GOOD GRIEF – Sifting for Gold a review by Jimmy

GOOD GRIEF!

The drive to understand experience, and make sense of the world is as vital as the need to breathe – to eat.     And so it is that trying to understand and give meaning to life’s final moment is equally significant.    This may be a vain attempt to make sense of the inexplicable but for the moment the process of coming to terms with and accepting Josh’s death has inevitably raised the issue of our own mortality – the fear it holds, even the release it promises.     A year and some months on from this tragedy I am beginning to feel accustomed to my grief.    It’s not that life is any easier or that the pain of our loss is any less sharp.     It’s just that I know that pain better and my grief is not such a hostile companion.

What I am also beginning to understand is that we are at the start of a new journey with and without Josh.     And for this I am deeply grateful to our friend Fiona Rodman, a psychotherapist and very wise woman.   The following is an attempt to synthesize some of her ideas as contained in her recent thesis – “Mourning and Transformation – Sifting for Gold.”  (MA University of Middlesex)

Sifting for Gold

After I had read Fiona’s thesis for the first time, I had a real sense of a burden lessened; that the grief I had felt for Josh was less complicated and more natural than I had previously supposed it to be.      Here was an account of the mourning process, told not just from a theoretical perspective, but illuminated with the real insight from her own personal experience.    Fiona’s mother died at an early age, she endured the break up of a long marriage, and witnessed her father lose his own battle to dementia.        Her journey – her different journeys of coming to terms with these deaths inform her conclusions of what it means to mourn.

To a certain extent I think I have been caught up with what I thought society had expected of me in dealing with Josh’s death…  how to behave, what to say, what to feel.    How could it be otherwise.   Even in this modern age with its fast changing moral and ethical codes, we are so influenced by long standing attitudes to death and its aftermath, that it seems the only the right thing to do is to rely on the consensus and on traditional ideas when we are trying to find a way forward on the journey through grief.     In her essay Fiona, explores the connections and the tensions between personal emotions and public expectations.    What I’d like to do here is to try to extract from this necessarily lengthy and rigorously academic piece of work, some of her basic ideas that have helped me understand a little more some of the thoughts and feelings we have all been experiencing since Josh died.

“Sifting for Gold” is concerned with the transformative power of grief.       Another’s death, particular someone who is close to us and some one we love, is always a life changing event.   This might seem so obvious, it shouldn’t need saying, but until Josh died I hadn’t fully understood how difficult it is for many people to accept this change.     Fear of our own mortality certainly kicks in; confronted with the fact of another’s death, or another person’s loss, our thoughts about the inevitability of our own death become so uncomfortable, they prevent us from truly seeing, or at least acknowledging another’s pain.        As a family, we have all experienced having to skirt round the issue of Joshua’s death, for the sake of not embarrassing a friend or an acquaintance.      Yes, its weird, but to hide one’s own feelings for the sake of another’s shame is, I have found, a common occurrence.        All too often, we hear that people just don’t know what to say, but this becomes understandable when you realise that it’s not just that another’s death is such an ominous reminder, but that the bereaved have indeed undergone a fundamental change.      How that change is managed (or not) is the subject of Fiona’s essay.

Her own mother passed away when Fiona was in her early twenties.    But, it wasn’t until many years later that she discovered that she had not properly mourned her mother’s death.    At the time she had felt dislocated and adrift and that there were deep constraints on sharing her feelings with her immediate family.  “We were close”, she writes,  “as if clinging on to a shipwreck together.  We could not however, weep together, fall apart, sob and hold each other.”     Her father although loving and loyal, belonged to a generation that had known many war deaths; they were the survivors who had been severely traumatized by the horrors of war but who had learnt to suppress open expression of grief.     “Laugh” he would say “and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone”.     Fiona is only now aware of how this view had shaped her own emotional responses, leaving her feeling alone in a world where “the role of tears as communication is completely denied.”

Picnic at Josh's tree - will we eventually have to 'forget' Josh?

The standard model of grieving in 20th century Britain relies heavily on the stoic – our way of doing things has been to keep a lid on our emotions, to be strong and to weep only in private, and to avoid any public display of frailty or despair.    And the advice is to put some kind of time frame on the business of processing loss and to find closure – after Josh died a close friend even counseled that to avoid becoming excessively morbid, we would eventually have to ‘forget’ Josh.      The idea is that sooner or later we must ‘move on’ in order to regain the composure and the equilibrium necessary to continue with the rest of our lives.    To do otherwise is to risk a pathological descent into melancholia and depression and the social exclusion that will inevitably follow.

Death of course is all around us – over 10,000 people die every day in the UK, yet for most of us contact with death is relatively rare and as individuals many us lack the experience as well as the social models to help us deal with grief and those that mourn.      And when death happens unexpectedly many of us are understandably but sadly ill equipped to handle the emotions that ensue.    “We don’t learn to mourn at our mother’s knee” observes Su Chard in our film ‘Beyond Goodbye’ (Su is the celebrant who conducted Josh’s funeral.)      Conflicting feelings of sadness, despair, confusion, anger and guilt, which I’m sure all who knew Josh, will be familiar, need to find expression.        But if the emotional climate of society is such that we show only those emotions deemed appropriate for the occasion then what will happen to the inner rage, the impulse to self-destruct, and high levels of anxiety, ambivalence or even the manic laughter that can overcome us from time to time.   Not being able to mourn her mother Fiona writes of being exposed to terrible and “unlived emotional states.”    Her experience of loss and separation were never really resolved but continued to provoke, “turbulent unintegrated long fingers of pain…that seemed to clamp my heart and block the flow of my being”.

I was faced with a similar ‘block’ when aged 21 (a year younger than Josh) I too was involved in a road accident.    I was on holiday with my girlfriend in the former Yugoslavia, when the car we were traveling in was hit by another, ran off then road and fell into a deep and fast flowing river.    My girlfriend, Gillian could not swim.    She died.   I survived.       Totally unfamiliar with very unexpected feelings (particularly guilt and shame) and without the necessary understanding from friends or family, (and without professional help) I too now understand that I was unable to process my grief in a particularly healthy way.     Much of this really was the isolation that I experienced.    Returning to London, I felt shunned by many of my friends who had their own fears of how to behave, as well as my parents need to protect me from extremes of emotions.       This left me in a place where I felt completely disconnected both from my girlfriend Gillian, as well as from my environment.      At the time I would have seen this as distressing but acceptable, and my attempts to brave my way through it as honorable – the thing to do was to make the best out of a shit situation and to move on.      I had the rest of my life to get on with and to allow a tragedy such as this to mark me felt like failure.      But I had been marked and I had been changed.      And without the adequate means both personally and socially to express my feelings and with no acknowledgement of the importance of the grieving journey, I think I became quite introspective, learning how to cope on my own, actively avoiding close emotional involvement.    I lost contact with Gillian’s family and to a degree I lost my way in life.

But does surviving such untimely tragedies or even the anticipated death of a parent have to be such a lonely experience.      In retrospect Fiona identified a sense of an “arrested capacity to mourn” in the years following her mother’s death.      This led her to explore just what it is within the cultural and psychological life of our society that determines they way we grieve and how mourning has been understood by academics, writers as well as the bereaved themselves.      And going all the way back to Freud she discovers that, after a death, it is the way that we understand our sense of self in the world that plays a crucial role in our ability to regain the necessary psychological balance and the stability to continue living as functional human beings.   “Self” she posits, can be understood in two different ways – there is the idea of the ‘objective separate mind’ and the idea of the ‘subjective interconnected mind’.      The first of these philosophical positions, the idea of the self as a separate finite entity underscores a very western view that we are each (at our core) unique and autonomous individuals existing alongside other individuals in a highly individualistic society.       When it comes to processing trauma, of which grief and mourning come high on the list, our way of dealing with it is necessarily an internal and private journey of gradually loosening our attachment to our lost loved one until equilibrium is restored.     It’s a finite (even measurable) process which if unbounded becomes pathological  – basically you’re sick if you grieve too long.

