Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Civil Celebrancy and Me 3 | Making Connections

It’s been a while since my last blog entry – apologies.

I’ll carry on where I left off. . .  

I feel privileged that my career as an academic and my engagement with sociology has taken place during a time when more space has opened up for auto/biographical reflection. Since the first British Sociological Association (BSA) Auto/Biography Study Group Conference which took place on my birthday in 1991 I have felt that my work, and that of similar others, has been valued and validated. Being part of a group that encourages creativity and experimentation and shares so much laughter and so many tears is fortune indeed.

With reference to more recent learning experiences a significant and lasting legacy of my UK SOC training is how the experience of becoming a Civil Celebrant helped me to make connections with and draw on and further develop skills acquired within my sociological undertakings and also my work as a nursery nurse (my first career). All of these occupations are people focused, are creative and require imagination. Civil Celebrancy as an auto/biographical practice involves learning about and from the people whose lives are central to the ceremonies concerned. I’m too much of a sociologist to think of this opportunity, this life course development as natural and inevitable but I feel fortunate, yet again, that my life experiences and life chances have come together in this way.

Over the last 25 years my academic research interests have been varied (to include not least experiences of human reproduction, non/parenthood, travel and transport and working and learning in higher education). Throughout I’ve been interested in loss, grief and bereavement; originally with specific reference to perinatal loss, and more recently loss across the lifecourse and the associated concern with continuing bonds and lasting legacies and influences.

Three weeks ago I was lucky to attend (and present) at another BSA study group event – the Social Aspects of Death, Dying and Bereavement Study Group (DDB) annual symposium – where the focus was on Methodology: Researching Death, Dying and Bereavement. Following a stimulating day I decided to join The Association for the Study of Death and Society.  I’m anticipating that my education will continue. If you are interested in any of the organisations/groups mentioned here, maybe in terms of your own education:
Association for the Study of Death in Society LOGO 



Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Civil Celebrancy and Me (2) | Writing, Reading and . . .

As I suggested in my most recent Blog entry writing (of various sorts) has helped me to make connections between my own life and that of others. Laurel Richardson turned to life writing following a car accident. She wrote:

Although I could not bring into speech what was happening in my head, I found that I could write about it. If I could not find the word I wanted, I could write its first letter or leave a blank space. In writing, the pace and the issues were my own . . . Writing allowed me to record little thoughts, to revisit them and fill in the blanks, to piece them together, thought-by-thought. Writing gave me a feeling of control over time and space, and a faith that I would recover. Writing was the method through which I constituted the world and reconstituted myself. Writing became my principle tool through which I learned about myself and the world. I wrote so I would have a life. Writing was and is how I come to know. (Richardson 2001: 33 original emphasis)

When I discovered sociology in the late 1980s I was aware of the auto/biographical power of the discipline although was unable to articulate this then as I am now, not least to agree with Irene Karpiak (2010: 47) who argues that auto/biographical writing is one way in which ‘adults can come to enlarge their perspective on themselves and others, and even to heal’. As such it represents, as Paul Eakin (2008: 148) suggests ‘the art of the future’: a prospect of what might still be ahead as possible and worthwhile.

In recent years my writing has moved beyond the academic. Here is a piece of auto/biographically informed ‘fiction’ (which I write in single quotation marks to highlight the fact that fiction draws on fact, just as fact often/always contains an element of fiction) that I wrote following my husband John’s death in 2010.

Thank You For The Days

The birth was hard, mirroring the effort to conceive. Reporters waited outside to take snaps of babies born on the first day of the year. They went away disgruntled. He was born 20 minutes after midnight on the 2nd. It was a Monday.

Although raised in the Jewish faith the boy’s parents were practicing atheists. Yet, they wanted to mark the birth of their longed for child, to share their joy. The baby naming took place on the second Tuesday in May.

The child grew happy and strong and weathered all of the usual childhood ailments and adventures. School and university a challenge he embraced. On a gap year, before full-time responsibilities began, his marriage took place on an Australian beach. Some called it a shotgun event but the bride and groom were blissfully happy. They exchanged rings at midday on a Wednesday in December. 

