Category Archives: love

Eleventh Anniversary of Loss

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He did not say you will not be storm tossed, you will not be sore distressed, you will not be work weary. He said … you will not be overcome.
Julian of Norwich

It surprised me to learn when I referenced the above quote that Julian of Norwich was in fact a woman.  She was an early Christian mystic, who lived a virtually hermitic life and wrote much about the privations and trials of life in the 14th century.  Julian lived in a time of turmoil, but her theology was optimistic and this reflects in her writing. She promoted a message of hope and the certainty of being loved.

I was asked recently,

“How do you think your life would have differed had James not died eleven years ago?” 

That is a very difficult question to answer, but one thing of which I am sure is that I would not have crossed paths with such an extraordinary number of inspiring, courageous people over the intervening years.  Each and every one of them plays a part in contributing positively to my progress along the way.

The starting point on the road to my new normality was the initial contact that I made through various supportive organisations: The Compassionate Friends, Drowning Support Network, CRUSE Bereavement and ultimately the RNLI.

For the first three years of loss a great deal of my time and energy was focused on working with Kingston Council on our well documented, successful safety campaign.  Today, the council still has a fully functional local authority River Safety Group which ensures there remains a high level of awareness of the issues in the area and which continues to grow and evolve.

You might think that once our campaign was ended, so too would our association, but I am still in contact with Gary Walsh, Head of Neighbourhood Services and other officers employed by the Council;  we usually touch base around the anniversary time.  Gary is kind enough to keep an eye on James’ memorial plaque at the riverside and he also makes sure I am apprised of any important changes in the area with regard to river safety.

I still meet regularly and/or keep in touch with friends whom I have met through TCF from the beginning. Most memorably in 2014, my Australian friend Karen, whom I met online through the DSN in 2006, came over from Melbourne, stayed with Shaun and I and also had the opportunity to meet some of my UK TCF friends.  Karen and her husband Erik went on to meet other members of DSN elsewhere in the UK and Scotland. I also met with fellow author Jan Andersen, whom I originally connected with online several years earlier.  The connections are truly amazing. The dots are joined in the most unexpected ways and places. I have longstanding contact with DSN founder Nancy Rigg in the USA and other far flung virtual friends whom I am unlikely to meet, but who all form part of this grief recovery jigsaw.  I even have some Facebook friends who were James’ peers; I may have not met them but they have found me on social media, and it is a measure of the effect James had on those around him that they have reached out to me in this way.  Their contact is much appreciated.

Along the way there have been courses in Reiki, holistic massage, and reflexology.  I have also learned something of the value of complementary therapy and healing modalities such as spiritual healing, working with chakras, colour, meditation, sound and mandalas.  I remain indebted to all my tutors who each enriched my knowledge base in their individual ways. Eleven years ago I know I would not have been so open to anything deemed ‘alternative’ and I believe that grief opens the mind to accommodate new signposting to routes that can help in these challenging times.

I don’t think that the introspection and self-examination which is often a feature of the newly bereaved is as closed as it might first appear.  When I think back to the early days I can recall how desperate I was to find practical help and advice that would lead to my regaining some control and order to my chaotically disjointed thought processes.   The challenge of concentrating and focusing on something other than grief can help surprisingly quickly.

There is not a single area in life that is not initially adversely affected by the enormity of grieving.  Each of your senses, along with your appetite, heart, mind, body, soul and spirit, is jaded, knocked and battered to one degree or another.

Your relationships have to be redrawn overnight.

Your anxiety for the health and lifespan of everyone close to you is magnified out of all proportion.

You fear for your own health, wellbeing and sanity.

You may be numb or oversensitive; you may have periods of hysterical weeping or inappropriate laughter.

You are in a constant mode of adrenalin-rushing fight or flight.

You either cannot sleep or can’t wake up.

Your world is reduced to the all-consuming personal awfulness of your loss.

All your terms of reference disappear.

Is it any wonder you need help to normalise all these effects?  And how do you ratify the regret for what you cannot have in the future with the sorrow for what you have lost?

There are many tools in the grief toolbox.

I have an ongoing association with the Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary and have presented two grief workshops with Linda Sewell who is a fellow bereaved parent, healer, friend and mentor.

Talking of how our lives have been shaped by the loss of our sons, Linda said to me,

“It is like BC and AD.  I mean before the accident and after.  There is simply no comparison”.

