Category Archives: breathing

Do you MIND?

bangkok14

“Mindfulness offers us opportunities to reconnect with ourselves and to restore balance in our busy lives”

You can tell that mindfulness is a buzz word when Google returns 40,300,000 hits on a search.

But what exactly is it, how do we get it, and why do we need it?

I remember when I first started work, many years ago, there was talk of how we could all look forward to arriving at a four day working week and enjoying more leisure time.  But when we look around now we find ourselves scurrying around in a heightened state of busyness, flitting from one thing to the next and definitely not operating in accord with the suggested attributes of living in a mindful state.  Mindfulness is described in many ways but I think it is neatly encapsulated by the definition of being in a ‘state of active, open attention on the present’.  This ascribes to mindfulness the ability to apply ourselves specifically not just to one thing at a time, but to examine various aspects and facets of here and now.

Behaving mindfully necessarily precludes too much reliance on the technological advances which we now feel we cannot live without – many of us have become enslaved by what I have heard described as all the I-s; that is the iPhone, iPod, iPad, iWatch, along with the biggest I of all, the Internet. Plus you can now monitor practically every bodily function through Apps and Fitbits and the like.

Is it any wonder that we feel under so much pressure that we are beginning to lose the ability to switch off and be fully in the ‘here and  now’?

Our reliance on inanimate, interactive products is not necessarily healthy.

I have a personal watershed on technology as I found that if I was constantly fiddling with my phone or working on the pc into the evening (often whilst the TV was on too), it disturbed my sleep.  I now put my phone out of sight by 8pm and never take it up into the bedroom.  We retain a landline for emergencies.  I still prefer to read a paper book before I go to sleep rather than my Kindle.

I feel too that technology makes us indecisive in the extreme.  How often have you seen some hapless person hesitantly shuffling along in the supermarket aisle phone clamped to his or her ear, and heard a one-sided conversation that goes something like this,

“Well I am looking dear, but they haven’t got lamb chops.  What shall I get instead.  Pork?  Chicken? Steak? Burger? Sausages? A veggie option?…Well … you tell me what to get and I will pick it up.  I really don’t mind.  You choose”

Before mobile phones, we would just have selected something else without the need to confer with anybody.

Other times, you may see someone tearing up and down the aisle whilst in conversation on his/her phone, flinging things in the trolley with little concentration.

Are we slowly losing the ability to stop trying to do so much at once and to focus single-mindedly on one task at a time?

Social arrangements used to be simple, too.  When I met with friends before the mobile phone era,  I would make a telephone call, say on a Sunday evening, to confirm an arrangement for the following Saturday.  We would have no contact in between and would turn up as arranged.  Today, people tend to make plans by text and I have become used to exchanges like:

Me: Looking fwd to see you Sat. Where shall we meet?

Friend:You choose, I don’t mind

Me: Shall we say the Oak?

Friend: Oh. Didn’t like that last time

Me: Well, where would you prefer then?

Friend: How about the Cricketers?

Me: Ok, sounds good to me

Friend:What time?

Me: 1230?

Friend: Better make it 1300 to be on safe side

Then on the day I get a flurry of messages  …

Sorry, running a bit late …

Followed by … just parking.  Are you in the pub?

Me:  No, I am in the car park.  See me?  (waving) …!

All this unfocused to-ing and fro-ing via text feels like such a waste of time, it engenders frustration and it is a long way away from mindfulness.

There are many ways to practise mindfulness and it is not difficult to get into the habit of using it as a tool to step away from the stressors in life.  The simplest way I have found is to allocate a small amount of time in each busy day to really place myself mentally in the here and now.  I set my alarm ten minutes earlier than I need to get up and use those few minutes to focus on the day ahead, to evaluate and steady my breathing and examine how I am feeling.  I think about anything that is specifically on my mind and often, useful solutions will present themselves throughout the day.

Techniques for mindfulness abound, ranging from simple breathing focus to yoga, tai-chi and complex courses and classes.  Mindfulness offers many processes through which you can still the mind chatter, kick out all the negativity and embrace the positives in your life.

