Monthly Archives: December 2014

A few FAQs

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Thanks to my grief article in the Daily Mail yesterday, I now have many new followers of this blog…. thank you and welcome!

Before I started my blog, I didn’t know anything much at all about this new online journalling lark. And I think it might be useful for my followers to have a few FAQs to refer to in relation to this blog.

I asked a friend what she thought would be good questions and she came up with the following:

Why did you start writing your blog, and call it ‘Multilayered Musings from New Normality’?         I started the blog in the summer, because as a grief writer, I often feel moved to write about a particular aspect of the subject. Blogging allows the freedom to write about anything I please in this respect, and it is cathartic for me as well as, hopefully, useful to the reader. I named the blog because it reflects how I view my life nine and a half years following the loss of James. New normality is my life now; I am not consumed by grief, it is a segment in the mosaic that is my life. I celebrate a return to normality, albeit in a new form.

Who is your blog for?        Primarily I guess the blog started out for bereaved parents and was a showcase for my emotions regarding my own pathway through loss, but as time has gone on I feel that my writing is more generalised and certainly many of the readers are not bereaved parents, but have expressed that the blog gives them a better understanding of grief and loss. I am no expert, believe me; but I have become a reluctant expert in living life after the loss of a nineteen year old, and this is my main focus in writing. It is true to say that we write best about what we know, and I couldn’t write about, say, the loss of a young child, because this is outside my experience. I have however lost my parents and ex husband and thus have experienced a variety of bereavements, all of which carry their own grief, and shape my writing.

What is the purpose of the blog?      I hope that the blog helps to offer a different perspective on grief and loss and take out the taboo of mentioning those who have died. I hope that its positive nature is uplifting to those in despair.  It is a natural response to be wary of upsetting people by mentioning their lost loved ones, but my experience is that the more we speak about death, loss and grief the more we can learn about how to deal with it.

How can your blog help others?        Readers have told me that my words help them in their own situations and that is very gratifying and encourages me to continue.

Do you welcome feedback?           Yes, I do. It is always good to know what one is doing right – or wrong – and feedback is important to me so that I can assess the usefulness of what I am doing. Followers of the blog, please be aware that your comments appear automatically. If you wish to share something privately, then please indicate in a comment and I will email you.

Do you welcome suggested topics?        Yes, absolutely! – although as I said above, I am only qualified to write from my own experience, so there may be some subjects that I would not be able to tackle.

I hope the above is helpful. I plan to continue updating the blog every week or so as we go into the new year.

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Time and Date

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Yesterday’s date was 28 December 2014. The date is probably not significant to anyone else, but it marks precisely nine and half years since James died. That is half his life span of nineteen years (for the pedantic, it is not exactly half his life as he was only two months short of twenty when he died) ….. but the point is, we have now lived almost half his life span without his being here.

How incredible! – when at the beginning, time alternately seemed to creep by or race past at an unquantifiable rate, the days blurring into weeks and months of grey sadness; when living without James’ lively presence seemed an impossibility.

Yet somehow, we managed.

We got up each morning, we went to work, we shopped, cooked, drove, walked, went out, stayed in, watched TV, did all the ‘normal’ things that we take for granted.

But the timescale in those early months seemed distorted. I felt slightly out of step with the calendar and often had to check what day of the week it was. The autumn and winter of the year James died passed me by almost unnoticed. The first year of loss became punctuated by thoughts invariably prefaced by “This time last year, James was …..” and this made the year feel exceptionally long.

Today, I recognise that time feels as though it is passing normally for me again. I often write of the return of anticipation, and thinking about pleasant events to come has undoubtedly moved me forward in this respect.

As a family we have been fortunate to have weddings and births to look forward to and there is no doubt that these events, though invariably tinged with the poignancy of the absence of James, have been another saving grace.

In the early years, I found it easy to go away for breaks or holidays – being in different surroundings made for some respite from grief. On holiday I did not wear the  ‘bereaved parent’ badge in the same way as I did at home, with those who know me. It was easy to be with strangers – or not – as we chose, and the breaks were beneficial for our relationship. They represented the ordinariness we craved at the time.