Years passed, the man worked hard, the next generation grew up and the usual ups and downs of a life-course took place. He was happy but sometimes tired. After a long day at work or an exhausting family outing he’d pour himself a beer or a whisky. They’d drink wine with their meal, followed by a nightcap. He never kicked the 20-a-day habit he picked up on his travels. First he noticed a change in his gum at the back of his mouth. Soon it became uncomfortable to chew. He told the dentist at a Thursday appointment. 

Radiotherapy lasted three months. He felt lucky he’d avoided an operation. There was only a 50/50 chance of survival to five years but he approached this as optimistically as he had the rest of his life. He dressed smartly for his first appointment and chatted and laughed with his wife on the way. She waited while he went for his treatment, glancing at, but not taking in, the news and gossip in Friday’s newspaper.

On his deathbed he reviewed his life. It had been a good one. He’d even got his five years following the cancer diagnosis but now it was his time. He squeezed his wife’s hand and smiled. Elsewhere in the ward a radio was playing, he could hear Big Ben chime in Saturday morning.  

The funeral celebrant was thorough. She captured the man and many tears were shed during the eulogy. An old friend and one of the man’s children retold anecdotes that made everyone laugh. Favourite songs were played. A cremation followed.  A smaller group – immediate family and close friends - assembled later to bury the ashes under the tree at the bottom of his beloved garden. A few words were said, a few more tears wiped away. His wife led the way back to the house for Sunday lunch.
                                                                  ****
63 Years Earlier: As the pregnancy is confirmed Rachel and Ethan Grundy wonder what their child’s life will be like. They’ve already chosen names. If it’s a girl Sarah and for a boy Solomon is a good, strong name. . . 


Reading, as well as writing, has helped me significantly in my own grief journey(s). In a novel I read shortly after my mum died I found a reference to a poem called The Summer Day by Mary Oliver, the last three lines of which are:

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
           Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one                          wild and precious life?

For me training to become a Civil Celebrant was one of the things I felt that I needed to do with my life.  More of this next time . . .

References

Eakin, P. J. (2008) Living autobiographically. How we create identity in narrative. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Karpiak, I. (2010) After life review: Autobiography as ‘art of the future’. Studies in Continuing Education, 32(1)

Oliver, M. (1990) ‘The Summer Day’ The House Light Beacon Press: Boston

Richardson, L. (2001) ‘Getting Personal: writing-stories’ International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 14(1)


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Civil Celebrancy and Me (1) | Identity, Disruption, Reorganisation, Retreats [For You]

I appreciate that this Blog has something of an identity crisis. On first sight it may appear to be an advertising/marketing tool for Arwenack Celebrants, on further reading some might view it as a (sociological) reflection on civil celebrancy, and yet others may read it as a grief memoir. It is of course all of these things because ultimately every text we produce is in some ways an auto/biographical endeavour involving not only intersections of the lives of those who write and those who are written about but also insights into the writer’s own history, interests and values.

My adult life has been peppered by experiences that following Michael Bury (1982) we might call ‘biographical disruption’. Bury’s analysis related to chronic ill-health which others have engaged with and extended to include bereavement, unemployment and other losses. Biographical disruption results in ‘the structures of everyday life and the forms of knowledge which underpin them’ being disrupted, if only for a time (Bury ibid). With reference specifically to death and bereavement:  my dad died when I was 20, I miscarried my only (to my knowledge) biological child in my mid-20s, my second husband died five years ago when I was in my very early 50s and three and a half years ago the person who was my main support and source of comfort throughout all of these (and other difficult) experiences, my mum, died. In addition, other extended family members and close friends have died over the years and as such I feel that I have had my fair share of loss and that I have become something of an expert in bereavement and grief, which includes, but is not limited to, what Robert Howell (2013) describes as the ‘significant reorganisation of one’s sense of self, for better or worse’ following the death of a significant other(s).