It is interesting that there is a section on mindfulness on the NHS website which neatly sums up simple mindfulness meditation that ‘involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander’. Simple!

I am sure that if we all regularly practised such a modest exercise we would feel far less stressed and anxious about things over which we have no control.

If you were a person who eschews the mobile phone, electronics, the internet, television and perhaps even the radio you would be a very unusual individual, perhaps best described as being akin to  the ancient ascetics who lived in self imposed hardship and a constant state of self denial on the negative side, and heightened mindful awareness on the positive.

For the vast majority of us however, mindfulness represents an opportunity, just for a little while, to practise some self-enhancing, simple techniques to take us away from the hurly burly of modern life.  The four day week may never have materialised but if we can approach our busy times with mindfulness we should be better able to deal with whatever comes our way.

katathani2

 

Advertisements

Toutes Directions

perran4

Toutes Directions

“3rd exit on roundabout

Slight left

Slight left

Turn right

Turn left

Turn right

Turn left

2nd exit on roundabout

Slight right

Turn left

Turn right

Slight left”

These directions represent a mere 4.7 miles worth of instructions from Google maps for the unknown part of a journey I made the other day, after I had exited the M25 at Junction 8. Thankfully I was able to avail myself of the use of a Satnav, in which I placed my implicit trust and I found my destination without any difficulty – which would certainly not have been the case had I been trying, on my own, to follow said instructions on a map or my phone. I suspect I would still have been driving round in circles!

This week turned out to be one of elucidation on a variety of levels. The difference between floundering around with a set of largely useless directions and being guided by the accuracy of the Satnav reflects in some respects the utterly confusing journey of grief. So many twists and turns! – backwards and forwards your emotions run in the early days. How do you find a straight road through the mire of confusion and uncertainty that exists, seemingly to thwart you and send you into blind corner after blind corner? It is only the passage of time that reveals a route which becomes largely forward-facing, although even after many years, the occasional U-turn will be experienced. And who is the Satnav that guides you through the whole process? He, or collectively they, will be made up of many navigators to show the safest and least painful way to traverse this new territory. The signposts for the grief road are many and varied. There is no right or wrong route, but in my experience it is not a linear journey from point A to point B: that would be far too simple.

I frequently refer to Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as they are recognised as a benchmark for the grieving process, but they are not as neatly packaged as one might expect, or indeed hope. And I will always challenge the notion of the final stage, acceptance, in relation to the loss of a child.

I was further reminded of grief’s progress when I collected a new pair of glasses this week. I have suddenly acquired an almost startling clarity of vision with my new specs. In fact it has led to an unusual enthusiasm for cleaning dusty corners, for with my improved visual acuity, I can see the dust that passed unnoticed before. And suddenly, it feels as though not only has everything been brought into sharp focus, but the time is right for it to be so. I am ready for the scales to fall from my eyes and to face the permanent reality of my loss; a loss which is now over ten years old.

It really has taken me this long to reach the point where I can say, “I feel comfortable living with this grief”.

I have not given up on the grief journey, nor will I, for it is not a finite thing. I am constantly seeking out new ways to explore the ability to live with and comprehend the process and that has not changed. But what is changing, is my level of vision; a vision that no longer feels clouded by the rawness of early loss, and today I feel I have sufficient strength to examine my feelings and emotions without being dragged back downwards to the blind alleys.

It would appear that all my senses are being tweaked at present. I like to listen to the radio on ‘catch up’ on a tablet device, but the sound quality is not very good A friend recommended an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker and it is a brilliant piece of kit – producing a sound that is rich, true and well-rounded. Bluetooth is a bit like magic, to my non-technical mind. How is it that there are no wires or cables and the speaker can be placed some distance from the tablet, and yet the sound comes across, clear and true?

