Category Archives: focus

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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Look around, look up and look forward

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There are a number of traffic diversions in place locally at the moment, the main one being due to planned major works in the centre of town.  Two other unanticipated events (a burst water main and a sudden sinkhole) have temporarily closed local roads.  This is inevitably causing havoc and adding significantly to overall journey times.  Although I know our area quite well, I have been surprised to find that the diversion routes quickly take me into unfamiliar territory.

There is a need to trust in each diversion route and know that it will eventually get me to my destination.

This is an example of faith in action that I am happy to embrace.  It reminds me that at times, you have to be able to trust in that which you cannot see to achieve whatever you have set out to do.

During the week I thought I would try to figure out my own route to work avoiding the worst of the traffic.  But by turning left instead of right at an unfamiliar junction, I soon found myself going in the wrong direction.  I felt rather silly; how could I get lost on my way to work?!  – but I trusted my internal Satnav’s sense of direction, found the right road and was back on track again.

Once again, I was guided by something I could not see but I knew was there.

Tying in with this, I recently heard an inspirational talk on ‘looking around, looking up and looking forward’.  The premise of this was to show how, even when we think we are entirely alone, if we seek and ask for help, we will be aided in times of hardship, and  also rewarded in ways that we cannot anticipate.

As an example of looking forward, if you are running a marathon, your aim is to reach the finishing line.  As you approach the final straight you will see and hear all the spectators urging you on, willing you to do your very best to get to the end, within the time parameters that you are likely to have set yourself.  How encouraging they are!

But try to look beyond the finishing line.  Think about how much has been contributed to your taking part in that race in the first place.  You will have been driven by your own ambition and commitment to training, but generally speaking, no-one enters a marathon purely for themselves.  You will have been inspired by something or someone – to run with perseverance, to look forward and be uplifted and supported from beyond the finishing line.

Allowing yourself to have both vision and trust means that you can tap into what is ‘out there’ if you look for it.

Returning to the diversion theme, I had a horrible situation a few days ago when I was driving home in Shaun’s car, which is larger than my own.  Traffic was diverted away from a roundabout I would usually cross, sending me along a relatively narrow road.  As I approached a bend, I encountered a large articulated lorry coming the other way.  We both slowed down our vehicles, but as the driver tried to bring the lorry past me, we realised that the narrowest point and angle of the bend would not allow his long vehicle to pass.  I tried to pull up onto the verge on the left, but this was made difficult by the presence of bollards and there was not enough space to manoeuvre.

The lorry inched forward and the angle meant it was getting closer and closer to my car until it was almost touching my wing mirror.

I felt entirely trapped, unable to go forward or backwards.

We had reached an impasse.

I felt as though I was in the eye of a storm as other cars backed up in both directions, waiting for someone to move.  The lead car from the other direction was behind the lorry and unable to see the situation that existed on the bend.

I looked upwards to the heavens for inspiration. 

I looked all around me for a way round the problem, but found nothing. 

I tried to visualise looking forward beyond the finish line.

Strangely, I felt calm enough; I was not panicking but could not imagine how the situation could be resolved.  I opened the car window and called out,

“Can someone please help me?  I just don’t know what to do”.

Nothing happened.  I could hear vehicle horns as people became impatient, but I could not do anything.  I sat and waited for something … anything. … to happen.

A few moments later a cyclist came into view from the opposite direction.  He quickly summed up what had happened and called out to me,

“Don’t worry, I will guide you forward”.  I was so relieved!

I kept my eyes firmly on the cyclist, watching and trusting his judgement as he assessed the width of the space available on either side of the car, and he waved me forward.  Eventually, (although it felt like ages, it was probably only a minute or so), my car was clear of the lorry.  I thanked my Good Samaritan, a charming gentleman, whom had appeared just at the right time.  He agreed with me that the lorry driver should have stopped before the bend to let my car pass.  This would have entirely avoided the incident.

I drove off, shaken by the unpleasantly close shave but so grateful for the manifestation of this particular guardian angel, just at the right time in the right place, and in answer to my prayer for help.

Perhaps diversions that result in proof of the power of looking around, upwards and forwards, are not so bad, after all.

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Do you MIND?

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“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.

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A Special Invitation

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A few weeks ago I received a faintly mysterious email from Ross at the RNLI.

“Are you free on the evening of Monday 29 February?” he asked.

“Nothing that can’t be changed”, I replied, wondering what it was all about, but he wouldn’t be drawn on what he told me would be a surprise …

Following on from my work with the Respect the Water campaign last year, Ross put me in contact with Megan, who in turn is involved with a new collaborative drowning prevention initiative via the National Water Safety Forum. I was asked if I was willing to share what happened to James as a Case Study within the strategy document that was being prepared by the RNLI and other contributory organisations. I agreed to this and over the months received updates from Megan as to how the initiative was progressing through the consultation process.

A couple of days after I heard from Ross, an email from Megan popped into my inbox. To my great surprise, it contained a rather special invitation.  We were invited by Government Minister for Transport, Robert Goodwill MP,  to “an Evening Reception to launch the National Strategy for Drowning Prevention on behalf of the National Water Safety Forum” ….and that is how Shaun and I found ourselves in esteemed company at the House of Commons last night.