I agree that there is a distinct delineation and we constantly have to work extremely hard to get through loss positively.  The early months of grief are dominated by the why  and what if questions.  It is quite exhausting (but I think inevitable) to frequently replay what has happened over and over again, trying to make some sense of it, which of course is impossible at the start.

The ultimate emergence from the dark places of grief is a slow and hard won process. It is a multi-faceted and highly individual process upon which it is impossible to pin either timescale or rules.  There are no rules when it comes to how you decide to approach your loss.  There may be similarities in experiences, but no two grief paths will be entirely parallel.

For six years I have belonged to a creative writing group which has brought confidence to my skills of expression, both written and oral. At first when I had to read out my ‘homework’ to the group, I was so nervous that I could feel my heart thumping.  As time went on and I became accustomed to reading to an audience, this anxiety lessened and it has meant that the presentations and occasional interview I have done on radio and  TV have not been quite so nerve wracking.  When you have had to face traumatic loss and all that goes with it, once your innate confidence returns, anxiety-inducing situations do not score quite so highly.

The completion and publication in 2014 of Into the Mourning Light, which told James’ story and summarised the foregoing eight years of loss, marked a seminal point along my grief journey.  I connected with so many people in the lead up to the publication, including just these few:  Jan Andersen, Shahida Rahman, Jane Turnbull, Annie Broadbent, Peter Mott, Ann Hopkins, who each played a part in pulling together the strands which eventually led to publication.  I must not omit the many contributors to the book, not only my steadfast family but also my friends and James’ friends.   Some of the contributors were drawn from those people whom I met through TCF, CRUSE and DSN, organisations which I had either not heard of or had no need of prior to James’ passing.  Their willingness to share and contribute was undoubtedly a great boost to the content of the book.

Those people who knew James throughout his life – family, colleagues, peers and friends – all recognise that I welcome mention of him and I reiterate that I am always happy to talk about him.  I am so lucky to have loyal friends who understand much about my grief  and continue to offer their unstinting support whenever it is needed.

I am now in the process of writing my second book. This is a great deal easier to tackle; after all I have done the hardest part in sharing what happened to James.  The book therefore focuses not so much on individual loss but on the insights of recent years and its content is almost entirely positive. There will be chapters on hope, love, faith, resilience, and associated topics that many people will know are dear to my heart.

I hope that it will appeal to an even broader audience than Into the Mourning Light.

It is inevitable that I will not be able to continue regularly posting to the blog during the time I am working on the book, so this is likely to be my last post for some time but I will post occasional updates.  Much of the material for the book is drawn from my last two years of blogging. Writing the blog allows me to express the emotions around processing loss and I know that I continually return to similar themes, which in themselves deserve further exploration, investigation and analysis.  Hence I plan to collate the disparate parts into a cohesive whole …

As well as nurturing my soul and spirit through the early years, other things came along to enhance my level of fitness.  I have learned throughout the process how important it is to boost endorphins through exercise.  I did some walking challenges first and came late to running in around 2011. Perhaps that period accelerated the arthritis in my hips and knees, but I do not regret that through the activity I met my ‘running friend’ Carol; with her encouragement I participated several times in Parkrun.  Following hip replacement last year I attend the gym and walk the canal towpath rather than run along it, but I am still aiming to boost the endorphins.

My association with the RNLI has been the most unexpected and public affiliation for me.  Meeting Ross Macleod, the RNLI’s Coastal Safety Manager, marked a turning point, as becoming involved with such a high profile organisation took my personal grief story far wider than I could have imagined.  I began to realise how much value there is in sharing what happened to James. In terms of prevention of future incidents my link with the Respect the Water campaign gives me deep personal satisfaction; this reflects James’ legacy at Kingston and additionally spreads the word far and wide.  The Respect the Water campaign led to my contributing to the National Water safety forum earlier this year and here too I have met remarkable people doing remarkable things.

In 2014 Jackie Roberts’ daughter Megan suffered a similar fate to James.  Jackie is already a courageous, tireless campaigner and she is now representing the RLSS (Royal Life Saving Society) as their Drowning Prevention Liaison Officer.

Dawn Whittaker is Head of Fire and Rescue service in East Sussex and is also a passionate campaigner aiming to raise the profile even further in effective education and drowning prevention.

