The Grief Climate

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Grief … you tread on it, stamp on it, walk on it, tiptoe round it

You are buffeted by it, you are sheltered by it

You see it, you taste it, and you grow it.

You smell it, taste it, feel it, hear it, and finally you Throw It.

 We have had some hard frosts this week.  Each morning, the roofs have been iced in white and I have had to run the car engine for a while to de-ice the windscreen.  As I watch from inside the warmth of the house, a tiny gap appears in the centre of the screen, slowly expanding and melting, spreading across the glass until eventually the ice turns to slush, easily cleared by the windscreen wipers.

The frosty mornings put me in mind of the climate of early grief, when you feel as though your emotions are cast in frozen stillness.  Numb with shock, you can hardly move to put one foot in front of the other.

The thaw comes very slowly.

It is notable that in compensation for these cold, frosty mornings we have had stunningly colourful sunrise and sunsets.  Late in the afternoon, planes leave raspberry pink vapour trails across the darkening sky, and the sun is a glowing orb that sinks slowly below the horizon.

Early grief is a cold and exhausting climate.  But eventually the clouds separate, the sun shines and the rainbows arrive.

At night, the sky is clear and full of stars.  The newest star is yours.  And the moon shines her benevolence upon you.

Comparing grief to how the weather behaves I suppose to be a reasonable enough concept, and perhaps it can be applied to our senses.

If you could see it, how would your grief look?

You might think that grief would be unremittingly ugly, like a warty old crone face.  You can picture early grief looking like Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, with an unutterably horrified expression.

But grief’s face does evolve.

You begin to see a gentler, calmer, visage.

When your grief is new, your face carries a hunted, pinched expression.  This is particularly evident when you look back at photos when you thought you looked ‘normal’.  Eventually the face you see in the mirror has absorbed the hurt and pain in its planes and lines and what reflects back is the familiar look that you know is your new normality.

If you were to hear your grief, at first it might be a senselessly discordant shrieking, wailing sound; your own silent scream.  You hear it in your head much of the time.  Sometimes it drowns out the rest of the world around you.  Sometimes you need to vocalise it.

Tinnitus is an aggravating, ever present ringing, a whistling, white noise mix of sound that is like the second stage of grief’s orchestra.  It stays.  You get so accustomed to it you don’t notice it any more.  Perhaps it never really goes.

You can try to balance it out through listening to music, something that was impossible to do in the beginning.  Every song was a memory.

On the plate, grief has its own flavour that kills the appetite and does not nourish you.  It’s bitter; sharp like a bad wine, or bland and beige like an overcooked dinner. To work through grief, you need to find stimulants to whet your appetite, which are beneficial and flavoursome and will awaken your taste buds again.

Early grief does not want to eat.

Early grief loses the pleasure in food.

But appetite will return and it needs tempting back with appealing foods.

Given that you are what you eat, when you are grieving and surviving on tea and toast, it is no wonder that you do not necessarily possess the strength to deal with all that surrounds your loss.

 The touch of grief is far from tender.  You may recognise the feeling of sensitivity when you have a fever, when your scalp is so sore it hurts to brush your hair.  Your skin is dry with an underlying itch that you cannot scratch.  Your throat is raw from weeping.  Your eyes are red and they burn with lack of sleep.

You have to get past this.  You must shower, dress, put on your armour for the day and push yourself back into life.

You might equate early grief to walking along a rock strewn path wearing unsuitable thin-soled sandals. You can feel the roughness beneath your feet and you are lucky if you don’t turn your ankle or slip on the scree-like slopes.

One of the best things about the evolution of grief into a gentler incarnation is being able to enjoy simple pleasures like buying and wearing a new outfit.  It will come.

The garden of grief might contain some kind of hybrid mix of cactus, gorse bush and nettle in its first year.

Later on you may have a plump cushion of soft geranium with pink blooms and lemon scented leaves.  Or you could brush against a thyme plant on a warm, sunny day, and enjoy the resinous fragrance that drifts upon the breeze. The beauty and perfume of a rose will lift your spirits.

