Author Archives: Andrea Corrie

About Andrea Corrie

Author, writer, poet, reader, photographer, walker, jogger, runner, wife, mother, stepmother, sister, daughter, friend, reflexologist, Reiki master, massage therapist, pacifist..... Organised, impatient, intolerant, empathic, happy, sad, yes I know they all contradict, don't we all?

Of Samaritans and Sacher-torte

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It’s been a while since I posted on the blog, due to our move from Surrey to Devon and the associated busyness related to finding our way round.  We are gradually settling in and getting to know our new home and area. This all amounts to a work in progress!

I wanted to share a rather unique and wonderful Good Samaritan experience that came our way last week.

We were on our way back from shopping in Tiverton and as we rounded a bend on the A396 road to Bampton, we saw a man and a woman standing near to a car.  The man had his thumb out, hitching a lift.

“Shall we stop?” I asked Shaun, who was driving.

“I think we should”, he replied, pulling over into the passing place.

The man and woman approached.  They were wearing hiking gear and didn’t look particularly concerned, so we weren’t sure quite what to expect.

They greeted us cheerfully enough and we immediately gathered they were not English (the red classic Renault with foreign plates should have given us a clue).

It turned out that they were Austrian. “Can you help us, please?” asked the woman.      “We need a lift to Exebridge, where our boat is moored”.

It turned out that they had driven from Exebridge to where we had stopped, a few miles outside Bampton, with the intention of walking back to board their boat, and ride it down the river to where the car was parked, a distance of some five miles in total.  But they had come unstuck …

“The road, it is so busy!” they exclaimed.  “No pavements and it is too hazardous to walk”, they added.  We agreed.  Although not an especially busy road, it is an A road and is thus not ideal walking territory.

“It’s fine”, said Shaun.  “Get in the car and I will drop my wife off at home with the shopping and then take you on to Exebridge”,

They got into the car gratefully.  I was racking my brains for anything to do with Austria to converse about, and eventually rather lamely came up with,

“I don’t know anything much about Austria, but I have eaten Sacher-torte” which seemed to please them.  It was the only common ground we could find and I was amused at the thought of sitting in the car talking about chocolate cake with two Viennese strangers!

Shaun dropped me home and amid much nodding and smiling goodbye from the couple, he set off again to Exebridge, and soon returned having dropped them off.

We thought no more about it, except to congratulate ourselves on having the warm fuzzy feeling of playing Good Samaritans for the couple.

We hoped they would enjoy the rest of their stay and take back to Austria with them an impression that the English can be helpful and friendly, too.

Early that evening, there was a ring on the doorbell. I opened the door to see the Renault outside, and I was presented with a bottle of red wine; the Austrian woman stood there, effusively thanking us for our kindness. There was much waving and smiling before the couple drove off again.

We were amazed and touched that the pair had gone to the trouble of coming back with a gift for us; how very kind!

I had to laugh when I read what was written on the wine bottle label:

“Instead of Sacher-cake, wine from Vienna.                                                                             Thank you for the ride!                                                                                                          Greetings, Claudia and Christian”.

Somehow, this incident makes us feel more settled in this lovely region to which we have moved.  We didn’t present to the Austrian couple as new strangers in town.  As far as they were concerned, we were the locals, they were the visitors.  This instils a new level of confidence that comes from feeling as though we are relaxing day by day into our new environment.  Shaun and I agree that Devon is already offering some unexpected bonuses.

It is markedly unusual for my blog posts not to include something about grief and loss, but it does not have a place in this piece.  Suffice to say that the enormous distractions of leaving work and relocating here have combined to put me into a place where, apart from around the anniversary of James’s passing, I have not had time to think about the ramifications of the changes.

There is something quite refreshing in the shift of focus and I am hopeful that it will give me inspiration in my writing and colour my words in a new way.  Time will tell!

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The View from the Window – 12th Anniversary of Loss

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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Written in loving memory of James Edward Clark

11 September 1985 – 28 July 2005

Loved and missed, always in our hearts

 

 

From Ceilidh to Calm

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“What’s a Ceilidh?“ I asked, having just accepted an invitation to stay with friends in Catbrook, Monmouthshire, and having been told that the weekend would include such an occasion at the local village hall.

“Look it up on YouTube!”, came the response, and when I checked I realised we had let ourselves in for a specific kind of dance event; having two left feet and little sense of rhythm, I was not thrilled by the prospect.  However, as it turned out, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings Shaun and I have had for a long time.