Such individuals make a lasting impression with their commitment and enthusiasm to make a difference individually and to make things better collectively.

I was very pleased to meet Andy and Jon this year, just two members of the team who volunteer at the RNLI Lifeboat station at Teddington. Their commitment to the future safety of river users through education and training is commendable.

Rather unexpectedly I was presented with a national RNLI Supporter Award by a member of the Royal family last year.  I have also been filmed for a video, met a government minister and been interviewed by two high profile TV presenters over the past few years, none of which would have happened had I not been prepared to share our personal story under the caring umbrella of the RNLI.

I can’t help but wonder what James would have made of it all!

I wonder too whether Shaun and I would have had the idea to take in lodgers if it had not been for the loss of James?  Despite visits from the family, we were rattling round in a house that was too large for us … and over the next several years we welcomed Lucy, followed by Jules and Kyle, and then Rachel until we were ready to downsize in 2012.  Each of our lodgers brought many positive elements to our lives over that time and there was laughter in our home once again.

Lucy was already a family friend and she became the catalyst for our becoming more sociable in the ensuing weeks and months through her lively, warm presence in our home.

Grief is a confidence sapper and we needed the restorative presence of other people to relearn how to be more outgoing.  Lucy started this process and when she moved on we were confident enough to advertise for lodgers whom we didn’t know; it was a rewarding experience to get acquainted with them.

I was very anxious about relocating to a new house before we moved to Knaphill in 2012.  Having lived in Addlestone for many years, and been surrounded by my family memories on a daily basis, it was strange to think we would be in an area where we did not know anybody. Geographically our move was only eight miles but it took me out of all the attachments and comfort zones that I already knew.  But I need not have worried – not least because there was a sense of bringing James with us even though he would not know our new home … one of the first things I did was to put up his photograph on the windowsill and it never felt strange that he has not lived here with us.

We quickly made friends through our local pub.  I must stress that this is another really important development that comes with being further along the grief line.  At first you are entirely closed in upon yourself and making new friends, unless they are fellow bereaved parents, seems too difficult a prospect.  Gradually you begin to feel that you are shining a welcoming light again and the response is that people are once more drawn to you.  It is a mirror effect that results from your body language, expression and general mien.

We have been very fortunate in recent years to meet with new friends whom, as they have come to know us better feel able to ask questions about James, empathise with us and not be made uncomfortable by our situation. They are not bereaved parents and never met James but they all have an understanding of trauma.

You learn that we each have our own story and it is easy to forget that other people go through ‘stuff’ too.

In return I think we have become more outgoing and appreciative of what is around us, living each day as fully as we can. I have a sense of living my days as usefully as I can manage.  As my dad used to say of life, “This is the play, not the dress rehearsal”.

My job changes in the past couple of years have brought their own challenges.  Each new place or experience, be it work or social, always brings with it the potential awkwardness of how, when and whether you are going to be sharing your story.  I have to remind myself that I do not visibly wear my grief.  Also, it is quite liberating to be in an environment where nobody knows what has happened.  I always have to weigh up whether or not it is appropriate to bring my story to the table, as it were. The feeling that I might be judged or labelled by my tragedy, forever known as ‘that poor woman who lost her son’ is not a pleasant one.  In social situations, the awkwardness created If I tell strangers what has happened, people’s inevitable shocked reaction and their ensuing questions, or the difficult silences that follow, make it an easier decision to say nothing, until or unless I am sufficiently comfortable in the environment and confident of the responses I may receive.

More recently I have started to explore the Christian faith, and I attended a local Alpha course in January.  Alpha describes itself as ‘an evangelistic course which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith through a series of talks and discussions’.  The course was a revelation to me in more ways than one and I plan to take my learning further. I learned a little of how hope brings light, light brings faith, and faith brings love and strength in ways I had not hitherto imagined.  I am excited about examining further an area which I had previously believed was ‘not for me’.  I continue to learn much from others who are well versed in religious matters, particularly Sheridan Voysey whom I much admire for his particular take on faith and spirituality. Until I heard Sheridan’s talks on radio and I read his words, I did not know it was possible to put such a contemporary, sensible and logical twist on Christianity.  He is undoubtedly a faith mentor for me.

I am always looking for new, different ways to process my sadness with a productive result that preferably benefits others as well as myself.   It seems to me that learning, seeking out knowledge, the discipline of study and expanding education are some of the most helpful ways of processing grief.

