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Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Grief can be a bit like a monsoon ...spontaneous torrents of rain amongst long periods of dry weather. Sometimes it's a relief, other times you think that it's never going to stop, it's arrival a surprise and overwhelming you.
Being a Spiritualist doesn't change or stop you grieving either. Another reminder of how human you are.
When my mom died earlier this year after being ill for quite some time,  I had thought that, as I knew it wasn't going to be a good outcome, that it would be easier as I had adjusted to the fact that she was going to die. Like all change you don't know the effect of it until it happens. For me, its not that I have become unrealistic about my relationship with my Mom and she's suddenly become a long lost saint of my life. Indeed, my Mom would be polishing her halo and wearing it as a skirt if she thought so. No, people leaving your physical life to the other side has its effects, whether you were close or not, whether it was expected or not, or a blessed relief or not.
So I hear you say.. but you are a medium aren't you? You have belief in life after death? Yes, having a belief does help but the veil between here and the other side is still there. The difference between being alive and dead is still a big one to get passed, even for someone who communicates with the spirit world and supported by their beliefs. Removal of the veil does not change who the person was in their life, or how they behaved or the memories for those who are left behind. When you go home the truth of who you were is revealed, and a bigger perspective is offered. Yes I know my mother is home in the spirit world safe, and as I work with her physical absence from my life, her transition has still been an emotional one. This is not though intended to be a plastering of my mom through a magnifying glass for all to see, but rather an honest reporting of the effects of death and the loss of a loved one.
My mom was a very strong woman who was my biggest teacher of my life, through both negative and positive lessons. Like everyone she had her challenges.   Something within her needed a reassurance that no one could give her, and she lived by her own rules and beliefs. Born and brought up in South Africa and Rhodesia, she left her family and followed my father around country to county like most military wives, managing the kids, and life the best you could when you had to pack up and move every two years.  Arriving in the UK over forty eight years ago, she was, like most South African's,  direct and outspoken and so stood out as someone different and loud to traditional English conservative ways. She was marmite to some and adored by others. Although a woman of many opinions, she would have given the shirt off her back if she thought you needed it more than her, and would be the first to help someone down on their luck. She believed in loyalty and appreciation. She was a lover of shopping, a closet modern fashion icon, and attempted to be a model officer's wife.
As my mum, she was similar to a Jewish matriarch. She was the voice of my parent's, and the one who would challenge my brother and I in our teenage rebellions. She believed in interference. In truth she found it hard to let go of being the parent, even way beyond when both her children's faces were edged with age, and our own children becoming young adults. Like most mothers though, she was the one who made home home. She was the cook, the planner, the director and the initiator of any entertainment.  She loved entertaining and indeed it was when she was at her best. If anyone could make a party out of a ham sandwich and a piece of cake, my mom would have, and would somehow have had enough left over to feed the army she would happen to find walking past her front door. Mine and my brother's younger lives were surrounded by people my mom would adopt from the local army mess and who would arrive and be welcomed for Christmas dinner like some long lost family member. For us kids, our friends found her somewhat scary and dragon-like as,  whilst she could be both inclusive and accepting on one hand, kids were also bundled together into another space, well fed and watered, and expected to not get under adult's feet. It was an adult world we lived in.  Mom, however, was the one who instigated family gatherings, always remembered our birthdays and special events. Her way of keeping involved and trying to show we counted,   even if, in her later years, it was by proxy and by sending my dad out to make it happen. With me, my mom was always generous, but at times I was her own personal extension of a store cupboard. Fond of making improvements to her wardrobe and kitchen, She would regularly buy things and then change her mind, or it was a case of out with the old and in with the new.  As I would leave their house after a visit, my mother would ceremoniously present her latest castoff to me with a 'you need one of these don't you' and a look that you knew it was not an option to refuse. It took me years to realise that everything was given with a return label and that she may want it back one day. It was mostly her way of sharing and not being wasteful, but she never forgot an item that she had 'loaned' me. Even now I have items I have never used in my attic uncomfortable with disposing of them. 
My mom was the one who installed the strong sense of family within us which made us rally round her,  the one who had the strongest opinions and highest expectations that also made us dysfunctional as a family. My moms opinion stirring the family into one way or the other, creating a family line which you were in or on the outside of. In truth we were no different from any other family with strong and colourful characters within it.
My mom fought several illnesses over the years, and was well examined by the medical profession...her last year's diagnosed with potential lung cancer, to be told only a month before she died that no cancer existed. The 2nd time for this to happen, the last being a diagnosis of oesophageal cancer the year before, my mother unbelieving was unable to absorb the information that she was once again reprieved and that she wasn't going to shortly die of cancer. She didn't like the thought of old age or death curtailing her life and so was concentrating on the job of not dying, but had mentally already run for the hills when they had mistakenly told her she had three months to live. The big C was overwhelming enough, and although it mysteriously became nothing,  she did not consider that she was still going to die but through another big C word and through her favourite hobby of smoking. The diagnosis of COPD had sat in the background of everything else ticking like a time bomb. Telling her to give up the smoking stick was like trying to tell the queen that she couldn't rule and equally she was just as unamused.  It was her stress management tool and she had been smoking too long for her to be able to give up at such a life challenging time. The smoking damage to her lungs had already caused her to stop breathing, followed by cardiac arrest resulting in her having to be resuscitated. This bought her a few days in intensive care unit on a ventilator with her brain affected by the lack of oxygen. Like a stroke victim it took a year for her to become slightly close to who she had been before the resuscitation. Then,  so busy was she fighting the thought of cancer, and trying to have the last word, she wouldn't accept that smoking was killing her still in another way, and waved away reality. So one day in May,  in defiance of her smoking her lungs would whisper their last song and stop taking in air properly. For my dad and myself her death was actively very traumatic as we watched her die, but for mom the carbon dioxide in her blood sent her to sleep and that was that.
Even now, over six months on, it is all a bit surreal. As my brother lives in America and had a short window to be involved before having to go back,  the funeral was done and dusted within a week. People had come, paid their respects, gone and on robot mode we did it, despite my dad's and my head still being at the hospital where we had left my mom on a horrendous Saturday afternoon in May. The first two weeks seemed to be spent in a pub drinking with my dad and within six weeks,  I quietly fell out of my busy job, summer came and went, and months later I am now in another job, still adjusting, still trying to catch up with reality. Although my head recognises that it is still only a short time since she went, that time is a blur and it all seems a bit like distant memory that I keep trying to remember. Like a well loved tune, I can hum a few bars, but the words are confused and vague to the song.
As my dad would say, it was not a good time.
My story of the dying and death isn't much different to any other. The response to death for anyone is different, who has been lost, the circumstances and your relationship adds to the lottery of what you feel. The emotions wide ranging but also life changing.

