of health and what is my state of mind?  “I’m well, thank you” does not feel to me to be such a closed reply as “I’m good”.

The answer to the “How are you?” question is a minefield in bereavement and grief terms.

In the early days, you will just about be able to trot out an “I’m doing ok, thanks”, when you are asked but generally, people tend to avoid asking you how you are because they are fearful of your response.

 When I speak or write about bereavement, I say, “Don’t ask someone how they are, unless you are prepared to listen to the answer”.  This may sound patronising but, just as the bereaved get accustomed to hiding their responses so as not to upset those who are questioning them, so those supporting the bereaved should be prepared for honest answers.  These truthful replies are better than anodyne rejoinders.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the bereaved quickly learn to don a daily mask of self protection.  When you ask how a bereaved person is doing they will gauge how ready you are for a truthful, possibly negative answer, and decide whether it is better to be honest, or not. Letting the mask slip once in a while to admit that you are struggling, is a hard thing to do but ultimately it can be helpful.  When you are the recipient of a heartfelt, honest response, even if it is upsetting, try to see it as a compliment to the regard in which you are held.  The responder trusts you with his or her true expression of feeling.

It is little wonder that grieving is tiring, as you necessarily become accustomed to seeing every conversation as a potential minefield, and you constantly assess not only your response, but that of others.  This can lead you to feel quite resentful and defensive, resulting in stilted, uncomfortable conversations.

I know now that in the early days after James died in 2005, some people found me aloof and unapproachable.  I am thinking particularly of the workplace, where well-meaning colleagues were anxious about upsetting me and therefore backed off rather than opening dialogue with me.  It has taken me a long time to appreciate and understand the many nuances of expression that exist in mourning.  I apologise retrospectively for being difficult to be around.  It was often the case that I was only just holding myself together, let alone being able to manage intelligent discourse with anyone. I was walking unknown terrain as a bereaved parent, just as those around me were unsure how best to support me.

The bereaved are great at finding ways to detach, to distract themselves from focusing on the difficulties of loss. All the time I am obsessing about grammar and the order and symmetry it represents in my life  (yes I know that sounds a bit extreme!) then I am not having to delve into the emotional depths of my loss.  It is more comfortable for me to hone in on the demise of the apostrophe … or what I perceive as the mis-use of our glorious language.

It irritates me to read, particularly on social media, comments such as “so glad your feeling better” with no hint of either an apostrophe or an ‘e’.  Also, I frequently see the misappropriation of the apostrophe into plural words; I have seen it in ‘room’s’, ‘place’s’, ‘choice’s’, MOT’s.  I heard about an anonymous apostrophe vigilante who was going round under cover of darkness in his home town replacing or removing apostrophes to correct the laxity of grammar on local signs. He used a device called the ‘apostrophiser’ (is that even a word?)   – home-made apparatus relying largely on a broom handle and sponges with which he applied vinyl apostrophes or blanked them out.  I can’t help but wonder if he was trying to deflect some awfulness in his life through this particular behaviour, although in interviews he revealed only that he was a stickler for correct grammar and pronunciation.

Our language has evolved rapidly in recent years, in particular with the steady march of new verbs associated with the internet, such as googling, texting, tweeting, and even sexting.  I accept that I am a traditionalist when it comes to the written word, but am I really alone in deploring the reduction of our grammatical standards to accepting the mis-spellings which are now common place? One of my pet hates is ‘definitely’ spelled ‘definately’ which some spellcheckers denigrate even further by turning it into defiantly, which is a different word altogether!

Please do not finish a sentence with “So that is it, end of”.

Or, if you are suggesting I go to work something out, I would prefer it if you didn’t ask me to “Go figure”.

I deplore the often heard malapropisms, “I was sat at the table”, or “I was stood at the side of the road”.   You were sitting, or standing.

Equally, people do not lay down in bed, they lie down.

People lie and hens lay.

So-called text speak using abbreviations and acronyms is gradually becoming an acceptable way of communication; I know I am showing my age here, but at least I don’t think LOL stands for Lots of Love!

Sometimes words and expressions are replaced by clever emoticons, which manage to express a great deal without the need for words.