Perhaps this is another reminder that just because we cannot see our loved ones, does not mean that they are not there, we just can’t see the connections …

So … in a week that felt as though not very much happened, suddenly my senses have been awakened in unexpected ways. I find myself being guided along new pathways, able to see more clearly and hear more acutely. Not a bad week after all!

coastwithtext

Worldwide Candle Lighting Sunday 13 December 7pm

WCL+2015+CMYK

A poem for the TCF Candle-Lighting

The candle is lit; see the light

Soft at first, then glowing bright

Like a beacon in the night

Bringing you to our mind’s sight.

Clever match with tiny spark

Dispels the fears held in the dark

On memory’s journey we can embark

Recalling how you left your mark.

The flame burns strong and tall and true

Spirited; reminding us of you

How wonderfully through our lives you blew

Our pride and hope and love you drew.

And if in sadness, our tears should flow

There is comfort in the candle’s glow

Solace and healing may be slow

But gradual joy we come to know.

We breathe in light in this special space

And feel soothed as darkness is displaced

Your love held close, never to replace

It stays as dear as your smiling face.

The candle is lit; see the light shine

The flame is upright and clear and fine

A symbol of peace; across the world we align

United in loss, be it yours or mine.

Adc/December2015

tcfcandle

A decade achieved

sunnyjim

‘Our children do not die. They live on in our hearts with wingbeats of memory’.

Ten years ago, on 28 July 2005, our world changed forever. The greatest fear of any parent became our reality. James went out for the evening and he never returned. He was not found for three days, after which time he was recovered from the river Thames at Kingston, his death a tragic accident.

I cannot easily bring myself to write the words his body was recovered because that would not convey the loss of the wonderful, individual being who was James: that handsome, bright, funny, vibrant, cheeky, boy; on the threshold of manhood, his future so full of promise. He was snatched from his life and our lives, in an instant.

And here we are. Suddenly it seems, the calendar tells us we are ten years on.

Battered, bruised but still standing.

Over the past decade, I have amassed an amazingly useful amount of first-hand knowledge of grief and the grieving process, primarily as it applies to my own situation.

Certain aspects of grief are common to all loss, but other features are entirely specific to child loss.

I have become a reluctant expert, first learning how to deal with my own feelings and then gradually realising an appreciation of how my loss affects others in the wider circle. Sharing my thoughts and emotions in writing is cathartic. It helps me to break down the enormity of loss into more palatable bite-size pieces.

I recently watched a clip on Youtube called “Put the Glass down: How long to hold on to grudges and trauma”

Paraphrased, it goes something like this:

A professor holds up a glass half full of water to his students, asking,

“How much does this weigh?”

The students guess at the weight. Prof says,

“Really my question is not so much how much it weighs, but what would happen if I held it up for some minutes … or an hour … or a day?”

The students’ reply was that sooner or later, he would have arm ache and muscle stress and the pain would become intolerable.

“Does the weight of the glass change?” asked the professor.

“No”, came the answer

“So, what causes the arm ache and muscle stress? What should I do to come out of pain?”

The answer is, of course, to put the glass down.

You need to put your ‘glass of grief’ down for relief. I have learned that both holding and putting down are possible, individually and concurrently. It’s a real mix.

The toxicity of holding on to negative emotions which are detrimental to the psyche is, I think, an important feature to consider. The longer you hold on to the worst aspects of loss, the greater is your pain, and you can find yourself paralysed by it. Mulling over of the worst aspects of loss and learning the techniques that allow you to put them down at will, can help bring perspective to the process.

For me, the only way to minimise the destructive elements of the trauma and grief I have experienced is to gradually examine and work through them at my own pace and in my own way. The learning curve is steep and signposts are helpful, but it is your own strength and resilience that win through in the end.

I still wish I could take away the pain of the loss of James, not just from myself but from the rest of the family, his friends, and all those people who knew him. Grief is indeed a heavy burden and it is a long process in the lightening. We all carry it in different ways and wish we could turn the clock back. The only aspect of acceptance in grief that I embrace is that it is, sadly, impossible to undo the events of the past.

Where do I stand at the close of ten years of loss? I can truthfully say I have integrated the loss of James into my life to a comfortable level, where I am able to stand back and look down the years with the satisfaction of knowing I have achieved progress along the way.

