Monthly Archives: March 2015

Borrowing Keys

dicentra

The concept of today’s post is not original. I lifted the Ten Keys for Happier Living from the Action for Happiness website, and put my own spin on them to relate them to the grieving process… I hope they are helpful.

Do things for others

Grief, particularly soon after loss, is both solitary and introspective. The act of reaching out is not easily achievable. However, simply sharing as much of our own story that we wish to reveal with others in a similar situation is mutually therapeutic. We do not need to do things for others in the form of charitable acts, but simply communicate as best we can. Simple exchanges create positive outcomes for both parties.

 

Connect with people

When trauma strikes, we sometimes have to reassess our needs and accept interventions that we would otherwise reject.

I don’t know where I would be today if it were not for the other bereaved parents whom I met, vritually and in reality, through The Compassionate Friends and Drowning Support Network. Both organisations provided a safe haven for me to share and explore my emotions from the early days, nearly ten years ago. I also received support from CRUSE and whilst I was initially very defensive about ‘talking therapy’ for my loss, as time passed I realised its benefit to my overall sense of wellbeing.

 

Take care of your body

Actually I would extend this to say ‘take care of your body and your mind’ because a holistic approach encompassing mind, body and spirit is the most beneficial way to make ourselves feel better about what has happened to us. If we are as fit as we are able to be, we are stronger and better placed to begin to shape a better future. Physical activity produces endorphins (the feel good hormone) which in turn can boost immunity as well as lifting our spirits.

 

Notice the world around you

We are all so busy these days rushing from one point to another that it is easy to fail to take time to smell the roses. If we utilise all our senses when we take a walk, it is virtually impossible not to feel uplifted by the world around us and take pleasure in, for example, the changing of the seasons. Buying fresh flowers for the kitchen windowsill is a simple way to introduce some everyday colour to our lives and to bring to notice the natural world.

 

Keep learning new things

The thirst for knowledge can never be quenched. In experiencing loss, we may discover a very strong need to learn more about grief to try to understand how best to process it. Reading is one of the best tools for expanding knowledge. But we should not limit our learning to the topics closest to us. Sometimes it is helpful to learn something entirely outside our comfort zone to stimulate our interest, which then has a tangential knock on effect in making familiar targets seem more achievable, and easier.

 

Have goals to look forward to

In early grief the smallest aims seem insurmountable. Getting through a day hour by hour seems impossible at first. But slowly and surely we come to realise that with each day that passes we feel minutely better. Goals such as being able to enjoy ourselves without feeling guilty do not happen overnight – but they are achievable. Today my goals relate to living mindfully, joyfully and meaningfully in spite of my loss.

 

Find ways to bounce back

It is true to say that we all have a story. Few of us swan through life without experiencing trauma, loss or sadness. But we all possess untapped reserves of optimism and strength that together provide us with the resilience to manage tough times. By focussing on what we actually can achieve, rather than having unrealistic expectations, we can grow stronger. Putting together a toolbox to manage adversity is a useful device. My own toolbox contains: mindfulness, writing, reading, talking, running, spiritual nourishment, amongst other things…

 

Take a positive approach

The concept of looking for anything positive in loss seems counterproductive. However, our efforts to be proactive in grieving pay massive dividends in providing a positive platform from which to launch our future. Losing my son is the worst thing to happen in my life. Yet I am still here, still standing, still upright and still making a useful contribution to life. It is only by constantly focussing on the positive aspects of my life – my loving husband, family and friends that I am able to put into perspective the tragic loss we have experienced. Turning negativity into positivity means looking for the light that comes after the darkness. And it does come … in the way that day follows night.

 

Be comfortable with who you are

When we are young, we are inclined to measure ourselves against others and find ourselves wanting in some way or another – that’s human nature. But maturity brings with it a certain degree of self acceptance. We must not beat ourselves up over things that have happened in the past and which we cannot change. A level of self assurance is undoubtedly helpful in traversing the grief road. Experiencing loss gives us a greater ability to present a face to the world that says, take me as I am. This is who I am today.                                                                             I am (finally) comfortable in my own skin.

