Saturday 19 December 2020

It is not good to embrace pathological mistrust of each other


This is normal. My granddumpling Lilz and me together.

There is a bigger picture.

We must keep this in mind.

Do you remember what was normal for you a short while ago?  Do you remember that we held each others hands, we kissed each other in greeting and when we saw people we loved we hugged them.  It felt good and normal.  When we needed a friend, if we had one, we could go and see that person.  We made plans to go away on holidays to explore, to relax, to experience a different place for a week or so.  Do you remember when it was normal to greet people and smile and do you remember when we could travel the streets on the way to somewhere or other and if there were loads of other people going about their business, we didn't mind?

Do you remember when the things that annoyed or disturbed you were not other people frightening the life out of you by coming too close to you?  And that your home was a place you lived in from where you walked out into that big wide world out there without a second thought?

That is normal.  That was normal.  That is still normal. It is not abnormal.

A while ago, maybe you were too busy and longed to get off the merry go round.  Perhaps the world was a little too crazy and you felt you were caught up in it without being able to get out.  Perhaps, you didn't actually like what you were doing, who you were seeing, who you were.  Maybe you were tired, resentful, stuck and feeling lost.  Or, maybe you were inspired and excited about your future, about what was happening in your life and who you were with.  It might be that things were going well for you after a period of preparation and hard work, it may be that you were excited about a new grandchild coming and planning to go and support and help your own child adjust to being a parent now.  Or, finally, you had found a good and wholesome home for an aged person and you were able to breathe a sigh of relief.  The business of caring and worry was taken care of and now you thought, you can visit your aged person and simply love them.  

Those things are normal.  Whatever your belief in what is happening around you, whatever you are doing or not doing, I want us to remember that what is happening now is not normal.  

It is not good nor usual to live with fear and anger.  We used to know people who lived in fear and anger and we did not want to spend much time with them.  It is exhausting to be them and to be with them.  It is not good to believe we are in danger at all times unless we are in isolation.  Depression and loneliness and fear do not protect us from death.  Nothing protects us from death.  You have one life so live it.  It is not good to allow our minds to be filled with dread and to agree, bit by bit, actually to embrace, pathological mistrust of each other simply existing in the same space as us as if this were going to make us live.  Not even live longer, but actually to live at all. And it is not good for us to carry the burden of belief that we, against our will and all our beliefs in the sanctity of life, will kill anyone who comes near us.  That is not normal and not good.  We are in a double bind.  We need to stay alive at all costs and we must keep each other alive at all costs.  Once we are in this state of mind, it will take a miracle to get us out of it.  The beliefs that put us there do not just evaporate, and though they are new beliefs, they feel real. Very real.  So real that we do not see a time when we will ever think otherwise.  The past is another country.  The future is this, what we are doing now.  And we do not know whether they are true or not, these beliefs, because they feel so real.  

So I am saying do not narrow your focus down to this way you are living now.  Remember what was real all your life up till now.  Don't forget.  Keep it in mind.  If you feel there is nothing you can do about your fear and isolation, if you feel there is a need for you to diminish yourself and all those around you in order to stay alive and - very dangerous thinking - to keep them alive (that is a dreadful burden you should not be carrying.  It makes you very vulnerable to bad thinking) then you have agreed to give away your power.  There seems to be a greater fear of judgement from each other for not being a good and paranoid citizen than from any illness.  It feels real but is it true?  

Christmas is coming.  Perhaps it is with a sigh of relief that we will police each other and not have to spend time with anyone.  Perhaps it is what you wanted all along.  Perhaps it is not and it is breaking your heart.  But rules is rules and if you don't comply not only will you be judged fiercely and cruelly, but you run the risk of being perceived as a serial killer.  It is possible too that your heart is breaking because all you have created has been crushed in the name of this safety and mistrust.  Maybe you are facing a nothing because your business is perceived as dangerous.  So in the name of safety it has to go.  So does your future and so do your friends and family.  The long and the short of it is that you, in order to comply, must cease to exist.  For your own good and that of everyone else.  And then what?  Well, we are to stay at home alone, and all things we would leave our house for are removed. So we stay at home alone and are grateful we are alive.  And then what?

Take back your power.  You have one life.  Decide if this is what you agree to and if you do agree to it, can you see that it is working - how many lives have you saved so far and how many near misses with death have you had and can you tell me just how many people you have lost because of this illness?  I am a grandma and I am not afraid of death.  Or of you.  You can do nothing to me nor I to you by simply breathing.  I am not afraid of the world, of being together of being with my friends and family and I am not afraid of being human.  I am simply not afraid of you.  Isolated and frightened people do not behave very well, and do not think clearly for themselves.  Is this you?  What are you afraid of?  

Love is all.  Self love is also all.  Love and fear are part of our human condition.  If fear wins then what you will do, agree to, and accept in the name of dealing with your fear, will not be Love.  Love is a bigger, wider, brighter, courageous and truth seeking thing.  I choose love. 

This too is normal.  My Christmas party last year with my friends.
 Does this make you feel anxious?

This is not normal.  Does it make you feel relief?  Why? 

Monday 7 December 2020

Never doubt your fairy-ness

I never doubted my fairy-ness

When I was a very little girl, I was convinced I was a fairy.  Looking back, it was really just about me, I did not see fairies, did not talk to them nor think anyone else was a fairy.  I was lost in my own world where I was the fairy, and that was that. 

 I was a solid, food loving fairy with blonde hair that stuck up straight in all directions until my very beautiful mother brushed it down and put pretty ribbons in it. I longed to be a delicate, flimsy wood sprite and thought I should wear my mother's net curtains and that everyone should do as I commanded.  It sounds like a very healthy attitude for a little girl with three little brothers and it did not stop there.  I made my two younger brothers dress up and play fairies and princesses with me as a special treat.  

