Jane’s Blog

The TCF weekend … collective remembering and ritual


How is it to openly share your grief and your pain with others; others, who like you are also recently bereaved.    I had wondered what it would be like to spend the weekend cloistered away with parents whose children had also died.      What would be it be like to be in a room potentially overflowing with grief and sadness, a room full of so many other tragic stories, a room where dry eyes would be the exception rather than the rule.

The short answer is a weekend full of kindness, much patience, understanding, even laughter, and an extraordinary sense of safety… but also very, very draining.    This is what Jane and I experienced last weekend at The Compassionate Friends annual gathering.

The Compassionate Friends has been going for over 40 years in which time its work of supporting bereaved parents has answered a need right across the globe.  If a charity has a USP it will be its ethos of honouring and remembering each child by name and in helping the parent to develop and maintain a ‘continuing bond’  with the dead child.    And unlike other charities members of TCF are all bereaved – it is not run by people who ‘don’t know’ telling us how to cope.

TCF has local support groups up and down the country that meet regularly, but once a year there is a “gathering’ for a weekend of collective remembering and ritual.

Grief is a weird emotion.   If only because it is actually very hard to pin down and it means so much more to different people.    It is now 19 months and 27 days since Josh died and in that time we have experienced more ups and downs, more conflicting and confusing feelings and thoughts than I would have thought possible for the human psyche to bear.   There have been times when I have completely and absolutely forgotten that Josh has died, only for that “harsh reality” to come crashing back into my consciousness.   There was a day recently when, after a long cycle ride with a friend, I realized that I had gone a whole eight hours without thinking of Josh at all.      What meeting with other bereaved parents does is to reaffirm that guilt, anxiety, loss of confidence, extreme recklessness, bad manners, are all normal behaviour of all human beings, only exaggerated big time for people who mourn.     The TCF provide a space for that excess to be contained and to be made safe.

Jane and I were met at Norhampton station by Anna, a young 23 year old whose sister Jessica had been killed crossing the road five years ago.   As I sat in the back of the car, listening to the ease of her conversation with Jane, it became apparent that Anna belonged to that generous section of humanity, that was good at listening, people who on first encounter would ask “…and who are you here for?”

One of the problems that face bereaved parents in particular is how to find acceptance among their friends and family for such extreme emotions and behaviours which will last perhaps for the rest of their own lives.  When a child dies we as parents are fundamentally and radically changed, but this is not perhaps recognized, particularly in the culture where death is so often not talked about, where the funeral is seen as closure rather than as a rite of passage to a new and difficult period in our lives, and where mourning is seen in terms of a discrete time zone, something that we go through and then ‘move on’.

So when Jane and I walked into the hotel for the TCF ‘gathering’ we left all this behind.     We were joined by our friends, Amanda and Gillian whose sons. Conrad and Bruno lost their lives in a coach crash in Thailand last year.

At times I did find the atmosphere intense but there was always space to get away.    The weekend gave us focus with TCF providing a number of variously themed discussion groups .. death by suicide, sudden death, death abroad, the symbolism of tattoos– there was a fathers only group which I made a bee line for.    Men as we know find it difficult to express painful emotion, and women are often left shouldering much of the burden of grief.

The sessions were perhaps a little short, discussion sometimes had just got going when it was time to move to the next event in the programme.

But in a way the specifics of any one session really didn’t matter.  Whatever the subject, they all equally gave opportunity to meet talk and share.     In the afternoon Jane and I co-hosted  a discussion on losing a child abroad, in which we showed our film of Joshua’s funeral.   A tenuous link perhaps between the importance of creating meaningful ritual and the issues arising from a death on foreign soil, but we all found common link in expressing the pain of loss and in discussing ways to survive it.

The TCF is primarily a parents support group but it has of late been trying to develop its services for those whose brother or sister has died.    Although small in number, it was this sibling group who for me made two of the more significant contributions to the weekend.      Adam Fouracre gave the keynote speech in which he outlined the work of his charity  “Stand Against Violence”.    Adam’s brother died in a drink fuelled attack late one night and the charity now campaigns in schools and young offender institutions.    Using his powerful film depicting a reconstruction of the attack Adam is trying to raise awareness among young people of the choices they make when ordinary youthful high spirits turn to deadly violence.

The closing session of the weekend was a bit, shall we say, old fashioned, a beautiful candle lighting ceremony for all our love ones as their names appeared on the screen.    Then a second contribution from the siblings.    They’d spent the previous afternoon creating some very wonderful poetry which they read out in unison and to quite powerful effect.   Finally it was a bereaved brother, Ben whose song with its words, ‘its OK its OK its OK…’   brought me closest to emotional breakdown.

Jane to take part in radio series ….

I’ve  been interviewed by BBC Radio Gloucestershire as part of a radio series examining what happens to somebody’s social media presence, after they die?

The feature includes interviews with social media experts, and explores the reasons behind keeping someone’s memory alive on-line, after death.