The Wikipedia definition of emoticon is: etymologically a portmanteau of emotion and icon, is a metacommunicative pictorial representation of a facial expression that, serves to draw a receiver’s attention to the tenor or temper of a sender’s nominal non-verbal communication, changing and improving its interpretation.   Gosh, all that for a smiley face!

Do you see what I mean?  All the time my mind is occupied with this trivia, I am not in a sad place … anyway, must ‘crack on’ … and hope that I am easier to have a conversation with these days, despite my aversion to lax grammar!

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Moving Forward with Purpose

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When I was a very small girl at my first school, I remember being in a class called Transition.  It was never fully explained why this class was so named, nor did I have any idea of what I was in transit from, or indeed to.  I think the class was probably a bridge from nursery to junior school.

But it occurs to me now, that much of adult life is spent in transition of one kind or another.

For instance, when you become a parent, you must adapt and adjust to a completely new way of life.   Probably excited, anxious and sleep deprived in equal measure, you are expected to slot into an entirely new way of living with the additional responsibility for a small, demanding human being whom is entirely dependent upon you for all his or her needs.  Casting my mind back, I remember the sense of panic I felt during the early weeks and months of transition from being a wife to becoming a mother, too.  There was no time to analyse my feelings then, it was a case of having to get on with it.  Suddenly, I had to be a fully paid up member of the adult community, and it was not the smoothest of transitions.  The transition to maturity is a long, slow process.

The loss of a child instantly throws you into a new, unwanted transition that co-exists with a sense of suspended animation.

James died in July 2005.

I was thinking about the early days of loss recently and revisited what I wrote then in Into the Mourning Light

“In the early days, weeks and months following loss, time took on a strange quality. 

The days – and nights – dragged that summer, yet suddenly we were in late September and I had no real sense of how time had passed.

One Saturday, Shaun and I went to the RHS gardens at Wisley.  This has long been a favourite place that we visit through the seasons.  I had last been there shortly before James’s death.

We followed our usual route, which took in the main avenue of summer borders – twin, large borders either side of a grassy pathway, which are always splendid in summer.

“Oh no!” I exclaimed, dismayed. “How did that happen? All the flowers have gone over.”

I was so upset to see that the buds, which I had seen shortly before James’s death, were now gone, spent and brown, dried and desiccated on their stems with the onset of early autumn. I felt cheated, deprived of my customary sense of the progression of the seasons.

“Is this how it is going to be, then?” I demanded of Shaun, “Not noticing what is around us because of what has happened to us personally?  It is awful, dreadful, unbearable…”                                    

I remember this as one of the lowest moments I experienced and it emphasised how different life would be for us now”.

Being in a state of transition can be negative, but it was also protective for me at that time.  The profound shock of the early grief state necessitates the donning of armour against the outside world.  My oblivion to the changing seasons was hardly surprising. Every day events did not impinge on my consciousness because my mind was entirely taken up with coping with grief.

If change is a wall to get over, then transition can be seen as a gate in that wall.

In grief terms, you might think to yourself, “What will it take for me to get over this?” but it is not a case of getting over; rather it is a case of passing through the gate, to the path of transition.  In tandem with this is recognition that it is time to let go of what is holding you back. It takes a while to learn that letting go of the past does not negate its existence, rather that doing so can help you along on your transitory journey.

In my case, it took me a long time to understand that constantly asking the question “Why?” brought me no nearer to the answers to my losses. Leaving behind the question, whilst it always remains unanswered, gradually brings a measure of peace.

You may think you are going through a transitory state alone, but you will be guided, supported and helped by whatever you reach out to, whether it is spiritual, emotional or physical.  Much can happen to you that is inexplicable or seemingly random, but you may learn to accept rather than question change, as you move in transition from one stage to the next.

In particular, the sorrow of grief is unique.  It forces transition when you cannot bear to stand in that darkest of dark places any longer.  You need to move forward in hope of finding an easier, lighter place to be.

Fortunately, transition is more often than not a constructive state.  Transition is not exactly transformation or metamorphosis.  It’s not the caterpillar or the butterfly; it is the chrysalis, experiencing a lengthy and lonely transit time to attain its wings. 

Transition is progression rather than regression, advancement rather than impediment.  Transition is a reorientation to the self that you already know and an orientation to the added dimensions of the self you are becoming.