Moving house two years ago probably set the seal on the recognition of my new normality; I was ready to move away from the last home James shared with us. My fears that he would not ‘come with us’ were unfounded; the memories moved in with us and in fact I find it easier to live in an area that is not invariably associated with his early years, as was our previous home.

I lived nearly thirty years of my life before James was born, had him for nearly twenty years, and have now lived almost another ten without him. Knowing we are approaching the decade anniversary of his death is indeed a strange feeling….

 

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a festive message

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Earlier this year, I was thinking ahead, knowing that I would find a festive image when we visited Gloucester Cathedral. The nativity scene is just a small panel within one of the vast and beautiful stained glass windows which are such a wonderful feature of the Cathedral.

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The festive season:

It is not about Black Friday

It is not about Amazon deliveries

It is not about cards and gifts, or tables groaning with festive fare

It is about the amazing wheel of life that brings us round once again to the birth of a new year and another chance to figuratively start afresh; with whatever the new year may bring.

 The theme of the culmination of anticipation resulting in a birth can be symbolic of so many forms of new beginning, and new ways of living our lives. I am no Theologian and would never presume to sermonise but on a personal level, I welcome the symbolism of the nativity … though I would struggle to explain quite why. It just feels to me like a message of hope.

Light is a theme I return to frequently in my writing and I am very happy that we have just passed the winter solstice so that we are moving into the light again, with longer days bringing a renewed sense of optimism.

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When you have experienced loss, particularly the loss of a child, each turn of the year’s circle cannot be anything other than poignant, as you step into another new year without that person. In the case of a child, who should most definitely not have died before you, you have lost the chance to watch he or she grow and mature and that is a desperately sad concept … but one which you have to live. You cannot put down your burden, you have to know that you will always carry it – but, the more ‘normally’ you can begin to live your life, the easier it becomes to shoulder the burden… of course, this happens over time.

If you have had a good year, I hope that 2015 will be even better.

If you have had a bad year, I hope that 2015 will see an upturn in your fortunes.

Thank you to everyone who has given me amazing support this year, whether that is emotionally, practically, through reading my book and this blog or generally being there for me. I couldn’t have done it nearly so well without you all.

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Are you looking forward to Christmas?

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I recently heard this reflection that could easily sum up being a bereaved parent ..

“New normal is just a costume I wear because it suits my life now”

After the loss of your child, it is impossible to present yourself as the same person who you were before, simply because you no longer are that person.

That you are irrevocably changed is a given, and the acceptance of this takes time.

You may wonder, what does new normal consist of?

When does it arrive? How do you find it?

The basics of the costume arrive fairly quickly. You would be surprised to know how soon other people expect you to return ‘to normal’ after loss. This may be in part due to wishful thinking of friends and family, but it’s also due to the accelerated way we live our lives these days. The instantly gratuitous nature of the internet and social media give us new expectations of ‘getting over’ or ‘coming to terms’ with things. It is as though there should be a linear, set timescale to grief. But… just ask anyone who has lost a loved one … such a thing does not, and should not, exist.

Perhaps we need to feel the pain of grief to be able to work through it and learn how to look back down the line at it, safe in the knowledge that we are feeling less pain as time goes on and gradually learning to live life in new normality.

There is a lot to be said for the Victorian practice of wearing sober clothing and a black arm band during mourning with its own timescale, not least because it was visible to others and it gave a message to handle people gently.

Today, we do not have anything noticeable that signals to others that we are dealing with severe emotional trauma.

The costume of new normality includes a mask which is rarely removed.

There exists a sense of having to present to the world a face which accords with what is expected, rather than the real, naked expression of loss.

Part of living new normality lies in giving sensible responses to well-meaning people who ask you if you are ‘feeling better’. Early on, you may find yourself, as I did, giving non-committal, non specific responses because the truth was just simply too awful to share at the time. I felt like I was in the blackest, darkest pit of despair and I could not imagine a future in which it would ever be ‘better’. How could I inflict that on people when they were simply asking after my wellfare? I learned to be very selective with my audience.

There are some people to whom I have always been able to speak completely freely, and thank goodness for them, as saviours of my sanity!