 I remember longing for twinkles, and glitter, and colour, and long fancy dresses. I wanted feathers, and

gossamer, and frills.  My father who was academic and eccentric, and my mother's older sister Kit, a
My mother and my aunts made me
lovely dresses
brilliant artist herself, would read me fairy tales and fill my imagination with magical stories, show me gorgeous illustrations and let me smell and hold delicate plants and flowers in the garden.  My Aunt Kit had in her flat in Birmingham, rows of coloured glass on the sitting room window sill.  Light would shine through the deep blues, reds, greens and yellows of these glass bottles to create swirling patterns of light and beauty on the walls opposite, sending me into such wonder and joy. I wanted to live in these wonderful colours. Kit could create wonderful murals too, illustrations of fairy tales with castles, princesses, beautiful dresses and fantastical creatures.  They appeared on her walls, and disappeared as she painted over them, and appeared again in another room.  She made dolls clothes out of the remnants of cloth that she used to make her own clothes - fancy, twinkling turquoise materials, pink and yellow patterned cottons, and purple silks.  Kit, my mother and their sister Anne were beautiful, creative, fiery of temper and loved quality in all things.
  All of them made their own clothes.  As a fat funny looking little fairy, I was in awe of these wonderful women and they, and all my uncles, bless them, made such a fuss of me with pretty materials and ribbons and bows.  I must have amused them endlessly with my efforts to be elegant and walk with my head held high wearing as many bits of glittery cloth as I could manage.  I was deadly serious though.  I had standards to keep, and a role to play.  I was a fairy and had work to do.   

 Growing up as a fairy had its drawbacks though.  In the playground one day, when I was about six years old, a group of rather assertive girls told me that only those born in 1959 or 1961 were fairies.  How they knew this never once occurred to me.  All I knew was that I was born in 1960 and by these new rules, I was out.  But! they all said, ask the fairy queen who lives in a tree outside the sports hut.  Maybe she can make you into a fairy like us.  Go, they said, see if Esmerelda will appear to you in the tree.  

 Each lunch break for many weeks, I would stand under the tree asking for Esmerelda to come and make me back into a fairy.  It was lonely and stressful because Esmerelda never once appeared. The other girls would come and giggle, and I became more and more alone and distressed.  Eventually my mother asked me what was making me so quiet and upset.  The girls had made me promise to tell no one, they had made me do a thing called a Vow, which was more than a promise, and would be terrible to break.  But my mother was so kind, and so gentle, that I burst into tears and told her everything.  What had distressed me most was that Esmerelda had never shown herself, even though the other girls, the real fairies as they said, would tell me she had long chats with them all the time.  Oh dear.  I was so upset. 

 My mother hugged me, wiped away my tears, and told me all would be well.  The next day, to my great surprise, all the other girls came to find me to tell me I was a fairy, that Esmeralda said I was the best fairy, and from that playtime onwards, nothing was ever said about it again.  And, they were very nice to me.  I thought it was my fairy credentials that had finally got through to them but I now know that my beautiful Irish mother went into see the teachers and the headmistress and read them the riot act.  She had a fine turn of phrase and was deeply articulate.  I think she spoke to the girls themselves too, in the headmistress’s study.  The upshot was that everyone behaved very well afterwards.  

 I carried on oblivious to all this, back to being a fairy and living my magical life.

 Christmas is coming.  It is a time of lights and festivities, we have a set programme of decorating our houses and businesses, buying in lots of food, trying to see family (and be nice to them) and of course, lots of presents. 

 This year it may not be like this.  We may be alone and afraid.  We may weigh up that we would rather stay alive than hug our relatives.  We may find ourselves relieved that no one will come, and we will go nowhere, we may save money on presents and we may tell ourselves that we don’t want anything anyway because we fear it may kill us.

 Or, we may be happy to see each other, or to see just a chosen few.  Whatever happens, this Christmas is different and we feel we can’t do much about it.  I have been feeling very miserable about it all and thinking that if no one is coming, and nothing much is happening, I may just forgo the tree and the lights.  Why bother, I said to myself.

 And then I found a photo of myself as a child.  Deep in my world as a fairy.  I remembered the happiness of just being, and of never questioning, magic.  Of how I looked for and loved lights, glitter, and loveliness and I thought – of course I must have Christmas!  I must have my tree and decorations and have them for me!  The fairy is still in there, she is still longing to see the pretty things on the tree, the fairy lights in the hallway and the fun of making a special meal on Christmas day.  My fairy has come up from the depths and is taking over.  Make it special!  She says, cover it all in glitter!  Wear your fanciest of clothes!  Put on your jewels and let us have Christmas together!  Let us be magic.

 We will do just that, she and me and anyone else who comes by.

Ready to fly away.

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Sunday 22 November 2020

God's Schoolroom.

God has popped out of his school room for a ten minutes, and we get a peek inside.  What would God learn if he had to go to school like human kids? Well, lucky for us, we did get a look at his classroom.  

This is God's classroom.  Here are some of the things he's working on.  Those are not 
Hula Hoops crisps there, they are Holy Hoops.  God prefers them. 

This is another painting in the series "God's Life".  I have imagined that God lives as we mortals do, and has all the same rites of passage that we do.  In this painting, where we see inside God's classroom, I have given God all the projects, essays, reading material that an up and coming deity would need.  His paintings are even displayed on the wall, where he is quite rightly very proud of them.  We get to see and admire what he is working on right now.

The God in this series is from the traditional Christian story. This is what I grew up with, and know and love.  The Bible, the Christian holy book, is full of wonderful stories, accounts, poetry, miracles and proverbs.  It is written in two parts, the Old Testament which deals with the creation of the world, with all Godly stuff before the birth of Jesus, and the New Testament which deals with the birth of Jesus, and of his life, times and death. 

