Monthly Archives: September 2014

James’ legacy in action


I had occasion to visit Kingston riverside last weekend and something quite remarkable happened. My Australian friend Karen, whom I met ‘virtually’ through DSN, arrived in the UK last week and she and her husband were staying with us as part of their European trip (of which I will write more later…)

Visiting Kingston  was something of an emotional pilgrimage, of course, but there was also comfort in sharing and it was amazing to be able to show Karen the physical reality of Kingston rather than images. We walked and talked together and were rewarded by an unusual sight – the Royal Barge passed along the river just as we reached the point of really needing a lift to our spirits.


 We stood by the barriers and I gazed out across the river, thinking of James and just ‘being’ in the moment.

Karen nudged me… “Look”, she said, “Watch that family …”

I became aware of a man, woman and two young boys who had just walked past us. The man stopped to look at the RNLI Tonne of Water installation. He called back the family.


 Karen and I were not close enough to hear the conversation but it was easy to guess it from their expressions and their body language…

“Look at this, boys, you should read it and take note…”

the boys duly read the words and each tried ineffectually to push the installation, pitting their boyish shoulders against it and grinning ruefully when they couldn’t move it.

Meanwhile, Karen and I thought that mum was reading James’ plaque; she looked pensively out across the water for a moment.


 The family spent a good five minutes examining the installation, reading the text, and obviously giving it some serious consideration before they moved onward.

I was briefly tempted to approach them and tell them of its personal significance… but it felt wrong to do so and it would have brought down the entire family’s day.

On this occasion it was sufficient to have such strong visual evidence that our work at Kingston is not over and done with. It continues, thanks to the RNLI and the other authorities who are involved in making our riverside a safer place for future generations.


Just Breathe


It’s easy enough, isn’t it? Breathing, I mean … after all, we do it unconsciously most of the time. In fact, the air that we breathe is one of the only things that is wholly free for the entirety of our lives.

This was brought to mind when I watched Daisy the cat, fast asleep on our bed this morning. It was not just her ribcage that rose and fell with every breath, but her belly domed up and sank down too; she was so very relaxed. Babies often sleep like this too.

I am sure that any bereaved person will recognise that when you are grieving, you do not breathe properly, not at all like Daisy or a baby.

I can remember feeling breathless, as if I was not getting enough air into my lungs, particularly early on in my grief. My heart would race and pound, and underpinning it all was a sense of anxiety and fearfulness that I simply couldn’t catch my breath, or get enough of it to sustain me. I pictured the air having to fight its way through tightness in my lungs rather than journeying there with ease. I grew lightheaded and the anxiety fed on itself. I had to learn to breathe again. Easier said than done.

Over the years, I have tried various meditation, relaxation and visualisation techniques. They all involve ‘breathing with mindfulness’. By this I mean it is necessary to concentrate your focus on the in and out breath, something which we generally ignore or take for granted.  It is only  by doing this that you realise just how nourishing breathing can be.

The solar plexus chakra is said to sit centrally, just below the diaphragm. This chakra is where we get our gut instincts and intuition. It is an emotional centre, and it has always felt to me like the point where grief will sit like a stubborn knot, a dark lump of heaviness that needs to be dispelled. It took a lot of practice and concentration but I have found it is possible to learn to expand one’s breathing using the right techniques.

I never used to pay much attention to the concept of chakras, but now I find comfort in imagining these ancient Sanskrit symbols quietly aligning themselves along my body.

The solar plexus chakra is associated with the colour yellow, and I like to envisage it as a beautiful yellow flower, opening and closing with my breath. It is also the area that I shield and protect, mentally or with a slight touch of the hand, before I set out for the day. Visualising a barrier that repels negativity and stress in this way is really helpful to empowering yourself and strengthening your intention to face any difficult situations that may arise.


When you have finished reading this little piece, try taking a few mindful breaths.

Close your eyes, open your nostrils and suck in all that lovely free air!

Fill your diaphragm, feel your heart expand and poke out your belly … who cares if you look silly?!

Go outside into the mellowness of the autumn day and BREATHE IT IN.

Pull the air into your lungs …. visualise it filling you up inside, hold for a few seconds and puff it out with a huge sigh. Do this a few times and I guarantee you will feel better!


It’s Good to Talk

jamesforsept11Of course yesterday was going to be a poignant day, because it is James’ birthday. We have now managed to get through ten post loss occasions of the calendar slipping round through 11 September, a memorable date for many reasons.

