Gone upstairs

a personal journey through grief and change


A thief in the night

“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into” Jesus in Matthew 24:43

There are a lot of things in life we don’t expect, don’t even think about.  Surprises can be delightful of course, but I mean bad things happening, suddenly, out of the blue. In the past month we’ve had 2 terrorist attacks and a terrible fatal fire in the news in the UK: the country seems to go into corporate shock.  Then the questions, insatiable desire for information: how could this happen? what exactly happened? who is responsible…?  The process of grief begins to work through, denial, bargaining, anger… People want to pay their respects, support the bereaved, react, respond, see justice done. We all want to fix things.

But some things cannot be fixed. The end stages of grief are depression – the realisation that the sadness of loss is something that has to be lived with – and finally, eventually, hopefully, some sort of acceptance. The closer one is to the event, the more emotionally involved, the deeper the process and the longer it takes to ‘recover’. By now many British people will have forgotten the Manchester bombing, moving on to the next thing, just as the newspapers do. The people of Manchester will not have forgotten, but having done all they could – and the response was incredible – they will have gone back to normal life, Undoubtedly there’s a heightened awareness of the possibility of unthinkable things happening, people will be more nervous, more alert – but you know, life has to go on, of course it does. But the families of the dead, the injured and crippled will never recover.

All this is obvious – we all know it. Why am I writing it? Perhaps because it is easier to try to forget about things that make us sad and upset, much more comfortable to sweep all those emotions under the carpet. What a desperate suffering world we live in! Refugees, war, famine, cancer sufferers, injustice, corruption… how can any of us cope with all that? I am not the only one who is avoiding the news these days.

But I’m also writing again because we have been coping with our own personal ‘thief in the night’ disaster and all the emotions that has thrown up and I need to process it somehow. Sam’s illness and death was a long time coming – the man in black on the horizon of our lives and moving towards us for years. Yesterday was 9 years since he dropped out of university after one year, the beginning of realising there was something very wrong with our son… We lived with the uncertainty of what would happen, of course, but the grieving really started back then when the incremental losses started. Sudden death is another beast altogether… Sudden loss of any kind is more acute, like a sharp cut rather than a gradual sawing of the knife. Bewilderment is added to the mix, “We didn’t see that coming!” Guilt and recrimination, “If only I’d… ” The sudden gaping hole.

So, our thief in the night was literal. We had a burglary when we were away on holiday – no-one in the house to keep watch and they took advantage of that. No-one died. In fact it is so unimportant when compared to the recent nationwide events and their trail of death and destruction it is quite embarrassing. Yet my level of emotional investment in my own life compared to the fate of strangers has made it far more painful for me. I think that is the same for everyone: what you care about can make you happy or sad, however trivial it may seem to others looking on. In fact we have had a lot of sympathy, concern and anger from friends and strangers alike. Mainly because I was so mad I wrote to the local paper! It didn’t really help, but it was certainly part of the process.

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 12.20.36

Yep, that’s what happened. Along with the obvious enormous computer, which will be of little use unless they have a super-whizz Mac person as Martin securely locked everyone out of it, they took my old MacBook with photos from 2010 to early 2015 AND THE BACK-UP DRIVES. Don’t we all leave our back-ups with the machine? Not imagining the existence of heartless, low-life thieves looking to make a few quid with anything tech they can find…

So – all those years of photographic memories, erased. Literally thousands, not just of Sam, but of all the things we did and places we visited from when I stopped printing in 2008 until I got my new Mac in 2015 because iPhoto was full! Come to think of it, the very last prints I have are from the day I brought Sam home on 16th June 2008! And all for nothing: a 2009 Mac with the bottom peeling off is not going to be very sellable.

And then there’s my guilt at not taking more care over backing up, simply because we were too complacent. And the anger at cleaning up some man’s footprints and finding broken glass on the far side of the bathroom. And the hopeless lack of response from the local police, even when the Big Mac gave a location when it was switched on – twice! Mine was too old to do that, not compatible with the Cloud… Should have done something… but you just don’t think it will happen, that there are people out there who will break and enter and take your stuff. And some other stuff too, my mum’s silver bracelet that I wore once a year, gifts of jewellery that are irreplaceable, sentimental value as they say.