I can’t think of another scenario where a bunch of 50 or so people, mainly strangers, immediately begin  holding hands, linking arms and learning dance moves together with such an uninhibited sense of fun and pleasure, right from the first tune.  The Ceilidh band, called ‘Cat’s Claw’ are excellent musicians – they describe themselves as “fundamentally an all-acoustic band that gets your feet moving and the tunes are those that the band enjoys playing together, whether Welsh, Irish, Scottish, European or American – it’s all lined up and waiting for the Cat’s Claw treatment!”  Their evident joy in and passion for the music comes across immediately.  It is a distinctive sound, at once ancient and modern with a lively beat that gets your toes tapping and your body wanting to dance straight away.

I guess a Ceilidh also relies heavily on the success of the caller who instructs in the moves and we had a couple of expert dancers among us who led the more inept.  Each energetic dance was a fantastic antidote to the rainy evening outside, as well as being good exercise.  Shaun and I enjoyed a brief sense of satisfaction when we got a sequence of moves right, and collapsed in giggles when we couldn’t coordinate our clapping.  It was hot, spirited, thirst-inducing, tiring, unadulterated, fun!

In direct opposition to the frantic evening, the following day we enjoyed walking with Janet and Steve  in the area.  One walk took us high above the river Wye and we drank in the clear air, enjoying the full richness of the panoply of green around us, listening to the birdsong and relaxing in the warmth of the sun.  Another walk led us along the valley floor close to the river and here we walked through what could pass for an Alpine meadow; all that was missing were cows with bells round their necks.  Horses grazed peacefully in the distance and the buttercups fought for space with the grass.  It was a joy to all the senses.

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Our final walk took us to the fields and ancient woodland of Catbrook and Ninewells Wood that is close to Janet and Steve’s home.  There is always something new and interesting to discover; this time Steve said, “Let’s go and see the fox”.                             Janet replied, “Yes, we haven’t seen the fox for ages”.

We didn’t know quite what to expect but we were led across a field to an old, solid, stile, the centre of which was a large slab of stone. It wasn’t the easiest stile to climb over, I think I need to work on that particular skill!

However, it was worth the effort.  Once we were over the other side and looked back, we could clearly see the face of a fox that was carved into the stone, apparently by a prisoner of war when the wall was built during Napoleonic times.   (I must credit the local resident blogger with the image, which comes from the WordPress blog called “Woodland Wildflowers of the Wye Valley and Monmouthshire”).

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Those who read my blog regularly will recognise that this post is unusual; in that it is a long way from talking of my regular topics dealing with grief and loss.  But in actual fact, it represents very well indeed the importance and efficacy of distractors when you are living day to day with stress, anxiety, bereavement or loss.  We all need our endorphins boosted from time to time, whatever our circumstances.  Finding new ways to do this is a joy in itself.

The sheer fun and laughter in the dancing and the joy of the music at the Ceilidh was a form of upliftment I have never before experienced.  I am reminded of the inspirational book ‘The invitation’ in which poet Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes, “I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human”.                                                                                                                                                           Setting aside all our day to day cares and worries though the simple expedient of the Ceilidh is a great example of how we can free ourselves from whatever is binding us down.  Highly recommended.

The scenic walks we enjoyed in the beautiful surroundings of the Wye Valley in the easy company of friends provided a quieter, shared enjoyment that was balm to the mind, body and spirit. Also highly recommended.

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Respect the Water 2017

 

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This year’s RNLI Respect the Water campaign runs from May to September, and many will have seen media coverage by Ross Macleod, Coastal Safety Manager, and the ever increasing team who contribute and pull together to produce an innovative and effective campaign across the UK and Ireland.

Back in 2006 when we were involved with Kingston Council developing safety measures at the riverside where James lost his life, a friend sent to me the ‘Starfish Story’ (replicated at the end of this post).  The message in this simple story tells how individuals can make a difference for the future, in ways they may never have envisaged.  The story seemed particularly apposite to what we were proposing, and achieved, in Kingston. From the end of our campaign in 2009 to date, it is impossible to measure the effects of the increased safety of the area, but there is no doubt that, like the man throwing the starfish into the ocean, we made a difference.

