Monthly Archives: November 2014

Up against the wall


The inspiration to write is a curious thing. At times, my mind teems with ideas and I wake up with a complete piece in my mind, at others there is an utter block and I fear that my creative spring has dried up. Fortunately, this never happens in the long term. But at such times, the inspiration to write may come from an image.

For anyone who wants to write, look at an image and allow your mind free rein to produce words to describe it. Even if you think you can’t write, at worst you will produce a list, and at best something lyrical.

The image above is a Cornish dry stone wall, or Cornish hedge as it is locally known. I took the picture when I was visiting my family in Perranporth earlier this year; the wall is just a few minutes’ walk from Stella and Pete’s house, up on the coast path above the bay.


When I consider the image now, I see the large rainbow hued rock just left of centre as the heart of the picture. The irregular stones around it, which slot together in a form that holds and connects, could represent the rocky road of grief and loss. I wonder which stone started the wall. Was it the very bottom one? Logic says a wall can only be built upwards. So we grieve – onwards and upwards, creating a solid foundation before we can move to the next level.

The bottom layer of stones is standing end-on. They need to support what comes above so must be strong and straight. Thus it is with the strength we have to find to move forward and build up our lives again after the trauma of loss.

The next layer is smoother and looks rather more balanced, although there is a gap at the right hand end which gives the effect of two steps forward, one step back. Above the gap are two stones leaning in to each other; these look to me like angel wings, protecting what lies below.


The third level up is definitely the heart of the wall. It could not exist without the base foundation and it is large and smooth and even. My eye is constantly drawn back to the wonderful rainbow hued heart stone. I love the little tangle of lichen which caresses its base. Somehow a small interruption to its perfection seems quite appropriate.,

The fourth layer sits confident, smooth and stable atop the rest. It puts me in mind of the level of acceptance of loss that is only arrived at after a considerable passage of time. The layer is even and without any jagged edges. There is a small stone that sits quite differently to all the rest, tucked in just on top of the heart stone, which perhaps represents something new to be cherished. The shapes, textures and colours of the rocks in this row are amazingly varied. They suggest the return of an appreciation of the beauty that is all around us.

The fifth row echoes the second row in its neat, level formation, and I imagine this row lends strength to the wall’s structure. It says little to me other than ‘I am here and I am strong. I stand upon a foundation that will not crumble.’


The final layer looks almost casual in its construction. It sits loosely atop the rest but in itself it provides a base for the sturdy, wind resistant plants that cling tenaciously to it. I love that in moorland plants. No one puts them there, they simply arrive on the wind, on the sea air, through the birds that fly above. They ask nothing; they clothe the rocks with colour and softness. They look soft, yes, but they are hard and tough, much like the indomitable human spirit.

Keats wrote odes to nightingales and Grecian urns but I don’t think he ever wrote one to rocks – perhaps he should have done. Why should we not be stirred by what we see as inanimate objects when put together in a form such as this, taking on a life and beauty all their own?

Next time you look at such a wall – really observe it, and see if it speaks to you as this one speaks to me. Who knew a Cornish hedge has a voice?



A new day dawns


“When I was little, I used to believe that if you let darkness into a well-lit room, it would become dark, just as it becomes light in the morning when you let in the light”

I read these words recently in a novel and they really struck me. Such wonderful child’s logic – to believe that you can let in darkness as well as light – why not? Of course we know it is not true.

But the sudden traumatic loss of someone you love, be it parent, partner, friend or child brings darkness crashing in; the blackest, darkest dark we can imagine.

I am reminded of the dark days of early grief now we are living the short days of winter, when we go to work in the dark, or just as it is getting light, and return home when it is already dark. In the early days after James died, I was often awake in the deepest dark of the night and in some respects the night’s embrace was a comforting cocoon. I did not have to face anyone else, and I could give vent to my grief privately, which has always been my preferred way.

I am not great at public weeping. It always irritates me that I can’t talk and cry at the same time!

How I envy those people who can weep elegantly with unchanged features, not like me, ending up with with red puffy eyes and a bunged up nose! – anyway, I digress.

In these winter months, my drive to work begins just as the monochrome sky gives way to winter’s soft palette and I see the beauty of the late autumn trees lining the road. There is a point where I turn the car at a roundabout on top of a hill and the Surrey fields stretch away below, with mist layering the ground as the lemon sun tries to break through. This produces an image of peace and tranquillity that I try to hold for the day and my photographer’s eye longs to capture it. I see the freshness of the emerging colours and shades of another new day and count my blessings.