What I discovered was that when a parent dies, it is the true time when a person actually stops being a child, and you really become of age. No longer is the parent there to run to when the child's world shakes. Whist many of you might say you stopped depending on your parents years ago, the truth is possibly different. Think of it honestly, how many of you feel safe that they are still there if you need them? You don't, but it is comfortable knowing that they are there for that possible moment where you might. The safety net that existed as a child, silently still existing as an adult.
In her later years, like for many grown up children, it seemed that the roles of parent and child had reversed between us. Me, the child having to become the active parent to my mother as she became frail and lost in her illness.  It was not a comfortable one. I did not realise though, until she passed, how much I had missed having my well mom around over the past ten years. Nor, had I realised whilst I watched her decline, how much I had held on to the hope that my mom was still there if I needed her, and that she would return to be the person she used to be, even if to just have the mother daughter argument. Death takes away the safety net. No longer can you be the child. The parent has gone. You have to exist in the real world, and no one is there to run to for comfort even if you wanted it. You are now the only one who can be your parent now, and if you weren't in charge before, you are definitely now. This is not about what other relationships exist for you, but the relationship of mother and child that has been lost. Of course grief for other relationships bring their own effects and changes to who you are.
It is true we are all born to die but isn't it amazing how this information is buried in our heads. Until death comes and shakes you by the hand, through friends, loved ones and famous people departure to the spirit world, it remains like a hidden secret. No one likes to look into deaths eyes, even spiritualists who regularly speak to spirit rarely ask questions about their own death. If they do, rarely will it be revealed. The veil set for the living is an important one in the journey of spiritual growth and understanding.
I have been lucky not to have lost many people. Indeed, family I may have known passed before I was born, and being part of very small family assisted that. My first real experience at the tender age of six was being told by my big brother that Father Christmas was dead and indeed had been shot, and my confusion when I received a letter from Santa a few weeks later, added to my bewilderment. Many people's experience in modern times is that of loss of relationship and many would not realise that even a childhood belief could be their first experience of grief and loss. Later I discovered that my beloved grandmother had written the letter, whose death when I was eight, I  had grieved for many years without realising it. She was for me a true loving grandmother and who I missed so much that I became a broken record to my own children about enjoying and appreciating their own grandparents whilst they could. It was only years later that I realised it was because the fun times I had with my Granny were cut short and that I had never had the opportunity to appreciate her or say any goodbye to her. Being too young to decide and living in another country made her death not part of my direct experience, but more of a bed time story and a character who suddenly disappeared from my life.  One minute I was expecting her to arrive from England at my Christmas school play, the next moment she wasn't coming and never would again. Christmas that year was terrible as her absence was felt by my father, and his grief seeped around our family like cold mist. Death's visit unwelcome and felt by all even if they didn't quite understand what death actually was.  
Other deaths I had experienced were largely by young associates at school being accosted by death through untimely accidents. Always still, the memory of them, lingering with me, unforgotten souls, whose lives had briefly touched my own. It is the colour and energy of the people you remember, even if it is a long time ago, and however brief you may have known them.  Johann and Tara, thank you for sharing your brief lives and the odd message I have received from you.
So is this a little morbid? I think not. Everyone has their experience of death but we rarely sit around the table to discuss it.  Indeed only 100 years ago death was everybody's acquaintance who visited regularly and came to our homes like an unwelcomed guest turning up frequently bringing about a social get together and what kept families close and in touch. Two world wars and disease prevented old age creeping upon many, including the young who had barely touched the earth because staying alive was an everyday personal struggle.
Now generations can exist together as medical science creates a population of geriatrics waving their walking sticks and death dragging it's feet as it follows eventually catching up and reminding us of our mortality.