Contrast this with more contemporary yet still relatively unfamiliar philosophical ideas which shift the emphasis away from the ‘isolated’ self and the separate mind to a more relationally embedded model of the self, in which mourning and recovery are seen as being facilitated or impeded more or less in response to and with the help of others.    Searching out and recording the experiences of fellow travelers in grief, Fiona findings were confirmed in two ways.     First, whilst previous wisdom was heavily influenced by the pressure to get over it and move on, these new ideas revealed mourning to be a two-fold process with a constant oscillation between deep sadness and attempts to reconstruct life.     Now, as I write this, I believe I am in recovery mode.   An hour ago I was experiencing one of those painfully raw moments of missing Josh.    Later the hurt will return.

The second of Fiona’s findings was that processing trauma is not best achieved in isolation – Fiona writes, “we need others deeply alongside us in our mourning, we need to be known.”   Rather than a private, closed, exclusively personal experience, mourning is here seen as an inter-relational process in which dependency on others is vital for us to heal our fractured life, reassert our sense of self and our ongoing being.

It might seem obvious that to share one’s loss and be supported by others can only be of value to the bereaved, but the actual process of mourning extends way beyond any public ritual in which an open (but limited) form of grieving is found acceptable.   The funeral, that necessary rite of passage, has more often been seen as providing opportunity for a final farewell, part of a closure rather than the start of a journey through grief.

Josh's funeral at the Matara Centre

Many people found that our funeral for Josh was not only deeply moving, but it was also quite unique with its emphasis on creating a symbolic journey in which we carried his casket into the main room at the Matara Centre, on to the next and then out into the night.     But if it was remarkable, maybe that’s only because in this country we seem to have lost the idea of a collectivised ritual and its ability to engage in or invent symbolic acts that give meaning to the loss the community is feeling and to the possibilities for healing.

In ‘Sifting for Gold”, Fiona describes her visit to the Musee Branly in Paris (“not like walking into a museum but a prayer”) in which displays of mourning rituals from all over the globe included ceremonial objects that marked death and its journey as being important as much for the mourners as for the deceased; like the carved wooden boat inlaid with mother of pearl, in which the bones of the deceased were finally sent out to sea after the long community ritual.

What is important here is the way a traditional community will come together and create elaborate rituals, in some cases lasting for years, in order not only to register the loss and its impact, but to help construct a voyage to a different relationship with the deceased.     As we know in many traditional cultures, the dead remain as valuable spiritual guides for the living.

Friends help to build Josh's casket

Our family was hugely supported by our local community in organizing Josh’s funeral and their creative involvement deepens the sense of a shared loss as well as providing the impetus for building a new relationship with Joshua.   The viral candle lighting ceremony was highly symbolic of the way we had all been in some way influenced by Josh and could share that with others.

 

But creating this ritualized journey, (as old as time itself) and the possibilities that holds for a communal sense of loss is not so possible in a world where the individual, the lonely and the private self is the norm.

viral candle lighting ceremony

This brings us back to Fiona’s definition of self, of how we see ourselves, our “self”.   Are we unique, separate identities or part of a continuum with the rest of humanity.       In both cases of course we need to relate to others, but within the model that Fiona describes as the intrapsychic or separated self, we can survive without the other in the belief that nothing of our own self has been actually lost.    Not only that, we can endure the loss knowing that our mourning will be a finite process with a final letting go signaling a healthy outcome to our grieving journey.

However if our view of who we are is based on the idea of our “selves” being part of a commonality of all human experience, (a sense that we all more alike than different) and that we exist as relational beings, then when someone close to us dies, we feel that death as a loss of part of our own ‘self’.   I suspect that all those who knew Josh, all those who had any kind of relationship with him, will accept that when he died something inside of them died as well.

CONTINUING THE BOND

Fiona describes the traditional approach to mourning as “a cutting off and a moving on”.    But this need to detach oneself from the deceased has obscured another aspect of the work of mourning – to repair the disruption to the relationship we had (have) with the deceased.

Fiona describes the anxiety and the rawness at the loss of her mother, remembering in detail her illness and her death as if it were yesterday.    “At the same time I could not remember at all.    Such was the pain of bringing her into mind that I could not draw on a sense of continuing relationship with her inside me.”         Twenty years on and in the light of subsequent losses, Fiona identifies this “continuing relationship” with the deceased as key to regaining the confidence and the stability we need to carry on living, to carry on living with another’s death.     She draws on the ideas of psychoanalyst, Darian Leader, that “we need to separate out the loss of the other from the loss of what we mean to them, the person that we were in their eyes”.

the person we were in their eyes

That last phrase “the person that we were in their eyes”.      Eyes that no longer see; the person that we were and are no more.      We lost Josh and what he meant to us, but we also lost that part of us that was Josh and what we meant to him.    Fiona desperately misses being a daughter to her mother, “of mattering to her” and I have not only lost a son I have lost my role as a father to that son.      No longer can I advise and argue with him, no longer can I protect and admire him, no more long phone calls to gather up his news, no more am I his last port of call.

With Joshua’s death we are changed and as much as we need to come to terms with his, or any death we need to acknowledge our changed selves, something I was not aware of when my girlfriend died all those years ago.

Fiona cites the work of  The Compassionate Friends, a self help group that supports parents who have lost their children.    By meeting regularly, mourners are encouraged to name and speak of their child and to hold rituals on important dates.      Memories of the child and the parent’s grief are in this way validated and held in mutual recognition.     “Through this shared space” Fiona writes, “a transformation is facilitated in which the child comes to occupy a different, still living, inside space.     The pain that the child is dead and will never again be present in the way that it was, is given room to be, but through a shared space and over time this other internal journey can take place.”

As I read these lines I wondered how this could be possible.      With only memories and history to sustain us, with no actual Josh, how could a new living relationship grow inside of me?       Then I was reminded of the various creative acts we have done in order to continue our bond with Joshua – the tree planted on a farm where Josh and his friends would often gather, has now become a Mecca for those same friends and family alike, the photographs I have made since he died, the film we produced as a celebration of his life, this website, all are sustenance for our new relationship with him.    And they are all necessarily shared and communicative experiences  – on Josh’s still active Facebook page we talk to him (Josh we talk to YOU) and in speaking of Josh in these varied ways we acknowledge that new relationship not only with him but with each other.

reshaping and continuing the bond

In not relinquishing, in not cutting off from Josh we are in Fiona’s words “reshaping and continuing the bond in a different way, a way that is not a denial that the relationship has changed forever, but a way that honours the place and the significance of the deceased in ongoing life.”

That our ongoing lives have been transformed by Josh death is beyond dispute. Fiona’s conclusion is that it will be the deep inner work of reframing our “self” in relation to others that will make them worthwhile once more.

The title of Fiona’s essay comes from a line she found in one of Alice Walker’s poems – ‘now I understand that grief, emotional speaking, is the same as gold…’ Yes, there are special treasures to be found in our mourning and grief can be good.

 

I miss you Josh

Your Dad, Jimmy (July 2012)

 

 

Fiona Rodman is a psychotherapist and lives near Stroud in Gloucestershire.      She is currently working on her next book – a further exploration of contemporary practices in mourning and grief.   To read “Mourning and Transformation – Sifting for Gold” in full please contact Fiona directly – mailto:fionarodman@gmail.com

 

I am particularly interested to find out how any of Fiona’s ideas might resonate with your own experiences – please leave any comments in the box below

 

Making it Real – Death and Photography … by Rosa

Joshua’s younger sister, Rosa is currently studying on a Foundation Art course at Oxford Brookes University. We are reproducing here an essay she has written as part of her course which explores the themes of photography and death and the way we use the medium as a way of creating memorials to people’s lives. In this essay Rosa posits some very challenging questions – how far, she asks, is the act of taking someone’s photograph a subconscious attempt “to protect ourselves for when that person dies?” To answer this she examines the work of  three very different artists – the American photographer Nan Goldin who captured some of the most intimate and moving images from New York’s gay scene of the 1970’s and 80’s – London based photographer Briony Campbell’s whose “The Dad Project” was a way of saying goodbye with her camera to her father as he lay dying from cancer – and the work  I have produced since Josh’s death, in particular my book “Released”.