Somehow, the starfish story has become synonymous with my involvement with the RNLI, which began in 2014 when my book Into the Mourning Light was published.  In Chapter 10 of the book I reproduce the starfish story in correlation with our campaign and the work with Kingston.                                                                                                                The next time the story cropped up was when The RNLI filmed me for a video as part of the awards ceremony for Respect the Water in 2015.

A few months ago I was approached by the RNLI in relation to this year’s collaborative initiative along the Thames.  Pub chain Nicholson’s has joined forces with the RNLI to promote water safety messages to customers across its entire network of 78 locations, via special promotions of their fish dishes, empowering staff with water safety advice to share with customers, and running additional fundraising and awareness activities.

In addition the RNLI are supplying potentially lifesaving throw bags to pubs at key locations along the River Thames in London.  RNLI personnel will then deliver training to staff on how to use them to rescue someone from the water in an emergency.  The message is clearly prevention rather than cure.

On a personal level, I was particularly touched to learn that the RNLI had decided to honour James’s memory by dedicating the community throw bag training manual to him.

I was asked to write the dedication, incorporating the starfish story.

On Wednesday 31 May Shaun and I travelled to the Horniman at Hays, the Nicholson’s pub on the south bank near London Bridge which is launching the initiative.   It was truly inspiring to be part of this event, and we met other members of the RNLI who have been involved, over a period of years, in the development of the throw bag initiative. I was particularly pleased to meet Tim James, another helmsman from Teddington who is a colleague of Andy Butterfield and John Soones, two passionately committed individuals who each form part of the wonderfully cohesive jigsaw of the community safety arm of the organisation.  It was a pleasure too to meet event organisers Bridie and Rachel who, doubtless with other staff in the wings, helped the event to come together.  The pub was very busy and many people passing along the walkway in this tourist-rich part of London will doubtless have taken away with them a new understanding of how to Respect the Water.

They will have seen this year’s Respect the Water video which encourages anyone falling into the water to try to float, rather than instinctively trying to swim hard.

They may have seen the demonstrations of how to deploy the throw bag by Guy and the team and realise its effectiveness.

This initiative and its new collaboration with licensed premises demonstrate an evolution into a valuable community based approach to education, training and safety around these important water-based issues.  As always, the RNLI demonstrate a wholehearted desire to effect positive change through the commitment, drive, passion and enthusiasm of its members.

When I first spoke to Andy Butterfield, Guy Addington and Ross Macleod  back in 2014 I never imagined the association would develop into what represents, for me, an ongoing tribute to my son’s memory.  The remarkable prevention and rescue organisation that is the RNLI facilitates opportunities for an ordinary individual like me to truly make a difference for the future in drowning prevention. I am very proud to be involved.

https://www.respectthewater.com/

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The Starfish Story

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”  asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

 

https://www.respectthewater.com/

Pleasure and Joy

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I enjoyed some simple pleasures last week.  Getting outside and walking in bluebell-clad woodland, a fascinating talk by a medical herbalist at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary and a tasty lunch shared afterwards with a friend.

A creative writing exercise commonly asks for a piece that incorporates the description of how something affects all our senses. Thus my opening sentences could achieve this – the sight of the trees and flowers, the light fragrance of the bluebells, the sound of the breeze in the trees and the taste of the soup I enjoyed for lunch (celeriac, cumin and coconut – lovely!)

But what is missing is how to convey the sense of well-being that has its roots in our innermost soul, at the very heart of us.  This is the nebulous sense of joy that does not come from external stimuli, or our daily circumstances, but is an inbuilt emotion that we can draw upon if we are lucky enough to be able to recognise, identify and embrace it.  My joy on the visit to the sanctuary came not just via the enjoyment and relaxation of the surroundings, but also from seeing my friend Alison’s pleased reaction to  her first visit there.

The bluebells in the woodland are like a reflection of the blue sky above, so pleasing to the senses that they cannot help but bring a sense of joy.  Learning about them too, is a happy and interesting experience.  Knowledge in itself often brings joyful exclamation;   “I never knew that!” you say, as you learn something new … like the facts about the native English bluebell versus the Spanish garden escaper:

“True English bluebells have stems that droop, whilst the Spanish are straight.  In the English bluebell the petal tips are curly and just visible are the stamens with white, creamy pollen, rather than the Spanish blue or pale green innards”.

I wonder what it is about this magical seeming flower that sends us into joyful ecstasies?  They are certainly a challenge to the camera lens, their particular shade of blue/mauve being a difficult colour to capture.  If they are in sunlight, they bleach out and look a pale depiction of their colourful selves.