Finally, the sheer weight of grief is hard to carry.  It’s hard to determine whether you carry it on your back or your front.  Perhaps it is seated in your heart.

Slowly but surely the weight diminishes.  Eventually you may be holding onto something as light as a tennis ball.   It’s a useful mind exercise to practise throwing it away …

 

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What’s in a Murmuration?

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Following my talk at the launch of the RNLI Fish Supper charity fundraiser last October, I was honoured to be invited to pay a return visit to the College in Poole on 10 January and give another presentation, this time at a training event.

I was told that currently, there is something of a sea change (couldn’t resist that one) in the management structure of the RNLI to better integrate the management functions for rescue (lifeboats), supervision (lifeguards) and prevention (Respect the Water, education and community awareness).  To this end, there is a new grouping of operational RNLI Managers with specific responsibilities covering the entire coast, including Irish waters and the River Thames.  My brief was to address this group of men and women who together have an enormous amount of knowledge and experience within their specific fields.

Prior to the presentation, which was to be at 5pm, Shaun and I were sitting with a cup of tea in the Slipway café bar at the RNLI college, watching through the window a group of starlings, known as a murmuration.  We marvelled at their airborne acrobatics as they gracefully swirled, swooped and dipped, forming wonderful shapes which morphed and changed with smooth fluidity in the sky above the water in the bay.  Their synchrony and grace were a delight, and we felt privileged to be watching their spectacular pre-roost show, as the light was fading fast.

There seems a curious synchronicity at work, in that when I looked for an image of starlings to illustrate this post, I saw that the RNLI’s Ross Macleod had posted some pictures of starlings in Studland Bay, Dorset and he kindly allowed me to share one here.

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One theory of such murmurations is that they are to do with defence, representing distraction and safety in numbers; the group behaving with a single purpose, and in the starlings’ case, to avoid predators.

But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the birds’ behaviour in formation is that the group responds as one and although they are separate, uniquely individual characters, they move collectively, forming their shapes in shared commonality.

As I come to know better the men and women associated with the RNLI, whether they are volunteers or staff, it is not too fanciful to think that collectively they behave much like a murmuration.  Apart from the fact that they are not in danger from marauding raiders – although of course they do experience negativity from a few detractors – their underlying aim and remit is single-mindedly purposeful and can be summed up in their intrinsic desire to make our waters safe for everyone.

They are entirely impartial, proactive, positive personalities whose aims and aspirations I cannot praise highly enough.

They are vocational and often generational, many of them having fathers and grandfathers who served the RNLI.  The water is in their blood and it shows in their passionate commitment to make a difference for anyone and everyone.

What could I, as an individual, tell them that would impact on the group?

I felt the most value I could give to the presentation would be to share my own reality of ‘What Happens Next’; by which I mean … how do you live your life after the crushing loss of a beloved son to drowning?  It is only through my dealings with the RNLI since 2014 that I have come to understand how important it is to keep telling our personal story.  This is because the ways in which sharing some of James, and our life as it has evolved since his loss, provide helpful insights into life as a bereaved parent.

I found this group an ideal audience also to hear some of what I have learned about grief and loss in the past 11 ½ years – not only to help them with their work when they are involved in incidents with the worst possible outcome, but also in their personal lives.

They are all people with families and friends like any other group and inevitably, most of them will experience the loss of someone close to them at some time or another.  I was glad to mention the loss-specific organisations that have been so much help to me: The Compassionate Friends, the Drowning Support Network and CRUSE Bereavement Care.

I always feel it is worth sharing too the assorted elements that come to form the grief toolbox … in my case the above organisations, our work with Kingston Council, my writing, to name but a few.