I am seriously moved by Rosa’s ability and her desire to use her university projects as a way of understanding what her own work now means in the light of Joshua’s death and for being prepared to share those thoughts with us.    (Jimmy)

 

Making it Real – Death and Photography

In my essay I will be exploring how we take photographs of loved ones with the possibly subconscious aim to memorialise that person after they have died and look at the ways in which we can turn found photos of a lost loved one into prominent memorials of their life.

How far is taking a photograph of someone a response to our fear of death? Is their fear their fear or is it ours? What power does the photograph hold? Does it comfort us in our grief and why? When images of death are all around us, why do we shy away from post-mortem images of people we have known and loved?

I will be structuring the essay around the three stages of taking images as a memorial that I have concluded from some of my research:

–      Taking images before someone has died, when they are certainly alive and healthy yet, with the subconscious idea that the photograph will almost certainly outlive them.

–      Taking images of someone as they physically die, a concept that is almost unheard of in our culture. I ask could this be a way of helping us prepare for their death?

–      Finally, taking and using images of the person after they have died.

 

NAN GOLDIN – keeping the memory alive

 

For a long time the work of New York photographer, Nan Goldin has inspired and influenced my own work. She takes very personal and intimate images of her close friends. She photographs them relaxing at their houses, their drug use and abuse and during sex. Nan Goldin’s body of work is often very shocking to the greater public and has frequently acted as an expose of life during the AIDS epidemic. She recorded some of the most intimate moments of herself and of her friends’ lives.

Goldin grew up in Boston, “in the very middle” of a middle class neighbourhood. When Nan was 11 her older sister who was 18 committed suicide. In Goldin’s documentary film, ‘I’ll be your mirror’, she implies that her sister’s death was a catalyst not just for her photography in general but also for the intimate and personal style of her images.

After leaving college she moved to New York’s lower East Side where she began documenting the post ‘stonewall’ gay scene of the late seventies –“instead of dying at 18, I started to photograph.” Goldin now acknowledges that her sister’s untimely death really shaped her photography in a very subconscious way. She reflects on her photography in the documentary commenting that she “became obsessed with never losing the memory of anyone again”. The irony of course was that by the 1990’s many of her subjects were dead either from aids or from drug overdoses. Goldin’s photographs use an intimate snapshot aesthetic and read rather like a private diary made public. The images all show real moments and real people and let the viewer into her life.

 

Iniatially Goldin took photographs for her personal use. But do portraits taken as a commission or for more public viewing  have the same ‘death instinct’? British photographer David Bailey believes they do: “Photography is all about death really… you look at [old] pictures-they’re always dead. You don’t look at a painting and think ‘she’s dead’ but you look at a photograph and think ‘she’s dead!’

 

Do we all take photographs of the people that we love to capture them in case of death or to protect ourselves for when that ‘subject’ dies? When you are taking an image of a loved one it transforms from just a photograph into a memory, a character and a relationship. This is the element for me, which makes the works of artists such as Goldin so significant and so beautiful.

 

 

Cookie Mueller – 1981

‘The Cookie Portfolio’ as Goldin names it, is a series of fifteen photographs taken over thirteen years of Cookie Mueller – “the starlet of the Lower East Side” and the “queen of the downtown social scene”. The images illustrate Cookie’s character and vitality yet also captures her deterioration and eventual death from AIDS in 1989.

“I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. I put together this series of pictures of Cookie from the 13 years I knew her in order to keep her with me. In fact they show me how much I’ve lost.”


“The Cookie Portfolio” is an excellent example of the way a photographic record of anyone can come to have such a power after they have died.

Goldin’s dilemma highlights a basic contradiction in all photographic portraits especially those of people who have then died; their photograph has an incredible likeness of being to the subject, it invites us to accept consolation from their living image yet, it can also a painful reminder that they are now gone.

The last image in Goldin’s Cookie Portfolio is of Cookie in her coffin. It is extraordinary that in a series of photographs intended to keep the memory of her friend alive that she would include a photograph of her corpse.

Extraordinary not just because of Goldin’s fear of losing her friends ‘living’ memory, but more because in her life and her art she is surrounded by the deaths of those close to her yet, this picture of Cookie in her coffin is one of only a very few she has published of a dead friend. Sex, drugs, deviance, yes – death, no.

However, rewind to the nineteenth century and images of dead people, especially babies, were very common, socially accepted and even valued. At this time, infant mortality was very high and a lot of the time there wouldn’t be enough time to make a photograph of the child before it had died. So the families would photograph the deceased openly and unfortunately this occurred often as in those days infant death was more commonplace.

While images of death as part of our daily news intake, such as the killing of Bin Laden, are quite acceptable, people who now want a post-mortem record can face social opprobrium if they were to take a picture or commission someone to do so. People on the television and in the newspapers remain characters and don’t seem to be real people but people don’t want to acknowledge the death of someone close to them by taking a photograph. Similarly, a lot of people live in the mindset that if we don’t acknowledge death by photographing it then maybe it hasn’t happened.

When my own brother Joshua died last year and I went to see his body in the funeral parlour I didn’t take a photograph. It was impossible for me to do so not only because I was using all of my emotional energy to process what was happening leaving no room for the camera, also it simply isn’t the done thing nowadays.

Perhaps for Goldin who lived through her camera and often shielded herself with it, taking the picture of Cookie’s corpse was a necessary confirmation of her death. For me, the support of my family meant that there was no need to record his lifeless form for posterity – above all it was just too painful.

From personal experience I’ve learnt that we tend to shy away from photographs that depict images of the dead especially when the deceased  is a loved one. Yet, it is surprising that in popular contemporary culture, there are still few acceptable ways of recording the rituals surrounding death and mourning process. When families get together it is often around important moments such as births, marriages and funerals, the latter being the event least photographed. Unlike weddings, there is no industry for funeral photography or videos. This seems strange to me, as death is the only inevitable event in someone’s life. After my brothers death, we as a family collected all the pictures of Josh that we could – a hugely important part of our efforts to come to terms with our loss; these were of course all pictures of Josh alive. Overnight, they had all become memorial photographs – each snapshot acquiring more poignancy… and over time these ‘found’ images of Joshua have gained even more significance being used over and over again: at the funeral, parties, memorial days, and given to people as gifts. For example, the images below were both images which gained significance from their first use as his business card, now as a memento for people to put in their wallets and on their walls to remember Josh. Like Goldin we were using his photograph as a way of keeping Joshua alive.

 

Above – the photograph Josh used for his business card

This image was reproduced and given to mourners at Josh’s funeral

Images, like the ones of Josh, seem to become an icon of a person’s life. On the surface we take images to represent memories and relationships but, when a tragedy happens, I have realised that maybe we take images to prematurely memorialise that character and protect ones self from the inevitable. The images grant us with satisfaction by showing an exact visual replication of that person whilst still alive but at the same time the photos will now always be a reminder that they are now not alive.

 

JIMMY EDMONDS – RELEASED – the photographic illusion

A few weeks later after we received his ashes back from the crematorium, my father, Jimmy Edmonds, started on a photographic project that would be both a memorial to my brother and a record of the way our family was dealing with our loss.

RELEASED - ash clouds §6

This project was published with the title RELEASED.    It can be seen in full here.  He started by photographing Josh’s ashes; he captured them pouring through the air and the clouds of dust that they created.

He then experimented with laying the ashes on top of the photograph shown above of Joshua that had gained significance from being used at the funeral and over and over again. When put together, the ashes and the image formed conflicting ideas: on the one hand, we can see Josh alive, with him looking back to us, placing us in an illusion letting us believe that he is still alive, but the ashes tell us that he is most definitely dead.

