Monthly Archives: July 2014

All about The Book


“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou


This year, the ninth since losing my 19 year old son James to a drowning accident on 28 July, has been a year best described as one of great change and growth. This is mainly due to the time I spent completing the writing of my book, “Into the Mourning Light” which was a very strong focus for me from the early part of 2013. I was determined that the book would finally be completed. My ability to concentrate on it and achieve my objective was helped, I believe, by my feeling so much more settled in our new home. It is bizarre but true to say that I find it much easier to live in a home that James has not known. Perhaps it is because I am no longer bombarded by memories of him on a daily basis. I can gather my recollections just as easily here and that has been a great surprise to me. I unpacked my cherished, chosen memories of him as we emptied our boxes after moving in. There is a difference between choosing to remember and being forced to remember. By this I mean that I no longer experience the jolt of memory through passing James’ school, places of part time work and so on, nor do I retrace the regular routes I took taxi-ing him here and there. This brings a curious sense of relief.


My book was published in February 2014. I am fond of saying that writing is cathartic but letting my story and James’ story out publicly carried quite an emotional load. There was a sense of release but also a sense of deep personal satisfaction in completing the project. I may be the author of the book, but I certainly could not have written it alone. A quick tally tells me that my book has contributions from, or mention of, twenty seven individuals, many of whom James never met. The feedback that I received has been amazing. In particular, I have so enjoyed the memories of James that friends have shared after reading the book. It is as though my having told the story has allowed people more freedom to express their thoughts about James. As bereaved parents, we all recognise how people can be afraid to mention our child ‘in case of upsetting us’ – but how can we possibly be upset any more after the worst has happened? Sharing emotion with those you care about is one of the best ways to move forward in grief, so please don’t be afraid to do it.




Look out for Signposts


Following on from our recent synchronistic weekend, I have been recalling the seemingly random occurrences which crop up that bring comfort in unexpected ways.

Earlier this year, we were on holiday in Phuket, Thailand, and were on a boat trip that involved time spent on the main boat, and also going around caves/lagoons by canoe, with a Thai crew member acting as our guide, and paddling the canoe for our safety.

There were seven couples on the boat and we waited in turn to be allocated to a crew member and step off onto our canoe. Thai names tend to be unpronounceable to Europeans so the guys adopt short names that are easily remembered. Somehow I was not really that surprised that our crewman introduced himself as James. He was about as unlike our James as you could possibly be, a thickset, stolid looking chap. But he was kind, courteous and funny as we have found most Thais to be.

How strange it felt to be saying, “Thank you, James”, after all this time. Also sharing little jokes and saying, “You are funny, James, you do make me laugh”, and so on.

There was an acute poignancy in those few hours in having my son’s name so frequently upon my lips.



Strangely, later on in the day I overheard a conversation on the boat between two of the passengers. It transpired that one of them, a lady from India, had also lost a son. What are the odds, I wonder, of there being two bereaved mothers from either side of the world, in such a small group, on the same boat trip, on the same day?   I did not get the opportunity to speak to the lady before we went our separate ways, but I found it an odd coincidence.


It is indeed true that everyone has a story, and sometimes we are destined to share these, sometimes not. Circumstances did not dictate that our paths crossed directly, but I still find it unusual that we were in the same place at the same time. Perhaps it was a missed opportunity.


Another seemingly random sign came our way recently. We were invited by the RNLI to their headquarters in Poole, Dorset, partly because we are involved with an ocean and inland water safety campaign which will soon be launched.

We attended a meeting at the campaign office and were then free to enjoy the hospitality at the RNLI College which is also a hotel (and highly recommended as a base for a weekend away). We were booked onto a complimentary guided tour of the college which is offered to visitors. This was very interesting and gave us a much better insight into the work done by the RNLI.


We moved as a group into the area above the training pool where we were told about the exercises which are carried out there. My eye was immediately drawn to a table on the far side of the room. On the table, incongruously, sat a vacuum cleaner. Nothing odd about that, you may say … but the vacuum cleaner was of a make which produces machines with names (most commonly Henry). This bright yellow model sported, in large letters, the name JAMES.   “Psst …” – I nudged Shaun. “Look at that!”