I also thought it would be beneficial to summarise some of the Do’s and Don’ts that I have learned in the past 11 years.  These I have published in full before, but I feel they are worth sharing again:

Top Do’s and Don’ts in dealing with Bereaved families:

  • Don’t tell them that such tragedies happen to only those who are strong enough to survive them
  • Don’t change the subject when they mention their lost loved one
  • Don’t stop mentioning their lost relative’s name because you are scared of reminding them; you cannot upset them any more than they have already been upset
  • Don’t presume to understand their grief because you have experienced the death of an elderly relative or even a pet
  • Don’t remind parents that they have other children or could have another child
  • Don’t say “I don’t know how you cope; I couldn’t.” The bereaved have no choice in the matter.

 

  • Do be as normal as possible with them; talking about ordinary things and even sitting in silence, can be comforting
  • Do answer questions honestly and understand that some people have a need to know small details, others will only want the wider picture
  • Do ask how they are feeling, but only if you are prepared to listen to the answer
  • Do express your own sadness about what has happened, and encourage them to talk about him or her as often as they want
  • Do remember the needs of the wider family who may all need support and ask you questions that they cannot ask the most directly affected family members
  • Do remember that you must protect yourself from being drained by the needs of the bereaved family – who heals the healer?

The things we do as we go through our lives can outlast our own mortality.

The things we do today and tomorrow are stepping stones, building for the future.

Sharing our memories and our present and our future provides unexpected legacies in memory of those whom we have lost.

I am indebted to the RNLI for allowing me to continue telling the story.

There is a naturalness in the murmurations of the starlings.

There is a naturalness in the ebb and flow of our seas and waterways which commands us to remain vigilant … and always to continue to Respect the Water. 

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Hug a Tree in 2017

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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.

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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.

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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 …

A Christmas Message

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There is a small hilltop village called Monagri, near Limassol in Cyprus.

Inside Monagri’s plain little church, I experienced a special silence in this sacred space.

Gazing at an ancient painting of Madonna and child, their patrician faces expressing calm serenity, as I breathed in a hint of incense from years and days past, I felt that  here I was in a truly spiritual place.

Though the painting was ornate with gold leaf, the overall simplicity of its message shone through.

There is no greater unconditional exchange of love than that which exists between mother and child. The continuum of daughters becoming mothers and their daughters in turn carrying on the blended family groups that are created line upon line is our history; it is our past, present and future.

I lit a slender tallow candle and set it amongst a few others in the simple container of sand. The flame flickered in the still air and the smoky scent drifted up my silent prayers to the ceiling and beyond.

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The silence was absolute.

Silent is an anagram of listen. 

In the silence, I listened.

In the stillness I heard … only peace.

Though it was a sunny summer’s day outside, my thoughts turned to Mary and Joseph’s December journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and I considered how challenging it must have been for them to travel blindly across unfamiliar land.

Their Satnav was the sun, moon and stars, their signposts were words of knowledge shared by others who had travelled the road before them. They did not learn through the artificiality of electronic media, they learned through word of mouth and story-telling.  All they would have heard at night was the sound of the wind and the darkness would not have been polluted by artificial light, but broken by the starry sparkle of the planets and constellations.

They completed their arduous journey just in time to bring new life into the world, calmly, without fuss and with none of the science-based trappings of medicalised birth that have become the norm, at least in the west.

It was just Mary and Joseph and the grace of God. 

The arrival of Jesus is the true miracle of Christmas, the annual reminder through the nativity story representing the basis of it all; it is all too easy to lose sight of this simplicity in the materialism that we have come to accept as being intrinsic to our Christmas.

Sometimes we need to pare down to the nub to get to the profound truth, and the message of Christmas is no exception.

It is virtually impossible for us to find silence today, with the clamour of everyday life ruling our every move.  From the electronic tones of our mobile phones to the cacophony of different tunes in every store in the shopping mall, we are constantly surrounded by man-made noise.  Our devices talk to us, our computers bleep at us, even our household appliances beep and flash lights at us.  At night, even when all the lights are out, there is a subtle hum of background noise that never seems to stop.  It often feels as though it is beyond our control.