Fairly early on I found it was important to me to reclaim my daily rituals and put on my makeup when I dressed. Whenever I was applying it I would think about how I was presenting myself for the day. I wore waterproof mascara for years ‘just in case’.

“Are you looking forward to Christmas?”

Even now, the tenth festive season since James died, this question requires a qualified answer….

“Yes, I am looking forward to Christmas.

I am looking forward to spending time with family and friends.

I am looking forward to observing our new rituals, which include lighting a candle for James at Christmas lunch, wherever it takes place.

We will raise a glass to him and to others who are absent.

So yes, I am looking forward to Christmas, but our ‘new normal’ Christmas is includes all the memories of our old rituals, and all 19 of the ‘old normal’ Christmases that were shared with James”.

My life did not end when my son died, though it felt like it at the time.

Laying down new memories, living my life with joy and anticipation when I can, is what I owe to James’ memory. In particular at Christmas and the turn of the year, it is important to look forward as well as backward to add to the memory store of new normality. I am lucky to have my loving family and friends who understand these nuances and treat me gently, never forgetting what has gone before.

Let’s not forget, the empty space at the table is hard for them, too.
The costume of new normality eventually assumes a good fit. How long that takes depends on many individual tucks, stitches and pleats. New normality can never be quite as comfortable as the old, but today I find it acceptably wearable despite my lack of choice in its design.

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Candle-lighting at 7pm on Sunday 14 December

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This Sunday, 14th December, sees the annual candle-lighting ceremony organised by The Compassionate Friends. TCF are an international organisation, hence the candle-lighting takes place at 7pm local time around the globe – what a wonderful concept! – as each time zone arrives at 7pm, a wave of light is sent up to the heavens on behalf of our children.  Wherever they may be, they will be able to see it.

I write often of the premise that the darkness of grief eventually gives way to being able to live life in the light again and the symbolism of each individual candle, bringing its own light, underlines this.Even after the blackest, darkest of dark nights, a new day will invariably dawn.

I hope you will join me in lighting a candle this Sunday at 7pm in remembrance of all our children.

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www.tcf.org.uk

a conversation with grief

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“Hello”, says grief, “I’m here”,

As if I didn’t know,

You arrived on wings of loss and fear,

And now refuse to go.

But over time I am learning

The lessons you can teach,

Sometimes you support my yearning

At other times you preach.

“I am your faintly irritating friend”

you tap me on the shoulder,

“You’ll grow to accept me in the end

Before you are much older” .

Loss is an insult to the soul,

Working with grief sews the tear

But it cannot quite fix the hole

Or repair the scar that’s newly there.

My lovely boy would be a man,

And that is hard to take

But it seems grief has no time span,

As agony wanes to dull ache.

“There is no timeline”, grief confirms

“Never expect to be quite ‘over it’

You have to live its twists and turns

And mould it to a better fit” .

As time goes by, grief lectures me

And makes me see I am wrong

To consider I lost my own life

For it is another’s that is gone.

Though I lost the me I used to know,

Someone new I have had to greet

My grief has changed to friend, from foe,

Although we never planned to meet.

Like a phoenix out of the fire

The tangled tumult of grief

Knits new spirit, rising ever higher

Borne from pain, reflecting faith and belief.

I heard a man speak the other day

Of a futile decade of despair and hope

He described a couple’s fruitless journey,

No baby ever – how do they cope?

They agreed their story to share

And found their pain brought healing

They gave it to the world to care

And received in return, positive feeling.

From crucifixion there is resurrection

He said, without a shadow of doubt

This was an individual reflection

But its truth to me did shout.

Grief brings its responsibility

To rise above the sorrow

You can do this to your best ability

Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Through words, like many, I seek to proclaim

That darkness can indeed turn to light,

Living positive will fan the flame

Dispelling the shadows of the night.

“Hello,” says grief, “I walk in your heart

And I am never going to leave,

Now you accept I am a part

Of all you strive to achieve

I am not a lodger, I am a tenant

And it is my right to occupy

Fly the flag and wave the pennant

Together we are flying high”.

ADC/December2014

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