I had so much fun creating these witty, silly, happy paintings.  I love the idea that God is not an unapproachable entity, existing far away from us, waiting impatiently for us to annoy him so he can smite us and feel he's done a good job.  The God of my dreams is in every part of my life, and lives it with me.  My God loves a laugh, eats too much and has to sit down a lot.  Just like me.  So the God in this painting, in all of the God's Life paintings, is quite simply, one of us.  Let us begin, let us see what is going on in the divine schoolroom.

Here is a book open on the schoolroom floor.  It is called "The Essential Deity.  A compendium of Dos and Don'ts."  Any young God will have to be trained up well for the responsibility of looking after the world.  There are going to be times when his patience will be tested and so it is necessary for him to remember that he has been trained in the following, and will have ticked the box to make sure these attributes were there in him.  Have you got, the checklist says, Grace, Light, Mercy, Righteousness and Goodness?   Have you got Perfection, Faithfulness, Holiness, Justice and Gentleness?  And then, the book gives some very good advice.  "When the going gets tough, Transcend."

Here on the right is what is on God's desk.  First, an apple for breaktime.  But it is from Eden.  The garden of Eden was where the first people God created lived, called Adam and Eve.  They were forbidden to eat apples from the tree of knowledge - which was fine until an evil serpent came and tempted Eve to eat the apple.  She did so, gave some to Adam and because God knows everything, he knew, got cross and banished them both from the beautiful garden for ever.  But God, who already knows everything despite being here in a schoolroom, can eat the apples.  Theoretically, he made them in the first place. Also on God's desk is a book he is reading, and seems to have written too.  "It's Nice Up Here", an autobiography by God.  Chapter one is "A Head For Heights".  As many imagine, God lives way above the world, probably, a long way up in space amongst the stars, so he is beginning his story with how he has to have a head for heights.  Next to this are some subjects for an essay.  Onmi means all, or every.  The pun is on God being already all things and everywhere.  So omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotency are huge subjects.  He is being asked to think about how to fit it all in, and discuss. 

In the old Testament, the great prophet Moses was handed ten commandments, or ten instructions, by God, on a mountain top.  These were inscribed on tablets of stone, and were a template of how to live under God's rules.  These are the corner stones of a good Christian life.  Here is God's first try at them. He got these more or less right, but they will need some refinement. His commandments here on this first try are -

1. Thou shalt love me to pieces  2. No photos  3. Be rude about me and I'll hear you  4. One day a week is all about me  5. Thy parents are always right  6. Thou shalt not do any smiting, ever  7. Keep your hands to yourself  8. Thou shalt not nick anything  9. No telling fibs about people  10. Leave your neighbour's stuff alone

and in time would become these, that Moses could take seriously -

1. Thou shalt worship no other god  2.  Thou shalt not make any graven images  3. Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain  4. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy  5. Honour thy father and thy mother  6. Thou shalt not kill  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery  8. Thou shalt not steal  9. Thou shalt not tell false witness against thy neighbour  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, wife or possessions.

But there were a few goes to even get the first ten up and running.

In every school, there is the football, or cricket, or rugby team.  Or whatever sport a school may play.  Here, God plays rugby and has done well, as the God Squad first fifteen.  Being the only one of his kind, his team are angels.  On the shelf below are boxes of spare feathers of the angel wings that become damaged.  Playing in the first fifteen must cause much mayhem to wings, so there are two boxes ready to mend them after the game.

Angels probably have a lot of wear and tear on their wings anyway, so it's good to have this repair kit on hand in the schoolroom.

The creation myth is fundamental in so many belief systems.  The Christian story is that God made the world in seven days.  He created a new thing on six consecutive days, and on the seventh, he rested.  The seventh day is known as the sabbath, the day of rest, the day to remember God in church services and prayers.  In older times, Christians were not allowed to do any work at all on a Sunday, and attended church many times during the day. 

Here is the order in which God created the world. Day one, light and dark.  Day two, clouds and water.  Day three, land and plants.  Day four, planets and stars.  Day five, fish and birds.  Day six, man and land animals.  Day seven, rest, the sabbath. 

So we have in the schoolroom, a first attempt to describe creating the world.  It's up on the wall as the "creating the world project" and like the ten commandments, will need some refining and tweaking to make it sound more serious.  God's day 1 is about creating light.  He has a light bulb and a lightening bolt.  For day 2, he made some blue stuff, and added some clouds. This would be the sky.

 Great. Going well. Day 3 God experiments and puts hydrogen and oxygen together and 

comes up with the sea.  He manages to make some land too, and then gets bored.  He makes vegetables, and decides he likes carrots best. 

Day 4 sees the making of the sun, moon and stars, but he doesn't know what to call them yet.  He just says he made some of these, and points to them.  

Day 5 is more taxing.  He says "decided fish best in sea.  Birds not lasting long in sea, best in sky.  Made something called Nessie.  V funny (secret)." here God realises the birds live in the air, not lasting long under water.  As a joke, he invents the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie) too, and keeps it a secret, so we will be constantly surprised by seeing her, and not sure what it actually is. 

Day 6 is even more exciting, God says he went mad and created people.  As an after thought, he gave them some animals to play with, and draws on his project plan an elephant and a cat.  Finally, on day 7 God is pooped.  He slept late and took the day off.  He had created the world, and this was a good time to take a break.  This would end up as Sunday, church day, the day Christians dedicate to their spiritual life.

Still in a creative mood, we have God's self portrait.  It is the self portrait of the week, but it would be, there is only one of him and so he would have to win.  No one knows the face of God, if he has one.  Perhaps he does not have one, and is as God depicts himself here, a huge burst of light.  
Next to the portrait is the schoolroom clock.  Here we get a bit esoteric, as time is a construct in the mind of man, some say.  And so God only has a clock for form's sake.  The numbers go round the face of it, and there are no hands, just a symbol of infinity from the point of creation outwards. Around the clock, as if to explain this, are the words "Ah, but there is no time (or is there?...)".  This is a nice little cliff edge for God to leave us upon, as he could, should he want to, invent time and make it quite a recognisable physical thing. But he has not done so. Yet.  

