Articles

Articles by Gill Hartley

For many years, Gill wrote regular articles for the quarterly journal of The Compassionate Friends, and some of these appear below, together with articles Gill has written for other publications.   Additional articles are included from guest contributors.

There is also a link to a radio interview from BBC Radio Berkshire where Gill was interviewed by Anne Diamond.

Gill Hartley on Radio Berkshire

You may also like to listen to listen to an interview with Gill Hartley by Ann Diamond on Radio Berkshire. Click on the play button to listen to it. The interview is 19 minutes.

Downloadable Resources

This list of articles has ben revised to place the newest items at the top.  The first article shows a summary of the content and a link so that you can open and download the full article. To see the other articles click on the plus symbol or within the box of the subsequent articles. These will expand so you can read an extract from the article and allow you to download it if you wish.

The content remains the copyright of Gill Hartley, but may be downloaded for personal use. Please contact Gill before using or publishing them in a wider context.

Hedged in

Extract:

Hedged in…

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant a tree…

Confucius

Will, our only child, died in January 2006 from a mystery illness after almost 7 weeks in intensive care. He was twenty two. Will lies in a beautiful little cemetery, nestling in a small valley surrounded by trees and farmland. We can walk to where Will is over the farmland we back onto.

Often, after visiting Will, we walk up a footpath near the cemetery, which provides panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. But we are a bit late today and do not want to risk encountering two very large dogs which are usually walked up this footpath around this time. They intimidate our collie, Cagney. Edwin suggests another footpath, adding that is one I have walked with Will. He turns into a winding lane and pulls up by a kissing gate. But when I see the footpath, I tell Edwin he is mistaken, I have never walked here before.

I am confronted by a maze like footpath, which climbs steeply uphill, edged in on both sides by large hedgerow. It is totally unfamiliar to me. But Edwin continues to insist that it is one of the paths Will and I used to walk along with our last border collie, Luke. It wasn’t like this, I tell Edwin, the path Will and I took was very open, with views of the farmland. Yes, the farmer had begun to plant small hedgerow plants like Hawthorn but it was not along this path. This path is completely enclosed by the hedgerow and you can’t see over it.

Download the full article: Hedged in by Gill Hartley

 

If we didn't laugh

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If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry”, my mother used to say and when I read of the “conversation” Jules Radford had with a friend on Facebook Messenger, I remembered my mother’s words. Jules tragically lost her beautiful 13 month old son. Billy-Joe when he died very suddenly of septicaemia, on the 5th November 2015. The following conversation between Jules and a friend, only a year after Billy-Joe died, is the kind of conversation I am sure we can all identify with, when talking with those we know or knew, who didn’t, – and still don’t – “get it”.

Download the full article: If we didnt laugh

 

Excerpt from “The Bereaved Parent” by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff

 

I found this very helpful reading in the immediate aftermath of Will’s passing, when I believed there was no way I could possibly go on living without him.

Excerpt from “The Bereaved Parent” by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff

You probably never thought you could live through your child’s funeral.  What could be more dreadful?  But you did.

Certainly, surviving all the grief you felt seemed impossible.  Those days and nights of crying, exhaustion, and pain were almost beyond endurance.  You were certain, at times, you would never get past that time in your life.  But you did.

Download the full text: You probably never

Hoarding. Not just in physical cupboards

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Hoarding…

“At the end, all that’s left of you are your possessions. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been able to throw anything away. Perhaps that’s why I hoarded the world: with the hope that when I died, the sum total of my things would suggest a life larger than the one I lived.” Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Some of you will have watched those programmes on television about hoarders, people whose homes are so full of things they have collected or cannot part with, that they have barely any space in which to live a normal life. These programmes usually involve someone trying to help these people clear their homes of the clutter to enable them to regain control of their lives and a degree of normality. Some are success stories but not all. When the helper attempts to find the cause for their hoarding, we invariably discover that the most common link amongst such hoarders is grief. Grief the counselling profession would most probably describe as “complicated” or “unresolved” grief.

Download the complete article here: Hoarding by Gill Hartley

A Matter of Time. Does it heal?

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A matter of time… by Gill Hartley

‘It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.’ Rose Kennedy

In January 2006, our dearly loved son, Will, died from a mystery illness at the age of twenty-two. We were extremely close, barely a day passed when Will and I did not talk, even when he was away at university. When Will died, all I wanted was to die and be with him. I could not imagine a future without him and truly believed I would die of a broken heart. But I didn’t, much as I longed to.