Now I am approaching middle age, I know I will start to lose the people I love. Where once I had only the odd message from people in spirit, a small queue is starting to form. No longer is it the predicable message from Granny at the Sunday Spiritualist church meeting, but old acquaintances are popping in to give their regards. Uncle Jack has met up with Granddad Bill, and my mom bringing her wit and humour, as she talks about her sister, aunt and mom  and recent events in their world.
It is helpful if you are a believer in Spirit, it has its benefits that soften the blow and hardness of being left behind.  It doesn't stop the tears though, only time and appreciating other things in life does.  Grief is a process which you cannot avoid and have to go through. Elizabeth Kubler Ross says there are five stages of grief and loss, Shock/Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance  and indeed the first four you will ricochet around  like a pin ball machine, bouncing back and forth between them. It is rare that you won't feel it's effects or that it will pass by you unnoticed...to even feeling low and at rock bottom.  You will eventually end up on the other side at the destination of acceptance, but it can take time.  Death will become your friend, and it's changes will become part of you.
Of course, when death happens suddenly and unexpected it is a shock,  knowing  it is going to happen makes it an endurance test for everyone. For family supporting someone dying life goes into a type of suspended animation, all things mentally on hold, and even if you think that you are coping with it, you don't know whether you are until it is over.  It is excruciating watching someone die, you are an almost helpless observer despite doing many things to prevent the outcome. You cope in the moment and file things away, as inside you know the person dying has a bigger challenge to deal with. It is them who are dying and having to accept their own immortality and review their life. Balance their regrets, their didn't dos with the things they did, that they loved and achieved, against the now and what next. This is when death and his shadow, illness, allows the luxury of thought amongst the pill popping in the fight to live with hospital as a unwelcome holiday destination.  When eventually they let go of life is the time when the living have to get back to living, leaving the dead to the void and secret of death.
The funeral is not the end of grieving, but the start of being allowed to. It is though down to whether you have caught up with the fact that they have actually passed.  At times I forget my mom has passed, and it is almost still as if she was still in the hospital - such is the one moment here, and another moment gone.  It is hard to get used to someone who you have known all your life to suddenly no longer be there...and even if you do believe in the spirit world, to be able to visualise where they are now.
If you don't have an afterlife belief, the starkness of non existence must make death a very cold final outcome. The thought that you will never see a loved one again, ever, must be an uncomfortable one even if you are certain in your belief that nothing exists after life.
It is true though that our minds prefer stories of survival than cold reality and it's ability to avoid things it rather would not think about is part of its protection system. Many would question spiritual experience is part of the mind and as a hypnotherapist I can appreciate that conclusion. 
Death raises the question of immortality, and even as a spiritual person, you can lose faith as you get swallowed up in the grief and loss of your loved one. The mind no longer feeling safe in its existence, every threat to life and survival is examined and life stops about being tomorrow. Today suddenly seems way to short to be able to fit everything in, and a mental bucket list forms of what you need to squeeze in before your life is taken away.  Every moment becomes in real time, and as you feel your heart thump, as if a ticking clock counting down the final seconds of your life, an urgency in everything is thrown behind your everyday thoughts. It is not surprising that many people who have lost someone become subject to anxiety, panic attacks and that death triggers illness within their own lives. It is the mind becoming overwhelmed and imploding upon itself by its own questioning. A computer virus running into the survival program, corrupting the system and shutting it down bit by bit. 
Of course this is not everyone's full experience, for some this exists for only a moment, a short while, for others it becomes part of their lives for many years affecting their whole life. Marriage and relationship  breakdown, falling out of jobs, illness, alcohol abuse, are all a potential symptom of grief, of people unable to adjust after death shaking their hand. When death becomes amongst you, family and friends need to find tolerance and love when they see someone suddenly change. Even if it appears to be months after and separated from the death event, the mind can suddenly reveal it is stuck at a stage in the grieving process.