Unable to continue my job as a nursery nurse following my miscarriage I looked for something to fill my time with an A Level in Sociology helping to do this. I didn’t stop at an A Level and during my undergraduate degree, my doctorate, my 21 years of full time teaching and research and now my freelance sociological activities (undertaken alongside my work as a Civil Celebrant and my Blog and fiction writing) I have been conscious that not only did an experience of loss bring me to sociology but that sociology has been significant in the way that I ‘do’ grief and bereavement. So, my engagement with sociology has not only helped to shape my identity and influenced my experience of important life events and experiences but it’s also given me a language to articulate my feelings and reflections with reference to myself and others.
I am writing this – the first in a series of entries on my route to and particular engagement with civil celebrancy (and this Blog) – during my eighth or ninth stay (I’ve lost count) at Retreats For You http://www.retreatsforyou.co.uk/. Here is an extract from something I wrote following my second visit early in 2013:

My Retreats For You Desk
I am in Sheepwash, North Devon at Retreats For You . . .  I'm attempting to write a novel (a little revelation here) and like other writers of all sorts I find the welcome, warmth and supportive atmosphere here both stimulates and challenges me. . . . Deborah Dooley and Bob Cooper who run the retreat are looking after me, and providing me (in their effortless way) with good food, good company and lots of time to myself when I want it. It's late February and very cold. . . . [before going out for a walk I] look in the mirror and there she is, my mum  - my Dorothy - looking back at me. I am shocked but pleased and I take of my glasses (which I need for long but not short distance vision) to get a better look. It's the way the hat frames my face that highlights the features I've inherited from my mother. I'm usually compared to my father in looks. She's always with me, in my head and my heart. Now I see her in my face as well (Letherby 2015).


To be continued . . . 

Bury, M. (1982) ‘Chronic Illness as Biographical Disruption’ Sociology of Health and Illness 13

Howell, R. (2013) ‘I’m Not the Man I was: reflections on becoming a widower’ Illness, Crisis and Loss 21(1)

Letherby, G. (2015) ‘Bathwater, Babies and Other Losses: A Personal and Academic Story’ MortalityPromoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 20(2)

Thursday, 30 July 2015

July Weddings | Themes and Elements

A few days ago I began early preparation for a wedding that I am officiating in July 2016. My clients are planning to do the legal bit the week before elsewhere in Europe, with a number of their nearest and dearest in tow, returning to England for a larger ceremony and celebration. 

The theme of the ceremony that I am preparing in consultation with the happy couple is vintage, village fete. The ceremony itself is taking place in a village hall and following this all guests will have the opportunity to indulge in some fete day games and activities in the grounds. All key players will be wearing a combination of red, white and blue and I'm already planning my outfit. 

At our first meeting we talked about possible extra elements and under consideration are Hand Wrapping, Wine Box/Love Letter and Rose Ceremony. There’s plenty of time of course and other options are possible (see Elements page for details).


It’s never too early to begin thinking about your wedding/renewal of vows/commitment ceremony so do get in touch to discuss themes and possible elements.


Monday, 20 July 2015

Grief as an Embodied Experience | Occupations and Relationships

This last week has been a busy one. On Tuesday the 14th July it would have been the 84th birthday of my mum Dorothy Thornton. I bought plants and flowers and some sparkly birthday table decorations and with my friend Vanessa travelled to Coverack for the day to visit the graveyard where my mum and my dad are buried. 


The day my mum died my life changed forever, not just because I’d lost the most significant person in my life but also because I’d lost another part of my identity. As I’ve written previously I am a widow and sadly have never achieved biological motherhood. Having no siblings I don’t know anyone else with a similarly ‘rootless’ identity. And yet, I feel lucky to have in my life a number of VERY significant others; close friends and extended family members. One term for unrelated family is ‘fictive kin’. But despite agreeing with others who suggest that the word ‘fiction’ no longer equals falsehood and the opposite of ‘truth’ I struggle with the suggestion that fictive kin are ‘unreal’. So  I prefer ‘family of choice’ and ‘friends as family'.