I couldn’t help but think how James would react – would “Wow, mum!” cover it?

When we arrived in the wonderful historic surroundings of Parliament, we passed through the airport style security and as we were early, we were invited to go into the House of Lords to observe the debate from the public gallery for a short while, a fascinating experience in itself.

At 7pm around 60 people gathered together on the Pavilion Terrace, overlooking the Thames and we were offered drinks and canapes. Megan introduced us to various people and it was great to re-establish contact with some of the RNLI staff whom I have met before as well as meeting representatives from organisations including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Amateur Swimming Association, RoSPA, RLSS and the Fire and Rescue Service to name but a few.

The formal part of the launch reception consisted of three speeches. George Rawlinson, Operations Director of the RNLI and Chair of the Forum shared the shocking statistic that 400 people drown in the UK each year and a further 200 take their own lives on our waters. This was given further perspective when we were told that the number is higher than deaths occurring as a result of house fires or cycling accidents. George gave a passionate, inspiring talk and delivered it with real empathy for those who have been affected by water-related issues. He emphasised how valuable is a collaborative approach if the NWSF is to achieve its objective of a future without drowning. The key aim is to halve the number of drownings by 2026 through better prevention, education, targeting specific groups and reducing risks to the community.

.The launch of the strategy is undoubtedly a strong call to action – a call to make contributing to national goals a local priority.

Dr David Meddings, representing the World Health Organisation adopts a humanitarian approach to the problem and his vision is to see an NWSF plan being adopted in every country, aiming to reduce the global problem.

Finally we heard from Minister Robert Goodwill, the Minister for Transport and MP for Scarborough and Whitby. He emphasised that the NWSF has the support and financial backing of the government and he applauded the efforts of the entire organisation both individually and collectively in the work that they are doing. He told the audience that through his ministerial role, he has been able to award almost £1 million of government funds to 51 UK charities to support water rescue services in local communities.

The government scheme gives voluntary groups crucial funding for new equipment and training to support their rescue efforts on and around inland and inshore waterways.

The formalities over, there was more time to chat and meet the individuals involved. The most surreal moment for me was when I was asked by George Rawlinson whether I would like a photograph with the Minister! This ranks as something I could never imagine happening! And Shaun’s surreal moment was perhaps talking about rescues with Mr Keith Oliver OBE, Chief Coastguard of the MCA. We were indeed in eminent company.

On a more serious note, I feel blessed to have come within the radar of the RNLI, and to be given repeated opportunities to share the positive and far-reaching outcomes that have resulted from the dreadful catalyst of losing James. The impact of the constructive changes that have been made at Kingston riverside continues to echo ever wider which is something I did not anticipate at the time we completed our campaign.

I am honoured and privileged to be able to communicate with a far broader audience than would ever have been possible for me as an individual.

The RNLI and all the other organisations involved in this strategy represent an instrument for change through collaborative strength, drive, commitment and power.                                                        I applaud them all the way.

 The aim of the National Water Safety Forum Strategy is:

To reduce accidental drowning fatalities in the UK by 50% by 2026, and reduce risk amongst the highest risk populations, groups and communities.

The initial targets over the next 36 months are:

  • Every child should have the opportunity to learn to swim and receive water safety education at primary school and where required at Key Stage 3
  • Every community with water risks should have a community-level risk assessment and water safety plan
  • To better understand water-related self-harm
  • Increase awareness of everyday risks in, on and around the water
  • All recreational activity organisations should have a clear strategic risk assessment and plans that address key risks

More information can be found here:

http://nationalwatersafety.org.uk/

The NWSF strategy page and document can be viewed here: http://www.nationalwatersafety.org.uk/strategy/

Download PDF The UK Drowning Prevention Strategy 2016-2026.                                              (The Case Study relating to James is on page 14)

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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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For the New Year

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As 2015 slips inexorably towards the uncharted territory of a new year, it is difficult not to be caught up in the endless reviews of this year, resolutions for the next twelve months and all the hype that accompanies what is really just another day. But … there is something about moving into a new year that can renew your sense of optimism and hope, although this will undoubtedly be dimmed if you have recently lost a loved one.

If that is the case, then you will find that passing from an old year into a new year is incredibly difficult as you are moving into a new time and space that lacks the presence of the person or people you have lost.

It is a time which underlines loss and that can be particularly tough.

I wrote this poem as we approached 2006, the first New Year after losing James, when the raw loss was felt so acutely, and his presence in my thoughts at that time brought me great comfort.

Wishing everyone a healthy and peaceful 2016.

 

Step bravely forward into the New Year

Shrug off grief’s grey mantle of fear

Know that I shadow your every tread

Helping you to face whatever lies ahead

 

Hovering at the periphery of your sight

I am just out of view, a star in the dark night

Feel my breath in the sigh of the breeze

Learn that I am your mind’s true ease

 

Let sunlight brush the clouds from your vision

Place my thoughts into your daily decisions

Open the box of all our sweet memories

Listen to others when they share my stories

 

As you forge a path through complex days

Believe that I grow, in a safe, free place

My life is no more on this earth plane

Yet my soul lives on, to ease your pain.

james2