My blog posts for Still Standing Magazine

As a contributory writer for the excellent grief resource, Still Standing Mag, I have listed here links to the posts I have had published on the site so far. Writing these each month has been a great way to keep my blog writing going and also seen much more widely as they have a fantastic following of writers and readers. Simply click on a link below to read them.

Sept ’18 – How to avoid burnout when supporting grieving friends

Aug ’18 – Don’t hurry to ask me why my child died

July ’18 – Hypochondria, anxiety, and grief: what comes after loss

June ’18 – Overcoming grief sabotage

May ’18 – Why her, God? Why not me?

April ’18 – 5 tips for using social media when you’re grieving

March ’18 The strength of a grieving mother

Feb ’18 – Don’t be sorry that you’re not grieving

still standing

 

Advertisements

JustGiving’s Crowdfunder of the Year Award – vote for me

It takes me way out of my comfort zone to ask people to vote for me (even if I did ask them for their money), but having been nominated for the JustGiving Awards 2018, I have quite amazingly been shortlisted in the Crowdfunding category, so I suppose I’ll have to spare my blushes and just ask for a vote!

When I set up the crowdfunding page, I hoped it would bring in something to help pay for the design and print costs for The Dragonfly Story, which I published in April 2018. I had a wonderful illustrator in Helen Braid, and also a fantastic printer lined up; I didn’t want to cut corners. It was so important that this story was gently narrated, colourful and engaging, and that it had the quality of a book that could be read again and again… Why?

Because I know how important this is when you’re in your darkest hour, sat on the bedroom floor with a child who is asking you questions you don’t have the answers to, who sees your tears and is scared because you are. Having a book that can be shared, that talked about real life and loss but blended with that a hope that when we die there is more wonder and peace than we can ever know, was why I said ‘yes’ when I stood praying in the shower over a year ago. ‘Ok, yes, I’ll do it… but I’ll need some help’

And so with the crowdfund page set up, I knew that, with my limited funds, that literally anything would help. And the money came in, from family, friends, strangers, people who have followed my story from losing Abi in 2013 until this moment when I had decided what it was that would honour her best.

I didn’t raise all my target. I raised half the money, which was still a fantastic contribution in my mind (over £1,000!) and far more than I expected. And it helped enormously, making covering the remaining costs that much easier without long-term debt.

The book was published to 5-star reviews from those who bought a copy and I receive orders steadily from all over the world. I have them piled up in boxes in my office and post each one out myself – choosing the right envelope, buying and printing postage, and getting them to one of the few larger postboxes that fit the size! It would probably be easier to let Amazon take care of all that, but I like the process. I want to connect some way with each person who orders it, giving a personal touch, because sometimes it might be for their own child who has just lost someone they love.

Anyway, I’m so thankful for the nomination. I don’t need to win anything of course, as I have the book that has been in my head for so long, but if you’d like to vote for me, you can click here, or the button on the main home page.

Voting closes on 14th October 2018.

Guard your grieving heart

For many bereaved parents – coping with the worst thing that could ever happen – the next most awful thing is thinking about other people who might be affected by a similar fate. It’s distressing to think that anyone else might have to experience what you have, especially if it could have been prevented.

It’s a good idea to consider the things that are supporting you through your grief, and what is adding to your grief. In my recent post on Still Standing Magazine, I suggested some healthy ways to use social media in grief. Social media is a lifeline for us, but it also makes the world a much smaller place. Now, it’s a matter of a few clicks to find hundreds of people who have lost ‘exactly’ like you have. It can be distressing as the realisation comes that life’s fragility is more certain than its longevity.
Superhuman grief strength makes for super humans!

Forget ultramarathons though, nothing can match a grieving mother’s mental and physical strength (dads too, of course). I liken the strength to that of a woman in labour. The moment of crowning when animal instincts take over and she finds power that she never knew she had, despite overwhelming exhaustion, to push the baby out.

Grief pains create a similar inner strength. Often this is channelled into something worthy… a legacy, a charity, a cause. This work saves lives. Brings hope. Comforts the brokenhearted.