My sentiments have been badly bruised I can tell you. Just when I was thinking the past was behind us, I have been dropped right back into the grief process for Sam – the exhaustion, tears, depression, anger and the rest. We were robbed of the end of our holiday and all the good it had done us. I keep noticing other things that are missing – this morning a chenille throw I liked, obviously used to cover up the Mac as they moved it. A week ago – my favourite coat: ditto.

A dispassionate eye has pointed out all our weaknesses in security and we’re now fortifying the bl**dy house for when we go away next.  The hardest part is feeling a kind of discomfort in my own home, just when it was really starting to make me happy. Don’t like the city anymore either and don’t want to talk to anyone, so there. Insurance agents are horrible, of course – though she couldn’t help that going through it all again made it feel worse again and was only doing her job checking what we’d reported was true… grrr: my precious possessions reduced to the bottom line. You can’t replace what I have lost!

So I have to get used to it – ‘suck it up, princess.’ To quote Jesus again, “do not store up treasure on earth where thieves break in and steal” Durr. Yes, the documentation of my life was too important to me: they were only photographs, not the actual events: I do still have some in various other places – blogs, facebook, prints – and I have a lot of them in my head. We were very fortunate our decorator discovered it to forewarn us before we arrived in the middle of the night: he fielded police and secured the windows. They didn’t find this current computer or Martin’s back-up drive. They missed cash, cards and security details. They didn’t ransack the place. I am grateful for small mercies…

Bear with me. It’s a process…



A lover of the light

It’s the little things that count. Well, I’m sure the big things help as well!  We have recently had some majorly encouraging family occasions… Had our bedroom redesigned and decorated within the space of 2 weeks, which was really gratifying and unexpectedly easy… I didn’t really plan it, it just happened – one of those doors that you push a little and it flies open 🙂 Plus there is the major event of a holiday in Sicily next week that only came together because we took up a friend’s invitation to visit Calabria in August and met some new friends… One thing leads to another. Perhaps it takes me looking at my life to actually see the shape of these huge gifts.


BUT… on a daily basis, when there is stress about the painter and the mess and booking accommodation on an unknown island, or the ongoing concern of being parents and grieving parents at that – it IS the little things that count. Small pleasures give my heart a lift and bring satisfaction and purpose. It can be an encouraging text from a friend: one says ‘Let’s have a phone call’; another writes about walking in London and makes jokes that go back to schooldays. It’s good to feel loved.

But those happenings are random and I have no control over when they happen. I do have a choice about making time to do things that lift me. As one notebook I bought says, “Do more of what makes you happy”. Feeling happy is a real issue when you are depressed. The medication helps keep your mood on an even keel but there’s a dullness, like being wrapped in cotton wool. It’s not as bad as when I was taking prosac, but it’s still there and when I look closely I quickly find myself in tears. The truth is my heart is bruised and wounded and needs healing. Looking at it, talking about it, that is all part of the healing process and must be done, but it takes time and professional help and it hurts. There are still a lot of tears to come out. I just have to walk the journey – and accept I am sad.

Meanwhile, finding daily grace is the key. How can I approach each day – where is sustenance to be found? I sit, I try to pray – there are no words but that’s OK. I choose to believe I am loved and held even though I cannot feel it. Sometimes I find a couple of lines that help – a quotation, something on facebook, a verse of Scripture. Most of the time I attempt to smooth out a path through the day by planning what I will do, listing what needs doing today. That at least gives direction and purpose.

But joy, lightness, positive thinking? Creativity that lets in the light? Hey, here’s some writing… but that doesn’t happen very often. I’m still wanting to make time for some more painting – maybe today!? But recently, as I said on a previous post, its my photographs and the rediscovery of the (mostly) daily routine of posting on my photo-blog that’s bringing joy. Hurrah! I have recovered the impetus again – the drugs must be working! 🙂

Funny that because photography is all about accessing and using light. I am a lover of the light – I have always carried a camera: I love beauty and colour and nature and architecture, beaches and skies…also capturing moments, holding onto friends and family, making memories that will last.

So in 2013, when my writing about Sam’s journey dried up, among other new blogs at that time I decided to launch A lover of the light  (thanks to Mumfords for the title) and started sharing from my archive of thousands of pictures, not in a random order, but following each one with another that ties in to the subject or colour or form – or just my memory of the place and occasion. Just pictures, no words, a rolling gallery of beautiful shots.

