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)

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