Wednesday 2 August 2017

A Celebration of Life for John Michael (Mike) Shiels | A few reflections on an (extra)ordinary life

Cilla and Mike on their wedding day

Last week I had the honour of facilitating the celebration of life for John Michael (Mike) Shiels (1942 – 2017). This was of particular significance to me given that Mike was the eldest brother of my late husband John Shiels (1948 – 2010). It was in a telephone conversation soon after Mike’s death that Cilla (Mike’s wife) and I ‘discovered’ that both she and I wanted me to do this.

I have reflected elsewhere on the distinction that is made between people in powerful and/or celebrity roles and so-called ‘ordinary’ people:

… there are many, many … extraordinary ordinary people whose invaluable work will never be noticed or recognised in this way and there are those whose acts of kindness are quietly undertaken. 

As a celebrant I am lucky to hear extraordinary tales about extraordinary everyday folk. Mike’s story is no different and I feel privileged to share, with Cilla's permission, a little of it here.

   John Michael Shiels was born on the 7th December 1942. He grew up in Farnworth, Bolton with his mother Hilda, his father Jack and younger brothers Martin and William John (known as John). Poor Martin must have felt excluded to be the only brother not to have been christened John. After being ‘kicked out’ of school at 15 but with a clutch of O’ Levels Mike’s first job was in metallurgy in a foundry where he quickly rose to manager. Whilst there he met an old school friend who was studying for A’ Levels with a view of going to university. After some thought Mike realised that this was what he wanted to do too. On leaving the Foundry he worked for the Post Office and saved money to fund his further and higher education. Following A’ Levels Mike began studying Sociology at Leicester where he was joined by Martin on the same degree a year later. Martin caught up when Mike took a year off to return home and stay with Hilda following Jack’s death. John, also studying Sociology (there must have been something in the water) but at Birmingham rather than Leicester, graduated the same year as his older brothers. Their mum was rightly proud of the three of them even though she had some reservations about their appearance. Mike with his long, ginger dreadlocks and his flared jeans with zips and mismatched material patches was, or was not, depending on your perspective, a fine example to his younger brothers.

The Shiels Boys
Left to right: Mike, John, Martin

The tributes that flooded in following Mike’s death included reference to him as ‘a good listener’; ‘a special man’, ‘one of the best’. Looking through the very many sympathy cards that Cilla received I saw Mike described not only as a ‘lovely gentleman’ (one word) which is defined as chivalrous, courteous, or honourable but also a ‘gentle man’ (two words); gentle being defined as kind, kindly, forgiving, sympathetic, understanding, compassionate and loving.

Mike’s wit and intellect was also noted by many not surprising given his many interests his interests in music and film; travel and geography; information technology and the mechanics of computing; science and the history of the universe; art; gardening; languages and cooking. Mike also had a life-long interest in sport and politics and it was a delight for me to look out at the red scarfs, ties, jackets, flowers and the occasional football shirt in recognition of his support of Manchester United and his political leanings.

Both Mike’s friend Neil and Cilla spoke of Mike’s intelligence, with Cilla reminding us ‘I christened him Mikepaedia but in other circles he was known as the Professor. He would always say, I’m not a smarty pants I just know the answer.’ Neil, having known Mike since university days, told a couple of colourful stories one of which involved Mike, Martin and John singing in three-part harmony in the student flat above Neil’s late one night/early one morning whilst Neil was attempting to ‘entertain’ a guest. Cilla spoke of Mike’s work in Further Education and of his interests and relationships. She also spoke movingly of his support for her:

He always said I was his motivator, but he in turn motivated and encouraged me to achieve my full potential. . . .

As Mike’s working life ended he took on more responsibilities in and around the home whilst my career took off. He knew me from student teacher to Head of Department and throughout our time together Mike supported me 100% even when that meant I stayed in my full-time post longer that he’d have liked as he was eager for us to begin our retirement together. 

If I had a deadline for Inspection or an assignment to complete he’d say, “We’ve got a campaign.” That meant he would do everything he could to make sure I was able to concentrate on meeting my targets.
In later years he used to say, “When you give the go by,” referring to my imminent retirement. We did get to have that quality time and enjoyed our later years together which was priceless. . . .

