The View from the Window – the 12th Anniversary of Loss
During class at the creative writing group I attended for some years, our tutor was fond of challenging us with ‘on the spot’ writing exercises. One of her favourites was to give us the title The View from the Window. The view we wrote about could be real or imaginary and we would have five minutes to write on the topic. That doesn’t sound very long but you would be surprised how easily creativity can flow under pressure. This technique is sometimes also known as writing from the wrist … allowing the creative side of the brain to entirely dictate what flows from the pen. It is also a good way to release writer’s block. Faced with an empty page or blank screen, simply looking out of the window and recording what you see is rewarding to do. It doesn’t matter whether you end up with a piece that flows like well-ordered prose, or a prosaic list of items that you observe, the important thing is that you have allowed your mind the freedom to wander without constraint. I am no painterly artist, but I guess it is similar to being faced with a blank canvas and applying the first strokes that will evolve into an artwork. Confidence comes with practice.
I believe that in my own experience, the ever changing ‘view from the window’ correlates well to the way grief evolves over time.
Next week it will be twelve years since my son James died, and my window view today is substantially different from that at the beginning.
Today I can look out and see sunshine, blue skies, and the rich colours of nature.
Twelve years ago I saw only storm clouds and darkness.
In reality, too, my view from the window has substantially changed twice since James died, in the form of two house moves. Our first move, in 2012, took us eight miles from Addlestone to Knaphill near Woking in Surrey, and it was a big leap in that I was moving out of the area where my children were born, schooled, and raised. At the time, I wrote that I was anxious about moving to a house where James had not lived, but I need not have had concerns as I quickly understood the crucial fact that he comes everywhere with me in spirit.
It may reassure others to know that your memories do indeed move with you, wherever you are. I also felt a certain degree of relief that I was living in an area where I was not constantly reminded of James; for example on a daily basis I saw children in the same school uniform that he wore, and they walked the pavements where he had walked; that was hard, but I didn’t necessarily appreciate so at the time.
There is an element of freedom that comes with being a bereaved parent living in a place where no-one knows your story, and as time goes on, you have a choice whether or not to share it. In early grief you may well have an irresistible urge to tell practically everyone you meet what has happened, but this tends to fade and I have definitely become more selective about the circumstances in which I share James, certainly in social situations where I may only meet people once.
Our second move is very recent; at the end of June we transported our goods, chattels and two cats to our new home in Bampton, Devon … it is a massive change of pace and environment. It’s an exciting, if slightly daunting, prospect to know that we have to start from scratch in getting ourselves established in a new area, but we are confident that family and friends will visit regularly and we will become involved in the local community as we get more settled in this new phase of our lives.
When we moved three weeks ago from Knaphill, the family photographs were almost the last thing I packed. They travelled in the car with me and were one of the first items to be placed in the lounge. This felt very important to my wellbeing.
As for leaving James behind … The couple who bought our house in Knaphill are called James and Vicky and the middle name of the seller of our new home is James. I was also amused when our next door neighbour introduced himself … “Hello”, he said, “I am Jim”, I assume this to be a diminutive of James. … thus I have complete confidence in James’s nudges, reminding us he is around!
It is now three years since the publication of Into the Mourning Light and I am still working on my second grief support book; it is coming together slowly. However, as any writer knows, you have to be in the right frame of mind to write consistently, and planning and achieving a move are mentally draining, so the project remains a rather slow work in progress!
My involvement with the RNLI and the Respect the Water campaign continues and last week I was invited to the RNLI College in Poole to talk to a group of 45 mainly community based RNLI staff and volunteers who were attending a training course. How different it was go to go Poole from Devon … a similar distance to before but a more scenic route, certainly.
It is hard to express how comforted I am by the RNLI’s continued support for our particular circumstances. I have chosen to share our James in a way that brings home the ramifications of personal tragedy through accidental loss, but importantly, I am able to give hope and reassurance that life can and does get better after the kind of trauma we experienced.
This time round I called my presentation ‘Making Waves’ as I feel the RNLI certainly makes waves in its continued determination to reduce and prevent drowning tragedies. The ongoing scenario is a positive and collaborative approach with all the other organisations that make up the National Water Safety Forum, each working hard to drive their initiatives forward.
(Photo Credit, Nathan Williams, RNLI, May 2017)
In my own way, I am proud to be a wave maker too. It is immensely gratifying to be able to share what I have learned over the past twelve years with audiences who can positively use some of the tools of working with grief and loss. These apply equally to both work and personal life situations.
I couldn’t resist finishing my talk with a ‘water’ analogy … can’t get away from them! ….Every individual is contributing to the collective effect and every ripple is part of the wave that eventually breaks and spreads across the shore.
Twelve years of loss can perhaps be equated also to a twelve month turn of the calendar.
In grief terms, year one (January) looks entirely different to year twelve (December). January is almost invariably a dark and long month, despite its being the first month of a new year. When you are in early grief, going into a new year without your loved one is a difficult concept to assimilate. I remember the first New Year without James felt all wrong; to be going into a year that did not have his living presence in it was a tremendous struggle.
Spring time and Easter hold a greater resonance for me today than they did twelve years ago, too. I can reflect fondly on James’s younger years when he was involved with the Easter celebrations at school that led to the hasty last-minute creation of elaborate miniature Easter gardens and/or decorated Easter hats; Stella was always super organised with her contributions but James would invariably have a rush job on …
The Christian symbolism of Easter also reminds us that life continues, despite loss and heartache.
July remains a difficult month and always feels as though it drags. This year it has felt very different because of our house move. I cannot imagine a time when I will not need to place some flowers at James’s plaque at Kingston riverside on the anniversary of his passing.
We will be going to Kingston next Friday as we usually do on 28 July.
I have always loved the colours of autumn, and the gentleness of that season soothes the spirit. I find it a pleasantly reflective time now, though I recall well that the year James died, I was dismayed by the passage of time and wrote, “The days – and nights – dragged that summer, yet suddenly we were in late September and I had no real sense of how time had passed”. Time passing ‘normally’ takes a while to resume.
When the turn of the year’s circle brings us round to Christmas again I can say that I have reached a point where I am able to reflect on how we have managed over the years and as I have said before, though we are without James’s physical presence, “Here we are, still standing, still living, still counting blessings for the life we now have. The newest generation in our families give the continuum for our future and bring much joy”.
The passage of time has allowed my loss to become woven into this life’s fabric with gentle poignancy, the sweetest of memories and love without end.
Written in loving memory of James Edward Clark
11 September 1985 – 28 July 2005
Loved and missed, always in our hearts