If you are analytical by nature, as I am, you may well find yourself challenging the commonly laid down grief stages which tend to favour a linear, progressive approach. These do not, for me, reflect the two steps forward, one back nature of my path as I am living it. Recently, my attention has been drawn to the 1995 paper by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut , called The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement. This theorises that if you are working through your grief, ie tackling it head on, you must also give yourself time off from the process in order to give yourself a break and to be able to move forward to the next stage in the assimilation procedure. This type of theorising resonates well with me. I tend to work on a chore and reward system, in any case. For example, my reward after the chore of cleaning the kitchen will be to watch some mindless TV, read a book or check my emails.

I think a chore and reward system can equally be applied to grieving.

The inevitable chore of opening the box of your difficult emotions, taking them out, examining them, putting them away again, will necessarily leave you feeling tired, sad and empty. So reward yourself with some leisure time; go for a run, bake a cake, do something creative; whatever makes you feel positive and happy again. This cycle undoubtedly becomes easier with repetition. Embracing a positive mindset, knowing that at the end of the task you will be doing something to make yourself feel better, seems to work well psychologically.

I like too the discussion of Stroebe and Schut around two types of stressors associated with grieving: loss orientation and restoration orientation. Both types require coping mechanisms, and breaks from these are also important.

Stroebe and Schut define loss orientation as emotion-focussed coping and processing loss, whilst restoration-oriented stressors relate more to having to compensate for the person who is no longer here. This may be more relevant to losing a spouse/sibling than a child, I feel, because the focus is on external adjustments following loss (for example, if your husband always looked after the household accounts, now you have to learn to do so). It is still an important concept to consider when thinking about what constitutes progress in your grief. Losing a child puts a burden on a parent to somehow be more than they were before. There is a need to fill the child-shaped hole with something that comes from within. This is a difficult concept. But I often feel I am trying hard to compensate for James no longer being here – and that is achieved by pushing myself further than I would have done before, right across the board. Time has become infinitely more precious, and I do not like to waste my days. I feel a need to keep driving myself forward as a coping mechanism.

There is no doubt that Stroebe and Schut have it right when they suggest we oscillate between confrontation and avoidance in processing loss. It is vital do to whichever feels right at the time. Avoidance or diversion gives the mind necessary breaks from the hard work and application that is required in grieving. I have noticed that most of the bereaved parents I have met are invariably very busy people, and in part this is perhaps our desire to fill our time with compensatory items to divert us from pain. This is not to deride our busyness, which is also very useful and productive.

All this is a somewhat dry theoretical discussion on what is actually my day to day living process. What has it to do with my traversing the rocky road of grief for the loss of James?

I think I can best illustrate my progress over the past decade by singling out a top ten of useful things I have learned inasmuch as they relate generally and also more specifically to my own situation. I hope others are able to apply them and be helped by them, in their own individual situations in bereavement.

Gathering a support network around you really helps

You may not be a ‘group person’ or a joiner – but there is help for bereaved parents (and of course other bereaved people). You can do as much or as little as you like in terms of seeking out support. The isolation of early grief leaves you fragile, vulnerable and lacking in confidence and often the first step in contacting a group is very hard, but ultimately worthwhile. You may find that sharing your experiences or being aware of others going through similar circumstances is immensely helpful. You may find newfound confidence – not in comparing your grief, which should never be competitive, but realising that you are coping in the best way possible for yourself. Grief is necessarily individual and self-absorbed, particularly in the early days for you are compelled to constantly review how you are coping, what you are managing, etc, etc. Your family and friends are naturally your main support but it is sometimes difficult to share your grief path with them and this is where outside support can be useful. You can feel that you are adding to the burden of other family members’ sense of loss by sharing your own and this heaps on the guilt that you may feel. It is difficult not to feel you have to be strong for everyone else around you, but initially at least, you must centre in on yourself to cope with the maelstrom of emotion to which you have to adjust. You are not only coping with new feelings but also likely to be dealing with the practicalities and officialdom surrounding a loss, which is daunting in itself. For myself, joining The Compassionate Friends and the Drowning Support Network provided a forum where I found empathy, understanding and support in equal measures. It is entirely true to say that no one else can truly understand what you are going through unless they have suffered similar loss. Knowing that others had gone through all the protocols and processes involved in the aftermath helped a little in minimising the hurdles to overcome.