It’s important to remember that almost every campaign, whether small like my book or large like MP Carolyn Harris’s recent victory to scrap children’s burial fees, is driven by the strength of grief. There is a parent who is the driving force of the work. There is a child no longer here because of the work that needed to be done.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the work that has been borne out of a loss which, unlike a normal job, can’t be resigned from easily. Once you start offering support, or to lead a campaign, or fundraising, or write a self-help book, whatever it might be, where does it end? Do you now feel obligated to help heal the world indefinitely? Maybe so, it’s no bad thing, but only so long as it is beneficial for you also…

If that person, that project, that campaign could be handled well by anyone else tomorrow, how would you feel? If the answer is ‘free’, ‘relieved’, ‘better able to cope with your own life’, then it might be worth considering delegating some of your work, stepping back for a period or even completely.

Look after you, so you can look after them

Early on, I felt surrounded by grieving mothers, having never identified with one (not openly anyway) previously. The loss upon loss was heartbreaking. Each story had its own trauma, shock and anger. It’s not just the taking on of other’s emotions but also the sudden awareness that early death and trauma happens to so many people, every single day. The despair sets in and pushes hope out.

It’s important to find some kind of balance. Always check in with yourself. If the person or thing lifts you up, or you look forward to seeing them/doing it, that’s a sign to do more of it. If it drains you or brings you into a depressive or anxious state, step away even for a short time and pursue something more healing and restorative for as long as you need.

I’m not suggesting you stop helping others, or that what you have worked for isn’t worth the stress on you, some people have to be the driving force because there is simply nobody else. The world needs people that care about each other. I’m saying, with as much love as I can, that it is not your responsibility to help everyone, even if they are experiencing exactly what you have.

So, guard your heart. Be aware of your own physical and mental health. Take a step back regularly, reassess what you’re doing and why. Check in to see if there is anything that could be done differently. Healing is a lifetime process that comes in the most unexpected ways, and in its own time. Running from that is unlikely to do you any good, but walking slowly with it is the kindest thing you can do, for you.

Repost: Ways to Support Grieving Families

A child has died. You’re at a loss. You don’t know what to say to the grieving parents. You don’t know what to do, but you feel that you must do something to support them. 698 more words

via Reaching Through The Dark: 5 Ways To Support Grieving Families — Still Standing

 

 

 

5 ways to do self-care when you’re grieving

Self-care is a power hashtag. Women of all ages and stages of life, in particular, are proclaiming the importance of making time for themselves amidst the busyness of life. Self-care encompasses anything that helps us unwind or makes us feel good, even for a moment, from little things such as sipping a hot cup of coffee and reading a book to spa weekends and aerobic workouts. The point is to not forget about you while you’re busy spinning numerous plates, and particularly when life is going wrong or is throwing up more challenges than usual. Taking a moment to care for ourselves is one way to help us find hope and restoration when we are up against it.

Instagram is one place that people share the ‘self-care’ moments. A quick search calls up nearly 500,000 posts, the majority of which are are exercise, beauty or food related. It can be easy to compare how we ‘invest in ourselves’. The gorgeous picture of a beautifully designed latte froth or candles by the bath can all feel a little unrealistic, and also that having this moment somehow makes everything okay, the audience are reassured, we’ve admitted a struggle but don’t worry it’s not too messy…

But we all know that Instagram gives only one view. In fact, one of the simplest forms of self-care is to switch off your devices and avoid the temptation to compare altogether.

Self-care is not just a nice thing to do, it’s not just a nice photo, it’s an essential part of survival. Taking time for yourself will lift a mood, improve self-esteem and dilute stress to name a few benefits. I find it makes me calmer, less irritable and clears my mind.

Being kind to yourself when you are grieving

Because grief is so personal, how you find your peace is also different for each person. In the early stages of grief, people want you to feel better. Good friends will support you with food, company, or practical tasks to ease the pressure. In my grief, I didn’t know what I needed and felt guilty for any act of self-care. When you’re grieving, self-care in the traditional sense is very hard to do. I had been a busy working mum who made time for regular exercise, reading books and lunches with friends, but found I couldn’t do any of these. It was another layer of grief to lose my ‘self’ too.

It was two years before I could do anything remotely relaxing. I tried a gentle exercise class with meditation but my anxiety went through the roof as I lay there feeling my heartbeat slowing. As the group were guided into peace and relaxation, I felt a panic attack developing. Suddenly I was being transported to Abi’s hospital bed and experiencing how it must have felt for her to die. I was forced to close my eyes yet I felt tears coming. Meditation was like dying to me. Despite being fit, exercise had a similar effect and triggered panic attacks, so I avoided anything that raised my heart rate.