Some of my most significant others came with me/I met at the annual summer conference of the British Sociological Association Auto/Biography Study Group which took place in the beautiful Dartington Hall in Devon Thursday 16th-Saturday18th July. The theme of the conference this year was Formal and Informal education: lives, works and relationships and although we worked hard sharing our work and commenting on each other’s ideas there was time for discussion of more personal concerns and for the nurturing of good friendships and the making of new ones. My paper ‘‘Active Recovery’: reflections on embodied learning’ was the third in what I’ve come to think of as my grief trilogy. In July 2010 in my paper ‘Auto/Biographical Reflections on Personal and Other Legacies: much more than money’ (Letherby 2011, 2014) I focused on my relationship with my late father Ron Thornton (1923-1979) and husband John Shiels (1948-2010) highlighting the interconnections between us and supporting the continuing bonds approach to bereavement and loss. In ‘Myself and Other Human Animals (Or Babies and Bathwater)’ (Letherby 2015) presented at the 2013 summer conference I continued my analysis to include my experience of grieving for my mother Dorothy Thornton (1931-2012). This year I extended my argument further reflecting particularly on my experience over the past couple of years. In the paper I focus on various occupations, including  my changing writing style (this blog included) a new engagement with physical exercise and the experience of retraining to become a civil celebrant with the UK Society of Civil Celebrants (UKSOC). For me these experiences have been important emotionally, physically and intellectually and have led me to argue for an embodied, sociological understanding of grief. In addition to giving a paper my book He, Himself and I (which is a further development of my 2010 paper) was launched at the conference and I will be ever grateful to the Auto/ Biography Study Group for their support in the production of this project (and my other related work as highlighted here) and their positive responses to it/them.      





Letherby G (2011) ‘Auto/Biographical Reflections on Personal and Other Legacies: much more than money’ in Sparkes A (ed) Auto/Biography Yearbook Durham: BSA Auto/Biography Study Group

Letherby G (2014) He, Himself and I: reflections on inter/connected lives Durham: BSA Auto/Biography Study Group

Letherby G (2015) ‘Bathwater, Babies and Other Losses: A Personal and Academic Story’ MortalityPromoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 20(2)

Friday, 3 July 2015

Carnivals, Celebrations and Ceremonies | Cornwall and Up Country




This is one of two signs outside Penzance Railway Station (the one pointing north) that I took a photograph of last Saturday (27th June) when my friend Vanessa and I arrived for the Mazey Day celebrations. At this time of year there are many outdoor carnivals, festivals, music and theatre productions taking place in Cornwall. Not that such celebrations are restricted to mid-summer as Helston Flora Day (May), Padstow Obby Oss (also May), the Gorsedh Kernow Ceremony (September) and other such  events testify.

Personal celebrations and ceremonies - including weddings and renewal of vow ceremonies, namings, funerals and memorial ceremonies -  can also take place outdoors, local to the place where you live or elsewhere. So if you live in Cornwall you may want to travel 'upcountry' for your ceremony or alternatively travel to Cornwall from elsewhere in Britain or further afield. Like many other UKSOC celebrants I am happy to travel with you or too you in order to ensure you have the bespoke ceremony that you want. 


*****


For those of you interested in the origins of Mazey Day the following is taken from http://www.purelypenzance.co.uk/tourism/festivals.html
The Golowan festival (Cornish for midsummer) is the festival of St. John and is held in Penzance each year in late June. Although it is an old tradition, it was revived by a group of artists and local schools in 1991 in order to remember the local area heritage. The festival is ten days long, culminating in the Mazey weekend and notably Mazey Day on the Saturday.
Golowan was one of the last mid summer festivals practised in Cornwall. In the 1890’s, the Penzance government outlawed the festival due to the rising insurance premiums for the towns business community. Traditionally the towns streets were lined with alight tar barrels which were paraded around. . . . 
The modern Golowan is arguably a little less dangerous. The celebration of the area's arts and culture attracts thousands of visitors to West Cornwall . . . .  The core of the celebrations is Mazey Day, when the streets are filled with market stalls and entertainers and the town's school children parade up and down Market Jew Street, setting out from St.Johns Hall, holding aloft large paper mache and wicker creations. It truly is a sight to behold, with some figures being larger than the building around them. . . .