 

The thing about a photograph is that even though it captures a moment in time it will almost always outlive its subject matter. My Dad wanted to find a way of making images that more accurately reflected the long process of mourning. Again using a photograph he’d taken of Josh, the one used as his business card, he hand printed them using a nineteenth century technique that used vegetable juice and sunlight – anthotypes. He then combined these bright red images with the ashes and physically stuck the two together. There is no way to fix an anthotype print – in time they will fade. Over time all that will remain will be the ashes of Josh. Nearly all photographs act as an aide-memoir and as such are deceptive. This series of images speaks more to our current reality of life without Josh.

My father was able to use the ashes as a creative material and make some beautiful images not only for the people that knew Josh but also for many people that did not know him. They felt privileged and touched that he had ‘let them in’ to such a tender and normally private part of  our family life by witnessing Josh’s actual ashes as a piece of art.

“All that remains will be – all that remains.”

 

 

BRIONY CAMPBELL – saying goodbye with her camera


My father had time to think about his project – (when someone dies, it is after all forever!). When Briony Campbell’s father was diagnosed with cancer he was told that he had just nine months to live. Briony decided to document this with a series of photographs and an accompanying video called The Dad Project. Unlike Goldin’s work, this was a very much conscious process where both father and daughter collaborated. Each of them had to think carefully about what doing this project would mean for them both:

“I agonised for months over whether I should attempt to photograph our relationship at all”.



We learn from her video that for her father the project meant getting to know his daughter in new ways and spending the last of his days doing something worthwhile and productive. For Briony it was more of a way to say goodbye. She was able to use her camera as a medium to do this, but I suspect that at times it was also a way to distance herself from the reality of the situation.

“Each day that brought his imminent death into sharper focus, my project became more of a crutch, and more of a member of the family. When we had nothing to be positive about, the project gave us a way to be productive”

For my father the photographic process he undertook was more of a reflection on my brother’s death once he had already gone. Campbell’s project was of the moment and dealt with the emotions she had as her father was dying. She did not know what was going to happen next or when exactly he would die from his terminal illness:

“When you find out you’re going to lose someone you love you don’t know what the story is, so you really can’t plan how to tell it.”

When we think of images of a dying family member many people are likely to conjure up stereotypical images associated with death – morbid and painful images that could capture pain, suffering, fear or a variety of other negative emotions associated with death. Of course Campbell’s ‘The Dad Project’ series includes those images. But Campbell also creates a story about love. She does this by creating beautiful photographs in a hopeless situation. The video includes humorous chats with her father and I found myself smiling whilst watching it. Similarly, amongst the heartfelt, painful images are picturesque images of light and colour.

“If it were a painful moment, I tried to make the picture more aesthetically beautiful”.

“Today we knew he would die soon. I went outside and looked at the sky while we waited for the ambulance.”

The series contains both pictures of Campbell’s father as well as some self-portraits although, I would argue that the self-portraits are images of her father dying too. I think these are some of the most important images in the series as they show her bravery. To let people see you at your weakest and most vulnerable I find really incredible. In my opinion these self-portraits fuse the series together as they put the whole thing into context by showing not only the experience of the father’s illness but also the impact the illness has on his daughter. This has the result of humanising the whole process. Death here is not a news item, but an everyday occurence.

 

By taking the images of her father with the conscious aim to memorialise the pictures even before he died, to then take images of herself shows a great understanding and coming to terms with death in general. By photographing herself she is essentially preparing herself for when she dies and exploring this through the images – for me, she is memorialising herself in the images using the same idea of taking a photograph to be there when you are dead.

Most of memorial photography exists of images of smiling people aiming to remember the happy times of a person’s life. Campbell’s work is more of a realistic representation of death and includes photographs that are undoubtedly hard to look at, though the series does also include happy and amusing images. By creating a more rounded view of death and dying, Campbell has somehow reduced the fear that many people have of death. I was able to relate to this by thinking back to the funeral we held for Josh. On the day I felt a bit strange that I wasn’t sad all of the time and I felt quite at ease and cheerful at points through out the day – a lot of our friends said they enjoyed the day and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.

Part of life is that everyone has to die. It is inevitable. At the very least, The Dad Project, opens a door to people and lets them in to this delicate journey.

What becomes clear is that although all three photographers are responding to their encounter with death in very different ways, they are all using photography as a way of coming to terms with loss. For Goldin, photographing her friends is a kind of insurance policy, creating mementos for when they are no longer here. Campbell documents the journey into death in a truly collaborative way and my father is trying to produce new images from my brothers actual remains. And by confronting death and making it real they all go some way to dispelling our fears.

Rosa Harris Edmonds

April 2012

 

Links

Keep up to date with what I am doing at university and in my personal projects here and here.

Briony’s film, ‘Saying goodbye with my camera’ can  be seen here.

Briony’s photographs of ‘The Dad Project’ can be seen here.

Jimmy’s ‘Released’ photographs can be seen here.

 

The Myth of Closure

THE MYTH OF CLOSURE

Whatever your loss, we want people to get over it – so says Pauline Boss in this interview with blogger Kista Tippett.    And this link has been sent to us by Jonny , Josh’s cousin and our nephew who lives in New York.

Lots of ideas to explore here – including the concepts of ambiguous loss and complicated grief and many ways to debunk the myth of closure after loss.     We can live with loss and its OK – its not something we need to put behind us and move on but as we know society does expect just that

Listen when you have time and let us know what you think

Jimmy

June 2016

 

and here’s the link to the original ON BEING.ORG

THE GOOD GRIEF PROJECT – new trailer released!

THE GOOD GRIEF PROJECT has now entered a new phase.   As you will know Jane and I travelled to the USA and Mexico last year in order to meet with and film other bereaved parents as part of an on going project to collect and publish stories of how people grieve for a child.    Seven of these stories now form the substance of our rough cut for a 90 minute documentary which we are hoping to release this coming September along with brand new websites, both for Good Grief and Beyond Goodbye.

And to help promote the project and to keep you all in the loop we have recently completed a short 6 minute trail for the documentary – check it out above.    We hope you like it; we hope you are energised by it and we hope you are as excited about it as we are.   This is our calling card for THE GOOD GRIEF PROJECT and our biggest hope is that it will help us to generate much more publicity and … more funding.

Read more about our plans to develop the project – news of a new website, a new member of the project’s team and how you can get involved here:  Sharing our stories – a new trailer for the documentary

The RING THEORY of ‘kvetching’ or ‘How Not To Say The Wrong Thing’

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Do you know what ‘Kvetching’ is?   No, nor did I till I found it referred to in article written by Susan Silk a clinical psychologist and Barry Goldman a family mediator.  “Kvetching”  is an old Yiddish phrase meaning to moan, grumble or complain continuously about something.    Silk and Goldman have used the idea to explain how not to say the wrong thing to anyone who has been traumatised by those who are close to them.

The concept is simple – those who have been traumatised can kvetch all they like to who ever they like.  Those around them can comfort and be there for them but hold their tongue on any kind of kvetching – unless it’s to some one who is further away from the trauma.

Agreed this is not a very nice way to describe someone who like us is grieving but I think you get the point and I have adapted what they have called the ‘ring theory of kvetching’ to our situation – many bereaved parents and siblings will have had experience of friends and family unwittingly and totally ballsing up by talking about their own experience of grief in the mistaken belief that that will somehow comfort us.   I know that soon after Josh died a distant relative needed to tell me how horrified and upset he had been after a cousin had been murdered some twenty years ago.   He meant well but I was left wondering what the hell I was supposed to do with this information.   Was I supposed to comfort him, empathise with him, put my arms around him, when every bone and fibre of my body was still reeling from the death my son.  Where was I going to get the energy to respond to this story sympathetically or even angrily?   I said nothing but the subsequent silence between us and the simmering hurt and resentment lasted for a long time.   I know my relative meant well but had fallen prey to a common misconception about the needs of the recently bereaved.

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Silk and Goldman came up with a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake.    The above diagram describes our relationship to others should we find ourselves in the unenviable position of suffering the death of a son or daughter – always a hugely traumatic event.   Their advice though is directed towards the social circles around us.   Ands what they suggest for friends and relatives of the bereaved is this ..

