A Year Ago Today: A journey through grief and what I have learnt.

A year ago today we sat in an ICU relatives room being told that today was the day that they would turn off my Mum’s life support.

Those few days were a tough and exhausting journey.

In November 2013 we discovered that she had a brain tumour. On January 8th 2014 the doctors operated on it. The operation was complex and took 14 hours. In their eyes it was a success. However, the next 48 hours proved fatal as it emerged that she also had an infection in her pacemaker that caused septicemia, and this combined with the brain surgery overwhelmed her already fragile body.

Those few days opened my eyes.

This was my first experience of ICU. There were critically ill people everywhere. Attached to machines keeping them alive. Many of whom would recover and yet many of whom would not make it or at least only ‘make it’ through to a life dramatically different from their previous one.

Mothers,
Fathers,
Sons,
Daughters,
Sisters,
Brothers,
Friends,
Lovers,
Husbands,
Wives.

And the waiting room was full of people waiting for them. But unlike most waiting, it was often waiting to see whether a loved one would live or die. Waiting to see what that life-changing injury, illness or surgery would do. What it would look like within their family. To say goodbye or to welcome someone back. And even if they came back, their life may be radically changed.

And in that room it was different. A different perspective. An unsaid understanding that people were fighting a battle. That people were riding a storm.

Waiting.
Hoping.
Loving.
Holding on.
Surviving.

When you left that room and went out into the wider hospital or world outside, it was different. Staff at work. People visiting patients. A coming and going of life and normality….for some.

But our experience was far from normal.

There was a part of me thankful to have been there and seen it. To be there and remember & realise that while we go through our ‘normal’ lives, others are facing turmoil, crisis & pain. Sometimes it’s hidden away behind a door titled ICU in the middle of a hospital. Sometimes it’s in a hospice down the road. Sometimes in a house next door. Sometimes it’s hidden in the lives of those you work with, walk past, sit next to on the bus. The shop assistant, the teacher, the security guard, the single mum.
 
People are hurting even though you may not know.

wolken

We lost my Mum a year ago. A year ago I experienced my first real experience of personal grief, along with all the questions and thoughts that go through your mind.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.” – C.S. Lewis

For the first few days & even weeks after it happened, I felt an anxiety & what was like a ‘fear’ I hadn’t felt before. The above quote from C.S. Lewis resonated with me. It’s a feeling like anxiety and fear and yet you are not actually afraid. A heaviness. A pain within. A pressure that builds up inside you and you don’t know what to do with it. The thought of going out and seeing people you know can be hard. A ‘fear’ grips you. An anxiety I had not felt before.

And yet…

I chose to push through, to fight, knowing that I couldn’t let those feelings debilitate me. I had to push through, to break through. To discover purpose through pain. To face the questions. To let go of guilt & embrace the way forward. The way out. The way that sees good triumph over evil. The way that does not allow death to destroy.

I have learnt that the best way in life is not denial.
It is to face challenges head on.
Knowing that you will get battered through the journey.
But knowing that taking a battering and coming through stronger is better than allowing yourself to be destroyed inside due to denial.

So that is the journey I have walked. A journey that turns difficult things into challenges that make you stronger and wiser. A journey of self-awareness. A journey that helps you to feel more empathy & compassion for others. And a journey that becomes part of your identity, but that does not define who you become.

Some great words that someone sent me at the time that really helped.

So, one year on, I sit here and I remember the pain. I remember the exhaustion. I remember those days in hospital where my loving God was my only strength & the source of the deep peace I felt throughout. When words from the Bible, music & other inspiration carried me and become an anchor that held me tight.

I remember the relief when my husband, Matt, was able to come to London a day after my Mum died. I remember the drive back to Leicester in the car: utterly spent, physically & emotionally exhausted and yet finally being able to share with my husband the full journey of the last few days.

