Beyond Bereavement: One Year On.

 

Tomorrow, 26th March, it will be one year since my Grandad’s death.

The different stages of grief have carried me along over the course of the past 12 months, sometimes with a sense of numb finality, other times with a punctuation of loss that makes it hard to catch my breath, yet, at all times, with a sense of overwhelming fortune and love to have ever had such a marvellous man in my life.

I made changes to my life because of the stages of reflection that I went through. I put even further renewed energy into a career that I simply love, I ended a friendship that I discovered had been false, and I took a lot of time to be extremely thankful for the little things. I looked at people through different eyes, and I gave a lot of thought to those that I respect, and those that I do not.

The year has not always been plain sailing, but it has been one that was full of joy and love; both fulfilling and rewarding. My mother got married, my husband and I finally booked a long-awaited trip to the Big Apple, and I made several new friends, including some amazing colleagues who are simply mind-blowingly, inspiringly good at their jobs, along the way.

I also saw different sides of other friends, and realised that few people really stand by what they say; the human capacity for bullshit and self-denial is dark fathoms deep . I learned that sometimes staying silent is more powerful than having the last word, and I also realised that – as opposed to when I was younger – much of this was simply water off an older duck’s back.

I think of my Grandad all the time; our laughs, the hands that held me and which seemed as strong as a bear’s when I was tiny, the tales that he would tell and the advice that he would give. The grief will never pass, yet, because of the love that I had and have for him, I have had a truly happy and fulfilling year: the oxymoron of grief. So very different to when my father died 27 years ago, but then my Grandad was at an age when death was expected, and life had been full.

So, to those who supported me, thank you so very much. To those who didn’t, hey ho. And, equally, to those whom I couldn’t fully offer my own support in this last year, I apologise. But, just this once, I hope you’ll agree that the selfishness  was justified.

There are lessons to be learnt in grief, just as there are lessons to be learnt in life. Hopefully you’ll work out what & whom to truly appreciate via the latter, thereby showing your appreciation, and making your wisest choices, before the former catches up with you.

“We were together. I forget the rest.” Walt Whitman.

Are you a good listener? Or more of a monotonous monologue?

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The majority of people, I am guesstimating, are probably better at talking than they are at listening. We all have instances when we realise we’ve lost track of a conversation because something else is playing on our minds and, of course, we all interrupt. But that can be a conversational interruption, to empathise or probe for more information, or to gain clarification before a conversation continues further.

 

Sometimes you may interrupt simply because you are so excited and passionate about the conversation that is taking place. But it’s just as likely that you know a person who interrupts constantly, shuts your conversation down before it’s even begun, and generally appears to have no listening skills whatsoever. Imagine if you’re that person? Perhaps the perceived rudeness of the interruptor is actually a desperate bid to just get you to shut the hell up, after your hour-long soliloquy. Mortifying. But how many of us are self-aware enough to realise it?

 

This seems such a shame when you really think about it, because even idle chit-chat conveys something that a person is trying to get across. Not only is it rude not to listen, it also demonstrates a lack of care, and perhaps a preoccupation with oneself.

 

It’s especially important that our children are listened to. If they are not, then eventually they’ll stop bothering to tell us things. My youngest daughter rarely stops talking but, however frustrating, I do try hard to stop and listen (and then silently tear my hair out in another room), because she needs to feel valued. I also like the fact that she admits a wide variety of things to me, both good and bad, and mischievous, and I hope that she does feel listened to. It tests my sanity, but I try to see past the babble about her soft toys and cling to the sparkly glimmers of humour, anecdotes, and highs and lows of her day.

 

When I was at school myself, the teacher who inspired me to become one, told our class that listening was one of the most important things you can do for another person. If somebody has a problem or something to share, then simply listening – and not necessarily giving any advice whatsoever – can help them immeasurably. In fact, it’s a compliment that they’re willing to tell you.

 

Being listened to enables us to begin processing our problems. It isn’t always an easy task, it can be worrying or draining, depending on what we are listening to, but it is an important one. If you have a friend who is both willing and able to simply sit and allow you to offload for however long is necessary to your emotional well-being, then they are a friend indeed.

