Category Archives: new year

Grief, loss and stepping into a New Year

IMG_4624

As 2017 closes and the New Year approaches, it is a time of mixed feelings for many of us. What lies ahead in 2018?  The year will arrive as a fresh, empty page, ready to be filled with a potpourri of joys, achievements, happiness and sorrow, over the next twelve months.

This time last year, Shaun and I were contemplating a move to the West Country, with an equal mix of excitement and trepidation.  A year on, and our move has happened; we are settling into a different, countryside life in Devon, our time filled with the prospect of new adventures.  We are very fortunate and the turn of the year is a good time to take stock and feel gratitude for what we have, never forgetting the links we have left behind us.

But having lost my brother to cancer this year, I know that turning the corner from 2017 to 2018 will have its difficulties too.

Looking back over 2017, Peter was here; looking forward into 2018 … he is not.

The memories I have of him are mixed as we had periods of estrangement, but I find it easy to focus on the better times we shared, particularly over the past few years.  I know too, that as time passes and the loss becomes less raw, I will be able to share and enjoy some more family memories with my nephew, Ben.  Peter’s spirit lives on in his son, which is immensely comforting.

Losing James 12 years ago has taught me many lessons about living with grief and loss, and the turn of the year feels like a good time to reiterate some of them, to help those who are grieving the loss of someone dear …

 “How can I face a new year without him/her in it?”

Try not to resist the New Year.  There is comfort in living in the past, that’s true, but endeavour to see the opportunities that may present in the year to come, and embrace them in memory of, and on behalf of, the person you have lost.  Know that he or she will be proud of you. Don’t be afraid to draw strength from those who offer it … sometimes you have to accept that you need that input.

“How can I dilute the pain of my loss?”

Writing or talking about different aspects of what has happened may help.  As time passes you will find that you don’t need to go into so much detail.  Soon after James died, I wanted to tell everyone I encountered that I had lost my son, but I gradually became more selective.  Every telling and re-telling of your story can help to reduce the impact.  Eventually you will be able to do it without tears.

“What will help me to feel positive about the coming year?”

Each challenge that comes your way, whether it is simple like grocery shopping or major such as a job change, has to be faced differently without your loved one.  I can remember the early days of loss when I would tell James out loud, as I was driving home, how well I had coped at work that day (probably this would be a day I managed to get through without weeping).  The cumulative effect of constantly trying to achieve milestones, big or small, helped me to feel better.  And indeed, this still works.  If you can visualise your loved one(s) at your shoulder, encouraging your efforts, this can really help.  I always try to ‘see’ James walking in my shadow, and I often sense my mum around me … intangible and difficult to explain, but helpful support nonetheless.

“Where do I find the practical tools that will help me through grief?”

There are many different options for self-care and self-help.  If you tend to think negatively, making positive affirmations can help.  Soothe yourself with music or treat yourself to something that uplifts you, such as a beauty or complementary therapy.  Boost your endorphins by walking or working out in the gym.  Spend time in nature.  Buy yourself some flowers.  Make a spiritual connection through meditation or prayer.  Light an incense stick.  Draw a picture.  Write a letter. Bake a cake.  Really, anything goes! The only rule is that whatever you do must comfort you and take you off the grinding treadmill of grief for a while.

“How do I trust in the unknown that the New Year represents?”

You need to have faith and hope to move forward when you are grieving.  Faith that it will get better.  Hope for the future.  Hope also for the gift of a future that does not contain your loved one, yet is enriched by his or her lifetime and what they brought to their own life, and yours.

Somehow you will come to know what it takes to have the courage to live for the future by working through one day at a time and living in the present.

It may help too, to consider the best characteristics of the person who died, and try to emulate them.  For instance, James possessed a wealth of compassion in his persona and I believe I hold deeper compassion for those who suffer since he died.  I feel that I have acquired this quality from his being and I owe it to him to carry it forward on his behalf.  When someone dies, it behoves those who are left to carry the baton for them, and this is particularly true when you lose a child and know that you are living the future that has been denied to him or her.

You may feel guilty that you are here, and they are not.  Don’t be afraid to kick guilt out … smile, laugh and look forward to tomorrow with as much joy as you can.  You are doing it for your family, friends and those who are still living, as well as those who are not.

“How can I bring my loved one into the New Year with me?”

One of the hardest things about the turn of the year, and particularly the first New Year after loss, is the knowledge that your loved ones are not coming with you, at least physically.  You might need to mark their presence in a tangible way.  Lighting a candle and proposing a toast are simple options.  Talking about the person can be helpful, too.

If you are with someone who is bereaved, never, and I really mean never, be afraid to say his or her name.  You will not make someone feel worse by mentioning the person who died.  You are not ‘reminding’ them, rather you are showing empathy, and that will be appreciated.  Trust me!