 

Be part of something bigger

As individual human beings we are all part of the something bigger that is humanity, but it is within the bounds of our circle of family, friends, work and the community to which we belong that we tread our own paths. Making a difference as an individual can appear difficult to achieve but we only have to look at the efforts, say, of a fund-raiser running a marathon for a given charity, to see that we all have it in us, in some form or another, to be part of something bigger. Any creative strength and spreading the word, through writing blogs such as this, creates a sense of being part of a wider community and adding to the knowledge base of others. For myself, the satisfaction of being part of something bigger – in grief terms – is being able to share the path of my sorrow with an ever widening audience and at the same time as helping others in grief and loss, help myself towards a better understanding and assimilation of loss.

We all need to feel that we are here for a purpose. Sometimes it is hard to see exactly what that purpose is, and anything that helps towards clarity is a useful tool, not just in grieving but in our day to day living.

http://www.actionforhappiness.org/10-keys

www.tcf.org.uk

www.cruse.org.uk

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/DrowningSupportNetwork/info

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Colouring In

When I think of grief, I sense that the breaking of the mourning process and the drying of tears are as inevitable as the sun’s ascent and the evaporation of the morning dew – Carmella B’Hahn

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 Jogging along by the canal the other day, I was amazed by the speed at which the shades of the morning changed from bleak monochrome greyness to early spring colour. This led my train of thought to travel along a track of reminiscence, as so often happens when I am alone and have time to reflect.

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When I was writing my book, I wanted a title that would convey many things: a sense of hope, optimism and positivity, a title which transmitted the message that the springboard of the book was loss.

The title Into the Mourning Light came into being gradually.

It was heavily influenced by one of the first people I met after James died in 2005.

Carmella B’Hahn was a pioneer of water birth in the UK and her son Benjaya was one of the first babies to be born in water in 1986. Ironically, he died in a river drowning accident when he was only five years old. Carmella turned her grieving process in a proactive and positive direction, first writing Benjaya’s Gifts, which told her son’s story and the legacy of learning from her experiences. She subsequently wrote Mourning has Broken; Learning from the Wisdom of Adversity. This book is made up of interviews and offers the reader ‘keys’ to working through and managing grief and trauma, not only loss through bereavement.

I found Carmella’s work inspiring, and in the very early days of loss I attended one of the grief workshops that she ran at the time.

Dazed and anguished as I was, the day was hugely beneficial. Here for the first time I experienced the tool of guided meditation, and found that, in a safe and nurturing environment, I could examine the profound sadness at the very core of my being in a helpful way.

The day was both emotionally draining and positively uplifting. I am sure Carmella has no idea how much that workshop in 2006 coloured my attitude to grieving and how her compassion and knowledge of the matters of living and dying moved me into a more constructive direction.

Indirectly Carmella also contributed to my growing confidence in sharing James’s story, which has ultimately led to my public speaking presentations, work with the RNLI and co-presenting workshops for bereaved parents.

‘The use of colour in healing grief’ is in fact the theme of the second workshop for bereaved parents with which I am involved, to be held on Sunday 12 April 2015. We plan to provide a positive and uplifting day for our attendees. It is enormously beneficial to share personal stories with others who truly understand, but our day will be about more than this.

My co-presenters and I all agree how vital it is to be able to re-introduce colour into our personal worlds after the loss of a child – but how do we do this? There are many directions that such therapy can take and we will examine some of them over the course of the day.

Our surroundings are an undoubted boost, as the workshop will take place at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary in Shere, Surrey (we still have a few places left; if you are interested, please get in touch either directly or through the Sanctuary website/my email)

The title of my book is only one element in the all-important visual impact of its cover and I was glad to have the opportunity to work with the publishing company’s illustrators on its appearance.

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Firstly, the distant light spreading over the landscape is intended to convey a sense of moving forwards.

There is important symbolism in the presence of the butterfly, which represents change and transformation.

The path and the staggered gateway are key in conveying an uneven passage along a route which ultimately opens out into a wider vista (new normality) and of course the sunshine above is massively important in giving a sense of new days, dawning with hope and optimism.

I like the mist clinging to the hills which gives a sense of residual connections between the ethereal realm and the pragmatism of terra firma.

Finally, the trees in leaf provide a positive framework for the entire cover. I love trees and the way they change with the seasons. To me, trees symbolise strength, nature, nurture, and the ever constant sense of hope that comes with the turning of the seasons’ wheel.