He was a good listener and we’d often laugh at how we could talk for England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  I don’t have my mate now to say how nice I look or well done if I’d achieved something or head up shoulders back when I faced a difficult situation. He was my soul mate and can never be replaced but my fond memories and love for him will stay with me forever.

It was wonderful to observe the smiling faces as Cilla, Neil and I spoke about Mike and we all laughed at the mistake over the mix up when the member of staff at the crematorium played the closing piece of music Sister Morphine, by The Rolling Stones instead of Nessum Dorma, sung by Pavarotti for the Committal. Several of us also remembered a similar confusion over the music at John’s funeral …

Saturday 8 July 2017

Bereavement and Belonging(s), Losses and Legacies | PART THREE

Bereavement and Belonging(s), Losses and Legacies: personal, academic and political reflections on the relationship between loss and stuff (PART THREE)

In recent years I have found particularly comforting the cards and gifts I have received both immediately following bereavement and later on. After both John’s and my mum’s deaths I received scores of cards, flowers and other small gifts in sympathy for me and in remembrance of them. In both situations friends, acquaintances, and in John’s case, a few folk he had taught or worked with that I had never met, wrote about events of which I have no memory or no knowledge. This evidence of their impact on the lives of others is very important to me. In addition to the presents bought for me by John and my mum I now also have gifts from close friends with my loved ones in mind: 

A  present from my friend Deb,
with an image of mum. I wear it often.
Old postcards of Coverack:
a special place for mum, dad and I. A gift
from my friend Nessa. 

It is very possible of course to grieve for ‘distant others’; people we have never met (16). This is clear from the outpouring of love for the survivors and deceased following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. 

The Grenfell Tower tribute wall
Alongside the ‘traditional’ messages of condolence and the emotional, practical, financial and political (from some) support there are many examples of creative solidarity and agency. Here is just one example from rapper Potent Whisper (aka Georgie Stephanou)

For many, including me, the continuation of rituals following the death of loved ones is both solacing and a way of reaffirming positive memories.  As I have written elsewhere:

Unbirthdays and Odd Socks

On the first of her birthdays following my dad’s death my mum bought me a present. ‘Happy unbirthday’ she said. After that we celebrated unbirthdays twice a year; mine was in July on her birthday and hers in January on mine. My dear friend Vanessa (Nessa) and I have continued the practice [at her suggestion]….

When his children were in their early teens John was never able to find a complete pair of socks. These and other items of his clothing would disappear and appear on occasion in the boys’ bedrooms or schoolbags. Wearing odd socks started as a necessity but became a trademark, and my mum in particular enjoyed finding interesting ‘matches’ when putting the washing away. Now the anniversary of John’s birthday [and the anniversary of his death] has become ‘odd sock day’ for me and a small number of close friends; I particularly like wearing a striped and a spotty one together [although not in this picture which I took in February this year]. (17) 

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 (18) 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 (19) suggests ‘the art of the future’: a prospect of what might still be ahead as possible and worthwhile. 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. (20)

Absolutely. Me too.

Although I have always admired my dad’s memoir and fiction writing it wasn’t ever something I thought that I could do. How silly of me. We all have stories within in us, stories to reflect on on our own and collectively with others. Memoir and ‘fiction’ are just two ways to tell such stories. Others include poetry, music, drama, pictorial art (and more). Referring to his own poetic essays Ronald Pelias (20) notes:

They are fictions that never assert the truth but strive to be truthful. . . They are imaginative constructions whose truth lies not in the facticity but in their evocative potentiality’. . . .

William Tierney (21) adds to this suggesting that fictional accounts might portray a situation more clearly that standard forms of representation arguing that: ‘we rearrange facts, events and identities in order to draw the reader into the story in a way that enables a deeper understanding of individuals, organizations, or the events themselves’.