Basic Geography is next.  It really is basic.  It is about the world being created, the Big Bang where on the Before globe there is a mere dot of existance which may, or may not, be God.  And for the After globe, we have the Big Bang itself, and we infer the world is made and from that will come Geography.  A study of the physical features of the earth and atmosphere, and human activity on the earth. This is very basic pre-Geography.

Some useful textbooks for an intelligent divine being, always interested in learning more.  The books here relate directly to a Christian God's life.  We have "How To Answer Boring Prayers" - this must be so hard for God when he has to be loving and fair to everyone and their wishes, and he gets someone who is really boring and asking for tedious things over and over again.  Perhaps the next book, "The Confident Ruler of Time and Space" would help.  He will need confidence, it is a huge job and pretty much ongoing for all eternity. And beyond, if there is no time.  "Interviewing New Archangels" is probably a lovely job.  In the Christian heaven, there are many different types of angels.  The really important, big wig chief angels are called Arch Angels.  This book must be for when one or other goes on holiday, or more are needed.  The next book is more linked to the Old Testament.  "Ideas for Plague and Pestilence for the Busy Deity" is a serious book.  The Old Testament God is a passionate God, and does not balk at teaching whole nations and peoples lessons about themselves and their behaviour by sending plagues.  One of the plagues, sent by God to the Egyptians when the Pharaoh refuses to let Moses lead the Hebrew slaves to freedom, was of frogs.  Another was of locusts.  It worked, and the slaves left with Moses.  

"Infallibility for the Cautious" is probably a self help book.  To be infallible means that one is never wrong.  Absolute trustworthiness, immune from error and fallacy.  God is infallible, and for many centuries the leader of the Catholic Church on earth, the Pope, was considered infallible.  It needs a great deal of confidence, and this book for the cautious God is meant to help him to be brilliantly infallible.  "Baddies, How to Spot One" is a reference book for the interesting work of spotting good and evil.  God has to be on the alert, Baddies can be very clever and convincing, he has to know how to stay one step ahead.  

The final book, "3 Into 1 Does Go" reminds God of a central article of faith for Christians.  It is an article of faith, because it cannot be explained logically but it is of huge importance. There is only one God, and there is his son Jesus, and what is called the Holy Spirit. It is considered that all three are both three and also all one.  All one in God.  It is important that God has a book on this because maybe, Jesus and other heavenly bodies will need reminding that it is all perfectly doable. 

And finally, we have God's weekly attendance in this God's Schoolroom.  Instead of simply being present, he is omnipresent.  He is present in all places, at all times, all the time. And a small doodle on the blackboard above is the equation discovered by one of the world's most famous physicists Albert Einstein.  It is e=mc2 and basically means that energy and mass (matter) are interchangeable; they are different forms of the same thing.  So here, God says he is the equation.  He is the mc2 part, as he is all energy and mass and he thought this was a fun thing to think about. So he doodled it on the school blackboard.

I hope you enjoyed this painting.  It is meant to be fun and to cheer us up.  I loved painting this, and I painted it at the request of my father who was a very academic, eccentric and creative man.  He asked me to do the whole series, coming up with a different room in God's house for each painting.  The next one I will write about will be God's kitchen.  Of course, there will be apples from the garden of Eden there, but you will have guessed that as God has one here, on his desk, for his breaktime. 

God bless, see you again in two weeks.

Saturday 7 November 2020

I should be over it by now. (But I'm not). Some thoughts on loss.

Do you feel you should be “over it” by now?

Marie and Gill and I run Loss Conversations, a holistic listening support service, here in Bognor Regis. We run it for anyone who feels that loss, any loss, is affecting their lives, and we welcome everyone who comes.  We feel it takes courage to come and speak.  We listen and care and support.   

Loss comes in so many forms but grief after the death of a loved one is the first that comes to mind.  Grief can be overwhelming; it can knock us for six and leave us feeling confused, lonely and isolated.  They say that grief is the price we pay for love which is not much help when we are suffering, but it is true that the price of great love can be great pain. Grief after the loss of a pet can be just as painful.  We know that losing a beloved pet can be devastating and people deeply miss the companionship and comfort of a special animal in their life. 

But what about the loss of a relationship? A job? Our home? Our health? If these losses – relationship, job, home, health, identity, country, loss of purpose or belief – if all these other losses cause us to suffer, then that too is grief.  When we lose something physical, we can point to it, to the thing we have lost, and there is no doubt that something or someone has gone. With losses of such as purpose, connection, joy, confidence, the losses come from our emotional, mental and spiritual self.  They may manifest physically, such as anxiety causing our stomach to knot, headaches, tiredness and tears.  Or anger, being vulnerable to illnesses, and physical bodily pain that is hard to diagnose and strangely resistant to treatment.  This gives us a physical expression of our grief, but the physical manifestation is not the real trouble.  It is a symptom of our deeper grief at what we have lost. 

These more existential losses can cut us as deeply as the loss of a person, pet, job, or home.  But because they cannot be seen, we cannot point to an empty space and say, Look, that is where my loss was.  We tend to suffer on in silence, hoping no one will notice and that we will be left alone, because it is hard to find the right words to describe what is happening for us. In our Loss Conversation sessions at the moment we are hearing about the sadness of loss of connection, of purpose, of work and of health.  These losses make us feel vulnerable and exposed.  We fear we have lost our way, and do not know how we can find our way back.  We fear other people will judge us and this makes it hard for us to acknowledge out loud how bad we feel.

I have suffered many losses in my life.  I have lost a partner, a husband, both parents, and a brother.  I have also, as have most of us, faced losses in health, work, confidence and of purpose.  The power of these experiences changed my life, making me realise that no one is immune from loss.  I needed help, I needed gentleness, patience, time and support. We all need support and understanding when we are suffering.  We all need each other.   

