beyond goodbye

FAREWELL MAGAZINE writes about how we said ‘goodbye’

farwell 3a

Farewell Magazine is a quarterly life style mag (death style mag?) recently published and available in all good news agents and on line.     The Winter 2013 edition includes an article about Beyond Goodbye. Is this an indication of how far we have come in the business of ‘coming to terms’ with Josh’s death? Soon after he died and just as we had just as we had published Jimmy’s book Released, we were approached by a number of ‘press outlets’ asking to write up our story.   They weren’t all tacky ‘women’s own’ type mags but even the more dignified requests were something we really couldn’t be bothered with.    Now, nearly three years on, we have become more comfortable with the publicity that has come with the films we have made and the articles we ourselves have written.   In a way, this site Beyond Goodbye, has become a bit more than a memorial to one man, it seems by all accounts to have gathered momentum as an example of a new way of dealing with the aftermath of tragedy.   So while each and every day we still wake up to the terrible news that Josh is dead, our work in being more public in our grief has brought certain compensations.   If it has been difficult for some of our friends to stay alongside us on this journey, there are many out there in the wider world, that know what we are going through and in a way we have become part of a wider community of the bereaved.

farewell1

Before Josh died, and before we became involved with charities like The Compassionate Friends and Dying Matters, we wouldn’t have given a moments thought to the idea of picking up a mag like “Farewell’ or to peruse it’s contents in search of advice about how best to arrange a funeral.   ‘Excuse me that’s someone else’s story’, I would have said, ‘nothing to do with me.’  Life after all is about living.  Most of us have an inbuilt and necessary fear of death which makes the subject understandably hard to talk about – and those that do are seen as.. well.. morbid.  But now we live with death every day. Joshua’s life and his death are our minute by minute companions.  And it’s not morbid. Despite the hurt, the anguish and constant trawl for some relief, life in a strange way, now has more meaning and more purpose.

So death is now our story and although it still feels odd that someone would want to write it up in a glossy mag, we are I think OK with that.    The article has some familiar pictures of Josh and uses Fred Chance’s brilliant photo of Matara as the backdrop to the front page.     It covers our reasons for doing the funeral our way as well as nice words about Beyond Goodbye, ‘a collection of online ideas that remember Josh … Taken together, its a project of real work and a challenge to traditional introverted expressions of grief and mourning.’

To read the full article click here to download  – Farewell Winter 2013 or go to your local WHSmiths and cough up £3.95.   The article is on Page 41

farewell2

 

Beyond Goodbye wins local Best Film award



How nice –  how very gratifying that our film has been awarded first prize in the Best Local Film category of the Stroud Community TV Awards.

We are very honoured to be recognised in this way if only because it helps us (as a society) to talk about stuff that most people will want to avoid.   At the time of Josh’s death and on the day of his funeral I really don’t think we had any idea of of the impact making a film about the event would have on us and on the people who have watched it.    But in documenting our farewell to Joshua, Beyond Goodbye has shown how important it is to take charge (as best one can) of the funeral arrangements for a loved one.

This idea of “reclaiming the farewell” as James Showers puts it, is becoming quite common place now and we can see that a film about one such funeral is quite fitting.   For too long the funeral industry has had too much control over what makes a good funeral and in the process have obscured what the ritual is really all about.  The funeral doesn’t need to be the final act or a way of achieving closure after someone dies – on the contrary, if we see it as the first step of a new journey – a journey into and through grief, then the funeral becomes a much more meaningful rite of passage and one that will aid us immensely through very difficult moments in the rest of our lives.   At least that’s what we’ve found and we are very pleased that our film has found wider audiences, that others have been similarly moved.

"reclaim the farewell" - (photo: Fred Chance)
“reclaim the farewell” – (photo: Fred Chance)

Some quotes from the organisers

Andy Freedman, Head of Cirencester College Media Department and a judge in this category said of the film: “Profoundly moving; unique, original and a significant piece of work. A range of skillful techniques used to create a extraordinarily affecting  film.”

David Pearson of award-winning Arturi films and a judge for SCTV, said: “A brave and compelling account of something most people avoid discussing. It is everything good documentaries should be: revealing, effecting, moving and making the viewer see something from a different perspective.”

Thanks to Philip Booth of SCTV who helped organise the awards, online casino which I’m sure are set to become established as significant date in the Stroud arts calendar.    SCTV already has links to over 700 locally made films which is an amazing tribute to the talent that exists here in the Five Valleys. Apollo Cinema next year Philip?
Our thanks also go to Simon Ffrench on camera, Marc Hatch for sound, and photography by Fred Chance and Briony Campbell, but for whom we wouldn’t have such a splendid record of Josh’s funeral.
Jimmy (Feb 2013)
Check these links out 
for the SCTV AWARDS page
for the full version of BEYOND GOODBYE
for two other excellent short films from the awards that have attracted our attention
“1 in 10” by Nick Baker for best campaign film – which highlights the role of unpaid carers
“Letting Go” by Sean Gleeson – runner up for best local film

Mexican Day of the Dead at Dying Matters

MEXICAN DAY OF THE DEAD

It’s held every year on the 1st November and is one of Mexico’s more well-known public holidays.Images of brightly coloured masks, skulls and skeletons dancing to street music in riotous celebration are what come to mind.

