Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The silly season

It's a peculiar time of year.  I find myself getting swept up in amidst a throng I am not entirely sure I'm ready for.  Most of the world seems preoccupied, inhabited by an alarm, a panic, a countdown.  

Christmas is coming.  Yes, that's right.  There is a week until Christmas Eve.  And part of me wants to say, and so what?  

This year has brought with it a great gift.  Clarity.  I can see more clearly what it is that, just for today, matters to me.  I know, I think better than I did before, what it is that I stand for.  And what it is that I value.  
I am reminded this week of the struggles that so many face during the hype-ridden season.  

I will, I know, spend a fair amount of time over the coming days discussing with different clients strategies to survive the holidays.  For the bright lights and loud music are not a recipe for fun for everyone, and nor is the opportunity to spend extended periods of time 'en famille'.

Christmas, with its emphasis on kinship, can serve as a difficult reminder of what we don't have.  When others are celebrating, we might find ourselves reconnecting to a sense of loss, missing loved ones who are not around.  We might be living the nightmare of having someone we care about suffering with ill health or in hospital.  Families who find themselves living in limbo, when someone has disappeared may feel desperately incomplete, with someone absent from the luncheon table.  

Christmas is not, for some people, the season to be jolly.  And that's OK too.  The key, perhaps, is in an acceptance that Christmas, like any day of the calendar, is 24 hours to be lived through.  One day at a time.  

Monday, 15 December 2014

Feeling my way through

Losing a parent is something that we can not, I think, ever be fully prepared for.  Even an expected death brings with it a maelstrom of emotions which themselves take time and energy, and need space.

Our relationships with those who brought us into the world are beautifully complex.  The feelings we hold in relation to our parents usually run deep.  The process of mourning such a loss is an important one, and in my brief experience, I have come to understand the importance of expressing my thoughts and feelings.  Finding spaces to do this openly has been a tremendously valuable, if not crucial, part of a healing process I am in the midst of.

What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose.  
All that we love deeply becomes part of us.
Helen Keller

My goodbyes started some time ago.  My mother, as I knew her, began to fade earlier this year.  Like a string of Christmas fairy lights with a dodgy fuse or twisted wiring, the bulbs started to twinkle less brightly, and flickered inconsistently.  

Hers was not to be a long and drawn out goodbye but there has been something of an unfolding process that has been in motion for several months. 

Grief is entirely unique.  I have been offered wonderful advice, and sage counsel.  And we are all so wonderfully different.  No one, I think, grieves in exactly the same way.  This is what makes us simple humans such complicated creatures.  We do our emotions in our own, unique, way.  Grief is shaped by the individual relationship, and the circumstances surrounding the ending.  The support structures we have in place, our outlook on life and belief systems are also influential as we negotiate the hurdles that a loss throws in our way.

Many a smiling face hides a mourning heart; 
but grief alone teaches us what we are.
Friedrich Schiller

Grief cannot be timetabled.  There are no dos or don'ts.  It is a highly individual process that we do in our own way, and in our own time.  'One day at a time' is, once again, something of a mantra for me just now.  I take each day as it comes, and have stayed close to people who take me as they find me.  

The best thing we can do with our feelings is precisely that:  feel them.  Mourning feels to have amplified and then re-tuned my emotional piano.  I have encountered combinations and sequences the likes of which I have not previously known.  I have tried to 'go with it', without knowing what 'it' is exactly, and without much clue as to where it is that my emotions are taking me, or how we might get there.  Talking things through has, strangely enough, been something I've found enormously helpful.

Allowing people help me is not always something that comes naturally.  This year I've learnt how to ask for help, and how to accept what is usually very forthcoming.  Grief is hard work and hard work, I've found, is often made a lot less burdensome when there are a few of you to bear the load.  The skill lies in identifying, and then associating with, those who have something to offer you: those who are able, for whatever reason, to fully acknowledge your loss, and listen to you as you express your grief.  

Finally, mourning requires one to 'keep it simple':  in coming to terms with a death you cannot ignore the fact that we have basic needs which we neglect at our peril.  Feelings of loss and sadness are fatiguing; everything takes a little longer, and usually requires more energy.  Grief insists that we slow down to really become acquainted.  I have appreciated the reminder to listen to and look after my mind and body.  I have tried to eat well, and get enough rest.  In between the necessary admin, I have read poetry, and I have got outside.  I have given myself space to b-r-e-a-t-h-e and f-e-e-l.  