Whether you analogise your grief as a pit, hole, cave, void, chasm – whatever it is, you can rest assured that the light can and will return. Do not despair that the darkness of grief will overcome you. You have to work through the darkness to get into in the light, and it will happen, just as surely as day follows night.





The Power of Pointing


 In October 2010, five years after James died, I was asked to talk to a group of 20 or so CRUSE bereavement care volunteers, consisting of trained and trainee counsellors. It was my first public speaking event, and at that time my presentation consisted of around 20 minutes of talking about loss, with index cue cards, on which I had written some prompts lest I forget to make a vital point.

It was a nerve-racking experience but I can’t have done too badly as I was asked to pay a return visit to a regional CRUSE training day last weekend. This time, my brief was to present to the 40 attendees for the afternoon, from 1300 to 1530, with a tea break at  around 1400.

I realised that a few cue cards were not going to cut it this time, and set about finding out how best to prepare a Powerpoint presentation. My first port of call was Ross Macleod at the RNLI whose PPT presentation so impressed me the first time we met. He gave me some helpful advice and warned me against using too many slides.

I avoided the articles on the net headed ‘Death by Powerpoint’ but found some really useful information on the University of Leicester website, which contains several clearly written and informative articles – all for free! Thank you Uni of Leicester, for your succinct summary:

“A effective presentation makes the best use of the relationship between the presenter and the audience. It takes full consideration of the audience’s needs in order to capture their interest, develop their understanding, inspire their confidence and achieve the presenter’s objectives”

It was not long before I had put together some slides, images with minimal text, to illustrate my talk, appropriate to:

  • What happened to James
  • Our successful campaign to institute safety improvements at Kingston riverside
  • The Toolbox of grief – what helps/has helped me
  • The writing of my book “Into the Mourning Light”
  • The RNLI and their Respect the Water campaign
  • My involvement in bereavement workshops at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary
  • What to say/what not to say to bereaved parents

When the time came, once I had gone beyond my (unfounded) fear that the files wouldn’t open from the memory stick, I felt well prepared and presented my slides and talk across an hour before the break.

Picture2      Picture3

The second part of the afternoon saw the 40 attendees divided into groups to discuss various aspects of counselling bereaved families; we ended with a question and answer session.

I’ve never imagined myself as a front of house player, rather I am someone who prefers to be in the wings. Losing James and the resultant learning curve of living with loss has given me a new voice that I hope will grow in confidence with each presentation.




What is in the tunnel?


Yes! the image heading up today’s blog is uncharacteristically urban, I know.   But there is a good reason for it … last night I attended my first ever book launch near Waterloo station, in a venue just off what is known as the ‘Graffiti tunnel’ which really is just that!

Author Annie Broadbent very kindly invited me to attend the introduction of                                   “We Need to Talk about Grief”, written following the loss of her mother to cancer.

Annie was just twenty five when her mum Caroline died.

Annie and I were put in (electronic) touch earlier this year, through her agent who ‘thought we might get on’ … and so it proved. In Annie I recognise a kindred writing spirit. Though we approach grief from entirely different angles, we share the desire to strip away the inhibitions and taboos surrounding the business of death and dying, and we write in a similar way, sharing deep emotions; and ultimately offering the message of positivity and hope for the future.

Annie’s speech was moving and expressive and I guess she feels the same sense of elation that I did when my book was published, albeit regretting the reason for writing it in the first place..

How refreshing it was last night! – to be in the company of people who did not flinch, look uncomfortable or try to change the subject when I said the words,”My son James died”.

As one lady said to me, “There will be a lot of talk of death and dying tonight; there are plenty of experts here”, but the atmosphere was not dark and dismal, rather there was much compassion, empathy, sharing and laughter.

I feel privileged to have met and mingled briefly with these lovely people.

Annie herself is a vibrant, warm girl and her mother was obviously held in high regard. I formed an impression of a warm and charming woman with more than a hint of mischief about her. I was reminded of my dear mum … was it just coincidence that the date of this event fell on the 13th anniversary of my own mum’s passing? I wonder…..

Annie says of her book, “this is a book filled with personal experiences which are designed to open up a conversation” which fits beautifully with the title and I agree wholeheartedly with the need for a more open attitude towards bereavement. I am certain that this book will help many people living with the loss of their loved ones.

Thank you Annie, for inviting me to share in such a special moment in your life.