Draw a circle. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. In our case that would be Jane and myself.  Now draw a larger circle around the first one.  In that ring put the name of the person or persons next closest to the trauma (i.e Josh’s brother and sister Joe and Rosa).   Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order.

And here  are the rules.

The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?”and tell everyone to “piss off” (even if they don’t really mean it) That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the trauma, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And never ever say anything that begins with  “at least … “.  “At least they had a good life…”,  “At least you have other children….”, “At least s/he isn’t in pain anymore …”

And if you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring, someone who is further away from the trauma than you are.

So its COMFORT IN and DUMP OUT!

Complaining or whinging  to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn’t do either of you any good.   On the other hand, once you’ve comforted a traumatise person you may well find the need yourself for some TLC, so go to someone in the ring outside yours.   And don’t worry. You’ll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.

TEAM JOSH is riding for THE COMPASSIONATE FRIENDS

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Some daunting news …

Ride London is an annual event attracting over 25,000 cyclists riding 100 miles through London out to Surrey (climbing two famously nasty hills) and back again to finish on The Mall.

… and we have taken up the challenge to ride with them

WE are  TEAM JOSH and we have entered this year as part of our fundraising campaign for THE COMPASSIONATE FRIENDS.  We are hoping to collect £1500 in donations in support of the hugely valuable work that TCF does.   TCF helped us – they have been helping us ever since Josh died and we want to give something back in return.    And if you want to help us help them then please trek on over to our JUSTGIVING page where you will find the easy peasy way to  donate.

Just a little background re TCF

 Over 6000 young people under the age of 25 will die in the UK very year leaving tens of thousands newly bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents.   (When Josh died in 2011 we were some of that number).   TCF is an international charity that started life in Coventry in the late 1970’s and is the only peer to peer network of bereaved parents and families in existence.  All the charities staff, management board and volunteers are themselves bereaved.  As such they/we are especially attuned to the needs of the newly bereaved.

But resources are limited and the charity we can’t reach many of the people who so desperatety need our help without developing its profile along with all the publicity it can get.   And this is where our Ride London comes in and how you can help us in what is bound to be a hugely publicised event.   But remember we are only human and it is 100 miles and legs do tire … moral support for us is invaluable and financial support for TCF is … priceless.   If we can do you can do it by  DONATING HERE.   

So who is TEAM JOSH

With a total age of over 200 (thats two years for every mile we ride – yikes!) we are all family and friends of our Josh

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Jimmy (66) is Josh’s Dad and still riding hard and the most ‘senior’ of the team.

Although this picture could tell a story it’s not really true one.  We did make it to New York last year but sadly without the bike and John o’Groats will have to wait awhile – 874 miles feels a tad over the limit.   I’ve never even riden 100 miles in one go and this is my first attempt at Ride London 100 – something of a challenge.

But I’m totally committed – I’ve riden the pain of Josh’s death so frankly these days  I can ride anything!!

 

 

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JOE (37) is Josh’s older brother.   He is our team leader, team coach and general alround inspiration.

As you can see Joe has done this before so at least one of us knows the way!! Joe is looking for a fast time this year – trying to crack 5 hours – but the rest of us hope to ride with him for at least some of the time… maybe the first 100 yards.

Joe is currently in Mexico preparing for a Triathlon on 21st May – we wish him luck

 

 

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Tom (37) has the biggest heart and the biggest smile in North London. Originally from sarf of the city Tom knew Josh from a baby, has and will always have deep connections with our family. We’ve riden and hiked and overcome many obstacles together.

I’m relying on Tom to help me get up them hills.

 

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Billy(Andrew)(Wiggo)Baxter (3?) is our secret surprise.   An unknown quantity is Billy but make no mistake he has some very powerful legs.

We are hoping he can keep his eye on the road and not be distracted by thoughts of a new arrival to his family – due sometime in late June.

Good Luck Billy and Bel on all accounts.

 

 

 

Ride London happens on Sunday 31st July and the countdown has now begun – we train in earnest and put in the miles every week and especially the weekends – in total I expect to cover over 100o miles between now and then.   And while this is enjoyable its no laughing matter – our legs need to work hard but fundraising for our charity can also be a gruelling task.   How many times have you been asked to donate to a good cause this year?   We do understand that pockets are not a bottomless unending pile of cash, but we also ask that in honour of all those children who have died before their parents and in honour of the help that TCF offers them, that you can spare a little to support this amazing charity.

PLEASE FIND YOUR WAY TO OUR JUSTGIVING PAGE 

Thanks for reading

Jimmy

May 2016

Links :

DONATE VIA JUSTGIVING

THE COMPASSIONATE FRIENDS

PRUDENTIAL RIDE LONDON 100

JULIAN’S LAST JOURNEY


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On Thursday last week our friend Julian Usborne was buried on his farm near our home in Chalford, Gloucestershire.   I took this photo as the funeral procession wound its way up the hill,  a short walk from the Usborne family home where Julian had died a few days earlier.

Julian was a remarkable man and we were proud to call him a friend though in truth we had really only got to know him and his wife Hege in the years following Josh’s death.   Hege is Julian’s third wife and her son Tom was (is) a good friend of Josh and it is through this connection that Julian gave us permission to plant a tree in memory of Josh on the hill overlooking the farm.  Followers of our story might be able to work out that Josh’s tree is about 50 yards to the right of where this picture was taken.

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Julian Usborne 16th February 1940 – 15th March 2106

We had visited Julian and Hege a couple of weekends before Julian died and it was on one of the visits that while they were both discussing his funeral arrangements that Julian had quietly proffered a request.    ‘Do you think there’s room’, he asked casually, ‘and would you mind if I go up there on the hill next to your tree?’     Well I’m not going to forget that moment in a hurry.  Number one, it was Julians generosity in the first place that has allowed us to have such a memorable spot to remember and keep Josh in our lives – so how come it’s him asking us if it’s OK?  But the idea that Josh’s special place would soon be joined by another was exceptionally heart stopping and exceptionally heart warming.

But to back track a little – Julian had know for some months that he was soon to die.   Having been diagnosed with cancer over a year ago, his and his family’s story has been one of a gradual if grudging acceptance of the inevitable. That his death should come slightly earlier than initially predicted was a painful if a somewhat minor detail to a journey that we were all invited to join. In conversation Julian would often remark “Well I’m dying you know … or “If this is dying, it’s OK by me” Hege had started a Facebook page “Julian’s journey” on which they and others could share thoughts and ideas (but mostly loving stuff!) as his cancer progressed – an early entry reads

“Probably had cancer now for a year. I have had not the slightest pain in all that time except for the after-math of surgery. Chemo was a doddle; it did make me tired and thirsty. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I suffer a bit more like others do? I guess its the gin and tonic (thought to have cancer relieving properties?)”

As I said we didn’t know Julian that well before Josh died.   Both he and Hege had attended monthly get togethers of a group of concerned parents who would share worries about the behaviours of their teenage sons (Josh and Tom included) – activities we had all engaged in ourselves and were now in a slightly awkward position of having to monitor with our ‘wayward’ children. I say Julian attended but most often had fallen asleep before the first bottle of wine had been emptied. This was probably a totally appropriate response to our anxiety driven conversations but at the time I thought of Julian as a rather aloof, not to say grumpy old man.   Luckily we discovered this to be far from the truth – as the many testimonies to the man aired at this funeral would reveal – Julian was a true non conformist whose mission in life was to make mischief wherever he could but with a concern for the environment in which he lived and was always happy to share with whoever.   And this of course (or perhaps not) extended to his dying wishes.

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Julian shared his death as he did his life – with humour and gratitude as well as a desire to shock.   Whether or not this last was part of his and Hege’s deliberations for the funeral arrangements, I know not.   At this stage in his journey I suspect most who knew him were passed being shocked.   What transpired on the day of his funeral was extraordinary only in its very ordinariness.   It was quite ordinary for Julian to want to be buried on his own land. It was and is quite ordinary for Hege to want to wake in the morning, look out her window and see her husbands grave nodding back to her from the not so distant hillside.   It was quite ordinary for the Usborne women to gather and sew his ‘rainbow’ jumpers together to make his shroud.   It was quite ordinary for the rain to fall as the Usborne men carried him to his grave.   And it was more than ordinary (in fact quite common place) for the Westley Farm kitchen to be over flowing with bring and share dishes, muddy boots and impromptu musical offerings.