Successfully completing transition means accepting a need for change, and acting upon it.

But transition’s progress can be impeded by the side swipes in life that catch you out, such as sudden loss and fast-altering circumstances.

The past year has seen great adjustment for me in my personal and professional life.  I have nominally retired from work; that is to say, I am no longer in paid employment, but I do not feel ready to say I have fully retired.

Shaun and I moved from Surrey to Devon at the end of June last year and we feel we are still undergoing a process of transition.  This is undoubtedly positive, reflecting as it does our acclimatisation to a less hectic pace of life in more scenic surroundings.  The differences in our new life are significant.  Everything is novel and altered; and settling into our new location is a transition that is gradually becoming more established.

The desired end result from transition arrives on that happy day when you can look back and say that you have moved comfortably into your new state and place. 

That day may be a while coming.

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Coffee and Candles

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During the past week I’ve managed to break two objects that I have had for a long time.

In themselves they weren’t especially valuable, but I was upset that I broke them as they had safely accompanied me through various house moves and always had their own place in my home.  They each represented different memories.

The first item was a glass ‘coffee press’ coffee maker. I am not a great caffeine drinker but the coffee maker had seen plenty of dinner party service over the years.  The day I broke it, I fancied some real coffee, but as I took the jug from the cupboard, it slipped out of my hand and the glass shattered on the tiled kitchen floor.  Fortunately, the Bodum Bistro coffee press  is an iconic design, and I was pleased that later on that day I was able to buy a similar replacement, and even better, the price was reduced in the sale.  The filter is a little more sophisticated, but otherwise the design remains the same.

I’m sure that a large part of my sadness at the demise of the coffee maker relates to the fact that my late mum had one and it was a permanent fixture on her kitchen worktop.  Hers was a small capacity version, and she invariably had some black coffee on tap, “The caffeine perks me up, dear”, she used to say.

The second mishap was entirely my own fault.  Many years ago on a visit to Copenhagen, I bought a small, round, glass tea light holder.  It was bang on trend at the time, being made from thick glass in an irregular pattern that was meant to resemble a snowball. Indeed it looked suitably ice-like and reflected the light very well when it held a lit candle.

This was  my ‘go to’ holder for lighting candles, sometimes to lift a dark corner or scent a room, but mostly I viewed it as my ‘in memoriam’ votive candle holder, often placing it in front of a photo of James or having a candle lit in remembrance on significant dates.

So … on the day it happened, I intended to change the spent tea light for a new one, but a little wax had melted onto the glass at the bottom of the holder.  I thought, “I know, I will run some hot water over it”. This was in an attempt to soften the wax and make the candle easier to remove. But I realised this wasn’t my greatest idea when I heard a distinct popping sound and saw that the glass had cracked all the way round.  I guess that the hot water being directed onto the cold glass caused it to expand too quickly and it couldn’t withstand the pressure.

I have other tea light holders; in particular I often light one that has a butterfly design.  It was not so much the loss of the Danish holder that upset me as the significance of what it represented over the years.

Inadvertently destroying two objects from the same era in the space of a week felt quite strange and I set out to find a message …

My emotional response was disproportionate to the monetary value of the items, but not to my sentimental attachment to them.

More positively, I learnt that mere items can generally be replaced. 

 Memories remain whether or not the associated items still exist.

 Losing items relating to a time that is now in the past allows opportunities to move forward and embrace something different for the future. 

I now have a chance to find a new favourite tea light holder without displacing the old one.

 Creating new memories is as important as holding old ones.  The trick is to let go what is not necessary any more and replace it with something different, which may turn out to be even better than the original.

How often I have said, “I wish that hadn’t happened …” weighed down by ‘stuff’ I am carrying with me from the past.  Of course, when it comes to major losses and traumas, these cannot be simply discarded like the broken coffee maker and candle holder, but their ongoing effect and presence can be managed in a healthy, forward looking way. Simplistically, looking forward rather than backward is a learned skill and it is definitely easier said than done.

Someone said to me recently, “Throughout your life you gather stuff that clings to you.  If you could see it you would look like a snowball getting larger and larger.  What you need to do is to control your roll down the hill”. I like the imagery of this and also favour the thought of brushing off some of that snow so it is not so heavy and cumbersome.