I came through.  Not on my own, but with help and support from those who knew the story of loss themselves.  During those dark days, I found it hard to describe the emptiness I felt.  I couldn’t make an effort to be cheerful and I didn’t want to go out into the world where everyone seemed to have the things I didn’t have any more. But despite feeling that I would never recover, never be normal again, life did get better, and the light began to shine in my world once more.  It is because of these times that I support and work with people at and around the end of life because I know there is always hope.  And love. I know how bad the bad can feel, and I know how important it is to have someone sit with you and stay with you.

When we are deep in a reaction to loss, we can feel unseen and unheard.  Being heard is extremely important.  To have someone listen to us without judgement, to take the time to let us speak about what it true for us, whatever that is, and to really listen, can make all the difference to us in our sadness.

Feeling as if you are in a ravine is lonely and frightening.  Having someone alongside you in that ravine makes all the difference.  

Four common responses to loss 

Why they may manifest, and what to do about them.

  1.       I’m arguing with everyone. Anger is a very common expression of grief.  We expect sorrow but are surprised by how angry we are. We lash out, we blame, and we drive people away.  Often we don’t know we are doing this.  Sometimes the pain of our loss is too hard to bear, we don’t want to go there and find that anger is a powerful release.  Inside, we are unable to face the unfairness of our loss.  How could this happen to me?  How could they do this to me?  I need someone to blame, there has to be a reason.  I don’t understand.  It’s too much.  When someone is angry, they need help to go behind their anger to address the pain they are avoiding. It’s frightening to feel so vulnerable and anger keeps it at bay.  It’s important to find help to articulate the confusing emotions, and to hold the space for them.  Being angry takes a huge amount of energy.  The relief when it’s no longer necessary is very healing.
  2.       I should have got over it by now.  There’s no timescale to recovering from loss and it can be hard to feel the difficult emotions associated with it.  While it’s not good to become stuck in grief, it’s also not good to rush yourself through it.  It does take time.  If we push ourselves too fast, we may become ill.  Our bodies hold grief reactions which force us to stop and rest, take time off, whether we like it or not.  If you have not got over it by now, give yourself a break.  Some say it takes at least two years, some say more, some say less.  How long is a piece of string? Take the metaphorical phone off the hook.  You simply need more time and understanding, and you will come through in time, there is more gentle and kind work needed to help you recover.
  3.       My family needs me to be strong.  To take on the responsibility for other people’s grief and recovery when you too are affected by this loss, can cause you serious problems with your own healing.  You need support too.  Why do you feel you need to strong?  What happens if you too are vulnerable?  Sometimes taking on a support role keeps painful feelings at bay and makes you think you can avoid the pain.  You are too busy and you are needed.  But it will become too much if you ignore your own recovery in order to carry everyone else.  It will make you ill. Your need to support everyone else but yourself will create confusion and more distress for you.  You all need support.  Perhaps if you seek help, you will show that strong people need help too, and your family will follow and a very good example will be set.
  4.       I feel useless.  Deep in a reaction to loss, you may become exhausted.  You may want to hide away and do nothing.  You have no motivation, no purpose and no reason to do anything.  Where you once took part in the world outside, you don’t want to now.  You feel useless.  Invisible.  Lost.  You are bereft.  But you are not useless, and it will take time to come to terms with your loss.  Your body and mind need time off to do this, you will feel empty and tired, and this is part of the process of acceptance.  It will pass, it needs to be allowed to run its course, and it’s important to allow yourself time.  Patience and small acts of kindness to yourself will help, and do not judge yourself.  You have lost something or someone, you do not need to be on top form and full of beans.  You are not useless, but time, love, kindness and patience will work wonders.

A story from a Loss Conversations session

That sessions are intentionally face to face and not online.  This is a very good thing.  More than ever, we need each other.  Our Loss Conversations are a support group hosting up to fifteen people and are covered under the recent restrictions and so we can continue to support each other.

One young man came to a Loss Conversation session having lost a close friend about two years ago.  He came with his girlfriend and seemed to be more concerned with his girlfriend’s grief than his own.  She was sad but coping, but the young man was convinced that she was not coping.  He sat on the edge of his chair, looking hostile and deflecting any questions that came his way.   He was short with people and a little rude.  Eventually, I asked him, “Are you angry?”  For some reason, though it was patently obvious to everyone else, it wasn’t obvious to him.  After a few minutes, he agreed that he was.  And then, out came all the anger, the hurt and the pain of his friend having died and left him.  It was as if this friend had done it on purpose, had died and had not consulted him, had not given him time to say goodbye, and had left him forever.  The young man was very angry indeed.  But after a while, he calmed down.  It had been a revelation to him, just how angry he was.  He left calmer, with insight and very tired.  We never saw him again, but he wrote to me afterwards thanking me for allowing him to understand his anger and telling me that a burden had been lifted from him.

A lovely word from a recent attendee 

"At last I have had the opportunity to talk in confidence about how recent losses of friends and family are affecting and have affected me and can also listen to and empathise with the experiences of those who have also endured loss.

Thank you for hosting this voluntary compassionate social service especially at this time when it is most needed."  

Feedback from a recent Loss Conversations meeting. 

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Receiving - why are we so afraid to receive?  New video here

Monday 26 October 2020

God's Study. A glimpse, through a painting, into where God does all his admin. No religions needed, just a sense of humour.

This week, we are doing art.  

During the last few months, I have been busy. Not with things that further my career and catapult me into stardom, but with pottering about rearranging my house, painting my garden furniture blue, cooking, sitting on the sofa and dreaming of shortbread, making lists and trying to remember what I used to do. I found motivation difficult, there does not seem to be much point in painting.  Oh, what the heck, I say.  Can't be bothered.

What's it all for? I ask myself.  There is no exhibition possible and no one will know if I paint a master piece or not, and I don't have much inspiration, so I'll leave the studio till later, pour myself another cup of tea and find more FBI Files on YouTube to watch.

