Category Archives: persevereance

Look around, look up and look forward

diversion-sign

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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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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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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Easter musing

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When I am thanked for providing food for thought in my writing, I am delighted!

Today’s blog may initially appear negative, but in it I am sharing a story of love, faith and devotion that ultimately brought great reward.

The lead up to Easter and the festival itself has always struck me as a time for introspective reflection which is eventually uplifted by the joyful theme of resurrection and the symbolism of rebirth. There is no other time in the calendar when the coming together of life and death is so vividly illustrated.

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 When we lose a child, in an instant we lose the self that we were, before that loss.

We are reborn as different people who have no choice but to live the remainder of our lives breathing our loss with every breath.

But …there are parallels to resurrection in the means by which we rise phoenix-like from the ashes of our despair.

My mother was Welsh – which in faith terms when she was growing up meant ‘church’ or ‘chapel’. She was chapel raised and in her early twenties she was introduced to my father by his sister. It was love at first sight; my father always told anyone who would listen that he knew he would marry mum the moment he met her. But they had the obstacle of faith standing in their way. I do not know today’s rules, but as a Jewish man at the time my father was warned against marrying a gentile as it would mean he could no longer practise Orthodox Judaism. However, he did not have to relinquish his faith altogether; he could follow the less restrictive form, known as Reform Judaism.

My parents were so keen to be Mr and Mrs that they went ahead anyway with a secret Register Office ceremony, but despite being married they continued to live apart, dad still with his family and mum close to her work in a rented flat. In order for their union to be officially sanctioned by the synagogue, it was necessary for my mother to study Judaism under the tutelage of a rabbi, with examinations at the end, both written and oral. She also had to learn some of the Hebrew language and be prepared to observe Kosher rules in the home.

Eventually, after a year or so’s intensive study, mum was deemed to have passed muster to join the Jewish faith and she and dad’s second, official wedding took place in a London synagogue, I imagine to the joy of both their families.

I am daily impressed by the love, faith, commitment and devotion that my mother showed in what she did. How amazing! – to love someone so much that you are prepared to convert your belief system and learn how to live according to the tenets of a different faith.

 The parallel that I draw from my mother’s example to my grieving process is this:

I have the love and faith of my family and friends that sustains me through my grief and gives me the strength and ability to face learning how to forge ahead in my ‘new normal’ in a positive fashion.

Nearly ten years on from losing James, I feel loved and supported by something greater ‘out there’. I am only just beginning to explore what this something may be; spirituality, healing, an emergence of new faith perhaps… I am still searching and I feel as though this is a time of grace and exploration for me.

As things turned out, my childhood upbringing was not very religious overall so I am not confined to bias in any particular faith or belief system.

Somewhere along the line though, I have acquired an unshakeable conviction that the privations of loss and grief are pointing me towards a stronger, soul nourishing and rewarding place; I am just not sure where it is yet!

I am my mother’s daughter in terms of sheer tenacity and I apply that tenacity to the best of my ability, in this as in other areas of my life.

Happy Easter to all, when it comes….!

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Borrowing Keys

dicentra

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