I remember when I got home. The desperate need to find a photo of my Mum looking healthy, so as to replace the image of someone who hardly looked human lying in that hospital bed. Grotesquely swollen from head to foot. Covered in wires.

I remember the pain, the questions & things to work through in my mind. The tears. The memories. The exhaustion of sleep lost, of pushing through.

But here we are a year on.
Today marks the anniversary of that day.

I have learnt that each person deals with and faces grief differently. There are few rights and wrongs. I have always felt grief was much easier for me than some. Partly, because I lived over 3 hours away from my parents. Our lives were no longer as intermingled as they were as I was growing up. I did not have to look daily at the empty chair. I was not reminded hourly, daily of the person lost. And perhaps because my relationship with her was quite complex anyway and had been for a long time. (Although that brings its own challenges into the grieving process).

And yet I know that what gets me through this, and all the things we face, is an ability to see the positive amidst the negative. A training of the mind to face challenges head on & to learn and grow through them. An inner strength that comes from my deep relationship with God. An innate gratefulness that there are always blessings, hope & joys in life to be found – even amidst the pain of death.

While we were in the ICU waiting room there was a couple waiting for their 20 year old son to wake up. He had been in an accident & was in a coma. They didn’t know if he would wake at all.

They waited,
ate,
slept,
and washed,
in that hospital waiting room.

They had been there about 10 days. They didn’t want to leave in case he woke up and they were not there.

On that Friday afternoon my family sat with my Mum as they turned off her life-support. An agonising time which seems to go on forever as the heart continues to beat for a good few minutes after the breathing has stopped. And the heart rate goes up and down until finally, agonisingly slowly, dropping to zero.

It was horrible.

I tried to put music on my phone and hold it to my ear to drown out the beeps of the heart monitor that lie to you that a person who is gone is still there.

However, as we left the ICU that day for the final time, I saw that couple we hardly knew still waiting for their son to wake. We had shared a connection. We had shared the pain of watching a loved one in the throes of death. And as I looked up at that mother she immediately knew what had happened.

That anxious mother, who did not know if her son would live or die, responded like this:

She held me.

In that significant moment, someone I hardly knew hugged me.
With a touch that I needed.
A touch that understood and felt the pain.

And I whispered to her, with all the strength I could muster “I really do hope things are different for you.” She replied with deep gratitude and briefly shared how touched she was for someone to say that in the midst of their own pain.

I will never know what happened to that family. But I do hope things went well for them.

Never let your pain define you.
Never become so consumed with yourself that you cannot feel another’s pain.
Instead allow your heart to become tender.
Allow yourself to reach out to others amidst your own struggles & vulnerabilities.

Everyone you meet is facing some kind of battle. Some are having to fight harder than others at that moment.

The beauty of humanity is that suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart. It has the power to break through masks, if we let it, because it touches who we really are.

And we all need that:
Sometimes our hearts need to be exposed.
Our weaknesses need to be seen.

Because it is then we realise that we are ALL just fragile humans. It is then we realise that we are ALL more similar than maybe we thought. It is then we know that we ALL face challenges and we ALL feel pain.

So let’s choose to journey through life with compassion and care. Understanding that we are not dissimilar. We do not need to fight one another. Instead we can support one another and choose to ‘hold’ one another even in the midst of our own pain.


Suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart.


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Perspective: Stepping back from the detail to see the bigger picture

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

Yesterday I was painting a mural on a wall at my girls school. In the evening I was talking to my husband Matt and I was saying that because the picture is so big, as you are designing and painting it on the wall, you have to keep stepping back to get a better perspective. When you are next to the wall, drawing or painting, you lack the ability to see the bigger picture. You can’t quite see if something is straight or big enough or if it fits together ok with the rest. So you have to keep stepping back to take it all in and see how everything is fitting together.

It’s all about perspective:
When you are close to the details you can’t see the bigger picture.

Perspective is so important in life.
Perspective often dictates our response to situations.
Perspective is often limited to our view of the details in front of us.