For me,  I knew that I was processing the loss of my mom, but still the extent of my feelings surprised me. Though upon reflection, I realised that the early days were automatic. The shock still very much protected me and my practical sense had kicked in as I stepped in to support my dad, arrange my mom's funeral and I put aside how I felt about her death for later examination. Those days became about knowing I couldn't decide about something's as I felt disconnected from my feelings and so doing them just in case I regretted that I didn't.

One of those was about going to see my mom in the chapel of rest. 

So many people talk about trying to remember your loved one they way they were, when they were full of life and vibrant. Often your loved one tells you this themselves as that is how they prefer to be remembered. It is really a question for those left behind. If you have observed their death, the trauma of it can interfere with the positive memories of them. You can suffer a type of post trauma that keeps you in the moment of loss, especially if you have gone through illness with them for sometime. When I was arranging the funeral, I also arranged for my mom to be dressed for the funeral, painstakingly choosing her clothes, shoes, matching jewellery, make up, her last going away outfit. Trying to do the one last thing for her that I could do, knowing that how she looked would be important to her. Her funeral was a gathering of her friends and family and if it were a party she would have been fashionably late after making sure that she was dressed and looking good for the occasion.  She was known for never being on time and for paying attention to how she looked. It was irrelevant that no one would be seeing her face to face on the day. 

The question of whether I went to the chapel of rest arose. As the funeral was going to be just a week after her death, and the hospital took five days to release her,  the funeral home could only offer one afternoon to see her . My father and brother both deciding not to go, I was left with a dilemma of not being sure what would be worse to see my mom dead again after an afternoon of seeing her die. What was more traumatic? I also found it hard knowing that she was all dressed up with no where to go and no one coming to visit, the daily habit of seeing her at the hospital still alive in my mind. She was dead but not totally gone out of our lives yet, and I wasn't ready to say that it didn't matter because she was dead. Uncertain, I sort advice from those I knew. Several of my friends had chosen not to see their loved ones, however,  one of my dearest friends, Debbie, very much recommended it and told me it was a positive experience and how peaceful her nan had looked.  