My new coffee maker saw good use over Christmas and I am resolved to try different coffees to ensure it is utilised more regularly.

And I am looking forward to finding a tea light holder that reflects who I am now, rather than who I was when I bought the old one.

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Grief, loss and stepping into a New Year

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As 2017 closes and the New Year approaches, it is a time of mixed feelings for many of us. What lies ahead in 2018?  The year will arrive as a fresh, empty page, ready to be filled with a potpourri of joys, achievements, happiness and sorrow, over the next twelve months.

This time last year, Shaun and I were contemplating a move to the West Country, with an equal mix of excitement and trepidation.  A year on, and our move has happened; we are settling into a different, countryside life in Devon, our time filled with the prospect of new adventures.  We are very fortunate and the turn of the year is a good time to take stock and feel gratitude for what we have, never forgetting the links we have left behind us.

But having lost my brother to cancer this year, I know that turning the corner from 2017 to 2018 will have its difficulties too.

Looking back over 2017, Peter was here; looking forward into 2018 … he is not.

The memories I have of him are mixed as we had periods of estrangement, but I find it easy to focus on the better times we shared, particularly over the past few years.  I know too, that as time passes and the loss becomes less raw, I will be able to share and enjoy some more family memories with my nephew, Ben.  Peter’s spirit lives on in his son, which is immensely comforting.

Losing James 12 years ago has taught me many lessons about living with grief and loss, and the turn of the year feels like a good time to reiterate some of them, to help those who are grieving the loss of someone dear …

 “How can I face a new year without him/her in it?”

Try not to resist the New Year.  There is comfort in living in the past, that’s true, but endeavour to see the opportunities that may present in the year to come, and embrace them in memory of, and on behalf of, the person you have lost.  Know that he or she will be proud of you. Don’t be afraid to draw strength from those who offer it … sometimes you have to accept that you need that input.

“How can I dilute the pain of my loss?”

Writing or talking about different aspects of what has happened may help.  As time passes you will find that you don’t need to go into so much detail.  Soon after James died, I wanted to tell everyone I encountered that I had lost my son, but I gradually became more selective.  Every telling and re-telling of your story can help to reduce the impact.  Eventually you will be able to do it without tears.

“What will help me to feel positive about the coming year?”

Each challenge that comes your way, whether it is simple like grocery shopping or major such as a job change, has to be faced differently without your loved one.  I can remember the early days of loss when I would tell James out loud, as I was driving home, how well I had coped at work that day (probably this would be a day I managed to get through without weeping).  The cumulative effect of constantly trying to achieve milestones, big or small, helped me to feel better.  And indeed, this still works.  If you can visualise your loved one(s) at your shoulder, encouraging your efforts, this can really help.  I always try to ‘see’ James walking in my shadow, and I often sense my mum around me … intangible and difficult to explain, but helpful support nonetheless.

“Where do I find the practical tools that will help me through grief?”

There are many different options for self-care and self-help.  If you tend to think negatively, making positive affirmations can help.  Soothe yourself with music or treat yourself to something that uplifts you, such as a beauty or complementary therapy.  Boost your endorphins by walking or working out in the gym.  Spend time in nature.  Buy yourself some flowers.  Make a spiritual connection through meditation or prayer.  Light an incense stick.  Draw a picture.  Write a letter. Bake a cake.  Really, anything goes! The only rule is that whatever you do must comfort you and take you off the grinding treadmill of grief for a while.

“How do I trust in the unknown that the New Year represents?”

You need to have faith and hope to move forward when you are grieving.  Faith that it will get better.  Hope for the future.  Hope also for the gift of a future that does not contain your loved one, yet is enriched by his or her lifetime and what they brought to their own life, and yours.

Somehow you will come to know what it takes to have the courage to live for the future by working through one day at a time and living in the present.

It may help too, to consider the best characteristics of the person who died, and try to emulate them.  For instance, James possessed a wealth of compassion in his persona and I believe I hold deeper compassion for those who suffer since he died.  I feel that I have acquired this quality from his being and I owe it to him to carry it forward on his behalf.  When someone dies, it behoves those who are left to carry the baton for them, and this is particularly true when you lose a child and know that you are living the future that has been denied to him or her.