Too little light, and they are a dull facsimile of their perfect best.

But get it right, achieve that balance of the light-just-right and the colour true and there you have it.  A joyful experience indeed!

A return to joy from the depths of grieving is a hard won and long struggle that remains a work in progress.  I am lucky to possess a degree of innate resilience, but this on its own would not have been sufficient to bring joy back into my life.

The return of joy after loss takes makes me think of approaching a building project, brick by brick.   It starts small, with the foundation level being the first instance when you recognise an awareness of positive emotion affecting how you feel.

You feel happy.

You don’t feel guilty about feeling happy.

You hold on to the feeling, drinking in the emotion that surrounds you and fold it into your heart.

You have one of those light-bulb moments.  This can be built on!

Gradually the bricks mould into something more substantial. Events which please, be they small or significant, begin to form something solid on which to lean, a structure that becomes denser and supportive so that you not only feel joy, you have the confidence and assurance to begin to give out that joy to others.

The conviction that life is getting better and growing happier again, despite what you have lost, is a source of ever strengthening joy.  It is supported by the love of those around you.  As you give out the light of your joy, so it is reflected back to you.

Joy is often bittersweet because you need to have known pain to recognise the beauty that lies within the joy which comes later.  Each of us knows this in very disparate ways.  For myself, I think that joy comes most from the knowledge that I am loved.  I believe that in my insignificance as just another human being on the planet, somewhere in the massive universe, I actually matter.

And that faith brings its own form of un-diminishable joy; it is the joy that makes me want to keep on living, keep on learning and keep on exploring life’s great adventure.  It’s an extension, an elaboration and a significantly deep addition to the first-glance pleasure of seeing a carpet of bluebells softly flowing across the forest floor.

And experiencing such moments with friends is part of the glue that holds pleasure, joy – and indeed life – together.

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Eulogy for a dear Friend

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Over the course of the past week, the element of water in various guises has played a significant part in my waking hours.  I have been close to the ocean in Cornwall and Dorset, I’ve sat beside a lake at a National Trust property in Surrey, and walked along the towpath in one of my favourite locations, the Basingstoke canal.

Firstly, I enjoyed a truly delightful walk on the coastal path that hugs the headland near Crantock in Cornwall.  I was with my daughter Stella and my four month old grand-daughter, Grace.  The sun shone from a cloudless blue sky, and we heard skylarks high above.  The sweet, high piping sound of the larks took me back to my childhood.  I told Stella,

“When we were young, mum and dad used to pack up a picnic, and we would head off to a field close to the old airfield at Wisley.  I remember the sunshine, the larks, and picking little  bunches of wildflowers for mum.  She taught me their names – ragged robin, star of bethlehem, bird’s foot trefoil and so on”.

As we walked it struck me how quickly the years have passed.  It’s a long time since I was the young mum of two children; I guess I am now a matriarch, enjoying my own daughter being the young mum of two children.

Life experience allows that I have apparently arrived at a position of maturity and wisdom!

There was a special kind of joy as we walked along in the spring sunshine; three females at entirely different stages of life, embracing our femininity, our maternal joys and trials and in Grace’s case, simply enjoying being carried in a sling, close to her mum’s heart.

Acquired wisdom is not confined to me however, for during our walk Stella told me something I didn’t know before, that the origin of the dandelion’s name comes from French;

‘Dent-de-lion’ means ‘tooth of the lion’, reflecting the jagged shape of the plant’s leaf.  Thank you, Stella.  You underlined nicely that your mum is never too old to learn!

You also told me that as a mum you feel that you are simultaneously a ‘carer, protector, shield and warrior’ – a very good way to describe motherhood.

As we rounded the headland we looked down on a cerulean blue sea that shone and sparkled in the sunlight below us, foamy white waves hitting the rugged Cornish rocks below us.  It was quite magnificent, elemental and an illustration of natural power at its finest.

A couple of days later found Shaun and I arriving in Lyme Regis in Dorset.  We joined a gathering to commemorate the passing of my dear friend Sylvi; an informal ceremony that saw her daughters, sisters and husband committing her ashes to the ocean.  Sylvi  and her husband Tim lived in France where she sadly passed away last Autumn. Her funeral had taken place in France but her wishes were that she would be brought to Lyme Regis. This was one of her favourite places, significantly for Christmas morning picnics with the family, regardless of the weather.