OR check out the Golowan official face book page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Golowan-Festival-Official-Page/277967782386

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Father's Day | Memories of Dad

Making sandcastles with dad
My father died when I was 20, over 36 years ago. I have many memories though. What follows is a extract from a book focusing on his and my late husband's lives as they connected with mine. 


'Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my dad’s knee with my thumb in my mouth, riding on his shoulders as we played together and being tickled so much I worried that I would wet myself. I remember searching for fairies with him at the bottom of my parents’ bed and taking a young friend back to my house even though he fell over outside his own because ‘my dad is good with sore knees’. He became the street’s unofficial doctor after that and his treatment always included funny stories as well as plasters and antiseptic. . . . . My mum told me that he laughed when as a baby I peed all down his back, and even managed a smile the time I was sick on his head after he threw me up in the air too soon after tea. I remember him patiently spending the whole of his lunch hour from the factory gently attempting to remove the saucepan that I had stuck on my head and then dancing round the living room with my feet on top of his.. . . [I]  still cherish the Valentine’s card that he sent me (anonymously) the year after the friend I walked to school with got a dozen and I got none (I only found out he sent it a decade or so ago).' (Letherby, G. 2014 He, Himself and I: reflections on inter/connected lives Nottingham: Auto/Biography Study Group p20).

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Trains, Boats and Batmobiles | Vehicles and Ceremonies


I am rather fond of trains which is lucky as they have, and continue. to feature quite significantly in my life. As a non-driving child of non-driving adventurous parents I've always travelled a lot by train. We left Liverpool, the place of all our births when I was seven and moved a number of times until settling in Cornwall four years later. For a while we lived in a flat in South Queensferry, outside of Edinburgh, overlooking the Firth of Forth railway bridge and then there was the night we spent in a railway carriage in an otherwise deserted London railway station (but that's another story). 

My first solo train journey was a trip from Falmouth to Liverpool to stay with my maternal grandmother and aunt and uncle for half term week during my O'Level year and since then I have travelled many, many thousands of miles by rail. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be able to spend some of my work time researching and writing about one of my passions. With my friend and colleague Gillian Reynolds I published a number of pieces focusing on sociological aspects of travel including a book entitled Train Tracks: work, play and politics on the railways (2005). 

After interviewing over a 100 train travellers, workers and enthusiasts (in addition to reflecting on our own experience) we were able to clearly demonstrate that trains are not just vehicles that get us from A to B but also places and spaces in their own right - where people play, work, eat, sleep, fall in love . . .. Despite delays, 'standing room only' and carriage doors that close before you're through them it seems many of us still have an affection for the train and the railway. This is reflected, we suggested, in cultural representations  from Night Mail https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmciuKsBOi0   to Thomas the Tank Engine, from The Railway Children to Grand Central Station and so on and so on. 

- See more at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Train-Tracks-Work-Politics-Railways/dp/1845200837

Within a ceremony a train (or other vehicle) can again be more than just something that gets everyone from A to B, not that transport isn't significant at such events. Trains* if you like them as much as I do, could play a variety of parts in your ceremony. How about a 19th or 20th  Century themed wedding or commitment ceremony that takes place on a steam train or at a railway museum  accompanied, or not, by 'British Rail' sandwiches? Or similar for a trip down memory lane focused renewal of vows ceremony. What better than a magical Harry Potter style naming ceremony, with a re-enacted journey to Hogwarts mirroring the excitement of a new life journey? In planning a funeral ceremony for a loved one, or for yourself, you might want to consider a bespoke coffin or urn or hold a memorial ceremony at the end of Platform 2. 

Just remember; your ceremony, your choice. 

* For train of course you can substitute horse pulled caravan,  London bus, Starship Enterprise, Batmobile. Need I go on? 

.


Saturday, 30 May 2015

Reflections on the Pink Army | Metaphors and Meanings

My Race for Life tattoo and finishing medal 
A couple of weeks ago I took part in the Falmouth Race for Life event (see Blog entry 15/02/2015 for previous mention of this). As ever I was struck by how emotional the experience was and I beat my best time (just) arriving at the finish line after completing the 5K route in just over 40 minutes.