Funeral homes are sombre places, and on a last minute rush on the Friday afternoon I arrived with trepidation at the funeral home having decided to see her. I think they were trying to set a peaceful respectful ambiance but for myself coming into it, it was stark and cold and very much not an environment I associated with my Mom. After what was a brief wait whilst they got her ready, the guy eventually fetched me and walked in front of me, leading the way, funeral marching as he went, and respectfully waved me into a small chapel room. It was all too obvious that this was not a normal everyday situation. As I entered the softly lit room I was greeted by gentle music and my eyes immediately fell upon my mom lying in an open casket, noticeably still, her hands laying crossed upon her chest, her eyes closed and looking as if she was just asleep. She looked so at peace. The funeral home had dressed her, made up her face with the make up I had provided, done her hair and she looked ready to go out for a day out. She looked lovely and looked much like my Mom. Death had taken years off her face though and she had a more youthful appearance that existed before old age and illness had taken hold. I could see before me the beautiful woman that stood out in her wedding photograph taken over 50 years before and that I had in my hand to put in her coffin. It was still hard seeing her, but going to see her helped me with her last hours of life, and I am so pleased I did.

When someone close dies, if they have a cremation, it can be so different experience from a burial. At a burial the person is immediately buried. With a cremation, you have to wait for a few days for the ashes to be released from the crematorium. As my dad was working through his loss of his wife, I was the one who fetched her ashes and held them at my home as I waited for him to be ready to deal with the next stage. We had the challenge as to where mom would have wanted her ashes scattered and it was a question that was kept open for over 5 months. It was a family joke, as mom always threatened that she would come to live with me at some point, and had often talked about it. My mom being the strong woman she was, wouldn't have made for me a good house mate, and so living with me I hadn't encouraged. It seems she had the final word but having her live with me kept me in a place of not being able to grieve her physical loss. So when we go October scattered her ashes I found that tears would arrive at unexpected times and without much preamble.

Many people go through different ways of letting their loved ones go. It is a bit by bit process and I have been no different. As time gets older and a range of firsts happen...First Christmas, first birthday, moments that were once shared between you, and that a noticeable gap that someone is missing amongst you. It is all part of death. It is not just loss of a loved one but a way of being too. 

Being a spiritual person has allowed me to understand and make friends with people from similar belief systems. In the pagan world, the universe is one, and the energy of our ancestors live on, and like the seasons, the cycle of life goes in a full circle, from birth to death, to birth again. At Samhain, who most know as Halloween, pagans celebrate the lives of the dead, and believe anyone who has died need to be passed to the Otherworld so the can begin their journey to their new life, and to be reborn again. All hallows eve at midnight is the time where communication with the dead, and the dead can be passed over.  The relatives or friends of the departed go to local sacred pagan sites where the ritual and gathering of the souls of the dead are taken to the ferryman, represented by a pagan priest/arch druid, who accompanies and assists the souls to the Summerlands.

As I had lost my mom, I felt another way to help me process my loss was to join some of my pagan friends in this ancient tradition remembering the dead at Avebury.  So on All Hallows Eve we all met at ten pm, and along with others who had spirits to pass over,  we  took the traditional processional ancient walk through the Avenue of Stones up to the Sanctuary. It was a long walk in darkness following the Arch druid, Terry, who was acting as the Ferryman. Eventually reaching the Sanctuary just before midnight where Terry opened the circle and invited all to step into the centre one by one to talk of their loved one and giving an apple as an offering. The apple representing the body and cycle of life, and the seed within it the rebirth of the soul. In the dark starlit sky amongst the cold and wind,  all those gathered remembered the person who had gone on before them. Specific well known people who had died that year were also remembered. In the small gathering of strangers, so much love, respect, laughter and tears were given in honour to those people who no longer walked this earth amongst us. Farewells said and circle closed we departed our separate ways for the long walk back to the car park, my heart less heavy.  It may be a strange way to say good bye or to express grief to some but it helped me move forward and say good bye to my Mom.   I would be proud if my family remembered me in this way, as it was so much more about the living, than the death celebrated at most funerals.