We drew together from near and far; family, colleagues and friends each holding our own memories of Sylvi as mother, grandmother, sister, wife, friend.  We walked and  talked together as we navigated the very uneven pebbly beach, gravitating to a quiet spot that Tim chose as the place where our informal committal would attract least notice.

Again we were immensely fortunate with the weather and the sun shone brightly, glittering off the sea.

We gathered round the family and stood at a respectful distance as Lucy read some well-constructed words and we were handed yellow roses  to throw into the water.

Lucy, Hollie, Tim, Sylvi’s sisters Hazel and Annie each took a turn to commit some ashes to the sea.

This started off with sombre decorum, but before long Lucy and Hollie kicked off their shoes and braved the undoubtedly cold water to lovingly send off their mum.

There was something incredibly, powerfully, touching about watching these two strong, beautiful young women standing in the shallows and little by little, saying such a personal and utterly connected goodbye to the mum they so dearly loved. The ebb and flow of the tide would carry her away gently and silently.

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Afterwards, Hollie wrote (and I share with her permission)

“Holding my mother in ashes in my own palm was a strange but unique feeling; she had held my hand, held me and held my heart more times than is possible to count and today was our turn to hold her and let her go.

… My lesson from today for myself and others is enjoy every minute with your loved ones, make the effort, say how you feel and don’t be afraid to say or show it”.

Water gives life, it sustains life, and in this case, it absorbed the last remnants of a life in a spiritually uplifting, natural way.  It was so good to see the repression usually associated with modern grief being cast aside in favour of such a memorable and simple committal to nature.

Throwing our roses into the sea allowed us to share in the precious and unique event and send our messages to Sylvi’s waterborne spirit.

Afterwards we all walked along the seafront, threading our way through the Easter holiday makers to reach the pub where a room had been set aside for the 35 or so of us who had gathered.  We gradually relaxed and reminisced, sharing our favourite recollections of such a very special lady.

The day’s individual setting and sequence of events typified Sylvi, who always cared about the impression she left, with everyone who knew her.

Sylvi’s wishes were not to leave anyone mourning gloomily with dark thoughts of the three years she lived with cancer.  Rather, she wanted those who love her to remember her with fondness, joy, laughter and compassion, which is what we achieved on the day and will sustain us all, as we go forward with our lives.

Sylvi was an exceptional woman who instilled in all who knew her an appreciation of making the most of life, whatever the circumstances.

The following day, I felt in reflective mood and had a need to connect with nature again.

We went to Hatchlands, a local National Trust property, and enjoyed a long walk.  There is a small lake in the grounds and Shaun and I sat on a bench watching the breeze ruffling the water.  All we could hear was the sound of the wind in the reeds at the edge of the lake, and the birdsong in the hedgerows.  I found myself praying for Sylvi and her family, and hoping that they all feel, as I do, a sense of having commemorated her life and her passing in the most positive way possible.

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Anyone who knows me will be familiar with my love for the stretch of the Basingstoke canal that is near our home.   I find my walks along the towpath healing and restorative.  There is something about being close to the water that is nurturing and peace-inducing in equal measure.  I walked there again the day after Hatchlands and felt that I was casting away the cobwebs of sadness at the loss of my friend.

Over time I have gradually learned important lessons about the nature of water.  We cannot live without it; indeed our bodies are made up of 50-60% of water.

It is a life giver as well as a life taker.

It sustains, it restores, it calms, it balances.

It supports life for every species.

It blesses with baptism, and curses with torrents and drought.

We cannot survive without its provision for our most basic needs.

We need to respect the water in all its many forms.

The four environments – ocean in Cornwall and Dorset, lake and canal in Surrey are entirely separate and diverse but they all provide the same sense of being at one with nature.  Each experience of these four very different days has underlined for me our human need to love and be loved, and to learn from every single life lesson that we are lucky enough to be taught.

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For Mother’s Day

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Remember

Remember me when I am gone away

Gone far away into the silent land:

When you can no more hold me by the hand

Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you planned

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember; do not grieve

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had

Better by far you should forget and smile,

Than that you should remember and be sad.

This poem, written by Christina Rossetti in the 1800s holds, for me at least, a universal relevance to loss.  It is equally applicable to the passing of a mother, friend, child, spouse …. The beauty of the words is emphasised by the constant prompts to remember which run like a refrain throughout the sonnet.  At the time the poem was written, the process of mourning was in many ways far more public and visible than it is today; much was written about it in this rather pensive and tentative style.