Where am I now, eight and half years later? Has time, as we are led to believe, healed my wounds? The honest answer is no. But, as Rose Kennedy says, time has covered the scars and the pain has indeed softened. But the deep wound left by the shock of Will’s sudden illness and his death remains. What has changed is I have learned to live with the pain, not expect Will to phone me or walk in at the door, learned to live without him saying, ‘I love you, mum,’ and survive without his physical presence, his wonderful sense of humour, his massive bear hugs. And I have learned to cope with the lack of understanding from those who have not endured the loss of a beloved child or children, and to accept that their lives move on and trying to make them understand is futile.

Download the full article: A Matter of Time by Gill Hartley

Sharing precious memories. Christmas: a time for compassion and memories

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Sharing Precious Memories by Gill Hartley.

‘It’s a pleasure to share one’s memories. Everything remembered is dear, endearing, touching, precious. At least the past is safe –though we didn’t know it at the time. We know it now. Because it’s in the past; because we have survived.’ Susan Sontag (1933-2004)

Out of the many books I read when our much loved only child, Will, died in January 2006 was Barbara Rosof’s, The Worst Loss. Rosof is not a bereaved parent but interviewed many who were and her book is remarkably insightful and observant. As always when I find a book which helps me, I highlight comments especially helpful and one of these, with the heading Silence, reads as follows,

Throughout this book, parents speak about the healing value for them of being listened to and of listening. If you do not talk to the other people who knew and loved your child, you invite chronic depression, isolation, and a slow death of your spirit.

Since becoming a member of TCF, we have met with many bereaved parents and I have been struck by the realisation that parents who have the opportunity to share memories of their child with, as Rosof says, “those who knew and loved them” often appear to cope better with their loss as time passes. Memories are a gift and sharing them can help to keep our child alive in our memory. Whether we laugh or cry does not matter. What matters is sharing.

Download the full article: Sharing Precious Memories by Gill Hartley

Anxiety and Fear. A legacy of stress?

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Anxiety and Fear by Gill Hartley

“The suspense: the fearful, acute suspense: of standing idly by while the life of one we dearly love, is trembling in the balance; the racking thoughts that crowd upon the mind, and make the heart beat violently, and the breath come thick, by the force of the images they conjure up before it; the desperate anxiety to be doing something to relieve the pain, or lessen the danger, which we have no power to alleviate; the sinking of soul and spirit, which the sad remembrance of our helplessness produces; what tortures can equal these; what reflections of endeavours can, in the full tide and fever of the time, allay them” Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Talking with friends from TCF, it has often struck me how many of us struggle with anxiety. The powerful words from Charles Dickens’ struck a chord and made me wonder if the main reason for our anxiety might be because our core belief in the pattern of our lives has been shattered.

We are not meant to bury our children, it is the wrong order of things and not how we envisaged our lives would be. The knowledge that there was nothing we could have done to prevent the death of our child or children make us realise how vulnerable we are. No matter how we plan for the future, whatever hopes and dreams we have, nothing is guaranteed. My niece tragically lost her first husband and baby son in a dreadful car accident on Christmas Day in 1994. She told me afterwards that it was not dying she was afraid of any more, it was living… Although she has now remarried, with three beautiful children, she still lives with the intrinsic fear that something could go wrong. I have tried to reassure her but have no answer when she says that there are no guarantees. Lightening can and has struck twice.

Download the full article: Anxiety and Fear by Gill Hartley

God gave us relations..... The response of families - rational or irrational

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God gave us relations by Gill Hartley

“The family has been informed…” Thankfully, we do not hear those words quite so often on the radio now, due to the gradual withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. But every time I hear them, I shudder. What have the family been told? That their lives will be changed forever? That nothing will ever be the same again?

When we see families on our TV screens standing alongside those who have suffered, whether it is from loss or trauma, we invariably have the impression of a close and united family. And of course this is often the case. It is always good to hear stories of those, who in times of great need, have been surrounded by a loving and supportive family and how much strength it has given them.

But, having met or corresponded with many parents since becoming a member of TCF seven years ago, it has saddened me how often I listen to or read stories of families who have not been able to provide the support we all hope for. Of course there are many TCF members whose families have been wonderful and provided loving care and support. But, sadly, there are exceptions. One only has to look on the TCF forum to read endless stories from those of us whose families have not only failed to support them but in some cases, have actually turned against them.