My moment of silence in Cyprus was precious for its rarity and its ability to stop me in my tracks and connect ahead of time with the Christian message of the festive season.  Discovering the purity of that moment’s silence in that sacred space, feels to me like a Divine connection.  In birth there is joy, in life there is challenge, in loss there is the hardest trial, but love transcends everything, and the true meaning of Christmas is there for us to access if we want, and to share in the greatest love of all.

I am reminded of the start of Desiderata: Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

 With love to all this festive season; may you seek and find your silence and your peace.

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Close Encounters of the Connected Kind

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Close Encounters of the Connected Kind

Many will remember the 1977 science fiction film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, written and directed by Steven Spielberg.  It tells the story of an ordinary man whose life changes in extraordinary ways after an encounter with an unidentified flying object.

Every parent who loses a child is catapulted from a hitherto ordinary to an extraordinary world – in the true sense of the word, and trying to acclimatise to the unwanted, unfamiliar planet of grief is a massive challenge.

Eleven years after losing James, my grief planet has become more like home.  I have learned to negotiate the terrain that at first looked like an alien, un-mapped space.  My grief Satnav has charted the blind alleys, the no through roads, the cul de sacs and finally the multi-lane highways with the occasional diversion that reflects a slipping back into distress; triggered by differing outside forces.

The storms that once blocked the routes have given way to sunshine, clouds, light breezes with the occasional shower, and many rainbows.

In Close Encounters, Richard Dreyfuss’s character feels a connection he cannot sever with the UFO. The subliminal images that plague him throughout the film remind me of how, in the early days of loss, memories play repeatedly across the mind’s eye like inescapable screensavers on an endless loop.  You can neither turn off your memories nor eliminate your shock at the fact that this person whom you love so much is no longer physically here, and what you have left is a flat line, static level of memories, like an album of images to which you cannot add.

Accepting that your life cannot have a neatly tied up ending like a fictional story or screenplay is tough.

For me, time has unfolded the gift that loss has gradually offered: it has led to numerous new connections which in turn form fresh memories that include James, albeit in a more ethereal sense.

I was recently asked to speak at a public event at the RNLI College, the organisation’s headquarters in Poole, Dorset. The event was a fish-themed fundraising evening hosted by the RNLI to launch the charity’s annual Fish Supper Campaign.

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My talks and presentations thus far have been based largely on living with bereavement and loss.  They have been tailored to groups who are either grieving or connected with the grieving.  This time, I was asked to engage with an audience of around 80 people, at a reasonably light-hearted social event.  Those attending were connected with the RNLI and also included members of the public who had purchased tickets for the advertised event.

I thought about the brief; it presented something of a challenge to ensure that I did not bring down the tone of what should be an enjoyable, relaxed evening.

I needed to tell James’s story in a way that would ultimately provide positive messages.

I decided to base my presentation around the theme of connections.  As readers of my blog know, my new connections started very soon after James died in 2005, through our work with Kingston council to institute safety measures at the riverside.  Our ultimately successful three year campaign was a gratifying legacy for James in its own right.  Through connections that I made over that time and beyond, I talked at CRUSE bereavement training days and co-presented workshops at the Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary with Linda Sewell, with whom I first connected through the bereavement organisation The Compassionate Friends. Connections with the US Based Drowning Support Network also led to more writing and friendships made across the water – and across the ether.

But it was not until 2014, with the publication of Into the Mourning Light, that my connection with the RNLI began, through the initial contact from Teddington helmsman Andy Butterfield, who read locally about my book.

He in turn connected me with RNLI Staff Guy Addington and Ross Macleod. I told James’s story for the Respect the Water campaign in 2014 and was heavily involved in the campaign that year, amongst other things in composing the text for the beer glasses supplied in local pubs and restaurants.

In 2015, I was invited by the RNLI to tell James’s story again and the copy was used as a case study in the initial strategy document for the newly formed National Water Safety Forum.  Attendance at the NWSF launch event in early 2016 led to even more new connections with Jackie Roberts (RLSS) and Dawn Whittaker (East Sussex Fire and Rescue) … of which more another time.

