Category Archives: CRUSE

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

 

 

What’s in a Murmuration?

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Following my talk at the launch of the RNLI Fish Supper charity fundraiser last October, I was honoured to be invited to pay a return visit to the College in Poole on 10 January and give another presentation, this time at a training event.

I was told that currently, there is something of a sea change (couldn’t resist that one) in the management structure of the RNLI to better integrate the management functions for rescue (lifeboats), supervision (lifeguards) and prevention (Respect the Water, education and community awareness).  To this end, there is a new grouping of operational RNLI Managers with specific responsibilities covering the entire coast, including Irish waters and the River Thames.  My brief was to address this group of men and women who together have an enormous amount of knowledge and experience within their specific fields.

Prior to the presentation, which was to be at 5pm, Shaun and I were sitting with a cup of tea in the Slipway café bar at the RNLI college, watching through the window a group of starlings, known as a murmuration.  We marvelled at their airborne acrobatics as they gracefully swirled, swooped and dipped, forming wonderful shapes which morphed and changed with smooth fluidity in the sky above the water in the bay.  Their synchrony and grace were a delight, and we felt privileged to be watching their spectacular pre-roost show, as the light was fading fast.

There seems a curious synchronicity at work, in that when I looked for an image of starlings to illustrate this post, I saw that the RNLI’s Ross Macleod had posted some pictures of starlings in Studland Bay, Dorset and he kindly allowed me to share one here.

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One theory of such murmurations is that they are to do with defence, representing distraction and safety in numbers; the group behaving with a single purpose, and in the starlings’ case, to avoid predators.

But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the birds’ behaviour in formation is that the group responds as one and although they are separate, uniquely individual characters, they move collectively, forming their shapes in shared commonality.

As I come to know better the men and women associated with the RNLI, whether they are volunteers or staff, it is not too fanciful to think that collectively they behave much like a murmuration.  Apart from the fact that they are not in danger from marauding raiders – although of course they do experience negativity from a few detractors – their underlying aim and remit is single-mindedly purposeful and can be summed up in their intrinsic desire to make our waters safe for everyone.

They are entirely impartial, proactive, positive personalities whose aims and aspirations I cannot praise highly enough.

They are vocational and often generational, many of them having fathers and grandfathers who served the RNLI.  The water is in their blood and it shows in their passionate commitment to make a difference for anyone and everyone.

What could I, as an individual, tell them that would impact on the group?

I felt the most value I could give to the presentation would be to share my own reality of ‘What Happens Next’; by which I mean … how do you live your life after the crushing loss of a beloved son to drowning?  It is only through my dealings with the RNLI since 2014 that I have come to understand how important it is to keep telling our personal story.  This is because the ways in which sharing some of James, and our life as it has evolved since his loss, provide helpful insights into life as a bereaved parent.

I found this group an ideal audience also to hear some of what I have learned about grief and loss in the past 11 ½ years – not only to help them with their work when they are involved in incidents with the worst possible outcome, but also in their personal lives.

They are all people with families and friends like any other group and inevitably, most of them will experience the loss of someone close to them at some time or another.  I was glad to mention the loss-specific organisations that have been so much help to me: The Compassionate Friends, the Drowning Support Network and CRUSE Bereavement Care.

I always feel it is worth sharing too the assorted elements that come to form the grief toolbox … in my case the above organisations, our work with Kingston Council, my writing, to name but a few.

I also thought it would be beneficial to summarise some of the Do’s and Don’ts that I have learned in the past 11 years.  These I have published in full before, but I feel they are worth sharing again:

Top Do’s and Don’ts in dealing with Bereaved families:

  • Don’t tell them that such tragedies happen to only those who are strong enough to survive them
  • Don’t change the subject when they mention their lost loved one
  • Don’t stop mentioning their lost relative’s name because you are scared of reminding them; you cannot upset them any more than they have already been upset
  • Don’t presume to understand their grief because you have experienced the death of an elderly relative or even a pet
  • Don’t remind parents that they have other children or could have another child
  • Don’t say “I don’t know how you cope; I couldn’t.” The bereaved have no choice in the matter.

 

  • Do be as normal as possible with them; talking about ordinary things and even sitting in silence, can be comforting
  • Do answer questions honestly and understand that some people have a need to know small details, others will only want the wider picture
  • Do ask how they are feeling, but only if you are prepared to listen to the answer
  • Do express your own sadness about what has happened, and encourage them to talk about him or her as often as they want
  • Do remember the needs of the wider family who may all need support and ask you questions that they cannot ask the most directly affected family members
  • Do remember that you must protect yourself from being drained by the needs of the bereaved family – who heals the healer?