In closing, I remember those whom I have lost and also hold dear those who remain, my cherished and loved family and friends

I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and healthy 2018.

IMG_4375

 

links:

The Compassionate Friends    https://www.tcf.org.uk/

CRUSE Bereavement Care        https://www.cruse.org.uk/

 

 

Advertisements

Hug a Tree in 2017

img_0880

I bet no-one ever took me for a tree-hugger, did they?

And yet … as I reflect on the nationally trying (Election/Brexit) and loss-filled (too many to mention) year of 2016 that we are shortly to be leaving behind, I realise there is a great and simple truth to trees.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whatever human frailties we have, through all our joys and sorrows, trees stand steadfast.  Whatever havoc we may create around ourselves, the roots of trees reach further down beneath the ground and their branches stretch their fingers higher towards the sky.

They bend with the wind, they do not break.

They can withstand either scorching or freezing extremes of temperature.

The cycle of leaf, blossom, fruit, continues unabated and the sap circulates in trees’ systems like our lifeblood circulates in us, bending to the rhythm of the seasons.

Trees are life givers that can feed the world.

Trees provide fuel and shelter when we need it. 

Trees can be anything from spindly to magnificent. 

Trees can be in a copse, a coppice, a thicket, a plantation, a glade, wood, a forest, an orchard, a jungle, a weald; they can stand proudly alone or be in massed company.

The cycle of the deciduous tree’s life repeated year on year has a structure that reflects the human condition from birth to passing.  In spring, the sap rises.  The tree begins to green up. The leaves and blooms unfurl, fresh and new.  The tree’s energy is growing and strong.  In summer, the tree stands tall and proud in its gown of green, embracing the warmth of the sunshine.  The autumn brings mellow colour and as the sap falls back to the heart of the tree, the leaves fall gently away, leaving the tree stark but strong against the ravages of winter.

yearend2

It may look as though the tree is dormant, yet deep within its kernel heart it absorbs the sugar of the seasons, creating a rich residue, ready to come to life again in the spring.

We repeat such patterns many times throughout the living of our days.

When a tree dies, its life is revealed in the whorls of its bark and the rings of its trunk.  Every circle tells a story, each notch on the bark is an event in the life of the tree.

Some trees are really special.  When you stand beneath the shelter of their branches you feel they can help you to safely let go of troubled, chaotic thoughts.  They nurture and support in silent empathy.  They are living, breathing beings.

wisley

Two trees either side of a path can reach out like arms across a sacred space, drawing you to their embrace.  It feels as though they are acting as a channel that reaches high above the planet to draw down comfort, particularly at times of trouble, loss and grief.  Twice in my life I have experienced an amazing release of emotion, standing in this ancient energy and letting the trees take my sadness and absorb it into their primordial wisdom, leaving me comforted and calm. 

There is an undeniable truth to trees.  You know where you are with trees; they will never deceive.  Their wisdom is pure.

Listen to the trees.  They whisper in the summer breeze that rustles their leaves, and yet they whistle and howl through winter gales. Their moods are many and capricious, just like ours.

Do the trees mourn?  What can be sadder than a dripping, dark yew in the graveyard?  Yes, the trees can mourn.  But the beauty of trees in bloom in the early spring is a matter for deep joy.

Trees care not for politics or religion, though they are God-given.  The Tree of Life represents the first true human temptation; the mighty oak tree symbolises the stolid strength of faith.

Collectively, trees represent strength, resilience and solidarity.

A stand of trees high on a hill looks glorious.

A single small sapling reaches for the sky with optimism and conviction that it will one day be great and strong.

You may feel that you are separate from the trees, that they mean nothing to you. But we are all connected.                                                                                                                                             C S Lewis said, “Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would look like one single growing thing–rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.”

I send love and good wishes to everyone for a peaceful and healthy 2017. 

Stay connected with each other, value your friends and your family … and if you feel so moved, go out and hug a tree …

For the New Year

cornwallsept7

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

It’s that time of year again!

 

IMG_1510

Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.           Anne Roiphe

It’s that time of year again! At every turn the media exhort us to be festively jolly as though there is no grief, sickness, sadness, terrorism or poverty in the world. The images of tables laden with festive fare, the millions of pounds spent on long and complex advertising stories, the endless articles of how to drop a dress size and look great this festive season … all these conspire to make us feel woefully inadequate if we are not joining in. Should we have the temerity to admit that we are not actually greeting the season with gleeful anticipation we are seen as killjoys.

And where, in all the bombardment of consumerism and materialism surrounding the yuletide season, is the celebration of new life that is the true message of Christmas? That is far too thorny an issue to embark on pondering here, for this post is intended to be a useful survival guide for anyone living through loss at this time of year.