Download the full article: God gave us relations by Gill Hartley

Judge not .... Think you understand? - not necessarily

Extract:

Judge Not by Gill Hartley

Some time ago I received a letter from a bereaved mother which made me feel uncomfortable. The writer said my articles make her despair, she felt both sad and angry at my lack of faith and understanding. I found the letter unsettling because it locked into my innate insecurity. She compared my situation with her own and implied that I considered my son to be superior to other children who have died. I found this especially upsetting as I have never set out to give this impression. Nor indeed I do not think this way – all our children are special. Of course to me Will was special – but to me and only me – simply because he was my son. I remember when Will was born a friend phoned to congratulate me and said, “I bet he is the most beautiful baby ever.” I put the phone down feeling flattered. It was only afterwards I realised she was simply stating a fact! Every mother setting eyes on her new born child – especially her first born – thinks her baby must be the most beautiful baby in the world.

Will died in January 2006 and, four months later my husband, Edwin, and I went along to our first bereaved parents’ meeting. We were the most newly bereaved parents there and I was taken back when another bereaved mother declared that no loss could be as bad as hers. Her son had died in an accident and she insisted nothing could be worse than opening the door to find a policeman on the doorstep. I wanted to say that it was equally horrendous to watch your child die, as we had. But instead I mumbled we should not compare because – no matter what the circumstances of our child’s death or what age they were – at the end of the day we had all lost a very precious child. When we are so often hurt by the insensitive comments of those who have not lost a child, we ourselves need to be very careful when talking with other bereaved parents.

When we join an organisation like TCF, we hope that we will meet with nothing but real understanding and compassion and most of the time we do. But – maybe because we are all deeply wounded people – there are occasions when we can, albeit unintentionally, hurt one another. The mother who wrote to me obviously felt aggrieved by something I had written and for that I am deeply sorry.

Download the full article: Judge Not by Gill Hartley

Milestones and Potholes. On the road of grief.

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Milestones and Potholes by Gill Hartley

I swerve. There are humps and potholes. If I try to drive straight over a hump, it scrapes the bottom of the car. So it’s best to turn to the left or right so that I take the hump at an angle. Not face on. The potholes are harder. They hide, looking like ripples in the road surface, but as I get near they yawn. My wheel rolls straight in, hits the far side and the whole car jolts. What’s hard, is that the holes are often on the downside of the humps. So even as I dodge the hump I land in the hole. Sometimes I spot the hole on the other side of the hump and at the very moment I’ve worked out how I’ll avoid it, I find myself going straight over the hump, dead centre, and it’s scraping the bottom of some vital out of sight part of my engine. From Carrying the Elephant, by Michael Rosen.

I like this prose poem from Michael Rosen’s book. He is describing the road on which we all have to travel following the loss of a beloved child. Michael’s nineteen year old son, Eddie, died in 1999 from a sudden onset of meningitis.

I am writing this the day before what would have been Will’s thirtieth birthday. Will died in January 2006, a couple of months short of his twenty-third birthday. His first birthday without him was difficult, as have been the subsequent ones, but I knew his thirtieth birthday would be especially hard. But I did not expect it to hit me quite as hard as it has. Being so close to Mothering Sunday has not helped but, even so, the harsh reality that Will is not here to celebrate the day with his friends, has felled me. I rarely weep these days but this week I have been awash with tears, the grief flooding over me like a tidal wave.

It seems that no matter how far we have travelled along this endless road, there will always be unexpected twists and turns and – as Michael Rosen describes so well – potholes, to trip us up and bring us to our knees. As those of us further along the road know, we do learn to cope better with our changed lives and the pain does soften with time. But, that said, we will never recover from the loss of our child and the yearning to see them will never go away.

Download the full article: Milestones and Potholes by Gill Hartley

Setting a goal. How writing the books gave Gill a goal

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Setting a goal by Gill Hartley

Setting a goal When our son, Will, our only child, died from a mystery illness in January 2006, I did not know how to go on living. Will was my life, my soul mate; the person who gave my life meaning. He was my past, my present and my future. Without him, life would be meaningless.

Although I was incapable of even making myself a cup of tea, in the numbing weeks and months after Will’s death, I did write. Poem after poem about Will and our life together. It was as if I had to make a record of everything he was and meant to me. I wrote poems about him as a baby, as a child, as a young adult, the things we did together – anything and everything I associated with Will and our life together.