It was following John’s death that I first began to write a little differently and these various ways of expressing myself became even more appealing to me after my mum died. Since then I have including fictional pieces (sometimes based on my academic research, sometimes with reference to my own experience, sometimes prompted by issues that distress and/or anger me) and memoir in various academic pieces (e.g. 22). I have also published similar writings in non-academic outlets online and on paper (e.g. 23). More recently in a sister-blog to this one I have published political opinion pieces and political fiction

I wondered about attempting to write up this three part piece for an academic journal but decided on reflection that this mixture of memoir, fiction and academic material, supported as it is by images and internet links, was better suited to a blog piece. My hope is that others with similar and different experiences might find something of interest, even comfort, in it.

Before I conclude here are some examples of some of my auto/biographical fiction:  

This is a story written with my dad, and our relationship in mind. My mum’s in here too.

I wrote this soon after my mum died. Memories are woven in it explicitly and implicitly.

John’s life and experience was in my head (and heart) when I wrote Thank You For The Days. It’s quite short so I’m including it here: 

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. . . 


This writing represents an ongoing account for me. It’s where I am today, which might not necessarily be where I am tomorrow, next week, next month, next year... What I feel sure will not change, however else I tell my story(ies) is the lasting legacies of those I have written about here. As well as the belongings – both practical and decorous – that I have to remind me of them – there are also the many opportunities and experiences I have had and beliefs and values that I hold – that bear traces, and more, of the influence of my loved ones.

I accept that:

. . . story-telling is not an innocent activity. What is remembered is always selected: the reason a story is told relates specifically to the current context and the current audience (25).

And happily admit that my aim here has been to demonstrate how the ‘ordinary’ people in my life (both living and sadly not) are indeed ‘extraordinary’.

I am grateful to them all.

This piece is one small expression of my thanks. 

16.  Brennan M and Letherby G (2017) ‘Auto/Biographical Approaches to Researching Death and Bereavement: connections, continuums, contrasts’ for Morality: Promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 22(2)
17.  Letherby, G. (2015) He, Himself and I: reflections on inter/connected lives  Durham: British Sociological Association
18.  Karpiak, I. (2010). After life review: Autobiography as ‘art of the future’. Studies in Continuing Education, 32(1), 47-60. pp47
19.  Eakin, P. J. (2008). Living autobiographically. How we create identity in narrative. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp148
20.   Richardson, L. (2001) ‘Getting Personal: writing-stories’ International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 14(1): 33-38. pp33
21.   Pelias, R, (1999) Writing Performance Carbondale Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Ppxiv
22.  Tierney, William (1998) ‘Life History’s History’ Qualitative Inquiry 4(1): 49-70. pp313
23.  Letherby, G. (2015) ‘Bathwater, Babies and Other Losses: A Personal and Academic Story’ Mortality: Promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 20:2
Davidson, D. and Letherby, G. (2015) ‘Embodied Storytelling: loss and bereavement, creative practices and support’ Illness, Crisis and Loss 23:4
Letherby, G. (forthcoming) ‘To Be or Not to Be (a mother): thinking about mothers and others through literature and social science’ in Browne, V. Giorgio, A. Jeremiah, E. Six, A. L. and Rye. G. (eds.) Motherhood in Literature and Culture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Europe  London: Routledge
Letherby, G. (2015) ‘Temper and Tenacity’ Flash500
Letherby, G. (2015) ‘He Loves Me, Not’ in Parkinson-Hardman, L. (eds.) Hysteria 4 (Hysteria Anthologies) London: The Hysteria Association
Letherby, G. ‘Natural Selection’ in To Carry Her Home: Bath Flash Fiction, Volume One: a complication of very short fiction Bath: Bath Flash Fiction Award
25.  Smart, C. (2007) Personal Life: new directions in sociological thinking, Cambridge: Polity.