I enjoy the resultant sharing of what I have learned, through the written and spoken word.

One advantage of having the distance of eleven years since James died is the renewed ability to relish happy events without feeling guilty.  There is always a sense of wistful regret that he is not here to share our happy times, but it is possible now to accept the fact of his absence in a way that sits more comfortably.

Recently we have shared in our granddaughter’s sixth and our grandson’s second birthday celebrations.  How good it felt! –  to smile and laugh and watch the children playing together, the adults sharing conversation without feeling that they need to walk on eggshells around us or fearing they might say the wrong thing.

What a delight it is to be laying down new family memories that are evidenced by the joyful images and videos from our phones and cameras. We are secure enough with our memories to know that no-one has forgotten James.  We can speak his name more freely without fear of upsetting ourselves or others. The poignancy of his absence is less painful.

I am happy for all our children and extended family that we can feel more relaxed about family conviviality these days.

I am happy that each of our children goes on with their productive lives without a constant cloud of distress hanging over them and we do not feel the need to keep going over the old ground, although we can talk about James when we want to.

We can say wistfully, “James would have loved this, James would have laughed at that …”  without distress, rather with a deep sense of underlying sadness.

At first it is almost impossible not to be conscious of the absence of that person who should be there, but isn’t.  It is unfair, unjust and untimely.

But it is what it is ….and accepting that which we cannot change is the hard part.

It is all too easy for me to imagine that people think to themselves, She must be over it by now, after all it is eleven years.

To those people, I say, I will never be over it.

I can never accept that my son died due to accident before he had a chance to live his adult life.

What I can accept however, is that James lived his allotted life span, he lived it to the full, his memory lives on in many, many minds, and I will never, ever regret having had the opportunity to be his mother for nineteen years and ten months ….

I regret for the future that he cannot have.  I hold regret on behalf of all the members of our family and friends who love and miss him, but I do not regret the past, and all the memories it holds.

Today, after eleven years of loss, I can go to Kingston riverside with a great deal less pain than in earlier years.  I will never feel happy and relaxed when I visit the area but I can take heart from seeing the enjoyment of people who are in the safer environment that reflects James’ legacy.

Today, after eleven years of loss, I can share the optimism that comes from a life full of new connections, exciting beginnings and a truly positive thought process, all of which reflect how it is possible to come out of the darkest despondency of grief into the suffused brilliance and the quiet joy of the mourning light.  The mourning light may at first appear to be soft and gentle, but once you recognise its existence is pushing aside the dark shadows of your loss, you understand that the light holds tensile strength in its glow and reflectivity.

You learn that harnessing your mourning light empowers you to cope with so much more than you ever imagined.

Today, after eleven years of loss, I can say to James,

“My son, you are missed as much as ever.  You are loved as greatly now as you were for all the days of your life.

But … I can tell you that I am thankful for all the good things that have happened, and continue to happen, as time passes.

I am thankful to be given the strength and confidence to do so much in your memory.

James. My James.

I say your name,

with joy, not regret,

with pride, not shame,

to remember, not to forget,

with laughter, not tears,

with thoughts of today, not yesterday,

with love for tomorrow and all our tomorrows”.

 

sunnyjim

 

 Written in loving memory of James Edward Clark

11 September 1985 – 28 July 2005

Always loved and missed.  Forever in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

Hey – go and clean that bathroom!

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Have you ever noticed the way that repetitive, non-cerebral activities such as household chores free up your creative brain?  This blog post literally has its genesis in a swish and rinse round the bath, continues with a buffing of the taps and ends with a swirl of bleach down the toilet.

Distraction techniques, or focusing on an undemanding practicality, seem to allow the inventive, imaginative part of the mind to run at full tilt.

A similar thing happens, albeit via a different route, through meditative practice when you are mentally and mindfully taking yourself to a different place, clearing the mind and allowing whatever wishes to present itself, to draw across your mind’s eye.

This reminds me of a guided meditation in which I took part recently, based on the Buddhist principles of loving kindness. The foundation of this is that we should learn to practise loving kindness towards ourselves as well as others.

A friendship demands little but gives much. 

It expects no more than acknowledgement of its existence. 

There is a true grace in friendship which we should encompass and convert to give loving kindness to ourselves. It is all too easy to forget that our friends like us, despite our perceived shortcomings.