Somewhere between Hallowean and Thanksgiving, its an opportunity for families to remember their dead, both personal and well known public figures.

Last week, Jane and I attended The Dying Matters annual Day of the Dead conference in London.


I’ve just downed tools at the end of a long edit for a BBC 2 series covering a year in the life of Claridges, an exclusive hotel in the heart of London.     We’ve missed a number of deadlines but 12 o clock on Thursday 1st November is absolutely solid one – no more extensions – that’s it ..  finito!   But its now 12.30 and we’re late.  Jane and I  are hurrying round the corner of the British Museum looking for the venue of the Dying Matters conference held to coincide with Mexico’s famous day.    We’ve been invited to screen the film of Josh’s funeral but I’m still not sure exactly what kind of occasion this is.   These days I find that it really doesn’t matter that I have no idea what we might be getting into – should I be nervous about speaking in front of a huge audience, are they professionals, charity workers, or bereaved parents like us.  It seems Josh’s death has given me the wherewithal not to care about these things.

We arrive in a large room with a low false ceiling still relatively empty – strip lights, three large screens along one wall and around a dozen round tables decorated with homemade sculptures modeled on those familiar images of hollowed eye sockets and gaping jaw lines – there are bowls of sweets and plates of biscuits with similar blood dripping themes. 

In one corner we find the table reserved for speakers.    Jane will easily fall into conversation with her neighbour;  I enjoy a moment of my own silence among the gathering audience, now numbering close to a hundred.   It feels comfortable to be here.   There’s a growing buzz of chatter which I am not part of, but then I have always liked that moment when as a child I would drift off  into my own reverie  secure in the  knowledge that the world was carrying on around me.

It’s a packed programme of speakers and presentations, power points and sincere deliveries – but the messages pass me by.    Something about volunteers to hold the hands of the dying, pathways to a good death, the launch of a form for funeral wishes, a film called “I didn’t want that” which I didn’t quite get.    Then Jane and I are standing by the podium, a little apprehensive now about  introducing something of a more personal significance.

‘Beyond Goodbye’ has been seen by quite few people – maybe hundreds, perhaps a thousand or so – not exactly a blockbuster but gratifyingly, it does have an audience.   It’s been on this site and on Vimeo for nearly a year now, and we’ve had a load of feedback as to how moving and comforting the film is.   But this has been from people we either know well, or  who are complete strangers.   In both these cases people have made a conscious choice to view the film.    Now as I stand here, it somehow feels like we are about to inflict our story and our grief on an audience who can’t  escape.    And I can’t escape my doubt …  of what value is this film to people who never knew Josh.  These were professional  funeral directors, academics and educationalists, casino online social and care workers, concerned surely with changing policy and attitudes towards death and dying.  Why should they want to identify with our grief amongst all others in their lives or the world in general.

Then there were those nagging thoughts of what Josh himself would have made of this.      All those photos of him on the screens – 3 times over – his coffin, his parachute jump, his aliveness and his deadness.    Could he, would he, be happy with this spectacle?    In the dark, I’m not so much looking at a film, as reliving the past two years.   I can feel the trickle of a tear on my cheek.   I brush it away along with thoughts that in exposing him to the world, of exposing his death to all and sundry, we are doing him a disservice.   Is there in all this, something shameful about dying?  Something so wrong, culpable, especially at such a young age.   And do we as Josh’s grieving family carry that shame.   Is that what I’m feeling now?

I do NOT want the lights to come back on.      But they do, in a muted silence followed by a gentle gathering of applause.   As I stare fixedly at a paint crack on the wall, I imagine all eyes are on us.     Another of the speakers on our table hands me a note – “I’m glad I’m not on next”.     The audience has been moved.     They have got to know Josh, and us, and his friends and they have found us real.    That if anything is the power of showing our film to a live audience, (as opposed to a remote, on line, disconnected viewer) – it makes our lives more real, more accepting of our reality without Josh.

Dr Kate Granger "My doctors wanted to treat me with about eight-ten cycles of chemo'. I put up with five then told them to get lost and went back to work."