You may feel guilty that you are here, and they are not.  Don’t be afraid to kick guilt out … smile, laugh and look forward to tomorrow with as much joy as you can.  You are doing it for your family, friends and those who are still living, as well as those who are not.

“How can I bring my loved one into the New Year with me?”

One of the hardest things about the turn of the year, and particularly the first New Year after loss, is the knowledge that your loved ones are not coming with you, at least physically.  You might need to mark their presence in a tangible way.  Lighting a candle and proposing a toast are simple options.  Talking about the person can be helpful, too.

If you are with someone who is bereaved, never, and I really mean never, be afraid to say his or her name.  You will not make someone feel worse by mentioning the person who died.  You are not ‘reminding’ them, rather you are showing empathy, and that will be appreciated.  Trust me!

In closing, I remember those whom I have lost and also hold dear those who remain, my cherished and loved family and friends

I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and healthy 2018.

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links:

The Compassionate Friends    https://www.tcf.org.uk/

CRUSE Bereavement Care        https://www.cruse.org.uk/

 

 

Observations on Advent

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Sometimes I wake in the night feeling thirsty.  It’s pitch dark and I carefully sit up in bed so as not to disturb my husband Shaun.  I reach out for the glass of water on my bedside table, and although I cannot see it, my hand unerringly closes easily around the glass. I quench my thirst, and then I use my other hand to locate the edge of the table so that I put the drink down safely.

This small event may seem insignificant; but it carries an important message.

Though I cannot see the glass, I know that it is there and what is more, I can trustingly reach out and grasp it whenever I want, even when I am only half awake and bleary-eyed.  What a brilliant example of faith! – in fact it’s blind faith in the true sense of the word.

I’m exposed daily to minor miracles which I take for granted.  For instance, it may be easy to explain the practicalities of the process, but I am always amazed by everything that happens in the few seconds it takes to start my car.  All elements have to be correctly aligned before that spark of energy fires the engine, and yet they come together every time.

I am sure I am not alone in trusting in many things I can neither see nor understand.

At this time of year, when the days are short and the darkness can seem impenetrable, literally and figuratively, I am grateful for the time of Advent.  The spiritual aspect of the weeks leading to the festive celebrations is a good antidote to the frenetic preparation, shopping and cooking for Christmas get-togethers and precious family time.

Advent is in itself a period of reflection and anticipation.

Advent provides opportunities for stillness and serenity with an added air of expectation.

Advent promises the light after the darkness.

Advent offers the culmination of something special time after time.

Advent is a season that understands the emptiness of grief; it is a time that can begin to provide the filling of that emptiness and the repair of that which has been broken.              For those who are grieving, the simple act of lighting a candle in remembrance offers the comfort of light to help in dispersing the darkness of loss.

The true essence of Christmas lies in the fulfillment of the promise of Advent, culminating in the telling and retelling of the story of the arrival of the much celebrated baby boy.  Jesus was born all those years ago in Bethlehem and his birth may perhaps take the prize for ‘most renowned in history’.

We cannot see those long ago people now.  We cannot hear their voices exclaiming,      “How wonderful!” as they must have said when they gazed into the crib.                               We cannot feel their awed emotion, or taste their food, or drink their water.                         But what we can do is rejoice with our own faith that what they saw, felt, ate and drank laid many of the foundations for how we feel, eat and drink today.

Christmas is not just about the presents, it is also about the presence – the demonstration of belief and trust that happens year on year. 

For relatively new Christians like me, the discovery of the anticipatory joy of Advent brings with it the excitement of learning the biblical background and understanding its messages. Advent and the arrival of the light of Christmas allow for a sense of renewal, restoration and replenishment of the spirit, ready for the turn of the year that is soon to follow.

Stringing the lights, wrapping the gifts, singing the carols and adorning the tree all carry the messages of light, joy and hope that are there for all to enjoy, however you choose to celebrate.  If the enforced, collective jollity that is engendered by the run up to Christmas is not for you, then you can embrace your own ways of getting through the season.  It’s a personal choice.

Perhaps you too will reach out for your own glass of water in the night and recognise how this reflects your personal view of faith and trust.  It is all too easy to take the basics of life for granted. But they are underpinned by something truly ancient, immensely special and universally generous.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas!

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