This year's theme for R4L is a military one. The running, jogging, walking women - along with their children, dogs, prams - are collectively referred to as the 'Pink Army' and each runner is issued with a pink glove and a number of temporary tattoos (I must admit to missing mine somewhat when the last traces were washed away five days after the race). This year's finishers' medals are fashioned in the form of a dog tag.

Me and other members of the 'pink army'

I have mixed feelings about both the colour (I like pink, I do, but it really isn't the only colour that women wear . . . ) and  the military metaphor. It seems I'm not alone in this for as noted in a recent post by @mosaicscience there has been much written in the last 40 plus years by people with cancer and other diseases arguing against  warfare metaphors. And yet it seems that although there are many that dislike their body being compared to a battleground, and prefer to speak of 'journeys' or 'pathways' rather than 'fights' and 'battles', there are many others who feel empowered in thinking that they are 'keeping up the fight' or in being described as 'a trooper'.

Like me (see Blog entries 05/04/15 and 11/04/15) Mosaic:the science of life suggest that metaphors are useful and help us through difficult times such as illness, loss and grief and different metaphors work for different people. The thing to remember is the need to be sensitive too what works for others as well as what works for you.

Ohh and  in case anyone is wondering I didn't get around to ironing the T-shirt. . . .

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Stuck for a Venue? | Maybe Falmouth is the Answer

Falmouth is looking especially beautiful today.
A seaside naming ceremony?

What a wonderful place for a ceremony.

'Proper Job.'


An alternative aisle for a wedding or commitment ceremony?
A memorial ceremony within castle (can you see it) grounds? 

Friday, 24 April 2015

A Poem Fit for a Ceremony | Readings for Weddings, Commitment and Renewal of Vows Ceremonies

I bought a book of suggested wedding poetry recently. Of course these are relevant for commitment and renewal of vows ceremonies also. It contains some of my favourites but not all of them. Here are a couple of examples of poems I particularly like that feel appropriate for this kind of occasion:

I Would Live in Your Love by Sara Teasdale

I would live in your love as the sea-grasses live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul as it leads.

A Birthday by Christina Rossetti

 My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.


I also really love: 

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in) by E. E. Cummings which although popular at weddings and similar ceremonies, is I think, also appropriate for a funeral or memorial ceremony.

Vow by Roger McGough

Vow by Clare Shaw

Unlike my fist two examples these latter choices are still in copyright which means I am unable to publish these without permission. If you chose Arwenack Celebrants to prepare and facilitate your ceremony we will provide you with a Ceremony Transcript following your special day. If any of your chosen poems and readings need copyright permission we will obtain this. To look for your own favourite poems or perhaps find some new ones try:

Penguin’s Poems for Weddings Selected by Laura Barber (2014)



****

If you can’t find anything that you like you can write your own or ask a friend or family member to write one for you. My friend Thom wrote and read a poem for the wedding of one of his friend’s recently. This is how it begins:

Love is made of stuff.
Happy stuff.
Silly stuff.
Cute stuff.
Awwww stuff.
Angry stuff.
And compromising.

It starts with one person, and ends up with two,
And they do this thing where they gather everyone they know,
Well, everyone they like,
And they put them all in one room,
Dressed in best,
To witness them shouting out loud,
‘We are in love!’

There is standing; there is sitting,
And then there is CAKE!. . .


From And then there is cake . . . by T. S. E. Boulton. See Thom’s website for the full version and other examples http://ceremonial.weebly.com/readings





Purple Ronnie is another great source. There are several books for sale but also some free poems available via Google or Pinternet. Just a couple of examples follow: 







Saturday, 11 April 2015

Bereavement and Grief (3) | More Swimming

Like many other adults I enjoy the wit and humour that often appears in ‘children’s films’. Finding Nemo is a particular favourite of mine; so much so that close friends regularly buy me FN related gifts. Here is just a small selection of my collection. 