When the note giver does speak she introduces herself as Dr Kate Granger, an Elderly Medicine Registrar and the author of two books – The Other Side and The Bright Side.     She then tells us that 14 months ago she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive sarcoma which will end her life before too long.    Now that she is both patient and doctor, Granger explains that she wants to help health care workers to better understand what being a patient is really like, and how a doctor’s behaviour, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, can impact massively on the people they look after.     Her books recount her personal battle with control, how and when to relinquish it, but Granger herself was an inspiration with her total openness about dying and what it means to her.

I must have learnt something about openness when it comes to death as my question to her, ‘how long have you got?’ comes quite easily.      The answer was in effect – anytime soon – the average life expectancy of people with this diagnosis is 14 months.    Most would put Granger’s composure in the face of such tragic circumstance, as manifest of an extraordinary well of individual courage and positive thinking.     But its also true, and as she remarked, it’s those family and friends close to her that are more distressed than she.     I can understand this.     The perceived nightmare is far worse than the actual nightmare.     If the doctors she wants to enlightened are death denying (possibly seeing a patients death as their own personal failure), we too know about a grief denying complex that seems to affect so many of our own acquaintances.

Dying Matters exists because of these denials.   “Let’s talk about it” the website almost screams.    But it feels we have a long way to go before we can have our own “Day of the Dead” here in Britain.     If we don’t go to next years event with Dying Matters, perhaps you’d like to join us for an evening of margueritas, encilladas, and possibly a sombero laden guitarist crooning ‘guantanamera” here in Chalford Hill.

 

JIMMY

8 Nov 2012

Dying Matters have now put Beyond Goodbye on their front page along with a nice article about Jane’s contribution – check it out here.    They’ve called it ‘Turning Grief into Positive Action’

 

Kate Granger’s website and blog are here


 

The shrine, where attendees were encouraged to post photos and memories of their loved ones.

 

the evenings entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Goodbye – film to be shown to new audiences

 

Part of me still can’t believe that I’m writing this but our film of Josh’s funeral has found some new audiences.     In the coming months we have been invited to show ‘BEYOND GOODBYE’ at The Compassionate Friends Annual gathering (that’s on 8th September) and at the Dying Matters “Day of the Dead” event in November.      The Compassionate Friends is a support network for bereaved parents and siblings and Dying Matters is a coalition of all sorts of people connected with end of life care.      Each screening will be followed by a discussion.

Are we nervous?   Yes.   Are we pleased?    Kind of.   Does it matter?  Guess so.    But two years ago who could have thought that we would be showing a film about our son’s funeral to audiences like this.   I am sure we will be received with kindness but my stomach sinks when time and again I have to rethink that terrible day we heard the news that Josh had been killed.     For many a journey through grief is essentially a private matter but from the moment Josh died we have needed to reach out to friends and family for support.     Documenting his funeral for what many have found a very moving film, was part of this process.   Josh’s sister Rosa remarked “Josh wasn’t just ours”.    How right she was and we have found real solace in getting to know so many of Josh’s friends both from his life in Gloucestershire as well as in London.

But to take this openness to another level that includes a wider public provokes some pretty weird feelings.    Yes, it is gratifying to be asked to show our film but the idea of sharing our grief on such a public stage is a complex one. On the one hand we  want to share Josh and to share the burden of our grief.    But part of me also wants to keep my relationship with him private lest my memories and all my thoughts about him now become somehow adulterated.    Both Jane (Josh’s mum) and I also have a nagging doubt that going public is a kind of diversion from grief proper (whatever that is), or at least a distraction from the pain of our loss. I know that when we attend these events, many will admire the strength and courage we show, but obviously that’s a bit of a mask, and the actual chaos of our mourning lives will be carefully hidden (or at least held in check) by the civilised practicalities of putting on a good show.

But we have been changed by Josh’s death.  For good or for bad we are who we are now and I’m glad we have been able to open up like this because the rewards have been many.

Now comes the news that we have also been nominated for the Good Funeral Guide annual awards (a kind of Baftas for the death industry) to be held in Bournemouth later this month.      This is for the “Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death in the Media” ….  that might sit nicely alongside my real Bafta, but oh, how I wish our skills had not been called upon in this way.

I’m afraid the Compassionate Friends event is for members only  but if you’d like to attend any of the others here are the details –

The Dying Matters – CELEBRATING THE DAY OF THE DAY – event is on 1st November at  Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1 7HU (near Euston Station).      The full programme is not published yet  but you can keep up to speed by visiting their website here DYING MATTERS .

The Good Funeral Guides Annual Awards is part of THE JOY OF DEATH FESTIVAL to be held in Bournemouth from 7th to 9th September – that’s next weekend so if you want to attend you better get your skates on.   Here’s the link for tickets GOOD FUNERAL GUIDE ANNUAL AWARDS at THE JOY OF DEATH FESTIVAL

Joe will be representing the family at Bournmouth.

 

 

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

 

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