For instance, if I have a critical or negative perspective about something or someone, I will tend to see everything from that perspective. Even if something good happens or the person does something good, I will often not see it, because I will only see what was wrong. Unfortunately, I will also communicate to others from that perspective, meaning that they too are now being influenced by my limited negative and critical perspective.

On the other side of the spectrum, when you love someone you should have the opposite perspective. (We often use the old ‘rose tinted glasses’ saying to describe seeing things from a rosy perspective when we are overly positive or especially when we are in love!) When you love someone you see them and what they do through different eyes. You demonstrate compassion and understanding. You choose to see more from their perspective rather than just your own. Because love is primarily about sacrificing your selfishness for another. Which means thinking less of yourself and more about them.

So perspective matters.

So much of what we do is connected to our attitude and perspective. How we choose to ‘see’ affects so much of what we do.

I may not be able to change the world I see around me, but I can change the way I see the world within me. -John Maxwell

Grunge Background

Sometimes we can become so consumed with our day to day lives, struggles and priorities that we can lose the bigger picture. We are so focused on ourselves and what we need to do that we become blinded to the challenges that others face, which in turn means we can lack empathy and understanding.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Sometimes we need to look around us and choose to ‘see’ with a larger and more understanding perspective. Sometimes we need to see with ‘new eyes.’

New eyes of:
Gratitude
Compassion
Love
Generosity
Kindness
Forgiveness
Renewed hope, purpose & vision.

Often it’s not until a traumatic change takes place in our lives that we really ‘value’ the normality of our everyday lives. It’s not until we lose something or somebody that we realise that we maybe valued the wrong things. It’s all linked to perspective.

However… we don’t need to wait until something bad happens to us or someone close to us to change our perspective. We can choose to do it now. Sometimes we do not need a major change in our lives. Instead we have to choose to see things differently. Sometimes we need to see life and the people who surround us with ‘new eyes’. Maybe we need to open our eyes to a new way of thinking and a new way of relating to the world.

It’s then we realise that our problem was not really the circumstances of our lives but was instead our limited perspective and view of it.

What will our lives look like if we choose to ‘open our eyes’ to a new perspective?

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

Who am I…. Really? Embracing our uniqueness in a world full of labels.

Who am I? Why am I here? What is all this about? What’s the point of life? What difference can I make? What defines me?

Whoever you are. Whatever you do. I am sure you have faced those questions. Sometimes they knock at our minds when we face those rare moments when there is no noise around us. Sometimes they mould and define us as we carve out our place in this world. Some of us never truly discover the answers.

Many of us are defined by the titles and boxes of what we do: I am a parent, I am a nurse, I am a teacher, an IT consultant, a cleaner, a banker, a student, an employee, a manager, a boss, a leader. Often that is all the world around us wants to know ‘What do you do?’ As if by knowing what you do it can quickly sum up ‘Who you are’ and more importantly ‘how significant or important’ you are.

But that is only part of the story.

As John Maxwell says: “In our culture, people ask, “what do you do?” not, “who are you?” or “How are you making a difference?”. Most people place too much emphasis on titles and position instead of on impact.”

from darkness

So some of us look to personality types: I am an introvert, an extrovert, a thinker, a doer, an explorer, realist, creative, pioneer….

All these things help us to explain who we are and help other people to understand us more. But these things can also place us in boxes that we can’t escape from. Boxes that are only half the story. (I always find myself in the middle of a few, struggling to pin point labels that actually make sense of who I really am.)

What if we were less caught up by trying to be ‘defined’ by positions, titles and labels and more caught up in discovering and embracing our own uniqueness. Instead of allowing ourselves to be dictated by the boxes we are placed in, and place ourselves into, what if we gave ourselves and others the space to find out who we really are and who we are meant to be.

Losing stereotypes.
Looking beyond titles.
Seeing the real person rather than just their position.
Speaking about people as individuals, rather than grouping them together under headings that supposedly define them.
Allowing people to break free from their past and the labels that have been attached to them.