The broach was made for me especially by my friend Ali (Alison Bendall Jewellery  http://alisonbendall.co.uk/)

For those of you who sadly don’t know the story as yet here is a synopsis:


Nemo is a young clown fish who lives on the Great Barrier Reef. He is the only son of Marlin, an anxious father who constantly warns Nemo of the ocean’s many dangers. Following an act of rebellion Nemo is caught in a net by a dentist who dives for a hobby and ends up in a fish tank in his surgery, overlooking Sydney Harbour. Marlin sets out to find Nemo and shortly into his journey he meets a female blue tang called Dory who suffers from short-term memory loss. She can read though and after memorising, as best she can, the dentist’s name and address on his discarded face mask she travels with Marlin and the two have many adventures - including encounters with sharks, turtles, angler fish and a whale - along the way. In the meantime Nemo and his fish tank companions attempt a number of escapes from the tank to the harbour. All’s well that ends well and despite innumerable problems father and son are reunited, with much help from Dory and others that they meet. Nemo, Marlin and Dory return to the Reef where Marlin attempts to mute his parental protectiveness. 

I first saw the film on a work trip to Australia in a hotel room in Sydney (honestly).

When encouraging Marlin to carry on in his quest to find Nemo Dory, the hero of the tale as far as I’m concerned, entreats him to ‘just keep swimming’. It isn’t just my love of swimming and the benefit I get from it that draws me to Dory’s advice but also the implication that to keep swimming, to keep going, is beneficial, for me at least, (see my reference to ‘occupation’ in my last Blog entry). I am aware that just keep swimming could be perceived to be and/or experienced as a platitude, so I could be accused of contradicting my recent arguments here. And yet to me Dory’s words feel more like a metaphor; more than a metaphor, as I swim my way to emotional and physical wellbeing. More evidence I guess of how grief is a unique experience for all of us.. . .

Dory

If like me you can’t wait for the long awaited sequel Finding Dory watch this trailer by Ellen DeGeneres (the voice of Dory). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JJmDavBXrw 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Bereavement and Grief (2) | Platitudes, Metaphors and Swimming

As I suggested in my most previous Blog entry platitudes following bereavement are often unhelpful but metaphors (figures of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action which is not literally applicable) are useful for some people. I have heard grief described as being like a punch in the stomach or a series of waves washing over a person. I can relate to each of these examples. Recently I read an account by a woman who described her own experience of grief as riding a wave. This makes sense to me too although I can’t imagine ever being able to stay upright on a surfboard, and I’ve tried body boarding and I’m pretty useless at it, so it’s not appropriate for me in the way it clearly is for her. For me grief is like walking up a steep hill, it is hard going and the pinnacle seems far way: the walk is tough. Sometimes you slip back, sometimes you need to rest, sometimes you are not sure you’ll make it to the top, sometimes you feel sure you will; eventually. This works for me but it might not for others.


Although I’m no surfer I do like to swim (I swim for at least an hour, often longer, four or five times a week googling to find a pool when I am away from home) and swimming, alongside other physical exercise (as a non-driver I walk a lot and a little later in life than some I’ve discovered that I enjoy Spinning (a gym-based cycling class that takes place to music) and BodyPump (a weight based class, again with musical accompaniment)), has also helped me emotionally and psychologically, as well as physically. I am not the only one, as these two articles - Sweating Out the Sadness: can exercise help you to grieve?http://dailyburn.com/life/lifestyle/exercise-coping-with-grief-sadness/
and Sweating Out Sadness: How Exercise Can Help the Grieving Process http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2014/06/27/exercise-grief.aspx - demonstrate.

The author of the second piece reports that exercise not only helps the body it also helps the mind; the focus needed leads to a sense of control and exercisers report that they feel less anxious and sleep better. Exercise increases circulation and blood flow throughout the body and improvements to the immune system mean the individual has a better chance of fighting an illness before it spreads. For many there is a reduction in the aches and pains, loss of appetite, headaches, fatigue and so on often experienced during the grieving process. My own experience of bereavement brought home to me the impact that such loss can have on one’s body as soon after I suffered from a number of (ill)heath conditions. This takes me back to swimming (more of this next time) although of course swimming (and other exercise) is only one form of occupation that the bereaved might find both challenging and helpful. As Steve Hoppes’ (2005) experience suggests occupations (using the term broadly and not merely in relation to paid work) may lose meaning when one is grieving but paradoxically occupation can help in regaining meaning in life and in general health and wellbeing. I agree. 