16021922(600)In the years since Josh died, we have had death in our lives in ways we could not have predicted. Death is part of us, not that it isn’t present for everyone, just that perhaps we notice it more.   We need to – as a way to trying to understand what still remains incomprehensible – but the result has been the discovery that to be open to, and to be open about death, mortality and what that means for those left behind is good for the soul.   There are to be true certain occasions that I still find disconcerting, the death café movement for example, or an overemphasis on things spiritual, but in general I now find to talk of death is to make friends with death and that conservation can be as private or as public as I like.

In the end it was Josh who gave me the first lesson. As I wrote at the time of his death “have you taught me how to die?”.   Organising his funeral and that of my mothers just a short while ago showed us how important it is to take charge of our ‘final farewells’.   Without these moments I’m not sure I would have been so comfortable sitting in Julian’s front room chatting so freely about his death, I don’t think I would have been so unafraid of any misgivings he and Hege might have, nor would I now be so secure in my own mortality.

Last Thursday Julian was laid to his rest just as he wanted. For me, that his funeral was a tad unconventional is not the issue. His final journey accurately reflected the man and honoured the memories for all those who took part. Would that we could all say goodbye in such fashion. Yes funerals are for the living but there was no better way of ensuring Julian’s presence both on the day and our recollections of the day. Later in the evening after short debate, a fire was lit on the mound that was Julian’s grave – warmth for the cold, cold ground. It was still smouldering when we went to visit him and Josh the next morning.

Thanks for reading

Jimmy  (March 2o016)

LINKS : Julian’s Journey Facebook page

Some more photos from the day

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Granny’s funeral – “un oeufs an oeuf”

“What’s the best thing that women have compared to men?”

“Nipples that work!”

My mum Emily had a  weird and wacky sense of humour and my brother Ned was first up at her funeral to reveal it.  Within minutes of starting his eulogy he had recounted an early joke of Emily’s that set the tone for an  evening of unexpected delights as we shared memories of our wonderful mother and grandmother.

Emily Norah Edmonds 20th April 1917 – 26th November 2015

Emily died while Jane and I were still on our travels in Central America.  We got the news while stuck on the border between Honduras and El Salvador.  The coach we were on was being searched for drugs and with an unexpected internet connection, Jane received a message that our daughter Rosa had tried to contact us.  We phoned her straight back.   Good or bad, significant news  always seems to be associated in my mind with a still image; like a photograph it remains imprinted on my memory bank yet often has absolutely nothing to do with the news itself.   With tears trickling down, I listened to Rosa’s account of her Granny’s last moments, while out of the side of the coach I watched a truck driver laboriously unpack the tarpaulin from his load in readiness for a customs inspection.  Like an image on a book cover this is what I see when I recall the news of my mothers death.   In the scheme of things two random events caught in my imagination – a man bent over struggling with the weight of his labours and my mother’s lifeless form in her bed at the residential home she had lived in for the past three years.    But this scene was all I had until we returned home a month later and I could visit her in the funeral parlour.    At which point the fact of her death became real … really real.    When we heard the news of Joshua’s death an image closely associated with that moment also has me looking out of a window and two police officers walk up our garden path.   It’s as if these images get stuck in time and the work of grief is to gradually erase them to reveal a truth that we can at last assimilate.    In any case I am a firm believer of viewing the corpse, not just as a way of helping us to recognise the unassailable fact that our loved one has died,  but as a first step to rebuilding and continuing our relationship with them.

7th January 2016 – we manoeuvre Emily’s casket prior to bearing her into the funeral
Respect for the dead

Relationships seemed to figure high in our speeches, eulogies and conversations at Emilys funeral – or celebration of life that many would prefer to call it. Ned and myself both referred to the idea that our relationship with Mum was “kind of complicated” – in that the way we were brought up, sent away to boarding school, and discovered new things about our past only after Dad had died.  These and other testimonies all started to build a picture not just of who Emily was but what she meant to all and each of us differently.

For grandson Joe it was childhood visits to their house in Sussex  where he discovered  “that old wooden box of brick dominoes that lived in the cellar.  Hours were spent constructing a domino rally down the winding stairs and through into the living room

Memories of signatured and scribbled words from generations past on wooden domino blocks… Wow, playing at Granny’s really rocks!

Joe’s most terrible rhyming puns would resonate for many; Emily’s unlikely love of snooker on the telly elicited this

Dozing off in the armchair was sheer heaven, We’d never quite stay awake for the big break 147.

For grandson Jonny it was Emily’s warmth:  “a warmth of welcoming visitors and those she loved dearly.  The kettle was put on, the biscuit tin was stocked, the table was set – even the breakfast table.  If you were a vegetarian, she found it slightly amusing and somewhat confusing – “not even some black pudding, Jonny?” 

And he recalled another of Emily’s favourite jokes – one that we have all heard over and over again and will continue to enjoy, not for any intrinsic hilarity in the joke, merely because it is and always will be .. sooo Emily –

“Why does a frenchman only have one egg for breakfast?”  “Because un oeuf’s an oeuf!”  

Granddaughter Claire read from a letter her granny had sent in which she made reference to the Australians seeming inability to laugh a themselves – unlike ‘us limeys’.  Written in 2000 her letter reveals the first signs of the dementia that would take hold of her in the years to come.  She had just moved to be closer to us in Chalford and writes “space is limited and I only have one bed I can shove things under.  The fridge is so small beers and cokes have to go under the dresser but having packed everything away I have difficulty remembering where I put things…”

Jane had been looking for photographs of Emily and came across a postcard that Josh had written to his gran from Vietnam.  “Hi Gran, Josh here!” (we always asked people to announce themselves at the beginning of a letter or card)  “travelling is one of the most amazing things ever” he continued “it is tough being on my own but I am learning so much and meeting loads of people all the time”     The postcard was unsent and had come back with the rest of Josh’s belongings; it now reminded us in the most poignant way how important Emily was to all her grandchildren.

Emily’s Grandchildren, Nikki, Claire, Jonny, Ben, Joe and Rosa
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Film showing at Emily’s funeral
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Eulogy from grandson Jonny

All these contributions speak to a relationship as much as they do to the person.  Joe’s experience of playing at his Granny’s house, Jonny’s enticement for us all to remember and share in the joke, Jane’s reading of Josh’s desire to connect with his Granny and tell her his news and Claire’s precious airmail.

Along with film clips, photographs on the walls and on the screen, we had built a small ‘set’ – a replica of Emily’s front room with her chair, her knitting basket, todays Times crossword, a bowl of humbugs, all her actual stuff but triggers to memories and the life that once was.   Forget multi media, this was ‘interactive’ in the best possible way as people took turns to sit in her chair or add their own memories – a scrabble bar with the word ‘twitten’ – meaning ‘alleyway’ or path between two hedges and specific to our home county of Sussex (and a good score in scrabble apparently as it uses all seven letters).   Emily was a wizz at the Times crossword and would normally finish it by nightfall – today’s remains only partially completed!

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So in a very real way, mourners for Emily were able to recall not only their memories of the person, but to actively engage with the space in which she lived – a truly visceral experience to be remembered in its own right and carried with us as part of our on going connection to her.  But it was also fun, really good fun which had Josephine (at just two and a bit, our youngest mourner) unravelling a ball of wool as she wandered around the guests and plenty of laughs as we watch clips from the film I had made in 2007 which featured Emil and her friend Yvonne discussing life after death and getting stuck in the lift.