Into the Mourning Light remains my most significant grief ‘achievement’ if it can be described in such a way, and it is a large facet in the colourful emotional mosaic that represents my path, and the telling of James’s story, since July 2005.

http://www.harryedwardshealingsanctuary.org.uk/events.html

Mother’s Day Reflections

wisley7

 “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”   Elizabeth Stone

Sunday March 15 is Mother’s Day in the UK. What a day of mixed emotions!

Mother’s day changed irrevocably for me when I lost my own mother in 2001 … and this year it alters once again, because it is my daughter Stella’s very first mother’s day, as mummy to her son Charlie who was born last July.

It is a strange but lovely feeling to have a daughter who has herself become a mother.

I count myself very lucky because I had a good relationship with my mother and my rapport with my children was modelled on that foundation. My heart goes out to those who do not relate well to their own mothers, particularly on this day of celebration of motherhood. If it would disturb you to read a piece that essentially eulogises motherhood, feel free to give this week’s blog post a miss…..

When I became a mother myself, I began to better understand my own mum, and this is happening now with Stella and I. There is a new understanding between us, and indeed admiration, for what it is to be a mother. I feel very blessed for those special years when I was myself a mother and my mum was still alive. The times of being simultaneously a mother and a daughter were especially precious. We shared and exchanged a great deal about parenthood and I am so glad that Stella and James were able to know their grandparents throughout their childhood.

Motherhood is a job of fulfilment and challenge in almost equal measure and my mum’s innate wisdom, love, kindness and humour stand out in my memories of her.

When James died in 2005, I asked myself, “Am I still mother to a son and a daughter?”

But of course I am!

I did not stop being my mother’s daughter when mum died, so I should not consider myself any less of a mother because my son died.

I am still myself. First and foremost I am me, and I was granted the gift of motherhood twice. Nothing subtracts from that, even though one of my children is no longer here.

Becoming a mother to two beautiful children remains my biggest ever life achievement.

Becoming a bereaved parent raises all sorts of questions that mothers (and fathers) should never have to answer. I have often questioned whether I was a ‘good enough’ mother …. Throughout my children’s upbringing it was a question I asked myself fairly regularly.

But it is no good now, playing the game of ‘what if…’ because I know in my heart, and I have the faith to believe, that what happened to James was meant to happen.

There is nothing that I or anyone else could have done to prevent the accident of his death when it occurred.

I can say that now with conviction from the point of nearly ten years post loss, but I certainly would not have been so confident about it at the beginning.

Guilt is one of the worst aspects of bereavement.

As a mother, I feel guilty that I could not protect my son from the ultimate harm that befell him.

“Did I teach him well enough?

Should I, could I, have done more?

Why us … why him … why me?”

I had to stop asking myself these questions because they prevented me from moving forward in the grieving process. Yet, I believe they were inevitable, valid questions to ask, though they must remain unanswered.

I did the best job I could in bringing up my children and that is the most that any parent can ever do.

The origins of Mother’s Day in the US go back to 1870 when Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and poet, worked to establish a Mother’s Peace Day. Howe dedicated the celebration to the eradication of war, rather than the glorification of mothers

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially recognised Mother’s Day, proclaiming it a national holiday and a “public expression of our love and reverence for all mothers.” Gradually over time the day has evolved into the commercialised celebration that we know today.

It all starts off well enough. Which mother has not been brought to tears by the wobbly, loving writing on the first mother’s day cards from her small children? I remember too the annual service at our local church, where every child solemnly presented his or her mother with a little posy of flowers.

I enjoyed years of cards and carefully chosen presents from my children … we never went ‘over the top’ but always observed the day lovingly, as did my brother and I with our own mum.

I miss my mother’s presence though it is nearly 14 years since she died; I miss my son’s presence in an entirely different way. Mum lived a relatively long life, and her death was part of the cycle of life and death that we recognise as the norm. But James’s death came almost before his life had properly begun and this carries particular regret and poignancy, not just on Mother’s Day, but for all the years of life that he will not now experience.

Living each day with these absences makes me value even more the memories of the presence of my mother and my son.

Sophocles said “Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life”. I have lost one of my anchors but the importance of being a mother remains key to my living my life with as much joy and positivity as I can manage.