And then, I thought, I miss my studio.  It is so full of the sights and smells of oil paints, there are so many pieces of wood primed and ready to use, the heater works, I have a comfy chair and I love the organised disorder in there.  So I went and spent an afternoon chilling back in the studio, with the rain falling outside, a scented candle mixing with the smell of oil paints and turps, and I had a great time.  I found the series of God's Life paintings I had done for my dad, had a look, remembered how much fun they were to create, and decided to write about them today.  

A while ago I painted an idea I had had for a long time.  Called "God's Study", it showed the study where God works, the idea being that he pops out for ten minutes and we all get a quick glimpse of the room.  There is so much scope to make this really amusing, with God's in tray and out tray, reference books on the desk, bills, letters, articles and leaflets advertising courses and events he may like to attend.  This first God's Study sold quite quickly, and my father asked me to do him another but to add references to his own life to all the stuff on God's desk.  Fine, I said and this became the first in series of paintings of the rooms God uses but has just left for a moment or two.  We see what his rooms look like, and all the references to his life and times.  I ended up creating a God's Study, God's Bathroom, God's Garden, God's Kitchen and a God's Schoolroom.  The study, the kitchen and the schoolroom paintings have references to my dad's life, as the paintings were his idea, and for him to keep.  Between us, despite his dementia, we had so much fun creating these.  The God we refer to in the God's Life series is the Christian God of Dad's Anglican church; he was a very devout and religious man, with a quirky and wonderful sense of humour.  Today, we are going to look at the very first of these paintings.  

God's Study

God's Study, painted for my father.  First reference to his own life is the clock hands 
at five to eleven.  This refers to his television programme in the eighties called
Five To Eleven, where famous guests read wonderful poetry. 

God has just popped out for ten minutes, and we get a look at how he works.  There is much for him to sort out on his desk.  Painted in acrylic on canvas, I have used my own office in the studio as a template.  I will take you through the details in the painting - it will help to have some knowledge of the Christian Bible, a book that my father loved very much.  

I read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and began to use this grid here.  It seems that God uses it too, the idea being to remember not to just do the urgent important things, but to do non urgent important stuff too.  God has some notes here, about not panicking, and hoovering Heaven.  Below is the book of the week, a reference to my father's great love of Dad's Army, the iconic, heart warming and wonderfully hopeless comedy series made for television and first shown in 1968.  It tells of the adventures of a band of elderly and rather eccentric British men during the second world war, as they take their duties as the Home Guard very seriously.  The book of the week here is "We're Doomed, how Dad's Army captured the zeitgeist".  "We're Doomed!" was a catch phrase of one of the characters making up the Army, a pessimistic, fatalistic character called Fraser, an elderly, tall, lugubrious Scot. Captain Mainwaring, pronounced Mannering, was the pompous, loveable, infuriatingly humourless and well meaning leader of the Dad's Army. 

I have signed the painting with my name on an envelope on the desk.  Next to the envelope is a book called Absent Fathers, is it enough to be there in Spirit?  The son of God, Jesus, was born to an unmarried virgin called Mary. God sent an angel to tell Mary that this would happen, and that Mary would marry the man she was already betrothed to, called Joseph.  And so, pregnant via the Holy Spirit, not through the normal channels, carrying the actual Son of God, Mary - a virgin - gives birth to Jesus who is raised by Joseph, his step father.  His real father is God.  The book title here is a pun on this situation.  Maybe God feels a bit guilty for not being around physically, though of course, being God, he was always around in Spirit. 

There is a leaflet advertising a course for deities, who are said to not only be divine, but a manifestation of Light.  This course is a take on the kind of courses we humans offer, only it is for God and poses a bit of a conundrum.  The course is called "Follow the Light - what if you ARE the light? Courses on Divine Problems"  Under the advert is a letter from Mother Teresa, a newly canonised saint in the Catholic Church, and someone with whom Dad worked when she was alive and he was head of religious broadcasting at the BBC. 

In God's in tray are three lists of prayers to be answered.  They fall into the categories of  For Answering, For Smiting, and For Miracles.  And of course, in the picture above, God had his tea in a mug with Boss written on it.

God has gone through the prayer list for today, and those who he can answer with advice, or guidance, or a bit of good fortune will come under the Answering list.  

Those who are cheeky, or asking for bad things, won't get a nice answer, they will be smitten, which is a way to say they will get a smack from God.

The miracles are reserved for those who have requested something very special and are probably special themselves.  These lucky supplicants will have the best outcome of all.

Here, on a shelf under the computer keyboard, is a game that God may like to play when he has some down time.  Called Spot the Atheist, it is a family game to be played with his own family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and any of the legion of angels and seraphim and cherabim rushing about in Heaven.  The tag lines on the box - Is it me?  Is it you?  Him? Her? - give us an idea that it is no easy thing to spot an atheist.  God, being a deity, knows he exists.  An atheist does not believe in any religion or divine idea, and therefore is the absolute opposite of God. This may be a fun game for God to play, because from his point of view, the atheists will have a bit of a surprise when they die and find out there is something out there.  Maybe he will get the game out for them to play, and watch them laugh at the obvious wrongness of the very idea that there isn't a God, amused to be remembering their own foolishness.  

Oh I had fun with this bit.  Here is a newspaper God was reading, with big shock headlines.  Fifth horse joins the apocalypse, it says.  The final book of the New Testament in the Bible is called the Book of Revelations.  In it, the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride over the end of times as punishments from God.  Here, in this article, a fifth horse is added to ease the workload.  A rota system of four on one off will make the whole business of being a punishment from God more efficient and less tiring.

On the next page is another shock that the Lamb of God has grown up, and is now a sheep.  The sheep says, "Sorry."

Jesus, the son of God, was also known as the Lamb of God.  A sacrificial lamb had to be unblemished and pure, and so Jesus, being also unblemished and pure, took on the symbolic title of the Lamb of God, and without sin.  In this newspaper article, the lamb of God is a separate entity and has, unfortunately grown up and is now a sheep.  This could get confusing.