  • Find faith that it will get better

In early grief, you will feel cast adrift in new, dark world that does not come with a map. The darkness of the pit, black hole, cave, is absolute at first. An immense amount of personal strength and resilience is required for you to begin to approach the chinks of light which gradually appear. Embrace them.

I vividly remember contacting my TCF personal mentor very early on and asking him,

“Will I always feel as dreadful as this?” and his reply

“No, Andrea, you will gradually feel better as time passes”. I envied him his stance of being 12 years along the line at the time, and tried to believe his words, indeed I clung to them to give me hope for the future. At the beginning, I often sought out examples of people who were moving forward and coping with grief and loss to underline the affirmation that it was possible to do so. Reading and writing can be very helpful here and sharing my own expressed thoughts in writing to benefit others continues to help me along my own journey.

  • Learn to accept offers of help gracefully

People really want to help in your loss and practical help in the form of cooking and household chores in the early days should be accepted without guilt, for you are allowing others to feel that they are helping you. Even the simple tasks like shopping are very difficult early on, especially as you are likely to bump into people you know in local stores. Although there is the option to shop on-line these days, the concentration required for this is likely to be beyond you at first. I found I drove miles to avoid my local shops for fear of having to face people whom I knew and who would invariably ask me about James.

My best help has always come from those who are prepared to listen if I wish to talk or sit quietly if I do not, who do not stand in judgement of ‘where I am’ in my grief, being those who empathise without trying to solve my problems (which of course they cannot). The best friend is one who sits with you regardless and accepts your febrile, inconsistent state without questioning it.

  • Accept that other people do not understand

You may be surprised by the insensitivity you encounter around you. It is necessary to learn ways not to let this upset you. People really do not mean it but they cannot help trying to accommodate your loss by putting themselves in your shoes and offering reassurances, which always start with “I know how you feel because …” When clearly, they do not. Worse than that are the times when people assume a stricken expression and say, “Oh, you are SO brave! I am sure I would just fall to pieces” or similar, implying that you have some magical strength. This makes it very difficult to behave naturally with the other person and you find you need to assume a mask to conceal the feelings that you may have. Bravery is not something I have ever felt in terms of my loss.

I recall a conversation I was privy to not long after James died. One woman said, “Oh, I can’t wait for my kids to leave home, they are driving me mad. It wouldn’t bother me if I never saw them again!” I am afraid the nasty me wanted to say “Be careful what you wish for…” but I managed not to. There is a great deal of allowance-making for others that comes with the territory of grief – and it is tiring. I resented this greatly in the early days, but I am a little more sensitive now.

  • Embrace new friendships; they are gifts

Early in your loss, your new friends are likely to be other bereaved people. These friendships are immensely special. They will endure and move beyond the initial awfulness which brought you together. But interestingly, I have found I have made other friendships, meeting people who are not bereaved parents but with whom I relate, and who have an understanding of loss because they themselves have experienced trauma of some kind. It is always difficult to know when to introduce the topic of loss to a new relationship because it is necessarily difficult and it is impossible to know how people will react. There is a certain level of stigmatisation that comes with the territory of being bereaved.

I have learned over the years that it is not always necessary to reveal my loss to others. At first, it feels as though it must be visible, that I have been marked in some way by my experience, but these days I realise this is not the case.

On holidays, for example, it can be a time of freedom to meet people and have discussions about children and family without revealing personal loss. I used to feel tremendously guilty about doing this but now I know it is a protective mechanism that is good for my emotional health.

I don’t need to tell everyone I meet that my son died. That is not to say I am denying his existence in any way; rather I am selective about the people with whom I share my experience.

