Category Archives: living

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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Borrowing Keys

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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

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 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.

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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.

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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