The Golden Smartie is a reference to a system my father set up when he was a teacher in Liverpool, before he joined the BBC, where he taught Latin and English to boys at an independent school.  Always eccentric and very academic, Dad was given boys that were considered difficult.  He devised a weekly reward system, where on a Friday, the boy who had done best for the week was given a golden smartie.  It became wildly popular and successful, and I believe there were silver and bronze smarties too.

Behind the golden smartie is a Father's Day card, simply saying Best Dad and showing two figures in Biblical robes and beards, and both with haloes around their heads.  In Christian art, the halo is a circle of light around someone's head, to signify that they are holy.  These two are God and Jesus, God obviously being the Best Dad for Father's Day.

The Ethical Angel Bureau advertises itself here. A small deposit secures an angel, so best get onto them now.  This is a pun on secretarial agencies of the past, where a small deposit would mean the agency would send someone either temporarily or permanently, to help with the office workload.  A definition of the word "ethics" is a philosophical discipline concerned with what it morally right and wrong, good and bad.  Angels, those divine beings that do only good and live in Heaven, would have to be ethical and so this bureau has used some clever marketing in their name.  

Below this is a receipt for God to pay, for £9.99 for the polishing of the Pearly Gates.  The Pearly Gates are at the entrance to Heaven. Now they are polished, and at a very good price too.  Perhaps an Ethical Angel did it.

Three reference files here.  Martyrs, Heretics and Nutters.  

Christian history is full of Martyrs - those who died horribly for their faith, Heretics who reject the doctrine of the church or faith of the time and Nutters, who are possibly mad and have strange beliefs.  

There will always be a huge number of martyrs, heretics and nutters, God will need some guidance on how to deal with them all.

Some more books to help with the business of being God.
Virgin Births - a practical approach.  I mentioned before that Mary the mother of Jesus was a virgin and yet became pregnant and had Jesus.  This is an article of faith, very strong in the Catholic faith.  The whole idea is very difficult to get our human heads around, so this book offers a practical approach to something that is not actually practical at all.  
Smiting and Plague - a thoughtful approach.  In the first book of the Bible, the Old Testament, God sometimes shows his displeasure by using severe punishments.  A word often used in the Old Testament is "smite", to hit hard with the hand or a stick or an object in the hand.  Plagues are sent by God too, to punish disobedient tribes and nations.  This is another paradox, in that God has a book on how to do this thoughtfully.  In the Old Testament, smiting and plagues were products of rage and anger, and not likely to be too thoughtful.  This is as unlikely as a Virgin Birth.
Resurrection - a hygienic approach is the final book here.  Jesus was executed by crucifixion, but had promised to come back in three days.  This he did, and it is called the Resurrection.  It is a hugely joyful and hopeful story that is celebrated by Christians on Easter Day.  The hygienic approach is necessary because having been executed and buried for three days, any coming back could be a bit smelly.  Obviously, Jesus wasn't smelly, God had read this book.

And finally, on the wall on God's study, is the Pope of the Moment award.  The Pope is the leader on earth of the Catholic church.  He lives in the Vatican in Rome and is responsible for all the Catholics wherever they are in the world.  Pius was a popular name for a pope, there were twelve over the centuries.  Pius sounds like the word Pious, which means devoutly following a religion. 

I did jury service with a lovely nun once, who denounced much of what the lawyers were saying as pious twaddle, meaning they were talking pretentious nonsense.  I was struck by how wonderful it would be to have a pope called Pious Twaddle, and she, being a humorous and wonderful old nun, agreed.  So, with huge apologies and respect to all Catholics, here he is and what is more, he is Pope of the Moment.

Another talk for God to go to, is the How Did I Get Here event.  God is said to be without beginning and without end, and so this could be a difficult question for him when awake in the early hours of the morning.  In this lecture, on Thursday at 8pm, he will get to explore Divine Consciousness - in other words, his own consciousness.  

Phew!  Thank you for getting this far.  God is due back into his study any minute now, so we will leave it there.  I had so much fun painting this, with my lovely old Dad.  He died in June, and all of the God's Life paintings have come back to my studio. If you are up for it, I will do God's Schoolroom next. See you in two weeks and I hope you either get an answer or a miracle for your prayers, and avoid the smiting. 

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Monday 5 October 2020

Total acts of grace from the dying. Gifts from the end of life.

"Winnie." I painted this for the A Graceful Death exhibition, portraits and words from the end of life.  Here, the carer on the right is training the carer on the left to sit with Winnie, who is dying

There are, sometimes, magic moments during the dying of someone you care for.  We hear of people very near to death talking to invisible beings, telling them to wait, they are just getting ready.  There are reports of people seeing family and friends long dead, coming to visit them, and it all seems perfectly normal.  Over the last few years, I have begun to notice small but significant acts of grace during the dying of someone with whom I am, or have become, close.  I call them acts of grace but I want to call them acts of love, even though there is no proof at all that they were.  These small gifts have given me immense joy, and sometimes, I have been affected by the power of them for a long time afterwards.  Even now, recalling them, I feel my spirits lift.  Here are three of these moments of grace, these glimpses into something beyond time.

Dominic and the angels.

I painted Dom for the A Graceful Death
Exhibition. Shown here with his boule
of chemotherapy drugs that he had to carry
with him

I sat with my youngest brother all night, the day before he died.  Father Dominic, my brother, was a Catholic priest.  In his early fifties, the youngest of four of us, it seemed the natural order of things was being upended, and that he was leaving us far too soon. 