The things we do as we go through our lives can outlast our own mortality.

The things we do today and tomorrow are stepping stones, building for the future.

Sharing our memories and our present and our future provides unexpected legacies in memory of those whom we have lost.

I am indebted to the RNLI for allowing me to continue telling the story.

There is a naturalness in the murmurations of the starlings.

There is a naturalness in the ebb and flow of our seas and waterways which commands us to remain vigilant … and always to continue to Respect the Water. 

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Close Encounters of the Connected Kind

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Close Encounters of the Connected Kind

Many will remember the 1977 science fiction film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, written and directed by Steven Spielberg.  It tells the story of an ordinary man whose life changes in extraordinary ways after an encounter with an unidentified flying object.

Every parent who loses a child is catapulted from a hitherto ordinary to an extraordinary world – in the true sense of the word, and trying to acclimatise to the unwanted, unfamiliar planet of grief is a massive challenge.

Eleven years after losing James, my grief planet has become more like home.  I have learned to negotiate the terrain that at first looked like an alien, un-mapped space.  My grief Satnav has charted the blind alleys, the no through roads, the cul de sacs and finally the multi-lane highways with the occasional diversion that reflects a slipping back into distress; triggered by differing outside forces.

The storms that once blocked the routes have given way to sunshine, clouds, light breezes with the occasional shower, and many rainbows.

In Close Encounters, Richard Dreyfuss’s character feels a connection he cannot sever with the UFO. The subliminal images that plague him throughout the film remind me of how, in the early days of loss, memories play repeatedly across the mind’s eye like inescapable screensavers on an endless loop.  You can neither turn off your memories nor eliminate your shock at the fact that this person whom you love so much is no longer physically here, and what you have left is a flat line, static level of memories, like an album of images to which you cannot add.

Accepting that your life cannot have a neatly tied up ending like a fictional story or screenplay is tough.

For me, time has unfolded the gift that loss has gradually offered: it has led to numerous new connections which in turn form fresh memories that include James, albeit in a more ethereal sense.

I was recently asked to speak at a public event at the RNLI College, the organisation’s headquarters in Poole, Dorset. The event was a fish-themed fundraising evening hosted by the RNLI to launch the charity’s annual Fish Supper Campaign.

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My talks and presentations thus far have been based largely on living with bereavement and loss.  They have been tailored to groups who are either grieving or connected with the grieving.  This time, I was asked to engage with an audience of around 80 people, at a reasonably light-hearted social event.  Those attending were connected with the RNLI and also included members of the public who had purchased tickets for the advertised event.

I thought about the brief; it presented something of a challenge to ensure that I did not bring down the tone of what should be an enjoyable, relaxed evening.

I needed to tell James’s story in a way that would ultimately provide positive messages.

I decided to base my presentation around the theme of connections.  As readers of my blog know, my new connections started very soon after James died in 2005, through our work with Kingston council to institute safety measures at the riverside.  Our ultimately successful three year campaign was a gratifying legacy for James in its own right.  Through connections that I made over that time and beyond, I talked at CRUSE bereavement training days and co-presented workshops at the Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary with Linda Sewell, with whom I first connected through the bereavement organisation The Compassionate Friends. Connections with the US Based Drowning Support Network also led to more writing and friendships made across the water – and across the ether.

But it was not until 2014, with the publication of Into the Mourning Light, that my connection with the RNLI began, through the initial contact from Teddington helmsman Andy Butterfield, who read locally about my book.

He in turn connected me with RNLI Staff Guy Addington and Ross Macleod. I told James’s story for the Respect the Water campaign in 2014 and was heavily involved in the campaign that year, amongst other things in composing the text for the beer glasses supplied in local pubs and restaurants.

In 2015, I was invited by the RNLI to tell James’s story again and the copy was used as a case study in the initial strategy document for the newly formed National Water Safety Forum.  Attendance at the NWSF launch event in early 2016 led to even more new connections with Jackie Roberts (RLSS) and Dawn Whittaker (East Sussex Fire and Rescue) … of which more another time.

Thus I found I had no shortage of material and I structured my presentation around the connections I’ve made and the positive aspects of life after loss.  I illustrated the talk with slides which chronicled the key events.

At the event, the MC introduced me as an ‘Ambassador for the Respect the Water campaign’, an accolade which makes my heart swell with pride – naturally, on my son’s behalf.