Each birthday, we comfort ourselves with memories of James’ happy birthdays whilst concurrently mourning the fact that he is not with us to share them anymore.

(29! – goodness, James, that is officially a grown up, surely … I wonder what you would be doing?….)

But my memories yesterday were deflected to a certain extent by the fact I was invited to speak to an audience of around 20 people at a regional meeting of the RNLI as part of a training/debriefing course at their HQ in Poole.


 Ross, my main contact at the RNLI, briefed me that he wished me to speak about James’ story, my book, our dealings with Kingston, my involvement with the RNLI water safety campaign. He also asked me to touch on the do’s and don’ts of dealing with bereaved families and perhaps give a little insight into how to remove the taboos in talking about bereavement in this context.

I was as well prepared as one can be for such occasions and I am glad that the talk went well. But it was the response afterwards, that really uplifted me and made me realise just how worthwhile is my work in James’ memory.

One of the team came to me and said,

“Do you realise how great a part your initial efforts with Kingston Council played in kick -starting the RNLI into looking at a campaign that focuses more on prevention than rescue? You should be aware of that, and how much river safety training has improved – particularly in Kingston – because of that alone”.

And the level of appreciation I received for being willing to share our story was really quite humbling.

I am proud that the negativity of our tragedy has been turned into this type of positivity.

I am coming to understand that the loss of James has given me a new voice that I didn’t know I had; a voice that will grow in confidence as time passes and hopefully help many people in regard to drowning prevention.

Although you may have read it before, yesterday puts me in mind of the Starfish Story….


“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. There were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, “It makes a difference for this one.” I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”
Loren Eiseley


Are you Looking Forward to Christmas?


The anticipation of events is something that is knocked out of you like stuffing when you lose your child… or indeed after any close bereavement. I was reminded of this as we turned the calendar from August into September. The late summer bank holiday is the last break before Christmas; the clocks go back at the end of October and we will be in a world of shorter days and longer nights – at least here in the UK.

On a personal level, I have much to look forward to in September. I will be visiting my new grandson in Cornwall in a couple of weeks’ time. We are also greatly looking forward to the long awaited meeting of my Australian friend Karen, and her husband Erik. We have been corresponding by email for years now, since connecting via the shared loss of 19 year old sons. It will be so good to meet! But the poignancy is similar for both events; James would have so loved to be an uncle, and equally he would have loved meeting a couple from Melbourne, home of one of his favourite childhood TV programmes!

I have always enjoyed going away on holiday, but in the early days of loss, although our time away was pleasurable, I found coming home again particularly difficult. It felt as though being on holiday provided a breathing space, and once I was home again I had to pick up the threads of the relentless 24/7 nature of coping with grief. I am pleased to say that feeling has lessened over time.

I suspect that bereaved parents suffer from an element of post-traumatic stress disorder, something that may well not be sufficiently recognised by those supporting the bereaved – though I do not possess the knowledge to confirm or refute this. But in any case, show me the bereaved person who does not experience recurrent thoughts and flashbacks and know the numb, detached nature of shock and grief? It is a challenge to work through these feelings to welcome a return of positivity and optimism. But it can be done … in time.

Observing the changing of the seasons is one way I have found of re-affirming the natural cycle of life and death. From the sharpness of the frost in winter to the warmth of the summer sun, my natural surroundings allow me to feel sensations again, to emote and to be able to express my feelings.

wisleyaug1 springsky snow9 canal5

Sometimes on a run along the canal towpath, my tears flow freely, mingling with soft rain falling, and I do not feel distress, just a calm underlying sadness that James is no longer here to share the joys and tribulations of all our lives.

Running in itself, or any form of exercise, releases those treasure trove endorphins, which make you feel better, and if you can persuade yourself out into the fresh air, this goes a long way towards lifting mood.

What is more, walking is free and you can do it almost anywhere and by taking more notice of your surroundings you will gradually reclaim some of the beauty of your personal world.

I am grateful to be allowed to share some wonderful words, written by a friend, which underline my own belief that it is not unrealistic to expect an eventual return to happy, meaningful life after loss.

“Today I had my first unambiguously happy memory of my life with A___The first time in nine years that I’ve been able to smile totally and feel it in my heart, without the memory getting drowned in guilt, regret, pain and sadness. The first time I haven’t castigated myself for being happy. The first time that the joy of his being overtook the horror of his leaving.”