Another departure from the norm (though this only became apparent to us afterwards) were the volunteers of the bearers for Emilys casket – we had the men carry her in and the women carry her out, something many remarked they had never seen before.   And for Jane in particular a special moment; one she would not have been comfortable with had she not been so up close and personal to death these last few years. Coming from a family where the D word was never mentioned, helping to carry Emily’s casket was for her a kind of rite of passage – she felt that there was something so primitive and powerful about this part of Emily’s journey being in the hands of women.

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My beautiful mother then spent the night in our living room, an honour that meant so much for us.  Our home is closest to where Emily lived for the last 15 years and it only seemed right and proper that we should host her one more time.

Again to have a dead body in your living room feels a bit untoward in this day and age – I don’t know why given what an ancient tradition this is.   In days past you might even have invited a photographer to make an image of the dead person such was the lack of squeamishness about these things.   You certainly wouldn’t have balked at having an open coffin.    For us it meant a wee bit of alone time in which we could lift the lid and say one more ‘goodbye’, to acknowledge that in the stillness and the coldness of her frame,  yes she really is gone but also in that very stillness, in her deadness our relationship though changed could still be very much alive .. my mama, my mama, my mama …

I think we had got to know my mum particularly well in the last chapters of her life (certainly in a completely different way from when we were children)  including the years in which the dementia progressed, years in which even while her memory and her capacity dimmed, her straight talking, her self effacement and her humour always shone through –

How you doing today Mum? Much the same, old and doddery.  You’re looking well.  Am I?  I don’t feel it.  It’s about time you put me in the oven

Emily may well have long fallen out of love with life, but her love for us never died.   If only we could have honoured her dying wish of putting her in the oven with as much flair and bounce as we’d managed at the celebration of her life though how we could have done that does stretch the imagination.

The service at the crematorium the next day was a more solemn affair – but by having two ceremonies we bucked a certain trend articulated by Su Chard the celebrant who did for both Josh and Emily – importantly we had separated two necessary (but normally conflated) rituals attendant at someones death: the funeral and the disposal of the body.

Thanks for reading

Jimmy

January 2016

This post appears both here on BEYOND GOODBYE and on our blog for The Good Grief Project

(for Su’s ideas on the nature of contemporary funerals see our film Beyond Goodbye )

and here is a short (i.e. edited) conversation between Emily and Jane that should amuse … recorded on her phone in Steppes, the residential care home she lived in for three years.

We’d like to thank Harriet Lewis for the wonderful Paella that rounded off the evening and James Kriszyk for some great photos of the day.

THE GOOD GRIEF PROJECT – we are on our way!

goodgrief in america copyThis is a quick post to let you know that our road trip across the states has begun!   After months of planning we are finally on our way.

The Good Grief Project is our attempt to understand what our lives have come to mean after Josh died.    He was on his travels when he lost his life and this journey is a way of continuing to connect with him, to share our story with other bereaved parents and to learn from them some of the many ways that people have found to honour and remember their child … and to survive.

The idea of ‘continuing bonds’, of continuing to have a meaningful relationship with our dead child, is at the heart of our project.    The death of a child and the grief that follows really isn’t like other deaths – we do not expect to outlive our children so that when they die before us we are left with so many untold stories that our hearts ache for in ways they won’t for an older  parent or a grandparent who comes to the end of life in the natural order of things.    The pain and trauma of a child’s death is that much more intense, but it also raises fears and anxieties in those who witness our grief along with an expectation that sooner or later we will move on from our loss and return to normal life.    The result can be that bereaved parents feel they are doing something wrong, are becoming too self absorbed, have got stuck or are beginning to ‘wallow’ in their grief.

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Josh in New York December 2009

This is of course not our experience, although I guess there have been time when we have wondered if this might be the case.   And this is the impetus that drives the Good Grief Project – to find out how other bereaved parents have adapted to their ‘new normal’ and to bring their stories back home in the form of a documentary film.

So our journey begins in New York City and we plan to drive all the way across the United States (over 5000 miles), and as we go we have arranged to visit about ten families who, like us, have also survived the death a child.    From Sandy Hook in Connecticut, to New Orleans, Memphis, Colorado and California, this is a real journey of discovery and we would love to share it with you.   We will be on the road over the next seven weeks and then we fly down to Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebrations, and where we expect to find an altogether different approach to death, dying and bereavement.    All of this of course on camera (a mention here for the remarkable Layla Meerloo – a friend of Josh’s brother Joe, who has found some great stories for us to film and who will be helping with translations etc.) so that the final documentary we hope will be colourful, entertaining,  and life affirming – at the end of the day our message is simple:

‘while we may fear death, we need not fear those who grieve’

You can follow our journey on a new blog we have created here:

THE GOOD GRIEF PROJECT – the Blog

‘Good Grief’ is the working title for the documentary we shall be producing.  You can watch a short trailer here:

 

The scale of the production is yet to be decided but we have every expectation that it will bring much needed support and comfort to all those who have suffered the death of their child.  This work is for their benefit but filming doesn’t come cheap and you might like to help us achieve our goal by donating on line here:

GOOD GRIEF – funding opportunities

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Thanks for reading

Jimmy and Jane

Taylor Wheeler selected for Ministry Internship

We are delighted to announce the successful candidate for Josh’s Memorial Scheme for 2015.   Taylor Wheeler will be following Lewis Murphy and Barney Wilson for a month’s internship at the Ministry of Sound.   We look forward to hearing about Taylor’s time at Mos – here is his first account of what it means for him.   Good luck Taylor and make Josh proud!   

taylor Wheeler2My name is Taylor Wheeler and I am the 3rd person to be chosen for the Josh Edmonds Memorial Scheme; an amazing opportunity for any music enthusiast, cinematographer or creative alike.

In July 2015 Iwill be going to The Ministry of Sound in the Elephant & Castle in London to take part in a month long internship.

Here’s how it began.

In November 2014, the same as any other night I was sat at my MacBook, producing music, surfing Facebook and I saw a post about an internship at the Ministry of Sound.   I took a look and coincidentally it was being run by the college where I used to study music technology –  Cirencester College!

Feeling optimistic, I downloaded the application forms and began to write about my experience’s in music and why I wanted to take part in the internship. I had to write 200 words or so and I was able to submit one of my tracks for the application. I chose my remix of Diplo’s song “Revolution” which was my first ever remix.

(I was lucky enough to get hold of the original acapella for the song which was amazing to work with!).

You can listen to my remix here :

After a couple of months, some wild times, meeting my now girlfriend Alex, Christmas, New Year and a couple more months I got an email from Cirencester college calling me back for an interview of which, as I am writing this, was 4 days ago. Naturally I was over the moon.

For me this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Well one of the best in the last 23 years.

All my life I have studied, played and produced music but I have never had a real glimpse into the music industry. This ever pervasive entity that I have learnt about from my tutors at university and college, but as of yet have never had the chance to be a part of.

So, yeah…  I was super stoked to have been called back. I replied immediately and started to dream about what it would be like to go to ‘THE’ Ministry of Sound, pioneers of the electronic music scene in popular culture and  caretakers of legendary artists such as DJ Fresh. (It feels like only yesterday that me and my best friend Ryan were cruising around the backstreets of the Cotswolds in his Honda Civic listening to DJ Fresh’s 2 minute promo for his upcoming album Kryptonite -2010).

To me The Ministry of Sound is the source of my love for old school garage, drum & bass, dubstep and house. Without their compilations of the up and coming, as well as the seasoned professionals of EDM, I would not have the same eclectic taste in electronic music as I do today.  Just as a side note – ‘Addicted to Bass Winter 08’  is seriously banging.   Go buy it.

The date is Friday the 17th of April.

Four days ago I was accepted to take part in the internship at Ministry of Sound as part of the Josh Edmonds memorial scheme.

As I write this it’s still sinking I have been accepted to take part in the internship at Ministry of Sound as part of the Josh Edmonds memorial scheme.   I’m not going to talk much about the interview itself, because I want talk about the people I met.

Barny Rubble:  So I cruise into the old media block where I once studied as a teen, and on entering the interview room I see the most killer hairstyle that I have seen in years (really Barny gets points for rocking that cut).  I digress. Barny is the previous winner of the Josh Edmonds Memorial scheme – after following his blog and doing a little research I found that he’s a killer DJ, producer & film maker.  The dude’s super down to earth and I’m really looking forward to meeting up and working with him in the future.