Thus I found I had no shortage of material and I structured my presentation around the connections I’ve made and the positive aspects of life after loss.  I illustrated the talk with slides which chronicled the key events.

At the event, the MC introduced me as an ‘Ambassador for the Respect the Water campaign’, an accolade which makes my heart swell with pride – naturally, on my son’s behalf.

When I choose to give voice to and share what has come from living with loss, it is always done from the heart and in loving memory of James.

I chose not to dwell on grief and loss per se, except for two key points which I hoped the audience would take home with them.

Firstly I asked that people do not turn away from the grieving because they ‘don’t know what to say’.  How much better it is … to say a few carefully chosen words than cross to the other side of the street in avoidance.

And I made the point that offering help should be tangible, rather than an open “let me know if there is anything I can do” which puts someone on the spot.  The newly bereaved are not good decision makers; it is as much as they can do to put one foot in front of the other.

Secondly, although it is your natural inclination to try, you should resist the urge to empathise.  It’s no use telling me that you understand how I feel because your pet was put down last week (yes that really did happen to me).  Better to say nothing at all!

I concluded my talk with a quote from Jimmy Carter, former President of the USA.  He was talking of his faith, but I paraphrased what he says and applied it to each and every person associated with the RNLI.  It also reflects my own mind set in dealing with grief:

I do whatever I can,

wherever I am,

whenever I can,

for as long as I can,

with whatever I have,

…  to try to make a difference.

Afterwards, two members of the audience came to me and thanked me personally for my words, telling me that something I said had struck a chord.  It is impossible to convey the wonderful feeling this gives me; being public in grief brings with it a vulnerability and the potential of being judged by my actions.  I am lucky that I meet largely with positive responses.

The fact is that the RNLI organisation recognises and understands connections.  Who better than the volunteers like Beth Wilkinson, who was also a guest speaker at the event, to know that life can indeed be lost in an instant? Beth spoke lightly of a day of missing her bacon sandwich because her pager kept going off, but she represents the sharp end of what this life-saving organisation actually do on a day to day basis.

None of us can never forget that tragic accidental loss of life impacts on and reverberates through many lives, whenever, however and wherever it happens.

Whatever I can do to help lessen these effects reflects my heartfelt desire to stress the importance of understanding how careful we must all be around water, however innocuous it may appear.

We must do this in order to prevent further traumatic loss to individuals, the emergency services, and ordinary families such as mine; who never wanted to be extraordinary.

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Signs from Spirit

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I felt quite sad last week; in part because I needed to turn on the lights each morning. Our nights are beginning to draw in rapidly now and nature is displaying that slightly tired, wistful sense that tends to accompany the sliding of late summer into the Autumn. The leaves on the trees have lost their crispness.  Some of them are beginning to change colour.  It is a mellow time, but it is also the calm before the storm that brings us the bite of winter.

When I set off for work the other day, I saw that there was something fluttering on my windscreen wiper.  It was a small, white, pristine feather that had somehow become caught where the wiper blade joins the arm mechanism.  As I drove along, the feather flickered back and forth with the movement of the car until eventually the force of movement released it … and it was gone.

My journey to work is no longer than 15 minutes, but it allowed me time to reflect on how uplifted I felt from this little sign of hope.  Historically, white feathers were symbolic of cowardice, but I far prefer the spiritual interpretation that their presence indicates a message or sign from a loved one.  I thanked whoever it was in spirit for sending me this little jog.

We all have our favourite signs from spirit.  I don’t think we need to embrace a specific belief system to be comforted by what we see and feel as messages from those whom we have lost.  More than feathers, I tend to associate butterflies with James, and sometimes songs on the radio that are a trigger to happy memories.  I love it when I dream about James.  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, although I wake with a sense of deep sadness that he is not here, I am comforted by the fact that he has visited me in my sleep and I hold close the loving warmth this instils in me.

Some people’s visitations are rainbows, others the bright-eyed robin, or perhaps scents that invoke a sense of their loved ones.

Maybe they are represented by a shining star in the night sky, or the benevolent moon.

We thrive on these little lifts in our bereavement.