About three months after Will died, I received a phone call from Jan, a friend who is a creative writing teacher. I had been a member of her class for several years when Will was younger. She kindly invited me to send her the poems, offering to help me with them if necessary. She also invited me to re-join her class as a guest for one term. I was very unsure as to whether I would cope but in fact it proved to be a very positive step.

And so it began. Every poem I wrote I sent to Jan. Sometimes I found her suggestions challenging but she was brave to do this for me at such a time – it can’t have been easy for her, particularly as she herself has an only child.

Without Jan’s encouragement, I doubt it would ever have occurred to me to bring the poems together in one book. But, with her support, I managed to sort the poems into some kind of order. When a member of the group suggested I try sending my collection to a small publisher who had published some of her work, I tentatively emailed him. A day or so later, he replied, saying his company rarely published poetry, but he was happy for me to send him some to see, as he put it, if mine were “any different”. I put 12 poems into an envelope and posted them off. The following week I received another e-mail asking if I had any more poems to send. I certainly had! I bundled all my poems together – about 80 of them – and put them into the post.

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Peeling the Onion. When and how can we access that deep core of pain

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Peeling the Onion by Gill Hartley

Peeling the Onion It will blind you with tears/like a lover/It will make your reflection/a wobbling photo of grief. From Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, Valentine, in which she describes presenting her lover with an onion, instead of a heart.

The outer skin of an onion can be tricky to remove. It is shiny and gives the appearance of solidity and perfection and yet at the same time it is very thin and papery. It is not easy to peel it off. Once you have removed this skin, you have the onion; less shiny and the layers more obvious. When you cut into these layers, the onion can make you shed tears.

A couple of days ago, preparing an onion for a stir-fry supper, I looked at the beautiful shiny skin and remembered the time I went to see a homeopath. On my first consultation with her, she said how she thought approaching health problems homoeopathically was a bit like peeling back layers of an onion. There are many factors that cause certain conditions and it was not a simple matter of treating the symptoms but of peeling back the layers until the root cause of the illness is uncovered.

Since our son, Will, died in January 2006, I have met many bereaved parents and often think the homeopath’s analogy of the onion can be applied our grief. No two stories are the same, even if the cause of our child’s death is from the same recognised condition. We all have to face the trauma and pain of losing a child with a deep core of pain, like the core of an onion. But, depending on our personal circumstances; the way our child died; our own personal history and our relationship with family and friends, we cope, or don’t cope, in vastly different ways. This is why the words we so often hear – “I know how you feel” are wrong – no one knows how another person feels. How can we? Yes, we can begin to understand their pain and identify with them but we cannot honestly say we know how they feel.

Download the full article: Peeling the Onion by Gill Hartley

How others see us.... Would they like to have us 'move on'?

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How others see us by Gill Hartley

There have been several occasions recently that caused me to reflect how, as bereaved parents, others see us.

In early January, I gave a lift to a neighbour who comes to the art class I run in our village. It was the first morning after the Christmas break and we exchanged the usual enquiries as to how each of us had enjoyed Christmas. I made the mistake of saying that we had found it difficult this year, because the calendar dates were the same as the weekdays and it had been almost impossible not to relive the six weeks Will was in hospital. I should have known better. She turned to me and said, “Gill, I think I know you well enough to say this to you.” Oh dear, I thought, here we go.” And I was right. “From what I knew of Will,” she continued, “He would not want you to feel like this. He would want you to enjoy your life.”

“Well”, I replied, “I like to think Will is proud of what I have done. I have written two books and try to be a support to other bereaved parents. I started the drop in centre, although I have had to suspend it for a while.” But that was not enough. “Yes, of course, and I am sure he is proud of you,” she responded, “But it’s all about the same thing”.

The ironic part of this is that this very nice woman has a friend who lost a young daughter some years ago. The child suffered from a distressing hereditary condition throughout her short life. She often talks about her friend, saying how wonderful she is and how much money she has raised for charity. “Tell me,” I asked, “which cause does your friend raise the money for?”

When she replied that it was for a children’s hospice, I had to say, “But is that so very different from what I am doing? Except that I am trying to raise funds for a charity that supports the parents of children who have died.” She didn’t say any more after that.