Bereavement and Belonging(s), Losses and Legacies | PART TWO

Bereavement and Belonging(s), Losses and Legacies: personal, academic and political reflections on the relationship between loss and stuff (PART TWO)

Amongst some of my most treasured possessions are the small number of letters that my dad wrote me the summer before his death in January 1979. I was 19 years old and spent July and August in London with my boyfriend (who I married a year later). Whilst I was away dad wrote to me every week in between his kitchen porter duties at the hotel in Coverack, Cornwall where my mum worked also. His personality and humour, and, I think, his love for me, shines through every word. Here is one example, which includes a gentle reminder of my need to keep in touch with my parents during my time away:  

My Dear Darling Daughter,
Each week you really ‘oughter,
Send a letter or a card,
Which can’t be very hard,
To Mum and Dad the Waitress and the Porter.

Latest Financial Report:
A further £10 deposited to day which makes £40 deposited in all. This consists of £20 pocket money and £20 . . . which your Nan gave us. . . .

I had hoped to put the travel money from the grant people into your account . . . but nothing has come yet. I’m beginning to wonder if the college sent on the form.

Will you let us know how you stand for money later on when this £30 has been deposited and we will try to keep sending some so that you will be ok for ice-cream and sweets.

After some detail about their week he concluded:

That’s about all for now, keep well and look after yourself; a big kiss for M.

P.S. Don’t forget to send your Nan a birthday card –August 9th.

My dad was a hard worker and, perhaps unusually for a man of his class, an adventurer. His taste for exploration led to our small family – dad, mum and I - all leaving Liverpool, the place of all our births, in the mid-1960's and we lived in north and south Wales, Sheffield, Blackburn, London, Edinburgh and, for a most memorable nine months, in the Bahamas before settling in Cornwall four years later. In part, I think, it was this travelling, along with his spell abroad with the army at the end of World War II, that stimulated him to write (short stories, a memoir, poems and more) when he wasn’t at work (his first job at age 14 was as a trainee industrial diamond polisher and others paid work included hotel porter, restaurant manager, handyman, toilet roll packer). His love of books, interest in faith and religion, the world, its environment and its peoples with a strong concern for the life chances and challenges of all were likely influences also. A few lines from one of his pieces expresses some of this:

Who can … look upon the smile of a baby without gentleness touching the heart? 

Or stand at the edge of the sea, and seeing the horizon, feel solitude?

Or cry when sorrow bites deep, or happiness sweeps everything else away? 

Or fail to live a full life with joy, experiencing every moment as well as every day?

Only a man who is not yet awake,
A zombie! 
(untitled and written sometime in the 1970s).

Some writings by dad, his pen holder and that Valentine Card 
In this picture you can see the final draft of his 60,000 words memoir (finished just a few weeks before he died); two magazines in which he published short stories; his (and now my) pen holder and the Valentine’s Day Card he sent me the year after the girl I walked to school with got 13 and I got none. My mum told me it was from him years later when I was well into my forties. 

It is increasingly acknowledged by grief counsellors, therapists and scholars concerned with death and bereavement that there is a place for creativity – including the production and presentations of music, visual arts, stories and poems, drama and so on - within bereavement. Such activity is thought to be one result of and to assist individuals through the grieving process. The production of online memorials is a fairly recent way of collecting together and displaying such materials although grief related creations have been produced and documented throughout history. Some examples of the artefacts, images and other outputs produced and the value of such production are considered by the authors in a special edition of the journal Illness, Crisis and Loss that my friend Deborah Davidson and I edited (2015) (12). The fruits of such activity can be useful not only for the person who produces the piece(s) but also for those who read, watch and view the work. We know, for example, that music and fiction enables listeners and readers to experience emotions — their own and those of others — and understand them in relation to the contexts in which the emotions arise. Similar can be said about art and drama. For many grief is a long process and the making of ‘things’ in memory of those who have died and/or as a way of expressing emotions along the way is helpful for some.