 

Alternatively, if you have a friend who likes to listen to no-one but themselves, then perhaps you need to re-evaluate your definition of ‘friend’, and pop them back under the ‘acquaintance’ stone. If somebody can’t respect the fact that you are choosing them, in amongst a sea of many, to share the details of your one and only existence with, then cast your friendship net adrift elsewhere and leave them to the flotsam and jetsam of their own monologue.

 

First published in the Portsmouth News, Tuesday 22nd March 2016

 

 

Dunblane and the inspiration of human resilience.

 

Would you say that you are resilient? Do you have the strength it takes to overcome the blows that life deals us all, sometimes on what feels like a daily basis, with dignity and peace of mind? Or are you the kind of person who finds themselves becoming embittered, and dwelling on the hard times with a longevity that makes it more than just a phase of healing? These are hard questions to answer, depending on your response, and they can be hard questions to ask ourselves, depending on our personal outlook on life.

 

Resilience is a skill that we need to instill in our children from a young age. Life is no easy journey, and during the part when it should be easy, in childhood, we don’t usually recognise that it is. However, even childhood itself isn’t easy for everyone. Domestic violence, emotional abuse, divorce that may not be dealt with appropriately by the adults involved, alcoholism, parental illness or bereavement, homelessness – these happen every day, in families the world over.

 

There is research to show that in those families, the resulting children often take either one end of the adult spectrum, or the other. Some, due to their circumstances or neglect, grow-up to be drug abusers or offenders, whereas others grow-up to excel at whatever they choose to do.What is the difference, do you think, between these children? The answer, is that the difference may be you.

 

Those children who grow-up to be successful have generally all had someone in their life that believed in them. Someone who stood by and ensured that they felt valued and special, and safe and significant, someone who nurtured them and fostered their dreams. Those children became resilient to what went on around them, and the things they had no control over, because a parent, a relative, a friend, a teacher, or a neighbour, showed them that they could make their own way, and empowered them to do so.

 

In fact, you may be reading this now, unaware that you are the one making the difference to a child’s future, simply by the way in which you are showing them your belief and your care.

 

I watched the Dunblane documentary last week on the BBC, and for the majority of it I watched in awe, in depths of sadness, and in silent tears. Those tiny children in the class photograph, pictured with their teacher, each with a smile that was full of the innocence and sweet joy of childhood, was in soul-breaking juxtaposition with the horror and hell to come. The parents of those youngsters, some of whom had already suffered tragedy in their lives before the events on the 13th March 1996, were a sheer force of inspiration. Simply enough to take your breath away. The purity of courage and total lack of self-pity, in the face of such depths of lifelong mourning and grief, were incredible. To continue to live, let alone simply function, after experiencing such a soul-shattering horror, was testament to a bravery and love that refused to be destroyed by what an evil man did on a Spring day, to those joyful splashes of childhood colour on the world.

 

Events such as Dunblane shed a sobering light of realism on the situations around us. Our circumstances are all relative. We all have days when we awake to a bad mood because we can’t park at work or a fox broke through the bin bags in the garden, but perhaps we need to remind ourselves and ask ourselves if our life is really so bad, on a day to day basis? Are you really suffering (you may well be), or are you actually making a fuss and lashing out with blame and crossness about what amounts, in the grand scheme of living, to absolutely nothing?

 

Life throws obstacles at us all, but it is the way in which we overcome these and find a route around them, that speaks volumes about who we really are. Sometimes a perceived horror is actually a temporary tough time, sometimes it’s an utter tragedy that takes true bravery to even attempt to come out the other side. But if we help each other, and nurture the hopes and dreams of other people, then we can at least make life a little easier for everyone.

First published on Tuesday 15th March in The Portsmouth News. 

Growing up: how’s that working out for you?

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I was listening to a song recently that includes the lyric, “The power of youth, is on my mind,” which led me to thinking about ageing.

 

For some people, age is simply a number, and for others, they are defined by it. Our children grow before our very eyes, as any parent of a 6 month old baby will confirm; those days of not being able to support our own heads, on the tiny stems of our fragile necks, pass swiftly.

