Monthly Archives: June 2014

Spoiled for choice?


Becoming a bereaved parent is never a matter of choice. After all, who would choose to take on something that is so traumatic it makes you feel as though you are walking around with your skin turned inside out?

Early grief has all the raw soreness and deep sensitivity of a weeping wound.

Do you know that feeling when you are unwell with a fever and your scalp is so sensitive that it hurts simply to brush your hair? If you multiply that by ten or more you will begin to get the picture…..

BUT, the good news is that even though you may not think so at first, you can find choices within your grief and sorrow to manage it, learn to live with it and turn your skin right side out again.

Note: I am not talking anything approaching acceptance here! – that’s for another time….

Often the first step is to search out others who are facing similar trauma. Please excuse the sweeping statement, but this is undoubtedly of huge importance to all bereaved parents. The shared experiences, thoughts and feelings associated with child loss are it seems, common to all, however a child died. Unsurprisingly , my viewpoint is that of a parent losing a teen child. My grief necessarily differs from the grief of a parent who has lost a baby or toddler.

But the fact remains that there is a choice in how one approaches the grief path and it is an entirely individual matter.

Personally, I had a deep-rooted fear that if I did not meet up with and tackle my grief head on it would overcome me. Initially I saw it as a huge opponent; a dark, violent, formless thing that robbed me of sleep and coherent thought and left me in a deeply sorrowful place. I had to reach out and grasp the grief, almost embrace it, to begin to delve into its complexities and to force it to assume more reasonable proportions.

There are many healing tools that I have found helpful over the past (nearly) nine years and I am sure that others will have their own additions to the list:

  • Reading grief literature
  • Writing
  • Talking
  • Journalling
  • Counselling
  • Spiritual practice
  • Exercise – walking, running, gym
  • Creativity in any form
  • Meditation
  • Pilates
  • Hobbies that deflect from grief and are for your own pleasure

Often I think that focussing on activities away from grief and grieving are helpful in allowing you to unconsciously process your grief. In the early days, I found myself constantly doing the number puzzle Sudoku, and still turn to these puzzles, and crosswords, at times.

I know I am lucky in my personal circumstances in that I have the loving support of family and friends, but even if you are coping on your own, seeking out others in similar circumstances is recommended.

As a non bereaved friend has often said to me, “Andrea, the only way I could understand what you are going through is to walk a mile in your shoes…”

It is innate in our human condition to seek out others who mirror our situations and in the case of child loss, I believe this to be one of the best forms of support, comfort and help.




Let’s hear it for LOVE


A while ago, I received an email from my friend Linda, asking if I could send her a few words describing her mum Madeleine (also a friend) as she was making her a word cloud.

“What is a word cloud?” I asked Linda… and she directed me to the website Wordle.

Basically, Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and colour schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

It was no problem for me to send some words to Linda and then I idled away some time on Wordle myself. I created two word clouds, one comprising negative words such as fear and anxiety, and one positive, like sunshine and light, reflecting how I view the progression of my own grief path over the nine years since my dear son James died.

I printed out the word clouds and when I was done I noticed there was a single word that appeared in both lists, the positive and the negative. And that word is… love.

Is love, then, key to grieving? Perhaps it is. Because it is love for your lost child, parent, sibling, peer, friend, colleague, neighbour, that is the first and foremost emotion surrounding their passing.

It is love that fuels your compassion and empathy.

It is love which gives us the ability to feel both pain and pleasure.

It is love that you shared with the person who died that populates your memories of them and it is love that ensures your grief gradually becomes a gentler thing.

It may seem odd to talk of love when you think of the rage, fear and tumult of early loss … but the love that you feel coming back at you from those around you .. when you are ready … is a seriously important part of the grieving process.

Grief and loss and love are, it seems to me, inextricably bound up together and I am thankful for that. And for all the reading and writing abut grief that exists, I relate to this quote by the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, who said,

“Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.”

My First Blog Post

Do you ever have conversations with yourself? I do. In fact, the start of yesterday’s conversation was the catalyst for this blog. I asked myself, “Do I have enough to say about grief, grieving and living as a bereaved parent?” “Yes”, came back the answer, so here I am. It is nearly nine years since my dear 19 year old son James lost his life to a drowning accident in the river Thames at Kingston. Nearly nine years through which I have travelled this road that no parent wishes to join.

My life as a bereaved parent is a new normal life for me now. Conversations with myself can be multi-layered affairs. Consider again, yesterday.

Early morning run along the canal towpath. I came to running late and in fact my arthritic hip isn’t too keen, but if I can manage 5K once or twice a week, at a walk/jog/run sort of pace, then all is right with my world, physically at any rate. Running produces the adrenalin high which undoubtedly lifts mood, and running means that I can eat and drink more or less what I like and still remain relatively slim.

Since we moved to this area in October 2012, I have come to love a short stretch of the Basingstoke canal that has become a place of incredible peace and healing for me. I have no idea why the effect is so profound, and perhaps will examine that in writing another time. But for now, I will not stray from my objective, to expound upon how it is possible to process grief and sorrow almost completely independently from other tasks.

On one level, I was listening to my iPod and the birds, observing the emerging irises and enjoying the steady patter of my trainers on the relatively soft, gravelly path.

On another level, I was monitoring my breathing and assessing my gait and posture, stride, and how my legs felt.

The third level was the conversation. It often is at this third, maybe even fourth and less conscious level, and I cover all sorts of topics in silent dialogue.

How I am today, in the here and now, in the moment, in this particular setting, at this particular time, is the most frequent discussion I have with myself. I constantly monitor if I feel good, very good, excellent, or at the other end of the scale, sad, (sometimes) hopeless, despondent (rare).

The conversation itself is too diffuse to describe … but there is one certainty that comes from each and every mono/dialogue. It makes me feel better. It makes me cope with my loss, and helps me to keep a perspective on what has happened to me. That is worth a mint.