For the bereaved, we have to accept that Christmas does come. It continues to happen as do all the other days of the year. We have to learn to cope in the best ways that we can find. We have to formulate a new, acceptable festive season that we can enjoy to whatever degree we feel is right for us to celebrate without our loved ones to share it with us.

This will be our eleventh festive season without James. I hold close the memories of how much he loved Christmas. I honour his memory by creating and building upon a new version of Christmas that is celebratory in its own way and at a level which I, and those around me, feel comfortable.

I offer below my own survival tips for the holidays. These are a combination of my own observations and those I have gleaned over the past decade that I think are helpful.

Accept that this time of year is especially bad for grief triggers. The time for avoidance of grief is not the festive season, and if you can embrace the concept and meet it head on rather than trying to sideline it, this will make it easier

Have a plan. Whatever you decide to do for the festive break, make sure you plan so that you are not left at a loose end.

Hold your old traditions and create new ones. Blending the present and the past creates a new normality that works effectively as a grief break.

Don’t expect others to mention your loved ones. They will think it upsets you to speak of them by name. This quote by Elizabeth Edwards sums it up perfectly: If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died–you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.

Be kind to yourself (1). Indulge in a treat you would not normally buy and don’t feel guilty for doing so.

Be kind to yourself (2). Listen to a favourite piece of music, watch a film, go for a walk/jog/run, meditate or pray … whatever will lift your spirits. Allow yourself to take time out from the frantic festive rushing around and just be with your own thoughts.

Do something to honour your loved one’s memory, such as buying an extra Christmas tree decoration each year.

Light a candle and reflect on what the season means to you, now as opposed to before your loss. Take heart from how far you have come year on year. Give yourself permission to grieve.

Have an exit strategy for social events so that if they become too much you can leave without causing offence. For example, you can tell your hosts on arrival that it is no reflection on them if you slip away before anyone else, and you will not then feel obliged to stay longer than you wish to.

Accept that socialising is stressful and plan what you will say if you are asked about your loved ones. Rehearse beforehand. Understand that the worst thing that can happen is that you may become tearful; no-one will hold it against you.

Spend time with family and friends and reminisce; but look forward too.

Instead of making meaningless New Year’s resolutions, start a gratitude journal. This can be as simple as writing down a daily positive thought, deed or step that you have taken.

Finally, know that you will survive. Just as others have done, so too can you. The firsts are always hard, but in time it does become easier to accept, and even enjoy, festive socialising.

We all have the ability to find peace even in the midst of grief. Look out for the signposts that point you along the way, and follow the path that is right for you.

IMG_0267

New year thinking

bluebells8

It’s here….. Like it or not, the clock slipped us round into 2015 and a new year lies before us, bright and shiny with promise like a newly minted coin (perhaps)… though are we ever really ready for whatever triumphs and disasters the world has in store?

The last time the year’s date had a number five in it was 2005, the year James died. I cannot forget the turn of that year into 2006. Part of me did not want to relinquish the last year in which my son lived. Instead of saying, ‘he died this year’, I would have to start saying, ‘he died last year’, which only served to emphasis the finality of our loss.

The expression ‘that’s so last year’ indicates that something has passed, that it has already begun to fade into obscurity, and no bereaved person ever wants to feel like that.

Only yesterday, my friend Karen wrote of her feelings at new year; she too lost a beloved son in 2005 and told me how in the early years, when writing the date she had to constantly think of the right year, as she always wanted to default to 2005. I totally get that.

And now, time takes us towards the July anniversary that will mark a decade of living with the loss of James.

I am so grateful not to be subsumed by grief.

Grief for James no longer defines my waking moments, it does not overshadow my life to the extent that I cannot live meaningfully and happily with the remainder of my family and friends. My grief is calm and quiet these days (though not always!)

One of the greatest lessons I have learned is to treat myself with grace, to go gently and allow my emotions not to get the better of me, but to help to make me live better.

I have learned to buff off the sharp edges of my expectations when I need to. A system of chore and reward has always worked for me. If I clean the kitchen, then I can write for an hour…. Figuratively speaking that is how I work with my emotions. Analogies for this are difficult to express, but perhaps along the lines of ….Open the box of the dark side of grief; sit with it, hold it, talk with it, mourn it, put it away again ….. and the reward is to come back into the light. Make myself a cuppa and eat a cake, hell, eat two cakes! I deserve them.

So here is my resolution for 2015…. rather than dwelling on the decade of life that I can (ungrammatically) call James’ un-lived time, instead I shall hold dear and treasure the memories of the 19 years that he lived.  Then I will square my shoulders, breathe deeply and step forward into the unknown that marks ten years of living this new normal life.

Welcome, 2015!

landd5