Download the full article: How others see us by Gillian Hartley

Will's Story. The story of Gill's son's life

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Will’s story by Gill Hartley

Our dearly loved son, Will, died on Wednesday, 18th January 2006. He was twentytwo and he was our only child.

Will’s death came as a shock to all who knew and loved him. Until he first became unwell in September the previous year, he had been fit and healthy. He was just over six feet in height, and with his amazing silvery blond hair, hazel eyes and golden skin, he was a beautiful young man. His quiet unassuming manner belied a wacky, but dry sense of humour and he had the ability to relate to everyone he met, whatever their age.

Will was bright at school. He was popular with his teachers, who loved him for his enthusiasm and friendliness, as well as his aptitude for learning. I will always treasure the comment made by the teacher in his reception class who, when I collected Will after his first day at school, commented, “I am very pleased with him” and later added, “There’s the rest of the class, and there’s William.”

All parents think their children are special, and of course they are. We are all unique. But Will always had that quality that made people single him out. When I took him in his pushchair to the weekly market, the stallholders would always stop me to talk to him, or have some treat for him. I used to worry that he was too friendly, too outgoing, but, as he grew older, he became shyer.

I never wanted Will to be an only child. I grew up next door to a couple that had lost their only child, Jack, in a cycling accident when he was sixteen. His death destroyed their happiness. They doted on my brother, sister and me, but seeing the havoc Jack’s death wreaked in their lives, I vowed even then that I would never have an only child. But, life doesn’t always deal its cards the way we want and after Will was born, by emergency caesarean, I was never able to conceive again. I tried to compensate by inviting his friends to play, as there were no children of his age within my own family. Fortunately, he always had the ability to enjoy his own company and would chatter non-stop to himself, as he created imaginary scenarios with his adored Lego. My poem, “Castles in the Air”, describes him doing just that.

Download the full article: Will’s story by Gillian Hartley

Gill's Talk. The full text of a typical talk by Gill

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Gill’s Talk

Well it is a long time since I had contact with a Mother’s Union group – my mother was a loyal member for many years when we lived in Greenford, where I was born, and two vivid memories of that time. One was the Church fete, when all the members were give a pound to buy and make things for the Mother’s Union stall. I know it was a long time ago but it was amazing how far my mother could make that pound go, making beautiful pram sets for children, doll’s clothes and so on. The target was to turn the one pound into ten! The second was of the vicar arriving just as a meeting had ended and when offered a cup of tea, declined, saying, “Don’t make a cup especially for me. I’ll have this one.” No one had the courage to tell him that it was the cup all the slops had been put in!

But I am here today to talk about another side of motherhood, a side that many mothers do have to face but one which is rarely talked about – the loss of a beloved child.

On January 18th 2006, Will – our bright, funny, handsome twenty-two year old son, with a first class honours degree in history and about to embark on new career to train as an ordained minister in the Anglican Church – died from a mystery lung infection after six traumatic weeks in intensive care. He was our only child and he and I were extremely close.

When we grieve it is a lonely journey. There are so many factors governing each individual experience of grief, that it is, by its very nature, isolating. But the loss of one’s child must be the hardest of all bereavements to bear. The Jewish people say that there is a word for widows, there is a word for widowers, there is a word for orphans but for the parent who has lost a child – there are no words.

When you lose a beloved child, you lose your past, your present and your future. We are not meant to bury our children, it is the wrong order of things. I have lost both my parents, close friends and relatives. But I do not grieve for them the way I grieve for my son. And I also grieve for what I feel Will is missing out on, the hopes and dreams he will never achieve. It can be hard to see his friends getting on with their lives, marrying and having children. Knowing we will never be grandparents is very painful for the two of us and it can be difficult when people talk about their grandchildren.

Download the full article: Gill’s Talk by Gill Hartley

A Level of Understanding. Exploring ways to begin to understand the anguish of child loss

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A level of understanding by Gill Hartley

I recently had a chance encounter with a lovely man who used to come to the watercolour group I run in our village and whom I had not seen for several years. Catching up with each other’s news, I told him about Will, my twentytwo year old son who died in January 2006, from a mystery illness. His reaction surprised me. He then told me that he too had lost a child, his tenyear old son, thirty years before. Why I mention this encounter was because of the tangible relief on this man’s face, not because of Will, obviously, but because he was with someone who understood. His pain is just as deep as it was thirty years ago and he said the very words I have heard over and over again from many bereaved parents, “No one understands, do they?”.