You first have to learn to be your own best friend … something that is easier said than done.

During the meditation, we were asked to think of ten attributes about ourselves that we like.  Now, how is that for a tall order? – I arrived at three or four before giving up.

Afterwards I thought about why this was so difficult.  And I think it is because generally we are conditioned to be self-critical, judgemental and constantly aware of our failings/shortcomings. It becomes an alien notion to like ourselves.

So … I am getting better at saying to myself, “Stop! – step back from a commitment or two and give yourself time for you – for your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual nourishment”.

When I have managed to do this, I definitely feel better for it.  This is a good example of how loving kindness towards self is achievable.

If someone asks me, “do you believe you are loved and supported?” Then I do not find it difficult to answer “yes”.  And that means that I know in my heart that I am worthy of being loved, something else that is all too easy to forget.

My family and friends affirm to me that I am loved, through their constant support, their many kindnesses to me and their constancy.  Surely then, it should not be too difficult to remind myself of the positives in my life. The lesson lies in believing and having faith in the fact that I am loved equally by those whom I can see and those whom I cannot…

Those who are living with grief and loss can operate at essentially a polar opposite.  They constantly use distraction techniques and general busyness to avoid visiting their grief and perhaps to evade the sorrow that accompanies introspective grieving. I often think that bereaved parents work overly hard to fill in the gaps left by their loss and they are not practising sufficient loving kindness to themselves.  Over time, loving kindness really can help to process loss in a gentle way.

It is really important to find ways that work for you to achieve the balance that enables you to choose how to process your sadness.  This is a steep learning curve.

If, like me, you operate on a chore/reward system, you will be well placed to practise these techniques.  For me, reward equates to having time to write, meditate, or examine how my emotions are balancing out in the now..  First of all I must get the boring jobs out of the way and whilst I am occupied doing these, I am setting myself up to for my chosen reward.  It works! – for me anyway.

So next time you pull on your Marigolds to tackle the regular dull chores … choose your reward first.  You won’t even notice the tedium …

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Permission to Grieve

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I recently gave an informal talk on the topic of healing grief at a Cygnus Community Café event at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary in Shere, Surrey.  The Sanctuary is a favourite place of spiritual nourishment for me; the environment is tranquil and welcoming.  The whole feel of the place is geared towards one’s temporary removal from all the cares and worries of everyday life.  It is always an uplifting place to visit.

After my initial talk when I described my own strategies for dealing with the issues surrounding grief and loss, we became a more interactive group with consideration of questions that were put forward for discussion.

One of the audience, who is a healer at the Sanctuary, said,

In my healing sessions, I often come across people who are bereaved and grieving.  They are trying to carry on as normally as possible, and they will tell me they are struggling with their losses.  Do you think it is a good idea to tell them that they can give themselves permission to grieve?”

Needing permission to grieve may seem an odd concept, but in fact it makes sense.

When we are grieving, we become very adept at hiding it from the outside world.  To a certain extent, we need to do this to be able to function usefully in the workplace and in our activities of daily life.  After all, we are not much use to ourselves or anyone else if we are constantly dissolving into tears and generally being unable to get through the days.           But …. There is an inherent danger in being too buttoned up in the face we show to the world.  If we are not careful we can lose the ability to feel the emotions that we need to feel in order to move forward in our grief.  Someone once said to me that we are meant to feel pain when we grieve, otherwise it would not hold meaning. Harsh, but true.

So, to return to the original question, if someone said to me, “OK Andrea, I give you permission to grieve.  Go off and do it …”  What would I do?

I think I would be allowing myself some time to sit quietly and reflect on the years of loss, to think about James and remember him with the joy that he brought … but also to recall the agony of the early days which seemed utterly insurmountable at the time.  By revisiting the darkest of places it is possible to simultaneously look back at the monochrome days and look forward to the bright colourful future.  I have learned to do this in a  controlled way through learning visualisation and meditation techniques which are very helpful. Giving myself permission to grieve also means that I can allow myself to cry, though this happens less these days. Sometimes to go off into a quiet space and have a good weep is a very therapeutic way to move forward in grieving.

Naturally, the urge for me would be to share … I feel very strongly about expressing grief through writing and talking about it, as openly as possible.