My realisation over recent years has been quite an eye opener – that everyone has a story, and it may be not as bad or worse than mine, but we all have life events, stresses, traumas in which we can relate and help each other. I have met a great many people since losing James; paths have been crossed and events have happened which would not otherwise have occurred. I see all these new aspects to my life as gifts and welcome them as they happen; rather than constantly reverting to the reason why they happen.

  • Don’t dismiss counselling

You may feel that counselling is not for you, and as a lay person it is difficult to judge how necessary it is in the grieving process. But being able to talk in a safe, supportive environment and express sentiments you may not be able to share with your nearest and dearest, to a listener who is trained to listen, can be very helpful. I can only speak from my own experience which was very positive. Informal counselling in the form of conversations with others going through loss is also immensely valuable. Anything that normalises your grieving process can only be good and healthy. My favourite form of informal counselling is to go for a long walk with another friend and talk out the emotions that need to be shared.

  • Populate your own toolbox with positive elements

Amassing helpful items in your toolbox is a pleasurable task. You can choose whatever helps in your own particular circumstances and have a variety of different tools for varying situations. Your memories and the triggers for them are the most valuable things to treasure. Your immediate reaction to loss may be to get rid of reminders, clear rooms and wardrobes as soon as possible. But be careful! – once they are gone, you cannot recover the items. It is very diificult to face tangible reminders at first, and my advice would be to put them out of sight for the time being until they can be approached.

My toolbox began and indeed continues to have as its main feature, my love of words and writing. Even if you are not a writer, keeping a journal is very helpful. In particular, the new griever’s memory is notoriously poor and looking back on a journal is very helpful to demonstrate progress. I also populate my toolbox with the various projects in which I get involved, and it also contains my leisure time pleasures – exercise, spiritual nourishment, photography and so on.

  • Appreciate the world around you and look to the light

The isolating nature of early grief means that you are so focussed on your self and your emotions that you miss what is happening around you. Although it is difficult when you are struggling to get through each day, it is important to plan future events to have something to look forward to. This brings huge guilt to begin with. You may ask yourself, “What right do I have to feel happy/enjoy myself?” but in fact it is far healthier and better to push yourself outside your comfort zone and learn to enjoy life again. have always found the cycle of the seasons comforting and to go out for a walk and literally ‘take time to smell the roses’ is very nourishing to the soul. Planning time away gives a sense of moving forward. Going away brings a measure of relief from the day to day grind of grieving. It can, however, be difficult to come home and takes time to restore a normal response in this regard. I used to dread coming home because walking in through the front door underlined the absence of James. But now I hold close his memories and imagine how pleased he would be that we are travelling and enjoying new experiences in different parts of the world. It has taken time to re-integrate ourselves into a social life with a degree of confidence. Equally, it has taken time for family and friends to realise that we are at ease with celebrations.   It is a difficult concept to see your son’s peers moving forward into adult, settling down, having children – but how much worse to be excluded from their joys and triumphs for fear that you will be upset. People tend to tiptoe around the bereaved socially and this is something which I feel strongly should change with taking the taboo out of the subject – when appropriate.

  • Accept that the process of consolidating grief is an individual journey

No single person can compare their grief journey to another’s. There are some common denominators, of course, but the sense of grief and loss you feel cannot be defined and comprehended except by yourself. The journey is long, hard and tortuous. But ultimately there is an element of satisfaction in realising that you may well in fact have experienced personal growth, strength and confidence arising from the travails of your loss. Personally I believe that all that I have learned about grief and loss over the past ten years, though I would never have chosen to embark on this particular learning curve, has made me a better-rounded and more compassionate person.

  • Appreciate that full acceptance may never come

As a parent, I invariably ask the question: how is it possible to fully accept the loss of a child? However well you follow the tenets of the grieving process do you really accept the loss? You may (eventually) be able to accept the loss of your own parents, a sibling or peer, but there is no avoiding the fact that your children are not meant to die before you.

I prefer to use the words assimilation and integration to reflect my level of acceptance of my loss.

By integrating my loss, I can live meaningfully again.