Grief never ends...  But it changes.  It's a passage, not a place to stay.  
Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith...  It is the price of love.  

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Light and Warmth

I was touched to be asked to accompany some dear friends to a local hospice's carol service.  I am so glad I went.  This special carol service is an opportunity to remember those who are no longer with us. 

It was dedicated to the hospice's specialist nursing team who do sterling work providing compassionate end of life care to the inpatient and outpatient community they serve.  Whilst my mother did not directly benefit from this hospice's care, as a family we will never forget the tremendous tailored package she received whilst still living at home from a similar hospice in recent years.  My heart sang out the words of carols I have known since I was small, in the same church I attended with my family when I was small.  I felt a sense of connection with the community we were then part of, and valued the opportunity to return and rejoin at this most significant juncture in my experience.

We stood together.  We lit candles together.  We walked alongside one another.  We sat together.  We sang together.  We were there for ourselves, and for those we wished to remember, and in being there we were there for one another.      

The last few years have been anything but straightforward.  The path has taken twists and turns no one could have foreseen.  A great many of the challenges have been made far more approachable than they might otherwise have been with the help of the dedicated and consummate professionals we have been truly fortunate to encounter along the way.  It was this gratitude that the carol service reminded me of most powerfully.   

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company...  a church...  a home. 
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past...  we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...  I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. 
And so it is with you...  we are in charge of our attitudes.
Charles Swindoll

Monday, 8 December 2014

The privilege

I now know that whoever it was that described being with someone in their final moments as a privilege was absolutely right.  A week ago I did not have the experience to understand fully the meaning of the statement.

We don't come into this world alone...  This passing thought brought with it some clarity that to my reflections as I paused awhile to consider my decision to be present at a loved one's death.  To be there.  To really be there.  

Now, I have no choice but to see with your eyes,
so I am not alone, so you are not alone.

Yannis Ritsos

I was there, and I'm glad I was.  It was something I wanted to do.  I honoured she who gave me life, by being there as hers ended.  I hope it brought her the comfort I think I gained by being there.  

Death is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about.  Wearing my professional hat I have amassed and percolated some knowledge of the different psychological theories relating to loss, and endings, grief and mourning.  But books, abstracts and articles, training days and CPD lectures only go so far.  They are someone else's take on something we will all encounter at some stage.

People fear death even more than pain.  
It's strange that they fear death.  
Life hurts a lot more than death.  
At the point of death, the pain is over.  
Jim Morrison

Life and death cannot, I think, be truly separated from one another, and yet it is very easy to disconnect from the latter.  The shame of this is that few of us will have the difficult conversations until it's too late, by which time they are very much more difficult.  

Whilst death surrounds us, most of us try to remain as oblivious as we can manage.  We try not to see it, and therefore attempt to avoid thinking about it, let alone speaking about it.

This week I discovered exactly how many decisions there are.  A great many of them can be given thought ahead of time, allowing them to simply be acted upon when the time comes.  Leaving such things unconsidered can mean that matters that could (and perhaps should) be given ample consideration, are rushed and the resulting outcomes are not necessarily as personal as they might be.

Death is about so much more than saying goodbye, but we need to say goodbye in order to fully comprehend and move into the transition it represents.  The rites and rituals that we surround the completion of life with can be helpful without being meaningful:  if we board a runaway vehicle we run the risk of missing the very journey which we might benefit most from taking.  

True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed.
It is a committed, thoughtful decision.
M. Scott Peck

Monday, 1 December 2014


Breathing is one of the most important principles in Pilates.  But the Pilates breath is a different one: lateral breathing is an art I have yet to master.  You breathe out when you're exerting energy.  I find I need to exhale a lot.

Pilates is a fitness system that was developed in the early 20th century and gets its name from its pioneer, German-born Joseph Pilates.  There is a large following worldwide, especially in the US (where Pilates lived, developed and taught his method) and the UK.  

In his book 'Return to Life through Contrology', Joseph Pilates presents his method as the art of controlled movements, which should look and feel like a workout (not a therapy).  If practiced with consistency, Pilates improves flexibility, builds strength, develops control and endurance in the whole body.  These are my aims.  Pilates puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, and developing a strong powerhouse, whilst improving coordination and balance.  

Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.  
In ten sessions you will feel the difference, in twenty you will see the difference, and in thirty you'll have a whole new body.
Joseph Pilates

In the unfortunate absence of a natural predisposition, my primary tools for this new project are proprioception, kinesthetic awareness, and persistence.