Hoppes, Steve (2005) ‘When a child dies the world should stop spinning: an autoethnography exploring the impact of family loss on occupation’ American Journal of Occupational Therapy 59(1):78-87.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Bereavement and Grief (1) | To Talk or Not to Talk

In the late 1980s, as a final year sociology undergraduate, I conducted my first piece of solo research on women’s experience of miscarriage. The title of my final dissertation thesis reflects something that was said to many of my respondents following their miscarriage: Never Mind, Better Luck Next Time. Since then I have researched and written about various aspects of loss (some of which I have previously referred to in this Blog). Whilst undertaking these projects I have met others, who like myself, have shuddered at the crassness of the well-meaning platitude (a platitude is defined as a remark or statement that is used too often to be interesting or thoughtful). Never mind, better luck . . . along with it’s for the best; at least he/she had a good innings; you can always remarry and so on and so on negates the experience of loss, of bereavement, and implies that the person(s) who experienced the loss should get over it quickly. Many people do not want; are not able do this. It is especially ironic, I think, that one of the most common platitudes is that grieving the death of a loved one ‘takes time’ and yet people are often impatient for the bereaved to ‘get over it’ and ‘move on’.

Loss and grief positions the bereaved as outsider, as stranger to ‘normal’ everyday life. Others see you as different and you feel different and it is different. The use of platitudes arise because many people are embarrassed, not least because they are unsure of what to say. It is accepted now that it is good, useful, helpful, to talk about death, prior to and after the event, but some sections of society, some people, are still playing catch up. A Dying Matters Coalition report published in December 2014 shows that almost half of us in Britain feel uncomfortable talking to the recently bereaved. Tony Walter, Director of the Centre for Death and Society at Bath University also suggests that changing, and sometimes conflicting norms around stoicism (the stiff upper lip legacy) and expressiveness (stimulated not least by the growing culture of personal revelation and confession) can lead to uncertainly over what to say to, how to behave around the bereaved. logs.bath.ac.uk/opinion/2014/12/10/talking-about-death/

On the whole though it’s better to say something rather than nothing. Bereaved people talk of their distress when others physically and metaphorically ‘cross the road’ to avoid speaking to them about their loss. A good thing to do is express sympathy and say that you’re sorry; or to indicate that you are happy to listen to, talk with, the bereaved person about the person who had died if they would like you to.

If there is one thing I have learned is that it is DIFFERENT for everyone, for all of us. There are similarities and patterns but each bereaved person is unique and the bereaved need to be treated uniquely and with patience.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Auto/Biographical Reflections on Grief and Bereavement | Bathwater, Babies and Other Losses



This week I had an article published in a journal entitled Mortality: Promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying

My piece is entitled:  Bathwater, babies and other losses: a personal and academic story.

This is the abstract:

In this article, I provide a sociologically informed auto/biographical account of my experience of grief and griefwork following the death of my husband William John Shiels (1948–2010) and my parents Ronald (Ron) Thornton (1923–1979) and Dorothy Thornton (1931–2012). Additionally, I discuss my personal, and academic, experience with reference to ‘infertility’ and ‘involuntary childlessness’. I reflect on the significance of my sociological imagination for the griefwork I do myself and with others and I consider how my experience of reproductive loss led me to sociology and how in turn sociology has influenced my experience of loss. In this piece, as in others I have written, I make epistemological connections between my academic work and my personal experience. I also reflect on the use of creative methodologies and different ways to tell academic stories and contribute to this approach.


As this suggests my piece includes some reflection on personal experiences, some research stories and some examples of short fiction that I have written. If you would like to read the article please follow this link.