I can fulfil my valued roles as a wife, mother, stepmother and grand-parent with joy tempered with poignancy that does not overwhelm or detract from our future happiness.

I can take up the baton that James should have carried, in the time I have left, and carry it for him.

I am gratified to be able to be involved in workshops, sharing grief resources and helping raise water safety awareness with bereavement organisations and the RNLI, with a remit that reflects my desire to share the positive aspects of grief work.

I feel thankful for the nineteen years that I was blessed to know my son.

I hope those close to me see that my loss lives alongside me in its rightful place rather than the loss defining who I am.

I feel a huge regret for all the years of life that are denied to James but I no longer mourn his loss in the way I did at the beginning. That level of traumatic distress becomes ultimately futile and damaging to the future not just for myself, but for those around me.

My remit remains to deal with my grief as positively and usefully as possible. I had no idea I would learn so much from it, nor be able to share it in helpful ways, and for these gifts in loss I am grateful.

IMG_1598

Easter musing

ramster5a

When I am thanked for providing food for thought in my writing, I am delighted!

Today’s blog may initially appear negative, but in it I am sharing a story of love, faith and devotion that ultimately brought great reward.

The lead up to Easter and the festival itself has always struck me as a time for introspective reflection which is eventually uplifted by the joyful theme of resurrection and the symbolism of rebirth. There is no other time in the calendar when the coming together of life and death is so vividly illustrated.

gloucestercathedral4a

 When we lose a child, in an instant we lose the self that we were, before that loss.

We are reborn as different people who have no choice but to live the remainder of our lives breathing our loss with every breath.

But …there are parallels to resurrection in the means by which we rise phoenix-like from the ashes of our despair.

My mother was Welsh – which in faith terms when she was growing up meant ‘church’ or ‘chapel’. She was chapel raised and in her early twenties she was introduced to my father by his sister. It was love at first sight; my father always told anyone who would listen that he knew he would marry mum the moment he met her. But they had the obstacle of faith standing in their way. I do not know today’s rules, but as a Jewish man at the time my father was warned against marrying a gentile as it would mean he could no longer practise Orthodox Judaism. However, he did not have to relinquish his faith altogether; he could follow the less restrictive form, known as Reform Judaism.

My parents were so keen to be Mr and Mrs that they went ahead anyway with a secret Register Office ceremony, but despite being married they continued to live apart, dad still with his family and mum close to her work in a rented flat. In order for their union to be officially sanctioned by the synagogue, it was necessary for my mother to study Judaism under the tutelage of a rabbi, with examinations at the end, both written and oral. She also had to learn some of the Hebrew language and be prepared to observe Kosher rules in the home.

Eventually, after a year or so’s intensive study, mum was deemed to have passed muster to join the Jewish faith and she and dad’s second, official wedding took place in a London synagogue, I imagine to the joy of both their families.

I am daily impressed by the love, faith, commitment and devotion that my mother showed in what she did. How amazing! – to love someone so much that you are prepared to convert your belief system and learn how to live according to the tenets of a different faith.

 The parallel that I draw from my mother’s example to my grieving process is this:

I have the love and faith of my family and friends that sustains me through my grief and gives me the strength and ability to face learning how to forge ahead in my ‘new normal’ in a positive fashion.

Nearly ten years on from losing James, I feel loved and supported by something greater ‘out there’. I am only just beginning to explore what this something may be; spirituality, healing, an emergence of new faith perhaps… I am still searching and I feel as though this is a time of grace and exploration for me.

As things turned out, my childhood upbringing was not very religious overall so I am not confined to bias in any particular faith or belief system.

Somewhere along the line though, I have acquired an unshakeable conviction that the privations of loss and grief are pointing me towards a stronger, soul nourishing and rewarding place; I am just not sure where it is yet!

I am my mother’s daughter in terms of sheer tenacity and I apply that tenacity to the best of my ability, in this as in other areas of my life.

Happy Easter to all, when it comes….!

gloucestercathedral9

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

 dandelion

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

IMG_0754

 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.

IMG_0755

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.

bookcoverfrontrev

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