In the case of ‘Beyond Goodbye’, I speak about why we wanted to create an on-line tribute to Josh, and how the website has become a living memorial.

The series will be aired in mid September on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, and hopes to spread awareness and understanding about bereavement and the power of social media.





Ministry of Sound and Cirencester college in talks about 4 week placement scheme in memory of Josh

It’s not been absolutely confirmed yet but the Ministry of Sound are offering a four week placement for a final year student from the Media departments of Gloucestershire colleges.   This is something that Jane has been trying to set up for sometime and has now brought the MOS together with Andy Freeman from Cirencester College.  As many of you may know, Joshua spent the last two years of school at Cirencester College before moving to London where he began work for the ‘Ministry’.  So we’re absolutely thrilled to see this collaboration come off.  It’s still very early days, and we don’t know if the student will be selected, or enter a competition, but the scheme will run annually and hopefully involve colleges and music departments throughout Gloucestershire.

If you have any thoughts about which institutions might like to take part please let Jane know via the comments section below.

We also need to come up with a title for the scheme – any ideas ditto!




Don’t worry – you can’t catch my grief! – by Jane

Many people find it hard to know what to say or to do when meeting with a friend who has been bereaved.      It has been difficult for us and for our friends to find a way to share painful and confusing feelings about Joshua’s death.        In one sense these past months have been a steep learning curve as we’ve struggled to comfort one another.        What are the right words?   How can I make things better?     Even subtle avoidance of talking about Josh.     So I have gathered  some of my own thoughts as well as words from others that I feel sum up what can be helpful.



  • Please talk about my loved one, even though he is gone.    It is more comforting than pretending he never existed.
  • Be patient with my agitation. Nothing feels secure in my world.
  • Don’t abandon me with the excuse that you don’t want to upset me. You can’t catch my grief.  My world is painful and when you are too afraid to call or visit or say anything, you isolate me at a time when I most need to be included. If you don’t know what to say, you can just say that “I don’t know what to say, but I care and want you to know that.”
  • I will not recover. This is not a cold or the flu. I’m not sick. I am grieving and that’s different. My grieving may only begin 6 months after my loved one’s death. Don’t think that I will be over it in a year. My whole world has changed and I will never be the same.
  • I will not always be grieving so intensely but I will never forget and rather than recover, I want to include his life and love into the rest of my life.
  • I don’t understand what you mean when you say ” you’ve got to get on with your life”……..my life is going on.
  • Don’t tell me that everything happens for a reason. Some things in life are unacceptable.
  • Please don’t say “call if you need anything”……I will never call as I have no idea what I need but here are some ideas that may help.    Send me a card on special holidays, his birthday and the anniversary of his death, and be sure to mention his name. You can’t make me cry. The tears are here already and I will love you for giving me the opportunity to shed them because someone cared enough to reach out on this difficult day.
  • Ask me more than once to join you for lunch, a film or a walk and please don’t give up on me because somewhere down the line, I may be ready and if you have given up then I really will be alone.
  • Understand how different every social situation feels and how out of place I can feel where I used to feel so comfortable.
  • Don’t worry if I seem to be getting stronger and then suddenly I seem to slip backwards. Grief is like that.  And please don’t tell me you know how I feel or that it’s time to get on with my life. What I need now is time to grieve.
  • Most of all thank you for being my friend and for your patience. Thank you for caring.
  • And in the days or years ahead, after your loss- when you need me as I have needed you- I will understand. And I will come and be with you.


Beyond Goodbye at Southbank festival – a review

Here’s a great review from our friend Jack Nathan about Jane and Joes talk at the festival of death for the living …………………………………………….


Attending the ‘Everything you always wanted to know about funerals (but were afraid to ask)’ session was always going to be painful. I went in dread and ‘excited’ anticipation as I knew I was going to hear from two panel members, Jane (mother) and Joe (brother), talking about surviving the profound and still raw grief of losing Josh: a young man lost to an arbitrary event, euphemistically labelled, ‘a road traffic accident’, thousands of miles from home, whilst on a ‘trip of his lifetime’ in Vietnam. Continue reading

The Daily Undertaker interview with Jane and Jimmy

Here’s a link to an interview we did with Patrick McNally of THE DAILY UNDERTAKER Patrick asked some very interesting questions about how we organised Josh’s funeral, why we chose to “do it ourselves”, what it meant for us to create our own funeral rite for Josh.

“I was so driven by the wish not to be afraid that Josh was dead but had no idea how to do that but by the end of the celebration of his life I somehow felt a lot less afraid than I had done.”

“Two young police officers had brought us the news of Joshua’s death and for his body to be committed by more unknowns felt just too much – you can’t hug a policeman, neither did I feel like hugging an undertaker – it felt like the only way to properly deal with this was to gather family and friends around and share our grief, and not just for half an hour at the “crem”. Jimmy