Stoicism can be your worst enemy.  When you are grieving and feeling like you want to grieve actively, involving others in your grief rather than holding it to yourself, you need people who will empathise with you, tolerate your pain themselves without flinching, and just be present in the moment with you. That really is all you need.

Grief is a jumble, it is so many things – a tangled ball of wool, an onion with many layers, a set of stairs, a big black hole, a spiral, a rock, a mountain … the list is endless and the path along it is individual to each person who is coping with his or her loss.  It is not worth your while to try to defer or deflect it, which will simply prolong the agony.  You have to accept that the unpredictability of grief and its non-linear journey of recovery will be strewn with obstacles, but with will, determination and a degree of stubbornness they can be overcome. Eventually.

This week I read some truly insightful words by Thomas Cohen, who was married to the late Peaches Geldof.  He said,

“The thing that really had the greatest impact on me and the entire situation was the realisation that if you aren’t going to love yourself, if you’re not going to take care of yourself, if you’re not going to take yourself to every single place you need to go in order to heal yourself, then you’re not going to get through the grieving process”.                                                                                                           What a brilliant example of someone who has given himself permission to grieve.

Links:  http://www.harryedwardshealingsanctuary.org    http://www.cygnusreview.com

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Can you feel The Agape?

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Can you feel the Agape?

No I don’t mean can you feel the breeze whistling past your tonsils as you stand with your mouth wide open. Agape, (pronounced Ah-gah-pay) is a word I have only just discovered. Now I have read a little about it and I have also heard a rather lovely song about it (Agape, by Bears Den). It seems appropriate to consider the concept of Agape at this reflective time of year.

Stop rushing around, put down that tinsel and wrapping paper, and consider whether you can walk with the concept of Agape, or not.

One definition of Agape, which comes from Greek, is unconditional love that is always giving and impossible to take. It devotes total commitment to seeking your highest best no matter how anyone may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned, or not.

That is a tall order for mere humans! – we naturally tend to measure our giving and receiving love, and ego may tell us that we are the best judges as whether we should give our love or not. But a key principle of Agape love is that is not about mutual point scoring, it is freely given without anticipation of return. Agape can be viewed as the highest form of love, and it encompasses the best of brotherly love and charity. It is further described as the love of God for man and of man for God, to illustrate something of its selfless and giving nature.

In his book Resilient, Sheridan Voysey sums up his view of Agape when he writes: Good relationships are intrinsically mutual, and business should be fair—reciprocity has its place. But in my darkest, weakest, most fruitless moments I need Agape. And with God’s strength, I want to give it. Beyond business deals and mutual friendship, I want to give without requiring anything in return.

Dogs are a good example of Agape love. Whether they are ignored or pampered, they wag their tails and greet us with affection. The beginning of each day is an especially happy time for dogs, they bring no baggage with them from the day before and this is an example that we would do well to follow. They give unconditionally, and do not differentiate between getting a scolding or a stroke in return. They are entirely unaffected by our response to their Agape; they just keep on giving regardless.

We feel Agape love for our children from the moment they are born and as a mother who has lost her son I still feel Agape love for James; that will remain unchanged and undiminished for the rest of my life.

And maybe it is that Agape love that keeps his memories so strong in my heart; he is with me for every beat.

I like too the saying, Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, for we have no idea what each day will bring. That seems to me to sit well with the principles of Agape love that has a purity of spirit about it which neither carries nor demands, it just is.

It is Agape love that draws us to acts of charity and in particular at this time of year we are more sensitive to the needs of others and may be practising a degree of Agape without even realising it.

Here are some definitions of Agape – I am sure you can find more?

Agape love is strong, powerful and forgiving.

Agape is the love that is shared in robust relationships that have gone past the heady days of trying to impress.

Agape loves in such a way that it makes us feel cherished and beautiful.

Agape is based upon giving through sharing and understanding that when you share, you are not losing anything, but you are gaining.

Agape love transcends the concept of needing to be forgiven

To even scratch at the surface of the concept of Agape love I begin to see that it is necessary to set aside the rules that we accept as the norm in our philosophical loving relationships: by this I mean that we generally measure love in give and take terms. Thus we limit ourselves in our capacity for Agape love as these terms do not apply in a love which is both sharing and unconditional.

It should be easy to define something that is totally without demands or requirements, but it is not!