I finally went for a facial, but again, I had to fight the urge to run. It’s crazy as it seems such an innocent, ‘lovely’ thing to do. I wanted to talk about trivial stuff as she applied the lotions, to help distract my mind from the expectation of relaxing, but the therapist insisted on turning the lights down and being as quiet as possible (which would be great normally but not when that reminded me of a dimly-lit intensive care ward).

I couldn’t read a book for years after Abi died. I read, oh yes, I read a lot, but it was all about grief, death, therapy related. I read a lot about faith as I sought answers to my questions. There was no head room for escapism in popular fiction.

In those early years, I had to find a way to care for myself without the painful reminders and anxieties. It wasn’t easy. I had to think outside the box. Here are five ways I found time for myself:

Journalling – It’s no surprise that writing became my main way of relaxing. I mixed it up between blogging on the computer and writing in journals. Writing using ink and paper is actually very therapeutic as it works on different parts of your brain, enabling you to process and release emotion. It was this that inspired my grief journal. I always feel calmer after a writing session.

Walking – Being outside getting fresh air is a popular stress reliever. In my grief haze, I’d look intently at the details of everything: the patterns on the pavement, the shapes of the trees, the clouds and skies. Walking allowed my mind to wander and helped me process my thoughts. However, on difficult days the walks needed to be somewhere different, so I could be anonymous, as the fear and stress of having conversations with people I’d bump into was too much.

Resting – Not wanting to see anyone is a common aspect of grief. Just having a space at home to be peaceful but without going out was helpful. My bedroom often is a place I like to lie down in the day, as I can look out of the window, watch the birds and clouds, rest and reflect. With a busy home, finding solitude is near impossible but I grabbed moments when I could.

Showering – Baths are nice but often too much hassle with a busy family, and again they gave me too much time to think, but showers I have found to be therapeutic. There’s something about the water pouring over you and down that washes you clean yet cloaks you in warmth and comfort. It’s a safe, quiet place to cry and pray.

Photography – Being behind the lens gives me a fresh perspective on what I’m seeing. By focusing on the detail of a moment, I can almost step inside it, and forget the overwhelm and fog around me. This is why Instagram is my preferred social media app, as it’s a way of sharing images without the information overload of the other networks.

These self-care moments helped walk me through the bad and not so bad days. Exercise, facials, meditation, could all wait until I was ready. Four years after Abi died I started to read fiction again. Five years on and I felt able to exercise. I have enjoyed a massage at a spa. My creative mind has returned and I have written books, and been able to genuinely enjoy crafts I once loved such as knitting and baking.

It may sound like I’ve returned to myself and that I’ve recovered the person that I lost, but that’s not entirely true. I still struggle and have wobbles. I still use food as a comforter. I have some dark periods where everything feels hopeless, but knowing ways I can help myself, gently, without guilt or fear, goes a long way to getting me through them.

What about you? What are the ways you look after yourself through difficult times?

Does it get any easier? Grief five years on

I somehow thought it would be easier to grieve as the years passed.

I feel I need a badge or something.

I’ve survived five years.

I’ve moved into the second stage grief club… that’s for the more experienced grief survivors. The ones who are asked and can give advice to the unfortunate newbies.

But at five years I’m still sad. I still miss her. The memories aren’t as fresh, but they are still there.

The other day, I sat with an elderly man, in his eighties, and we shared the usual small talk about ourselves and family. While pleasant enough, he was a man of few words. He didn’t often make eye contact and appeared to want to keep himself to himself. His answers brief and clipped.

As I gabbled on, to fill the awkward silences, as I tend to do, talking briskly about my children there came the inevitable time when I had to mention Abi. My daughter who died aged 12.

He looked right at me. He dropped his gaze again and ever so softly that I could barely hear revealed he too had a lost child. A child he hadn’t mentioned to that point. His child died around 35 years ago, aged just 17. The middle child.

My heart opened up to him then, my perspective changed, knowing he has lived not just five years but a lifetime of grieving.

I didn’t care about etiquette then. I gently laid my hand on his thin, frail hand and he looked at me again. With tears in my eyes for both of us, I said simply, “I’m so sorry.”

He continued to look at me, sightly stunned. A delayed reaction of a man who rarely mentions the child who died.