He followed my gaze and neither of us could help laughing at this unusual spiritual sign. Later we toasted James as we sat in the evening sunshine overlooking the harbour – and marvelled at the mystery of it all.


A very coincidental weekend


Once in a while, a set of circumstances aligns itself in an amazing, truly extraordinary way and results in a profound experience that in itself may be viewed as a healing gift.

Last weekend, Shaun and I went to Sussex for a party. As it was quite a distance we booked into a B and B overnight. We chose the place on the basis of its proximity to the party venue and because it had good reviews, but our expectations were merely that it would be somewhere to lay our heads overnight.

Nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.

On arrival, Angela and Roy*, the charming hosts, showed us our room and invited us to join the other guests for tea and homemade scones in the garden. How civilised! We went outside and sat in the sunshine, superficially chatting in the way of a group of people who have just met. The other guests were a couple, Carol and Robert, who had also travelled from afar for a party and a softly spoken Scottish doctor, Maureen, who left the table after a few minutes to go on a cycle ride. We would meet her again in the morning.

The first coincidence was learning that both Roy and Robert had been successfully treated at around the same time for prostate cancer which had shown itself routinely rather than as a result of specific symptoms.

Carol then shared with us that she believed Robert’s cancer was in part brought on by the stress and trauma the couple had been through as a result of personal tragedy. She told us,

“We lost our 31 year old daughter to suicide when she was in residential care. She was being treated for mental issues following cannabis use – skunk, the strong stuff.”

Shaun and I sat there rather stunned and I felt for Angela and Roy as I explained that I too am a bereaved parent and that we lost James to accidental drowning nearly nine years ago. The bereaved – not just parents, but anyone who has suffered loss – quickly learn that the revelation of their loss can produce an instant halt to any conversation but Angela and Roy were in fact marvellous, by reacting to our disclosures with great sensitivity.

No one could possibly have anticipated that afternoon tea in the garden would be a rollercoaster event!

We were able to talk about our respective losses and after an emotional half hour or so, we all hugged and went our separate ways to prepare for our evening.

We regrouped in the morning for an excellent breakfast. Afterwards we spoke more about our children. Maureen was like a calm supervisory presence at the table. Incredibly, it turned out that she is a psychologist who works in a hospice. Every so often, she contributed her own take on grief and it was immensely helpful to hear her common sense approach. I particularly relate to her analogy of grief being like a spiral as this is something I recognise in my own emotions.

ImageOnce again, Angela and Roy were like calm earth angels supporting us all, providing tea and coffee and asking intelligent questions about how best to deal with the bereaved, with a genuine desire to know the ‘right’ things to say and do. I think they really appreciated the opportunity for such frank and open conversation in such an unusual scenario. Somehow a situation that could have been dark and depressing, was not.

I talked about “Into the Mourning Light” and how it had come together and it transpired that Carol also plans to write a book. Naturally, I suggested she contact my dear friend and writer Jan Andersen, who has played such an instrumental part in my own journey.

Carol and Robert had not heard of TCF (the Compassionate Friends organisation – run by bereaved parents for bereaved parents) and I was able to recommend this also.

 Shaun and I were left reeling by the amazing coincidence of the coming together of such a group – two bereaved families and a totally appropriate clinical professional, but what really topped it off was the fact that the owners of the B and B were so remarkably tuned in to the needs of this group of strangers.

Finally, we did manage to have a good time at the party, in case you wondered! – and in yet another unexpected turn of events, I was asked to take on a client for Reiki therapy, which has not happened for a while, and was also totally out of the blue.

I can’t help but wonder what synchronistic alignment of planets, stars, angels, spirit….. brought together this seemingly unrelated group in such a special manner. I don’t want to question it, rather I am accepting it as a wonderful gift that has enriched each of us in subtle and positive ways. It was indeed a weekend to remember!


*all names have been changed for anonymity