When I choose to give voice to and share what has come from living with loss, it is always done from the heart and in loving memory of James.

I chose not to dwell on grief and loss per se, except for two key points which I hoped the audience would take home with them.

Firstly I asked that people do not turn away from the grieving because they ‘don’t know what to say’.  How much better it is … to say a few carefully chosen words than cross to the other side of the street in avoidance.

And I made the point that offering help should be tangible, rather than an open “let me know if there is anything I can do” which puts someone on the spot.  The newly bereaved are not good decision makers; it is as much as they can do to put one foot in front of the other.

Secondly, although it is your natural inclination to try, you should resist the urge to empathise.  It’s no use telling me that you understand how I feel because your pet was put down last week (yes that really did happen to me).  Better to say nothing at all!

I concluded my talk with a quote from Jimmy Carter, former President of the USA.  He was talking of his faith, but I paraphrased what he says and applied it to each and every person associated with the RNLI.  It also reflects my own mind set in dealing with grief:

I do whatever I can,

wherever I am,

whenever I can,

for as long as I can,

with whatever I have,

…  to try to make a difference.

Afterwards, two members of the audience came to me and thanked me personally for my words, telling me that something I said had struck a chord.  It is impossible to convey the wonderful feeling this gives me; being public in grief brings with it a vulnerability and the potential of being judged by my actions.  I am lucky that I meet largely with positive responses.

The fact is that the RNLI organisation recognises and understands connections.  Who better than the volunteers like Beth Wilkinson, who was also a guest speaker at the event, to know that life can indeed be lost in an instant? Beth spoke lightly of a day of missing her bacon sandwich because her pager kept going off, but she represents the sharp end of what this life-saving organisation actually do on a day to day basis.

None of us can never forget that tragic accidental loss of life impacts on and reverberates through many lives, whenever, however and wherever it happens.

Whatever I can do to help lessen these effects reflects my heartfelt desire to stress the importance of understanding how careful we must all be around water, however innocuous it may appear.

We must do this in order to prevent further traumatic loss to individuals, the emergency services, and ordinary families such as mine; who never wanted to be extraordinary.

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A Call to Action to Respect the Water

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My heart aches.

My heart is heavy with sadness for the losses around our coastline this summer, and particularly this week.

What can we do?

Now is not the time for the benefit of hindsight.

Now is the time to embrace foresight. 

Crucially, no-one who puts themselves unwittingly in a place of danger can have the knowledge of the extent of that danger before an accident happens.  This is why we need to take on the duty of holding much more awareness of our own frailty, our own vulnerability. We must take responsibility for our own safety in a sensible, measured, thoughtful way.  We must Respect the Water.

Don’t just read the words, Respect the Water; act on them, believe in them, live them.

Spread the word.

Share what you know about the inherent risks in water, not just at the coast, but in all leisure areas.

This is not being a killjoy; this is having a sensible and healthy Respect for the Water.

My drowning prevention support work continues under the marvellous umbrella of the collaborative organisations who are working so very hard to prevent loss of life through drowning.  I cannot praise highly enough the efforts of the RNLI, the RLSS, CFOA, CMA and all the other partners/contributing organisations who are working with the newly formed National Water Safety Forum.  And I applaud overseas organisations such as the Drowning Support Network who disseminate the information even further.

Why do you think I do this?  Why am I writing these hectoring words? Why do I feel so passionate about this issue? The primary reason is to try to spare other families the absolute awfulness and physically gut-wrenching loss that we have experienced and lived through, that of losing a much loved and wonderful young man in the summer of 2005.

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When we lose someone we love it affects an incredibly wide range of people: parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, partners, surviving children, cousins, peers, friends, teachers, employers, colleagues, tutors …. Each of us overlaps with so many other people in the tapestry of our lives.

Every individual will be affected in some way or another and have to assimilate the grief and loss associated with the death.

I am impotent in this fight except through contributing the power of my words: but my words are not empty.  They are fuelled and guided in an unerring faith that I am doing the right thing by continuing to share my grief publicly.  I totally support and applaud the preventive measures that include the raising of awareness of the dangers … particularly for young people; particularly for people in high spirits who have had a few drinks and think they are invincible.

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The RLSS also has a strong message:  Don’t drink and drown … it’s a hard hitting, tough message, but take it in.

I loathe the expression in the media when they report that someone was ‘pulled from the water’ …. But do you know what?  Those words have a huge meaning.  They mean that the water claimed that person’s life.  They mean we must Respect the Water.  We must respect its power, its unpredictability, and its strength.  We must Respect the Water’s ability to overcome us as much as we respect its ability to sustain us as in the water we drink.