Painted with love
Here is the painting I completed after the death of my baby before his/her birth. Not much skill or even originality displayed here as this artwork is in fact the result of a ‘painting by numbers’ kit but important to me nevertheless.  And there are other creations that I credit to this loss - I have been lucky that my career has taken place at a time where there has been a space for the ‘auto/biographical I’ (13) and much of my work (but not all) on reproductive and non/parental identity, on working and learning in higher education, on travel and transport mobility has been auto/biographical. I feel privileged to have been able to spend so much paid time on issues that are so important to me and to others especially in relation to reproduction, reproductive identity and the experience and non/parenthood (I have undertaken research on (amongst other issues) miscarriage and other perinatal loss; infertility and involuntary childlessness; teenage pregnancy and young parenthood and pregnancies complication by long-term health conditions). I feel a responsibility too, both in terms of ‘fair representation’ of my respondents’ experiences and it terms of research accountability, making it clear what I did, how I came to the conclusions I have. Personal experience is sometimes the motivation for research and connections and relationships are made between researchers and respondents. But, it is not always possible or desirable to research issues close to us. An autobiographical connection should not be seen as a prerequisite to ‘good’ research and researchers do not always identify with respondents and visa-versa even when they share an experience and/or identity. Thus, researchers do not have to draw on their own life experiences to do good work but our life experiences/identity are present at some level in all that we do and it is important to acknowledge this (14).

Now a piece of ‘fiction’ I wrote about three years ago:

A Wonderful Life

Conceived in love and born to celebration the child is a beauty, healthy too. Quick to smile and sleep through the night; record breaking in potty training, walking and talking. School days are happy. As popular as she is clever success is achieved across the board. University follows and ends with a piece of paper confirming what her parents already knew: Best in Class. She dates. Has one or two semi-serious relationships, all learning experiences, no broken hearts. Then she meets her soul mate and marries the same year as her promotion to partner in the practice (much earlier than anyone in the history of the firm). Three children follow and the growing family years are full of laughter and fun, of holidays in the sunshine and more certificates than the walls of her beautiful home can take.  The children leave home, happy partnerships and good jobs secured. Alone with her partner (both in name and experience) their mother does not suffer from any empty nest symptoms. Applauded for her charity work, well known in the community and beyond; an accolade from the reigning monarch the crowning glory to a glittering career.  Retirement is full, supported not only by well-earned pensions but also a not so small win on the lottery. Ten happy years follow until her husband dies in his sleep. She lives for almost another decade amply fulfilling the roles of doting grandmother and faithful friend. Content with her lot she dies gently, as her husband did. Her funeral is a celebration of a life well lived.

A familiar ache and tugging feeling disturbs my daydream and prompts me to go to the loo. My knickers are wet, there is blood. My dreams of my child’s wonderful life dashed for yet another month. (15)

Having left school at 18 to train to be a nursery nurse, I took A Level Sociology at my local FE college whilst in my mid twenties and began studying for a Sociology degree aged 28. I met John, the first year tutor at that time, on my first day. Although it wasn’t until five years later when we were teaching together that we became a couple. Although I began to think about the world in very different ways in the earlier evening class, John, and the other women and men who taught me across my three year undergraduate course, plus my fellow students, were significant in my flourishing adult political development. As this was happening I wondered often about the conversations I might have been having with my father. Various incidents during our travels (for another day, another set of reflections…) led me to feel sure that his politics were more Left than Right but I had no concrete memories of us discussing personal or party politics. More than 30 years after his death I reread my dad’s memoir (last looked during the first couple of weeks of raw grief) which led me to other writings and notes: poems, short stories, daily thoughts and jottings for a novel, plus the first couple of chapters. All this convinced me that, had he lived, we would have continued to discuss and debate, and that he would have been another person in whose company I would have been able to find and refine my personal, political voice. 

John’s influence on my political identity was always clear. Throughout my relationship he taught me stuff and I know he would agree with me that the learning was reciprocal. Here is a picture of the Royal Doulton figure we bought with some money we received when we married. And these are just some of the many, many bracelets he bought me, and one book from his huge collection (academic texts, crime and comedy novels, cooking books, song books etc. etc.).

A friend once told me I had the worst singing voice he had ever heard. John, who himself had a beautiful speaking and singing voice, encouraged me to carry on regardless, praising my attempts and joining in with me. Our relationship was a second chance for both of us and was complicated at times by John’s experiences of mental and physical illness (more of that elsewhere). John’s voice stays with me I hear him in my head teaching, debating, joking, swearing, singing. Through good times and not so good we never ran out of things to talk about, whether arguing about politics or literature or about music or the football (which he loved and I didn’t). We smugly felt sorry for couples who shared a restaurant table but no conversation. Once in a pub we were amused when a woman looked towards us and whispered to her male companion, who she hadn't exchanged a word with for quite a while, ‘they're having an affair.’ We weren't being especially physically affectionate. No snogging or cuddling, just eating together, interrupting each other with stories and responses and laughing. At John’s funeral two of the three good friends that I asked to speak in celebration of his life mentioned his voice, The first, like me, remembered the loveliness of his tone and the passion of his arguments, the second recounted the tale of the two of them being evicted from their local Conservation Club for belting out The Red Flag. This is just one version available on YouTube

This is the triptych (panel painting in three pieces) that my mum bought me for my birthday just a few weeks before she died. 

Another piece of memoir now:

Invisible Mending

My mother (Dorothy Thornton) died early in 2012 and since then I’ve begun to write (amongst other things) about my memories of her. One particular strong recollection is of a Saturday morning in July 1990.

'Don't cry, don't cry I'll mend them don't worry.'

My mum and I were on our way to the railway station in Northwich to catch a train to Chester, the day after I received and celebrated the final results of my undergraduate Sociology degree (studied for as a mature student). We were off to celebrate again; to shop.

Four months before I'd left my husband and the martial home and mum and I had been sleeping together in her single bed ever since. Years later I found out she had one foot on the floor the whole time. So when I fell, ripping my favourite brightly patterned trousers, I wasn't crying simply in pain or for my torn and dirty clothes but in happy relief for my academic success and in sadness for my marriage and the losses I'd experienced within it.

Now I’m thinking back further to the day, a few years earlier, when my mum thought I meant to kill myself.

No babies for me, it seemed. A realisation I felt painfully emotionally and physically. Not just a reaction to an externally defined feminine script but also a complete challenge to all my hopes and expectations. On the day in question I ran from my mum towards the river. ‘Don’t, don’t,’ she shouted running after me. But I never intended to jump and I wasn’t running from her but from myself, from the useless body that I felt had let me down.

I have adapted. I have been fulfilled in other ways. The following 30 years have been busy. I feel privileged to have been able to spend so much time researching and writing about issues such as pregnancy loss, infertility and childlessness, and grief. Issues that I and others feel are important, yet often misunderstood and/or misrepresented. I am grateful for the meaningful relationships I have with the children, and more recently, grandchildren of others. But I feel sure that I would not have survived intact, reformed as whole without my mother’s support and unconditional love. For her it was all about me, always about me and it was not until after her death that I realised she never, ever, spoke of her own loss, no babies for me, no grandbabies for her.

She was, on that day in 1990, true to her word. I wore those trousers for several more years and I swear no one ever saw the patching. The invisible mending not only an expression of her selfless care for me but also representative of her constant and continuing presence in my life.

And a small section from another piece of memoir that I wrote following a burst ear drum in 2013:

My mum
Having rested up in bed and on the sofa my first walk takes place three days after the ear popping episode. It's late February and very cold and I pack my ear with cotton wool and don a close fitting hat. I go into the bathroom for a wee and 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 but on that day, and from then on, I see her in my face as well.


12. Davidson, D. and Letherby. G. (Editors) (2015) Special Edition of Illness, Crisis and Loss 23(4):  ‘Loss and Creativity'
13.  Stanley, L. (1993) ‘On Auto/Biography in Sociology’ Sociology 27(1): 41-52
14. Letherby, G. (2003) Feminist Research in Theory and Practice Buckingham: Open University;  Letherby, G. (2014) ‘Feminist Auto/Biography’ in Evans, M. Hemmings, C. Henry, M. Johnstone, H. Madhok, S. Plomien, A. Wearing, S.  (eds.) Handbook on Feminist Theory London: Sage
15.  A slightly different version of ‘A Wonderful Life’ is published in Parkinson-Hardman, L. (2014) Hysteria 3 (Hysteria Anthologies) London: The Hysteria Association