They each bring our special people to mind in a loving and gentle, albeit poignant way.

It is comforting if you have a sense of constantly being accompanied by the spirit of those whom you have lost.  At times of difficulty, I never find it hard to imagine spiritual support and guidance at my shoulder, and I don’t analyse too hard where this is coming from.  It could be human, angelic, divine, or a combination of all those and it really does not matter.  What matters is that feeling of being supported and sustained exists, and we all need that to a degree. I have noticed that I do not rely on signs nearly as much as I did in the early days of loss. And I take that to be a good indication of having assimilated my grief into a more comfortable place. .

All these thoughts tumbled around in my mind as I proceeded along my journey to work and then I set them aside to concentrate on the day ahead.

I parked and got out of my car.  Looking down, what did I see on the ground but another white feather!  I bent and picked it up, and smiling to myself, I tucked it into my wallet.  Thank you, whoever sent it to me …

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What’s in the Library?

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It is interesting how persistence, and in this case rather obliquely a complaint, can pay off.

Since Into the Mourning Light was published in 2014, I have tried more than once to get it listed for borrowing from the shelves at our local library.

The process for getting books listed is straightforward but selection is dependent entirely on the company that selects and looks after library stock. (For our area this is Askews and Holts).  The process is a simple enough online form.

Whether you are an author or a reader, you are at liberty to suggest a title on the libraries website. Once you have entered the title, author and ISBN Number you are advised that you will hear no more.  In view of the number of submissions the library service receives, there is no direct feedback.

You are advised to periodically check back by entering the details into the library catalogue and submitting a search to see if your book appears.

Into the Mourning Light failed to be listed in any of the Surrey Libraries. I submitted the details a couple of times over eighteen months or so and then decided it was not going to happen … so I left it.

Last week I went to the library to borrow some books.

I often look in the ‘True’ section so that I can select books which may be enjoyable to read and indeed useful for my own writing research.

I picked up a book and was immediately startled when leafing through it to see that it was a profane, rambling form of autobiography about personal difficulties. (I will not further publicise it by sharing its title or author here).  In my quick glance at this book, I failed to see what merit it could have for its readers.  There was no warning as to the language which was at a level I feel sure many people would find offensive.  The whole remit of the book seemed to be to a rant, with words capitalised for emphasis.  It struck me as being very negative and not at all helpful.

I became quite incensed about what I felt was the injustice of the library stocking this irreverent drivel in preference to my positive prose!  And when I arrived home I sent a carefully worded email of complaint to the library service; which included:

This book may have a place to help those who have problems in this regard, but in a brief glance at several sections, all I read was a rant of profanity and negativity, such that I did not wish to read any further.

I have tried on more than one occasion to get my bereavement support book, ‘Into the Mourning Light’ stocked on the shelves of Surrey libraries, not because I am an egotistical author, but because I know that my book is viewed as a very valuable resource by grieving families and those supporting them.  It is very disheartening to see that Askews & Holts have not accepted my book but are prepared to endorse and supply a book with such unpleasant tone and content.
Iould welcome your response with regard to the criteria for the selection process”.

I have to tell you that my email quickly bore surprising fruit.  The (paraphrased) response I received was,

“Picador, a long established and well regarded imprint of Pan Macmillan, has published (the book) and it has gained positive reviews from the Bookseller. For each of these reasons we have chosen to select this book for stock, but recognise that the author is known for her great candour, and that this will not be to everyone’s taste.

I have checked with our current supplier of adult nonfiction stock (Askews and Holts) and ‘Into the Mourning Light’ (9781905399895) is currently listed. I am pleased to say that we will therefore be placing an order for copies of your book for our three largest libraries at Woking, Guildford and Epsom”

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us regarding this matter”.

It is difficult to market your own book, and particularly when you have written about sensitive topics. It is hard to promote something in which you have such a personal interest, too.  Thus I am gratified and pleased that Surrey Libraries have taken notice of my input and the end result is what I had hoped for.  Perseverance really can pay off!

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