His grief and mine were very different. He went on to say they were advised at the time not to grieve forever, he felt his child wouldn’t want him to. Even so, the pain of childloss was still there and could be brought to the surface in a moment. From what he said of his other children, the impact was still felt, unsaid, the family forever scarred by loss.

I’m not over it. I’m living with it, and I suppose pretty well. I’m working, creating, homemaking. I’m still a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I’m still me but behind my eyes and in my heart is the small hole pierced by the sword of grief.

On special days, memorable days, I cry. The memories press into my present mind asking to be replayed. I start them, but then find it too much.

I miss her so, so much…

390577_10151422378970966_1636433800_n

I miss the child her and the young adult her. I miss everything about her.

I remember it all. Her being alive, her dying, her being gone. I haven’t forgotten the sound of her voice, her quirky mannerisms, the infectious energy she seemed to radiate. I treasure those memories and hope, when I’m in my eighties, I  will be able to talk about her the same way I do now.

I’d love to tell you that it gets better. It doesn’t, not really, but it gets a little easier with time. But just because this is part of you now, that’s no reason to give up, to succumb to the despair. Grief may be part of my story, but it’s not my whole story. I take comfort knowing she is safe, with Jesus, and also that Jesus is with me. So we can never truly be apart.

Related posts

The 3rd year anniversary 
The 1st year anniversary

The baby nobody mentions

Dates are always important when you’re grieving and even though I try hard not to get on the anniversary train, it’s impossible not to think of ‘this time xx years ago’.

Abi died on 10th February 2013 aged 12 years old. I’ve posted before about the days leading up to us turning off her life support. We have four days of being reminded and also trying not to remember. But, in truth, this period of mourning starts much sooner than this. Of course, I think of Abi every day, but 26th January is a particular day that no one but me secretly remembers.

On that date, we celebrated as Abi finally graded for her black belt in kung-fu, something she loved and had worked hard for over four years.

On that date, I mourned the death of my baby… what would have been our fourth child.

I recall the overwhelming emotional effort to hide the fact, to hide my shame and despair. It very nearly broke me. But I focused on Abi, on all my happy, healthy children. It was all I could do not to go insane.

Having decided to have a fourth child, I had miscarried our first attempt at 7 weeks, just as I was coming round to the idea of being pregnant again. Yet, to my utter surprise, just five weeks later I was already pregnant again. I was so confused by my dates that I didn’t realise until I was eight weeks gone. So, when I did find out, I was convinced this one was meant to be.

But it wasn’t. Early scans showed problems.

Continue reading

Opening up the wound – when the grieving parent withdraws

This time of year can be fraught with emotion and grief for those who have lost loved ones, particularly if that is a child. For those whose birthdays are also this side of Christmas, it can seem like a double grief. Memories of Christmas past, thoughts of Christmas present, and worries for Christmas future. It is hard to find any joy in the season at all.

What I want to write about here is for those of you supporting and loving a bereaved parent at Christmas. You will have seen them though their bleakest times, the aftermath of loss, the pain and heartache as their lives, and very selves, shift and change to accommodate their new grief. It may have already been many years…

While you know that this time of year will be hard, when you see your loved one crumble in grief after a long time since their child died, it can seem somewhat odd. They were – are – OK. They’ve adjusted. Their life is changed but they seem to have recovered.

Now it’s Christmas. Or now it’s their child’s birthday. Or now it’s the anniversary of the day their child died. Maybe it’s all those events at once. And they have become withdrawn, pale, grief-stricken. It’s been so long since you’ve seen them like this. It worries you. You don’t know how to be. You don’t know what to say.

But, I ask you not to fear this pain too much. It’s necessary you see. Grieving mothers and fathers need to open up the scar to let the pain out, a bit like blood-letting of the old days.

On the special days we need to release the pain, the love, the sorrow for that one child, whether they died last month or years ago. We often don’t expect it ourselves, it just happens. It’s our way of connecting with them again. It’s our way of being a ‘parent’ to them again. It’s our way of showing them that even though we have laughed and danced and acted relatively normally, we still miss them to our core.

There’s no real way to reach someone on days like this, and don’t worry that you can’t, they don’t need you to. But, they need your presence. They need that silent love that needs no words. They need the strength of another to carry them through the days until the wound slowly closes over again.