Everything I write is in honour of the memory of James, whose life should not have been lost, indeed would not have been lost if only … If only …. If only …

I prefer not to dwell on retrospective regret but of course it galls me to this day, eleven years on, that James’ accident happened in an instant and in that instant, all our lives were irrevocably changed forever.

Please everyone, enjoy the sunshine this Bank Holiday and the remainder of the summer … enjoy visiting places where water is a feature, but above all, Respect the Water.

Look out for yourselves and for each other.

Be aware of the dangers … not afraid of them … but aware. Take care of yourself and those around you.  Know your limits.

Only by all of us doing so, can we reduce the incidence of these appalling accidents and personal tragedies that have a far-reaching effect on us all.

Please share the link to this post if you are minded to; thus spreading your Respect for the Water even further.  Thank you.

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Links

www.rnli.org.uk

www.nationalwatersafety.org.uk

A Letter

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Dear Andrea

Someone suggested to me the other day that I write you a letter.  It would be a ‘good thing’, they said, and you would definitely benefit from it.  Well, I know you pretty well, and suggesting that anything is a ‘good thing’ is sufficient to put you off, but I am hoping that you will stick with me and read to the end.

This won’t be a letter of mincing words, of pussy-footing around the truth.  No, it is going to be frank and hard-hitting as words on the page sometimes need to be, to get to the nub of it all.

So, Andrea, how are you doing?

No, I don’t mean to you to look at me with a half-smile and say, “Oh, I am just fine …”

I am asking you to truly tell me, honestly, how you are doing.

You may wonder why I ask.  It is because I really want to know how you are living with your undesired status of bereaved parent.

There’s no point dressing this up, you’ll say.

At the start, you will tell me it is Hideous with a capital H.

It is unimaginably traumatic.

It is truly a living nightmare when your heart feels as though it has shattered into a million pieces, you might add.

It does not matter how your child lost his or her life, what age he or she was, what the particular circumstances were; All you want to do is wail and turn back to the clock to the time before it happened.

But you can’t.

But what you can do, and what I know you have learned as you have gone along, may surprise some people.  You have found, like others before you that if you take it one step at a time and if you hold close the belief that you will survive what is arguably the greatest loss of all; you will garner the strength and motivation to move forward and emerge a stronger, more compassionate person. 

I was pretty impressed, Andrea, with how you handled it to start with and how you have continued to handle it.

You have grown in empathy, soul and spirit in the (almost) eleven years since that truly terrible late July day.

How have you managed to do it?

From the outside looking in, I see someone who is brave and strong.  But you hate being called brave … and I know that is because you say, “No, I am not brave.  I had no choice but to get on with it after James died, trying at the same time to absorb this massive shock to the system.”

Other people’s expectations can be a pressure in themselves and I recognise that you had to learn to side-line what everyone else wanted or needed you to do in favour of what your own instinct was telling you to do.

Parenting doesn’t come with a rule book, nor does living in a world that has tilted on its axis.  How are you expected to react?

I remember you saying, a while after James died,

“I can’t walk down the high street smiling, you know.  Because, people will think, ‘There goes that woman whose son died.  What can she be smiling about?’  So you see, I have to adopt this neutral kind of mask, because it is what is expected of me.  Friends and colleagues are always on tenterhooks.  There’s a certain kind of wary look they give you in case you start crying.  So they don’t really ask you any more how you are feeling, how you are coping.  They just find it easier to pretend you are the same as you were before, very quickly after loss, and sometimes it is just simpler to take your lead from them.  But I know that made me seem cold and defensive”.

Well, you say that, but you had to protect yourself while the grief was still that sharp jagged thing digging into you all the time like a stitch.

How else could you cope?

It is only with the benefit of hindsight that you can see how ‘difficult’ you were to be around.  It is only now, too, that people are brave enough to tell you how awkward you were.  But you shouldn’t need to apologise for being in a place that is so difficult to negotiate.

One of the problems you faced when you presented your mask of neutrality to the world is that you still had to deal with the turbulent emotions.  It is all very well to pack your grief into a box and clamp it shut, but you learned the hard way that you have to take off the lid sometimes, lest the sorrow seeps out, or worse, bursts out when you least expect it.

You were ultimately quite sensible with this, and found safe, controlled way to visit and share your grief through examining it and talking about it.

You guarded against getting stuck in negativity by consciously seeking out the positives wherever you could find them.

You haven’t run out of words yet, have you?  You know you are lucky to have the gift of expression and that can be utilised to help others.  The creativity is in part fuelled by the appreciation of those who read your words and benefit from them.

The publication of Into the Mourning Light was the culmination of eight years of gathering together many helpful and uplifting words.

Now you have started work on your second book.

You tell me how much easier it is now to write of your loss, because you have told the most personal of stories and the grief has softened to a more malleable and manageable level.

Your writing is an ongoing legacy for James and it gives purpose, meaning and reason to sharing and analysing common thoughts around the issues of loss and mourning.

And your voice, well! –  how that has developed. You have always been a thinker and a talker, though never such a public one, and when opportunities arise for you to speak of your mourning path you take to them with a new confidence.

You are a grief achiever.

I know too, that all the things you do to share your mourning are in honour of your son’s memory.  Of course!  All you ever want as a parent is to be proud of your children and for them to be proud of you.  Why shouldn’t that pride still be there and grow?

I appreciate that you still have times of self doubt.  I sense that in the dark hours you long for someone to come and take that terrible pain of loss away and you weep for the future that James cannot have, all that promise of his life gone in an instant.

You have cried out at the unfairness of it, the injustice of his lost future, to faith, to spirit, to God. These days, I think, you begin to understand a little more that the elements of hope, love, light, faith and resilience are sustaining you in ways you never imagined.

In regard to how your grief has evolved, you say this,

“I had this horrible inner rage that had to be balanced out by seeking out something positive to come from my loss, despite my heartfelt longing not to have to make this constant effort, this searching all the time, for meaning and sense from what has happened.  Working through grief on my own terms is key to my being able to share how I have done it.  I am not saying my way is the best way, or the only way, just that it works for me and if it helps others along similar routes,  that is a source of joy.”

 So there you are, Andrea.   I believe this letter has turned out to be a ‘good thing’ after all, charting as it does the progress you have made and continue to make along a route which was never planned.

Keep on keeping on and I will write again soon …

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Toutes Directions

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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!

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A festive Message

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Maybe it was The First Baby Shower Ever …

 At this time of year, when we have just passed the solar nadir that is the winter solstice and our days will gradually be stretching out again, many people across the globe are preparing to celebrate the ultimate coming of light into the world, through the story of the nativity and the birth of the Saviour on Christmas Day.

Whatever your beliefs it is a pleasure to embrace the symbolism of new life that is just around the corner.

Just imagine the darkness as Mary and Joseph toiled through inhospitable land to be turned away when they sought a place to stay. Their purpose was single minded; not for them the distractions of electronics, shopping, internet and social media: they were travelling to Bethlehem to return to Joseph’s birthplace and to await the birth of their son.

We can only imagine the panic that must have set in when Mary was in the throes of labour and there was no comfortable place for the couple to rest. The contrast is immense between the arrival of Jesus in a lowly stable and the greatness that was to follow; something that makes the whole story unique.

The light, soul and spirit of the nativity as it is told every Christmas conspire together to bring us joy and optimism in the renewal and continuation of life.

And then … following the bright star of light that signalled this amazing event … three wise men turned up bringing their significant gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Quite some baby shower in recognition of the arrival of the baby who would become so important to the world! Mary did indeed pass from darkness into light with the arrival of her son.

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I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.                             Learning to Walk in the Dark: Barbara Brown Taylor

I confess. I have not yet read the book. It is on my reading list. But I recently heard it being reviewed on the radio and the premise of actually needing darkness intrigued me immediately. Only by living through the extremes of darkness and light can we assimilate and respond to the whole spectrum of meaning in our lives.

A wound is followed by a blessing.

We bleed but we heal over.

We are crushed and we are downtrodden, but we are not beaten.

Moving from the impenetrable darkness of early grief into the light of living in new normality is a pivotal part of my grieving process for the loss of my own son James, with which I have lived for the past ten years.

Life contains gifts that we never anticipate, and it is on these that I plan to focus at Christmas rather than the loss of those with whom I would ideally be sharing the celebrations.

The turn of the year’s circle brings us round to Christmas again. It is our eleventh festive season without James and here we are, still standing, still living, still counting blessings for the life we now have. Our children and in turn their children provide the continuum for the future and bring us much joy.

Thank you to everyone who has read my words this year; they reflect my own opinions and musings. Thank you too for all the wonderful support and encouragement I continue to receive.

I wish you a blessedly peaceful time over the festivities.

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