Jane Edmonds: As I come into the interview room, I exchange greetings with the ‘interviewers’. I shake Barnys hand and I move across the room to meet Jane, Josh’s mum.  She greets me with a warm and welcoming demeanour and friendly smile, my nerves start to relax.

Before the interview I had read all the literature I could find about the memorial scheme, what happened to Josh and the legacy he left behind.  Coming to the end of the interview I was able to ask questions, (although I was anyway throughout – to the dismay of the head of the media faculty who was trying to keep things on time!!). I asked Jane more about her son and his role at MoS. I was told about his love for drum and bass & his strong and persevering work ethic that had got him so far. Jane was vibrant and heartfelt in her response to my questions.

Here is what hit home.   After I heard the news that I had been successful in getting the internship and I got off of the phone to Jane congratulating me, I thought of how incredible it is that Josh’s family had created this opportunity for others in the memory of Josh’s passion, how they are carrying on his talent through the talent of others and how lucky I am to not only be introduced to Jane and her family but also to be a part of the Josh Edmonds Memorial scheme.

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You are not alone in this – a tune

Subject: Mumford and sons lyrics

Outcome:  2 discoveries

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When we received Josh’s iPod back from Vietnam with all his belongings we had a huge dilemma. Was it private. Should we listen and look or not. Would Josh want us to. Problem solved as we discovered that it was pass word protected. End of story. Or so we thought. Until Jimmy randomly put in his date of birth and unbelievably …  yes.  A chance in a million.

Now I go running with his i pod in my pocket and his tunes in my ear.

And these last 4 years running has been a life saver for me. Particularly when I least felt like going.  There is something about getting out in all weathers and discovering all these new songs, something about needing to run through the pain in both my legs and my heart, that forced me to reconsider my grief and see that this was my way of continuing my bond with Josh.

Macabre some might say. Wallowing. Absolutely not. Not a bit. Liberating exciting and though emotional it was more cathartic as I would shed a tear and feel relief from the ache in my heart.

Even magical to get to know more and more about his taste in music and marvel at the overlaps and parallels in our taste.

That was discovery No.1

Discovery No. 2

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, this year, I  was feeling particularily bereft and sad and walked up to Josh’s tree.

As I reached the tree I put on his iPod and this track came up.  Mumford and Sons who I really don’t know and have never listened to but this track hit me so hard it took my breath away.   I sat on Josh’s bench on the hillside overlooking our village and it felt truly like a release for me and though my heart ached terribly I really felt Josh up there on the hill side with me.

And I’m really not sure how this could have possibly escaped me but a split second realisation that Holocaust Rememberance Day 2011 fell on the same day as Josh’s funeral.

Particularily strange as I have always marked Holocaust day since Josh died but not marked his funeral day as his death day has been our significant date of Rememrance.   How I have never put the 2 together seems beyond belief.  Maybe I simply didn’t have the emotional space till now to join up the massive significance of the date his funeral fell on.

Since these discovery Mumford and Sons have become regular running chums as I digest the massive resonance of the lyrics and feel that I really am not alone

Yes death will steal your innocence but as I have realised it will not steal your substance.

Thanks for reading

Jane (March 2015)

Listen to Jane’s Running thoughts here

Sell Out for Life’s Legacy

We have received this review of the Life Legacy screening as part of the Stroud Film Festival (see this earlier posting) from Jo Bousfield, poet, performer and director of Flies on the Wall youth theatre.

We are very gratified and humbled by the response from the sell out audience.   Thanks must go to Josh’s  friend Natalie Davis who organised more chairs from the Star Anise cafe- have to say that starting the evening with a general get together at the Star Anise was a beautifully relaxed way of engaging with our viewers prior to what promised to be a fairly ‘miserable’ evening.   In the end of course it was far from that and was both a relief and a comfort to find that our subjects, end of life care, dementia, death and bereavement were received with such enthusiasm.   Thank you to all that came – 

 

JoB3I have always felt that the best way of living my life would be to be able to integrate work and the ‘personal’, so that there is hardly a distinction; attempting to have an organic seamless flow where I wouldn’t have to put my heart on ‘hold’ when going about my ‘paid work’. Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds seem to have achieved this.  Their professional lives as filmaker (Jimmy) and therapist (Jane) have combined to embrace personal life events. Together they have created documentaries in which they are both film makers and therapists, in which, through their art form (film), they explore the depths of life, death, bereavement, aging and Alzheimer’s, creating an environment of ‘listening’ in which the film participants and audience can explore their own feelings around these subjects (therapy).  As filmakers, they use their art form to communicate powerful ideas. As people they share their discoveries as they attempt to make the best possible sense of what is occurring in their lives.

As part of Stroud Film Festival 2015 Jane and Jimmy presented an event entitled ‘Life’s Legacy’ where they showed three films – This is Purgatory, Gerry’s Legacy and Say Their Name – followed by a discussion. The sell-out audience at Open House Hall, Painswick Inn, Stroud were captivated by their integrity, honesty , warmth, and humour.

purgatory for web‘This Is Purgatory’ is a very funny and wonderfully human film where Jimmy dips into various people’s lives asking them what they think purgatory is, and in so doing explores a range of attitudes to death.  Purgatory in a local context is a small wood near Slad in the Stroud Valleys, Gloucestershire. Throughout the film we have recurring glimpses of the wood, rustling, cracking, moving in the wind, a timeless picture of nature doing its thing, the continuum of life, the seasons, continual birth and death. The ‘characters’ in the documentary all speak their own wisdom, and the audience watching the film chortle at the individual beauty of their attitudes to death.

STN for webd‘Say Their Name’ introduces us to people (including Jane and Jimmy) who have a child or sibling who has died, and they talk about their loved one and how grief is for them. They have all had help from the charity ‘Compassionate Friends’ where they found a compassionate ‘home’ to take their feelings of isolation. The film is beautifully constructed and filmed, and helps sweep away some of the fear and agony people assume around the ‘unmentionable’ – the death of a child.

GL for web‘Gerry’s Legacy’ is the wonderfully filmed and edited documentation of Jane grappling with her father’s deep frustration trapped in an inadequate mental health system, whereby he has no opportunity to be the person he needs to be. His memory is limited and he is very confused and lost. He visibly relaxes and engages when his daughter (and wife) visit, but the institution he is in, is unable to offer any such balm. The film is pitched beautifully in that no one is pointing a finger at anyone and blaming, but the picture is clear; an ugly, barren environment, a frightened frustrated man, an unwieldy system, and an unnecessarily tragic few years for someone that had previously led a full active life. The film was funded by The Alzheimer’s Society and is now used in training programmes.

Things can only get better if Jane and Jimmy continue to use their skills to inform and educate through film, the big taboos in British society; showing and respecting humane interaction and the care for our rapidly rising community of elders living with dementia; and accepting grief as a natural part of life.

We are pleased to be able to report that the evening raised a grand total of £450 in aid of The Compassionate Friends and Alzheimers Society 

And we have just received  this comment from Gerry Cooney which we would also like to share –

I was unsure about taking my 82 year old Mum to the film night on Saturday.  She has a fear of dementia and I wondered how she would react to the film about your Dad.  Walking home afterwards, she said how affected she was by ‘Say their Name’ in particular, making her think more deeply about her mother’s (and her own) reaction to her sister’s death age 18 in a car crash in the 1950’s. She and her mother both struggled with their grief alone, with relatives, friends and school friends acting as if Monica had never existed. My grandmother took my 16 year old mum out of school and travelled the world trying to escape anything that reminded her of her dead daughter. I knew a little about my Aunt Monica but after the film we were able to talk about my Mum’s feelings as a sibling in more depth. Losing her sister – and particularly the aftermath – blighted my Mum’s life – if people like the Compassionate Friends had been involved to support her and her mother in their grief, it may have been different.

Thank for reading 

Jimmy

March 2015