I don’t take so many pictures now. Of course storing them becomes problematic and editing them all is a time-consuming chore. But once tweaked and stored in a special folder I have a select group to chose from. This practise takes me back into the beloved archive of memories surrounding them. Every time I do it light shines on me from another time and place – islands and holidays and adventures, or just my own country or hometown. They are places I love, seen at their best. The sense of bringing order, the satisfaction of creating something beautiful as I see the column of posts unfurl and smile at the choices I made to place THAT one after THAT one – all the way back to the first post 4 years ago, a view from a back window of our old house, Bricks and Leaves, autumn colours, russets and rooftops. There is still pleasure in it: light and colour, composition and that ‘rightness’ that artists seek 🙂

First thing this morning when I chose my 629th photograph, a red fishing boat to follow a beached dinghy in black and white I smiled at the contrast yet similarity. I remembered that day on the shingle beach somewhere on England’s south coast… a place for a family reunion, a meal in a pub, a beautiful day and Sam with his hair half-grown after radiotherapy reclining on a towel talking away as only he could to his sister… There is so much behind a picture. I wonder whose boat it is and where it is now…? The thoughts lead in different directions, but they are good thoughts.

Come holy light and shine on my heart… That’s a rather special picture I posted last week when I was just finishing off a run of sunsets 🙂 Thinking up the title is part of the fun – just a few words to put things in context. My ‘poetry partner’ Ray has even composed a poem out of titles I have used on the photo-blog! I will have to post that on Ray & Redhead – another blog that stumbles along – and link all the pictures he mentions: ha ha – a nice project for a wet weekend.

Welcome to my inner world. Despite the continued walk through the valley of the shadow of death I am still a lover of the light and it really helps.




The turning of the year

Yesterday I was full of words but there was no opportunity to express them. Today I am making time, but it is possible they will not come out from hiding. It is painful to live on the cusp of ‘almost but not quite’. There is always risk in artistic expression. When I tried my hand at watercolour painting this summer beginner’s luck gave me a great start (see previous post!) but I soon found my efforts did not really produce anything to write home about – as it were. I became disappointed and stopped wanting to paint.

When will I make the time to try again? There is so much to overcome when we attempt to express something that is hidden inside us… lethargy, fear, distractions. However, on the plus side, my dabble in visual art has re-ignited my first love of photography – I suppose because with photos you only have to capture a picture not create it! My camera has been well-used again this summer and the photo-blog is back on course. There is a lot of enjoyment and creative satisfaction in that – as well as a healthy focus on beauty and light 🙂


Yes, it’s been a beautiful summer, extending right into mid-September. Yesterday – the Ides, the midpoint – was our first full day back to reality in the city that is nearer to Space than the sea. It was a culture shock to return from Finisterre (literally the ends of the earth) and is taking time to adjust. My headful of buzzing thoughts spanned memories of holiday heat and awareness of a new chill in the morning air. In the midst of the necessities of laundry and housework – get a haircut, cut the grass – a resistance to just returning to business as usual. Decisions to be made for the new season – French classes and various family plans -I even booked our Christmas hotel! How will the next few months look? How far have I come? A doctor’s appointment to review the same things – a healthy way forward. In all the shops the ‘Back to School’ displays provoke sadness at all that has passed and a loneliness at the fresh wave of young people forging forward while we grow older. The 2nd anniversary of Sam’s death approaches, the short, dark days, another marker in our journey.

And yet… I do feel hopeful. September has this effect. It’s the start of a new year, new opportunities – renewed energy after the lazy days. This morning we even welcomed the refreshing rain and last night the strangeness of putting lights on against the early gloom – the cosiness of home. The equinox will soon be here and then October – yet they are welcome because we are sated with summer. There will be time to look back at all those photos and enjoy it all again, but a new wardrobe to wear.

The last 6 months has been very hard for me: I have been so low. But the drugs are working well now, keeping me on an even keel. I am learning to be kind to myself and set good boundaries. If you put one foot in front of the other eventually you get somewhere new. On Monday I will meet my new counsellor and try out a new choir. I might pick up a paintbrush again. I will have lunch with my friend. And of course there’s the ironing… and planting bulbs for the Spring.  It’s always good to welcome the dawn, even when the clouds hide the sun.