What if we were less caught up by trying to be ‘defined’ by position, titles and labels and more caught up in discovering and embracing our own uniqueness.


These questions have defined a lot of my life. My life’s journey has often battled the quest for labels and titles that ‘define me’. Names that I can hold up as badges to explain who I am and gain credibility & others approval, in a world where people love to feel ‘important’. And while I have, at times, desired those badges, they often seem to have eluded me. (Which has, at times, been a challenging journey and a personal battle I have had to face.)

But I have learnt that until I stop trying to be defined by ‘titles’ or ‘positions’, I will not push through to discover who I am really meant to be. Until I give up the need to explain to others who I really am and instead just BE who I am, I will not allow others room to be who they really are, regardless of their labels, titles or positions.

So I choose to believe that it is not ‘how important’ we sound that defines us. It is not the boxes of labels, titles and positions, whether self-imposed or imposed on us by others, that dictate who we really are.

We are who we are.
An individual.
A one-off.
With a unique past, present and future.
Not to be tied down by one definition.
Not to be defined by someone else’s words or phrases.


Until I give up the need to explain to others who I really am and instead just BE who I am, I will not allow others room to be who they really are


I wonder what life would be like if we all stepped back from the badges, titles, positions and labels that have defined us all for too long. And instead sought to be real and honest with ourselves.

Seeking to discover the:
Gifts,
Talents,
Idiosyncrasies,
Uniqueness
That we all have.

And just get comfortable in our own skin.

from darkness

Pressing on…..Regardless. My journey to starting a blog in 2015.

It’s a new year. A new day. A new season. What will it bring? What changes will evolve or be thrust upon us this year? What new challenges will we face? And what new adventures shall we embrace?

At the start of 2015 I have decided to put to paper (or I should say screen) what I have felt for a while in my heart. I am going to start to write. Everyone who knows me well knows that I love words. This is because I believe that words are powerful.

Words have the power…
to uplift,
encourage,
inspire,
motivate,
and touch people deeply.

Words can also….
take away,
hurt,
damage,
control
and wound people deeply.

Words, whether used rightly or wrongly, are powerful. So at the start of 2015 I have decided to start writing. This year that ‘writing’ begins in this blog.

I have been considering doing this for a couple of years. But when I have thought it through I have usually dismissed the idea asking:

Who am I to write?
Who wants to listen to what I have to say?
What am I going to write about?
What if no one reads it?
What is the point of writing if not to be read and heard?

However, then as we approached 2015 I felt that prodding again in my heart. To PRESS ON REGARDLESS!

writing

Regardless of:
Who wants to listen.
The impact quantified.
The applause given.
The approval gained.

Because none of that is important. (It feels important at the time but the importance gained is only temporal). When your heart says write. You should write. When God says write, you should listen, and respond…… Regardless!

Because life is not about:
The approval gained.
The applause given.
The impact quantified.
Who wants to listen.

It is about following the still small voice in your heart that knows you better than you know yourself. The one who knows the future panned out for you. Who created you for a purpose. The author of life. And the architect of words.

So in 2015 I choose to write. And primarily I write for an audience of one. Because that is what is right. Because that is all that really matters.

And yet….
If anyone else is inspired, encouraged or challenged by these words. Let it be so. I write because this is who I am. I write because this is who I was created to be. And in 2015 my resolution is to write.

Regardless of the ifs and buts.
Regardless of the results.

So today, I invite you & others to join me on this personal journey of courage (it is taking a lot of that) as I explore life with words, thoughts and observations. As I attempt to somehow convey some of the complexities, perceptions, questions & thoughts that fly around my mind.

I do still hope that some of you might connect with the words. Be inspired. Be encouraged. And maybe at times even challenged.

And if I do look for a response – let it be this: That you will also find the courage to pursue what is impressed upon your own hearts. Regardless of the ‘results’.

writing