 

When we are younger, all we seem to do is wish ourselves away to 18. Once we are 18, we look forwards to 21 and the freedoms that we presume it will bring. Once we are 25, we’re wondering how to pay the gas bill and reassessing our previous two-decades-worth of wishes. Responsibility can weigh a tonne and unless we learn to be independent when we are young, and assume responsibility for ourselves, then being the grown-up – the person where the buck stops – can be very daunting.

 

I have recently turned 39 (as one eagle-eyed reader, Roger, recently spotted!), and so I suppose I am staring 40 in the face now. I have to say, that all I really feel about that is some excitement because, surely, each year we gain is a privilege? As yet I’ve never been bothered by the concept of ageing, which is perhaps due in part to my Grandfather, who remained spry until his 90s, and also due to being currently very happy in my personal and work situations.

 

These things, however, can change at the drop of a hat, and after all, I am not in a career where my success rides upon my being able to look 21. A lack of absorbing roles in the movie industry is a well-known plight for older women, and perhaps it’s the same in many city jobs, where spritely young whippersnappers, who may be cheaper to employ, really do benefit from ‘the power of youth’. Although they too will one day experience the changes that age may bring.

 

Old age can be a frightening concept. Will we be alone? Will our children grow-up safely and happily and still be remotely interested in seeing us? Will our grandchildren want to visit, or will we be deemed dull and past it?

 

It’s only at this stage of my life that I can truly say I no longer feel 18 on the inside. It’s such a cliche to say we feel ‘no different to when we were a teenager’, although up until a point I found it to be true. But nowadays, although I still feel like me, that old adage has proven false, so far as I am experiencing. I am such a different person to when I was younger. I am more confident, more self-aware and more reflective. I’m as much of a control freak as ever, and I’m sure I have developed new faults just as much as I’ve dispelled others. But I can definitely say that, although the past is safe (for we know that up until this very point we got through it), I prefer the me of now. I don’t think I’d want to go back to 18 and the uncertainty that lay ahead.

None of us know what the future brings but, if we are sensible, we do at least learn from the past.

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First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 8th March 2016

Love & the Ripple Effect: When Little Things Change Lives

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Sometimes, every once in a while, the mundanity of everyday living transpires to change your life.

 

Sometimes, even the simple act of crossing a dance floor can change your very existence, and the direction of the path upon which you are set, from there on in.

 

Eleven years ago, I crossed a dance floor. Eleven years ago, I walked across the room in Tiger Tiger (that tranquil oasis of romance) to dance with a man whose name I didn’t know. I took his number, mistook his name as Tom, and texted him days later.

 

Because of that initial act of crossing a room (and rather enjoying the feel of his biceps through his shirt) my life changed inexorably. Because of that dance, two little girls now exist in the world who otherwise may not have done; two little girls who will go on to create their own ripples on the lives of others, and who will change the world in ways I may not yet imagine.

 

Because of that dance, young adults that I teach may well have received an even better education at my hands than they may previously have done, because he inspires me every day. Some of those adults will, by now, have careers and families of their own, and will be making their own impact on the world.

 

Of course, this can all work the other way, too. The butterfly effect of life and love can lead us to despair. If we had only taken a different route, if we had only loved a little better, if we had only taken the time to make our partner know how appreciated they were, or listened a little longer and held a little tighter. Life and love are full of if onlys. But they are also full of chance and wonder.

 

My husband brings out the very best in me. We took a chance on each other, as couples the world over do, and found something in each other that we’d not found in anyone else before.

 

We spend hours talking about nothing and everything. I love his depth of knowledge and passion for education, and he indulges me as I wax lyrical about the latest sentence in a book I may be reading, that has set my mind alight. Externally, we are most likely dull as ditch water, but internally, in ourselves, where it matters, we are incendiary.

 

There’s a love song by Father John Misty in which he says he has never before ‘hated all the same things as someone else,’ and I love this back-to-front summing up of human connection. It goes straight against the cliché of liking all the same things as one another, and in doing so gets straight to the point of what we all believe when we fall in love: this time, it’s different. This time, it’s real.

 

“Darling, I love you as you are when you’re alone, I’ll never try to change you.” FJM.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 1st March 2016