I woke in the early hours one morning, on my bed in his hospice room, remembering this deep dark time in the middle of the night had been the most difficult for Dom.  He had spoken of the difficulties the night had brought him when we talked before he arrived at the hospice.  So I went in my pyjamas to sit beside him. There was only a small light in the corner of the room, outside it was dark and silent and I prepared myself for a long wait with him.  Taking Dominic's hand in mine, I sat and watched him sleep.  He had drifted into that deep state of unconsciousness that precedes death, and I did not know where he really was.  Suddenly, I felt the room fill with joy.  I felt something change in the atmosphere around me, and I thought - there are angels here. I felt intense love, almost tangible, but invisible, swirling in the air around us and I looked around to see where this extraordinary joy was coming from.  It felt like someone was pumping pure love into the room through the air conditioning, but I knew that made no sense, and I could not work out where it was coming from.  And then, I looked at Dom and knew that he was doing this.  It is you, Dom, I said.  You are doing this!  And as the light began to change outside, and the angels, if that was what it was, were fading, Dominic took my hand in his and kissed it.  Dominic died hours later just after midday, when I had left the room for a few minutes.  But he had let me know his angels, and allowed me into his love. 

Margaret and her smile.

I loved Margaret.  I had been asked to support her for her final journey, neither of us knowing whether I would be needed for the whole of it.  As it turned out, I did stay, and Margaret in her nineties and I in my fifties then, became great friends.  She was a modest, shy, intelligent lady.  She had taught maths and music, before marrying into the church and becoming a vicar's wife and later, a mother.  Margaret was tiny.  She spoke with a strong Northern accent, and I visited her every week until near the end, when I found a way to be with her every second day.  She had no visitors but her excellent son and his wife, and me. I loved being with her, and she loved being with me.  We would tell each other we were so lucky to have met.  

Later, as Margaret drifted into the last stage of disconnection from the world, I would sit with her and keep her company.  One Sunday I had a compulsion to go and see her.  I ought not, I thought, she isn't expecting me.  But I found myself in my car driving to the home where she lived.  I really ought not, I thought as I let myself in and climbed the stairs to her room.  She lay in the bed in her little room, the sides up now, and breathed heavily and noisily.  I wondered why I had needed to come, but I sat down anyway and told her I was here, and that all was well.

Nothing happened, so after a while I prepared to leave.  Saying goodbye, I stopped at the door and I do not know what made me go back to see her again.  Leaning over the sides of  her bed to say a proper goodbye, her tiny head with white hair on the pillow, mouth open, and breath coming noisily and sharp from her throat, I told her that she was my dearest friend.  And then, Margaret opened her eyes, and looking into mine gave me the most beautiful smile that I have ever seen.  The smile filled me with joy, with love, and with utter astonishment.  It seemed to radiate light and I remember laughing and saying out loud that all was fine, it is all OK now, I know she is fine and I am so so so happy!  I was so happy.  I was elated.  It was the most wonderful gift.  I laughed all the rest of that day, and into the next.  The next day she died, and when I went to see her for the last time, I put fresh lavender on her pillow and thanked her, still laughing for joy.  Her final gift of grace had been to show me a glimpse of Heaven in a smile that shone with light and love. 

Anne and the look.

I painted this of Anne last year, requested by my cousin
Jemima, before Anne became ill.  Since this photo was taken,
I have painted forget-me-not flowers in Anne's hands.

A few days ago, my Aunt Anne died.  The last of my mother's sisters to go, it is the end of an era.  Anne, her sisters Maureen (my mother), and Kit, looked more and more like each other as they grew older.  Anne had begun to look so like my mother that I took huge comfort from it, and though they were very different in character, my mother and Kit and Anne shared such a history.  My Aunt Anne was precious to us all, the youngest of the sisters, they had had four brothers and now, after Anne's death, there are only two brothers left.  Five of the seven siblings have gone.

I visited my aunt twice during her final weeks.  She was lovingly cared for by two of her own six children, and wanted for nothing. I did not know Anne as well as I had known my mother and Kit.  I wanted to know something of the real person before she died, and so I went to see her and my cousins Maddy and Min.  I sat alone with Anne for a little while on the second visit, talking about her life, longing to know her more and understanding that perhaps, I could not.  There was a silence, Anne was looking down at her hands resting in front of her as she lay propped up in her bed.  Then she looked up and into my eyes and the power of the look was like an electric charge.  For a few seconds she shared something so deep and profound, so wonderful and so personal, that my only thought was that she was seeing me.  She was seeing my soul, she was completely and utterly seeing me.  I felt understood, affirmed, reassured.  So instead of my understanding Anne before she died, Anne understood me. It left me full of peace and awe, and I knew it was her goodbye.  There was nothing more for me to do, no more visits needed, Anne had seen into my soul, and had send me away with love.  She died a week or so later.  

What does it all mean?

This, I do not know.  The experiences are simply that, experiences and leave no physical proof behind that they occurred.  Because they happened to me and no one else - except the dying person who then died and cannot be asked about it - there is only my word for it. I am speaking of my own experiences, setting them in context and describing the effect they had on me.

Here is where they become meaningful.  These experiences were not expected.  They were surrounded by powerful feelings of love and connection that did not come from me.  If I am able to create these experiences myself, I am a very lucky person and wish I knew how I did it.  In the moment of each one of the above accounts I was, for a short while, beyond myself.  It was like a light exploding in my mind and heart, there was connection beyond my five senses and there was an understanding of it being absolutely, and perfectly, for me.  I did not understand these experiences so much as feel them and know them.  I knew what they were as they happened. My response to each was joy, tears, gratitude, laughter.  I did not question them, worry about them, analyse them, or dismiss them.  Each experience was so wonderful, I left knowing everything was perfect.  With two of them, Margaret and Anne, I did not need to go back to see them again.  They were on their way and did not need me, and made it clear that what they were doing, where they were going, was far beyond me and my small offerings here.  I was given a glimpse of perfect love and perfect understanding, and allowed to go on my way.  They then went on their way, and died.  I like to think they were surrounded constantly by the love, connection and joy that they allowed me to experience in the teeniest of ways in a microcosm of a second, and that that is what is awaiting us all. 

With thanks to my dear friend Claire for the Angels Gather Here sign.

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