Being a mother is unselfish in a way that does not feel unselfish.

We put our children’s happiness and well-being ahead of our own. We do this not in any expectation of reward, but in love and devotion to those wonderful beings we have nurtured and produced. We may feel we are doing it all wrong – after all, there is no rule book – but almost invariably we are doing it right – or the best right that we can manage.

I salute mothers everywhere and wish us all a very happy mother’s day. Go gently, and know that you are doing the most amazing job in existence!

Mum1

mumandI1972

Out of the Fog

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At the risk of overworking an already overused expression, today I am sharing how my drive back from Cornwall last week became ‘a journey’ – in more ways than one.

Soon after I set off, I drove into thick fog on the A30 – an open, windswept road that can appear bleak in all but the best of weathers. Immediately, all terms of reference for everything around me disappeared; my world was reduced to the cocooning surround of the car and my focus was limited entirely to the road ahead. It was scary. Vehicles travelling in the opposite direction loomed eerily out of the half-light and my gaze became fixed on the red lights of the vehicles ahead, which were the only beacons I could follow. Every so often, there were little pockets of clarity in the gloom, which threw objects into sharp relief against the shrouding mist … here was a farmhouse set back from the road, there was a sign for riding stables. But these side issues failed to make any impact on me, such was the need for my concentration on the road ahead.

I could not help but draw a parallel with how life is changed by loss; in an instant one is thrown into an abyss of confusion, despair and despondency that feels like a claustrophobic corridor. We cannot turn back, but must face forward and fix our gaze upon what lies ahead. What has gone before impedes progress but we learn that we must move forward. The issues around us barely impinge on our consciousness; such is our single-minded attention to the overwhelming demands of grief.

As I simultaneously drove along, listened to the radio, concentrated on the cars in front of me, and thought myriad thoughts, I considered how amazingly adept we are at being able to divaricate our minds when we have to. Hence, even in the early stages of loss and grieving, we are able to continue to function on an ordinary level somehow – sleeping, waking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, driving, walking, working …. All the time processing and working through what has happened to us. We truly can, and do, multi-task.

I have driven along the same stretch of the A30 many times and it is a familiar route to me; yet when the fog descended I felt as though I had no idea where I had come from, or where I was going. I felt invisible and as though my confidence had been pulled like a rug from beneath my feet. I was frightened and had to quell a growing sense of panic, reassuring myself that it would not be long until I came out the other side of the fog.

I longed for the familiarity of home and began to count the hours and minutes until I reached that safe haven. I visualised arriving home and being welcomed back by Shaun, making a cup of tea and unpacking my case – all the normal, ordinary things that we do when we get home after a spell away.

However, in early grief, even the place we call home can lose its status as our secure and safe place to be… I remember feeling this very strongly because home is where I learned of James’s death, and home suddenly became an alien environment filled with memories of him, rather than his presence.

Home should not be where bad things happen.

It was very difficult to learn to dissociate home from what had happened and it took a long time. There was a kind of traumatic residue that never really disappeared for the remainder of the time we lived in the property. Little wisps of it remained like mist that failed to dissipate.

I write often of the grief journey being one of moving from darkness back into light; but it is not as simple as that. It also encompasses the shift of focus from blurred to sharp again, and for the world we know and recognise to change from monochrome to full glorious technicolour.

Even in the stultifying presence of the fog, I felt that there was an important sequence  playing out in my mind during this journey and I tried to accommodate it. There is something quite liberating about making a long car journey on your own – I find it therapeutic in the sense that I can give my emotional brain free rein; that part of my mind which is not concentrating on driving from A to B can flit about, wherever it chooses.

There is a great deal to be said for uninterrupted solitude when it is chosen.

I like the juxtaposition of the monotony of the road and the unexpected twists and turns of my thought processes; often a whole train of thought can be sparked by the name on the side of a lorry, or a village shop that I pass … all manner of things can be triggers.

I drove out of the fog suddenly, after about sixty miles, and it was like driving into a different day. The sun shone out of a cerulean sky and houses, trees, fields … all looked especially vibrant and colourful.

My spirits were lifted by the beauty of the surroundings and the horrors of the fog receded with each passing mile.

If I learned a lesson on my journey home it was this: to visit what I fear and embrace it reduces its ability to overwhelm me…

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