Given the quaintness of the archaic language, the sentiments remain viable on a day when we are likely to be visiting our own personal losses.

Mother’s Day is a day that fuses joy and poignancy in equal mix.  I always remember my late mum fondly, but particularly so on Mother’s day.  Though she died in 2001, quite a while ago now, I could never forget her and smile as Rosetti suggests, rather I remember her, and smile. 

That would be my hope for anyone who is mourning their mum this Mother’s Day, whether the loss is recent or longer ago.

Reminiscing, examining and holding fond memories are some of the best ways to recall a loving and much loved mum.   A mum who is firm but fair, who can be a best friend as well as a mother, a role model, supporter, tear-wiper, empathiser, nurturer and teacher – those of us who have – or had – mothers like this are indeed fortunate.

And when these very special mums have left us, what else is there to do but to draw in that distinctive, maternal love and make it ours? … then we can share it with our nearest and dearest. It is a joy to pour the love that our mothers have given us onto our husbands, siblings, children, friends.  We keep the memories of our mums alive by paying forward all that love they showered on us in their lifetime.  We smile and laugh fondly in our remembering.

I remember too how becoming a mother myself, taught me so much about my own mum.  Suddenly I had parental responsibility for the gift of new, precious life and from mum’s experience she knew exactly how that would make me feel.

Loving and supportive, she was always there for me with advice, guidance, humour and affection.  If there were exams for being a good mum to my brother and I … our mum would have passed with flying colours.

I have been blessed with two wonderful children, and despite losing James, I remain the mother of two wonderful children.

Stella and I always mark Mother’s Day though it is poignant with memory for both of us.

Stella is now a happily married mum herself, not only to Charlie, but also to Grace, her beautiful daughter who was born in December 2016.

Mother’s day celebrations are not limited to mums and daughters, either.  Boys can give their mum flowers too – as an older teen, James invariably managed to find a last minute bouquet, though it’s fair to say he usually borrowed the funds to buy it!  It’s easy to sanctify him now, but his heart was in the right place and the love and affection he held for his family and friends was never in doubt.

My Stella shines in her own right, like a bright star in my maternal constellation, just as James does, even though he is no longer with us.

And now Stella and I are so lucky to have the wonderful continuum of life as grandmother, mother and daughter to celebrate.

Becoming a grandmother to my daughter and stepdaughter’s children brings me great joy and I love my extended maternal role.

A mother’s status is undoubtedly underrated as the life affirming and responsible position that it is.  Mothers put their children first without question.  As a mum, you instantly become unselfish – yet you hold selfishly to the joys of babyhood, cherishing the memories of your children’s early responses to your loving.

You treasure every little piece of love that your child gives you and reflect it, bouncing it back to them without any forethought.

The bond that is formed between you in those early days is never broken.  Your children remain your babies, and they stay part of you forever.

Even when you lose your child and you grieve, you grieve with love as well as sorrow.

You grieve with regret for the future that your child cannot have but you also grieve with loving memories of the time that you had together, however short that may have been.

Moving forward as a mother after you have lost a child is a massive challenge.                                                                                                                                                             You question your abilities as a mother, you even question your right to be a mother.        You cannot help feeling that you must have failed in some way for your child to die.         You would bargain anything if it would only give you back your child.

But slowly, the guilt lessens, the sadness becomes absorbed and you discover the lessons that grief has taught. You acquire a new, loving kind of wisdom, a new vision for looking forward.  Though there is nothing to forgive, ultimately you feel forgiven.

When you lose a child, other mothers will be filled with fear of how they would cope if this unimaginable thing happened to them.

Instead of dwelling on that, I exhort all mothers to dwell on the love they have for their children, not their fear of living without them.  As bereaved parents, the loss of your children does not lessen your maternal love; rather it intensifies it into new directions and takes you to places you could never have imagined.

Motherhood is not only biological, it can also be spiritual.  Many people looking for a maternal figure can turn to those who may not already be mothers and they too can share in that special kind of guiding love; it is truly love without bounds.

Please heed Rosetti’s message to remember, especially on Mother’s Day.

In remembering rejoice in the power of maternal love, the sheer joy of loving unconditionally and being loved in return.

It is quite simple, really.  Love is the important thing, whoever you are; and whether those whom you love remain in the present, or are lovingly woven into your past. Happy mother’s day to all mothers and children.

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