No books, no quotes, no signs of hope are needed right now. Whatever that person needs, they will take. Even if it’s just lying on the sofa staring into space, or sleeping, or watching daytime TV while everyone is out being sociable and ‘family’. And give it to them, with grace and love and no expectations of ‘snapping out of it’ or ‘cheering up’. The parent’s love-pain will soon travel from the wound in the pit of their stomach back up to the heart, and they will return to the present. But, right now, they just need to be with them again.

620302acd7c2d0cb56b149bc2fcd2548.jpg

Comforting colouring pages

Colouring is an effective meditative and calming activity. Sometimes, when you’re feeling particularly low there is simply nothing you can do. Your mind is fuzzy, you feel confused, deeply sad, and detached from those around you.

Keeping a colouring book handy is a good idea; however, for times when you need something ‘here and now’ I’ve created a set of colouring pages for you to download and print off. Some are simple, others a little more detailed, but nothing is too intricate as, let’s face it, it can be hard to see the lines though weary, tear-filled eyes.

Colour them anyway you like, and take some time to rest your mind. I will add to these pages so keep checking for more, and if there is something you have in mind, send me a message and I’ll see what I can do… Oh and don’t forget to share your finished pieces with me if you want to.

[Note: please click on the link below each image to download a print PDF as this will be better quality than the image. Also ensure your printer settings are set to A4 fit to page.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         

Biblical breadcrumbs, books and bereavement

 

On Sunday I attended my church’s All Souls service, which is held to remember those we have loved and lost. I have been to this ever since we lost Abi. The vicar’s sermon focused on this passage. What he said resounded with me so much that I had to replicate it here for you to read.

OK, so Jesus is out and about doing his amazing stuff, healing, miracles, powerful words… and the prophet and Jesus’ relative, John the Baptist, is locked up thanks to bad King Herod. John the Baptist was a special guy. He was sent by God to prepare people for the arrival of Jesus. He was a bit rough and ready, shouting at folk and eating grubs, someone we may all think was a bit of an oddball. Herod was intrigued by him, yet scared of the reaction he was causing so he locked him up. The only problem was Herod’s wife, she hated John and tricked Herod into executing him.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14: 6-12)

So, Jesus has just had the sad news that John has been killed, and it is not what he says but what he does that is so remarkable.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14: 13-20)

He withdraws. This all-powerful son of God, the one who people looked to for help spiritually and physically, the one who had all the answers, who was so confident in his faith and understanding of the human race, retreated. He was bereaved. He needed to be alone, to grieve, to contemplate and process what had happened.

Yet, people didn’t care about this, they just wanted Jesus to look after them. They needed fixing, healing, ministering to. They needed him to serve and guide them as he had been. Can you imagine in your grief, crowds of people following you, asking for your time and energy?

Yet, despite his grief, Jesus saw the crowds and went to them. He didn’t say ‘Can I just have a few days off, please,’, or ‘Go away! I’m grieving my friend here can’t you think about anyone but yourselves, you insensitive bunch!’ Did he turn away from them and close his eyes? Did he sit, depressed and numb to their cries for help? Nope, he saw them. He felt compassion for them and began to heal them. He went straight back to his work, not for any other reason than love.

And he didn’t just whip round a few to get some healing done to get them off his back for a bit. Nope, he then performed another miracle by feeding every single one of them. He fed them all, with five loaves of bread and two fishes. There was even some left over.

He could easily have said, right John is dead, I’m giving up on this, I’m fighting a losing battle, what’s the point anymore. But he used his bereavement and ministered to thousands of people, filling them physically and spiritually. John’s death was not in vain. Jesus was not giving up that easily. The message of God’s love would bless others despite this tragedy.

Sat in the service, I thought of the books I’m writing. I considered the ways my own grief may have ‘blessed others’ – the organ donation, the fundraising for Bristol Children’s Hospital, the appreciation and forgiveness of others, the blog writing, and now the books: the children’s book, grief journal and a memoir.

I didn’t plan any of these things, they all sort of happened out of the needs of others – Abi was dying but other lives could be changed from her organs, people wanted to give money in Abi’s memory so the fundraising happened, I heard from people who had been bereaved so the blog writing developed, and by listening to what would help others the ideas for the books came about.

The books, I hope, will be like Jesus’s bread – using one story – the story of our loss – to help many others.

 

 

Would you like to donate to help me publish a children’s book about dying?
Just £1 will make a big difference to help me get the book out there to comfort children like ours who have been bereaved.

For more information click the JustGiving logo below: