Touched by an Angel
We, unaccustomed to courage
Exiles from delight
Live coiled in shells of loneliness
Until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
To liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
Old memories of pleasure
Ancient histories of pain
Yet if we are bold,
Love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
in the flush of love’s light
We dare to be brave
and suddenly we see
That love costs all we are
And will ever be
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
I was recently sent this poem, written by Maya Angelou, by someone I have never met. She shared with me that she has experienced profound loss. Of the poem, she wrote, “I hope you like it as it made a lot of sense to me as I finally came out of the long shadow of my husband’s death…….. the only thing that matters in the end is the love we have experienced and it does go on forever and maybe beyond …”
It is easy to forget the importance of love in our lives and how much it helps us to heal from the worst scenarios. It seems appropriate to share the poem now, at this season of Easter. Here we are again at the holiest and most profound time in the Faith calendar, reflecting as it does the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Love, whether personal, relational or divine, is at the root of all that is good in our lives.
Over the course of writing this blog, I have not specifically described what happened to my son James in 2005, and the ways in which his passing spurred me into being a proactive griever and a prolific writer. Some of my newer readers will be unfamiliar with the origins of the blog. Writing is fundamental to me and expressing my emotions around our awful loss, with the aim of helping other people who are experiencing profound grief, is an unexpected gift born out of the tragic accident that befell James. Completing and publishing Into the Mourning Light was just the beginning of sharing the story that continues and evolves in various forms, always fuelled by the love for, and memories of, my darling James. The blog allows me to express personal views around loss and grief, and I hope it provides others with food for thought, a sense of the positive and optimism for the future.
Over time, bereaved parents become adept at telling the facts of the loss of their children with the minimum of emotion, so as to distress neither themselves nor their audience. It is by far the easiest way to do it.
I am replicating the text which appears in the newly launched strategy document of the National Water Safety Forum because it sums up the events, if not dispassionately, in a straightforward manner.
“James Clark, a happy-go-lucky 19-year-old Uni student, was out with his friends at a nightclub in Kingston-upon-Thames. After a fun evening of socialising and drinking, in the early hours of the morning the friends left, split into two groups and went off to find taxis. But neither group realised James wasn’t with them. By the next afternoon, friends and family began wondering where he was. Maybe he’d stayed the night somewhere? Then, when he didn’t appear, and his mobile phone was not working, they were worried. They waited … and waited.
After three agonising days, the police arrived at the family’s door with the terrible news that James’ body had been found in the river. Among the emergency services called out was the RNLI.
Unbeknown to his friends, James had come out of the nightclub near the river Thames, stumbled in the dark and fallen into the water.
James drowned, probably as a result of cold water shock. This was a shock in itself because he was normally a strong swimmer. It was a tragic irony that someone usually so at home in the water and a fearless swimmer should die that way.
It was a wonderfully promising life cut short. James was a lovable, popular young man studying to be a primary teacher. Suddenly he was gone. This terrible incident happened over 10 years ago in July 2005.
Almost immediately after his death, James’ mother Andrea campaigned hard with Kingston Council for barriers to be put up along that particular stretch of the Thames. Three years later they were installed. Additional safety measures in the form of better lighting and clearer delineation of the edge of the towpath were also incorporated, along with lifesaving skills training for bar and restaurant staff.
Andrea is now helping the RNLI’s Respect The Water campaign and told us: ‘It’s too late for James but not too late to make many other people think carefully about what they are doing and the inherent danger of water even to confident swimmers. The loss of James was a tragic accident, but better awareness of the dangers, particularly in the younger age group, will undoubtedly reduce the likelihood of future tragedies”.
My own rebirth as a bereaved parent emerged from the depths of despair, but gradually that has become a wellspring of hope. It is impossible to describe how truly dreadful were the early days of loss and I am grateful for all the support I had, both seen and unseen, that helped me through the darkest days and nights. My focus on projects relating to water safety to prevent future tragedy helps immensely in trying to find some sense in, or divine reason for, what happened. As time passes it encourages me that I can talk openly about grief and loss in ways that benefit others in getting a better understanding of the issues surrounding bereavement.
The coming together of life and death at Easter inspires me to look for balance between contemplative reflection and a sense of joyful hope for the future. I have shared James’ story today in the spirit of rebirth that exemplifies Easter.
Happy Easter to all, when it comes!