Theologian William Barclay, noted: Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live

So there we have it. Agape is a highly selfless form of love, it is a principle, it is an overwhelming, elusive something that we should aspire to if we can grasp its concepts. Perhaps this is something to grapple with as we approach the festivities.

Give yourself some thinking time and open your heart to feel the Agape!

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Of love, recipes and handwriting

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Here are two things I love (among many) about my late mum, gone from us now for more than a decade. Firstly, she was an excellent, intuitive cook.

And … she warmly welcomed my friends over the years, often plying them with meals which were prepared with much love and affection.

In fact, she was a cook ahead of her time, as she produced spaghetti bolognaise – with fresh garlic – in the 1960s, when such foreign food was viewed as strange and exotic.                                                                                         I remember too, on hot summer days, she made wonderfully tasty Spanish Gazpacho – a chilled soup with a tomato base into which was added garlicky bread soaked in a little olive oil, the whole being enhanced with finely chopped peppers and cucumber. Delicious! And watching mum make a Victoria sponge or bake an apple pie was an education in itself. She didn’t weigh or measure the ingredients, but said she could tell the balance was right ‘by feel’. Somehow her sponges always turned out light and airy; her pastry was invariably short and crisp.

Mum had some favourite recipes and she was happy to share them. So it was that her Ratatouille recipe (which owes little to a traditional ratatouille as she did not like the flavour of aubergines) found its way to the recipe file belonging to Stella, one of my friends from school days.

Recently Stella, who has lived in the US for many years with her American husband, mentioned that she often cooked mum’s ratatouille to serve as a side dish with roast chicken and I realised that I did not have the recipe. She kindly scanned and emailed it to me.

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Don’t you agree that there is something very special about seeing the handwriting of someone you love after they have passed?                               Mum’s writing is distinctive with its cursive script, large capitals and extravagant loops and swirls. It is not dull writing, but has a liveliness of form. Even the phrasing of mum’s ratatouille recipe brings her to mind in a lovely way. I can almost hear her as she describes the method. In particular I can picture her expression and her hand movements as she suggests ‘swizzling the oil’. I especially like the instruction to ‘cover with foil and plonk lid on top’ – very emphatic.

Another friend, Sylvie, formerly of New Haw and Taunton, now lives in the Languedoc region of France, where I visited her recently.

“I’ve still got your mum’s fruit cake recipe”, she told me.                                                                                                                                     It’s another one that I didn’t have. Soon afterwards the recipe arrived in the post and once again, I can conjure up something of mum’s character from the writing and composition. Her recipes owe little to a formulaic list of ingredients and processes; they are somehow far more personal. I love her comment about the sugar: 4 1/2ozs is enough unless you have a very sweet tooth which reflects mum’s personal preference too. Equally, the clarification of how to avoid the cherries sinking to the bottom of the mixture personalises the recipe in a way that would not be found in a book. Her exhortation to enjoy happy baking! is typical of mum’s desire to please others.

receipefruitcake

The exchange of recipes today is far more likely to happen electronically and it is the work of an instant to share a recipe with many; mum’s distribution was undoubtedly more selective and perhaps has added value for that. I wonder how many more of her recipes there are hidden away in people’s files…

Handwriting is as unique as a voice or a fingerprint and there are certain characteristics specific to the way mum wrote things down which are personal to her. Interestingly, when she wrote a shopping list she used the whole sheet (usually the back of an envelope) Rather than writing a sequential list, she would dot words all around the space in seemingly random order. I have never thought about why I do it, but I find I do exactly the same.

Mum’s writing never varied much; her hand was always neat and decisive.  She wrote to me often, invariably heading up her letters with a humorous take on her address, such as ‘Sunny Vista’ on a dull winter’s day or ‘Shady Nook’ in midsummer, and she always closed with … Ever your loving mum; indeed she was that, and still is.

There is an intimacy and individuality to handwriting that does not exist in the typed word, however emotive or personal the topic. Handwriting reflects us in a way that is entirely unique. We develop a writing style and voice that expresses our own identity.

I still enjoy writing personal letters, notes and cards as an adjunct to electronic communication. Sadly, the pleasure of handwriting is under-emphasised in today’s world and it would be a pity if this individual skill were to be lost altogether.

I do not need the skills of a graphologist to know that mum’s handwriting echoes her merry personality and exuberance for life and the evidence, in the form of her recipes if nothing else, is indeed precious to keep.

anduze17text