Since my mom died, my spiritual belief has sat quietly in the background. A medium communicates with the Spiritworld through their senses, and when you are trying to shut much of your feelings out you are not allowing the communication to be part of you. When you live too much of a physical life you can miss the subtle spirit conversation that is part of every day life as the spiritual and physical work at different vibration, a different speed. As a medium you learn to be in balance between the two worlds and tune into Spirit by raising your vibration, how you perceive what you think and feel, noticing Spirit's active interaction with you. Those early days I was aware of my spirit family 'popping' in, including my Mom. I felt her presence and her impressions upon me, but often I was not ready to engage with her fully in that way just yet. I was still getting used to the fact her physical presence had gone and the days of reckoning of our lives together was still too raw.

So when I suddenly felt the need and desire to get a dog, I didn't stop to think about these new thoughts and where they are coming from. A house with four cats, a husband who was nervous about dogs, and a job that prevented me being at home had been a very good reason to dispel any notion of getting one. There was also the fact that my parents had two dogs, neither my favourite, and although I grew up with dogs in the family, cats were easier option.  My mom loved animals, especially her dogs. She was very close to her Jack Russell, Rosie, who devoutly followed her every move although I preferred the Old English Sheep dogs I grew up with.  The sudden urge to get a dog, and finding myself at home and no longer working all day, made me petition my husband about getting one.  Surprised at his agreement without the twisting of thumb screws, I got on to looking at adverts of puppies before he could change his mind. In a planned Sunday morning of doing housework, a impulsive moments look at an advert turned our day into a trip to London and back and before you knew it we were armed with a mad apricot cream cockapoo puppy and once again our lives had changed. What were we on! Were we mad? A dog is for life not just for Sunday you know. You could see our cats accusing us and hanging us as traitors, and my kids wondering what had hit them. Mom, aka me,  had always said no to having a dog and suddenly she has gone out and got one. Rather rash of her.  I forgot that having puppies were like having a new baby and there were moments when I thought I must have lost the plot. Dougal, was whilst adorable was also hard work. Named after the programme TV and book character, Dougal from the magic roundabout and with as much hair, was equally a very magical and enigmatic dog.   With his almost Old English Sheep dog type face, Dougal,  has been a focus and distraction and helped all of my family get over the challenging times of the last few months. A cuddle a day, and the daftness of him, even when he is hard work, has added funny moments to those sad days.  Even my dad with his own dogs, has found it hard not to warm and smile at him when we are Dougalling together.  We have Dougal days, instead of duvet days, and we all look forward to seeing his mad hairy face when we arrive home.  I can almost feel my Mom smiling by me and telling me I told you so, you have to have a dog in your life and they make it better.  I am sure she was the one behind it all, influencing and choosing her moments to help me find my own dog.
As I am used to her being in my physical world,  I don't automatically look for my mom on the spirit plain. However, every now and again she reminds me she is there, and I see her or feel her standing next to me taking things in as she did when she was alive. She is trying to help us all move forward and live our lives without her. As we both get used to the new change, and when we both are ready, I know we will have new conversations, and rehash some old ones. I know too that she has things she wants me to write, as I inherited from her my love of writing and this my own part of writing down my grief is also me processing our new way of living together.
Soon it will be Christmas, but today is another first.  I find I finish this today on what would have been her 74th birthday.  I would have normally got her something, so in her name I brought her one of her favourite Christmas flowers, a Poinsettia plant, which she loved.  As I couldn't physically give it to her, I have arranged it to be sent to someone else who was in need of some upliftment, and who would enjoy it too. I think she would have done the same, as it was something she did too, give things to others.  She lived her life as she chose, and her absence is felt by all of my family.  It is early days for all of us, there are still so many firsts to go through where I will notice that she is not sitting physically with us, and other moments where she would have added her opinion to matters at hand.  Although I talk of my own personal experience of losing my Mom, who lived a long life, and it is not to erode anyone who has their own feelings of their loss of their own loved one or their experience of it.

Death, and losing someone is always hard fact of life you have to go through and as you start towards acceptance, tears still fall upon an intruding thought of them, unexpected, uninvited and catching you at times and making you feel vulnerable. But like in between the monsoon rain, you find the warm moments of the sun, and these happier moments you start to notice more.  

Happy Birthday Mom. I miss you. xx

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