Sadly, this is true. No one, unless they too have experienced the death of a beloved child or, as in some desperate cases, all of their children, can really understand. When Will died. my husband and I became part of a huge body of largely unrecognised sufferers, set apart from society by the very nature of our loss. Our families found it difficult to cope and we see little of them. Old friends failed to keep in touch. Our circle of friends is now quite different.

Our new friends now include many bereaved parents, the majority of whom we have met through The Compassionate Friends (TCF) a charity run by and for bereaved parents and their families. TCF have provided a true lifeline for us and for thousands of bereaved parents. Founded in Coventry in 1969, TCF is now worldwide and this year celebrates its fortieth anniversary, with a National Gathering at Bosworth Hall, in Warwickshire.

Download the full article: A level of understanding by Gill Hartley

A Story of Compassion. Friendship and understanding on the road of grief

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A Story of Compassion by Gill Hartley

Grief is one of the loneliest journeys in life. There are so many factors governing each individual experience that grief is, by its very nature, isolating. But the loss of one’s child must be the hardest of all bereavements to bear. The Jewish people say that there is a word for widows, there is a word for widowers, there is a word for orphans but for the parent who has lost a child – there are no words.

When our twenty-two year old son, Will, our only child, died, my husband and I became part of a huge body of largely unrecognised sufferers, set apart from society by the very nature of our loss. Our families found it difficult to understand our feelings and we had little contact with them; old friends failed to keep in touch.

Our lifeline was, and still is, an organisation called “The Compassionate Friends”, which is a charity run by and for bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings and has been a true lifeline for thousands of bereaved parents and their families. Through Compassionate Friends (TCF) we have made some enduring friendships and drawn comfort and inspiration from many of the parents we have met.

People who have survived extreme and harrowing ordeals often say that they do not talk of their experience because others cannot understand. This is one of the reasons why bereaved parents feel so alone. The pain of losing a child can only be really understood by those who have suffered a similar bereavement.

A feeling of being misunderstood and expected to be able to “move on” and return to their previous life pattern makes parents’ grief even harder to bear. It is as if they are walking alongside friends and family as before but now, as C S Lewis described it, “There is an invisible blanket between me and the rest of the world.”

Download the full article: A Story of Compassion by Gill Hartley

 

 

The Church's Wounded Army. The challenge of bereavement in the context of church and faith.

 

Extract.

The Church’s Wounded Army by Gill Hartley

The Church’s Wounded Army What do we do when our lives suddenly take an unexpected and devastating turn? When we learn we have cancer or maybe some other life threatening illness? When we are made redundant or we discover that our marriages are failing, or our husband or wife is having an affair? When the unthinkable happens and our longed for new baby is stillborn or born with profound disabilities, or a dearly loved child dies? When our children opt for a life style which is hard for us to accept? As Christians we hope and believe that we will be able to turn to our church for understanding and support. Sadly, that is not always what we find.

Many of the Bible psalms are full of pain and many of the Bible stories, especially the book of Job, tell of lives that have fallen apart, of God-fearing people who lose their way and become separated from the God they worship.

Although I write as a bereaved parent, my experience is shared by countless others, who, for many reasons, have been hurt by the church. The Anglican Church has recently promoted an initiative entitled, “Back to Church Sunday”, and an investigation into why many people leave the church. There is obviously a concern to bring these lost souls back into the fold and yet, when I have approached the Church and other affiliated organisations, offering to give a talk which encompasses these issues, I have met with a wall of indifference. In fact my latest attempt to contact the Oxford Diocese, which embraces the area in which I live, has invoked a response, which was not only negative but felt patronising.

In 2007, I attended a two-weekend course on Pastoral Care and Counselling, run by a large Christian counselling organisation. Talking with one of the lead counsellors about our difficulties with our church, she made the comment that the church cannot handle raw pain. This is obviously not true of all churches and there are, as in every situation, exceptions. On the whole, the church seems to turn to the same solution, a box of plasters.

Download the full article: The Church’s Wounded Army by Gill Hartley

 

How do I feel? Do you really want to know?

Extract.

How do I feel by Gill Hartley

How do I feel? How do I really feel? No one wants to know how I really feel. What would they say if I told them the truth? That part of me has died, shrivelled up inside me and I have a dried up sponge where my heart used to be. I have a constant dull ache in my stomach, I often feel on the verge of tears but the tears do not fall easily. I have become so used to holding them back so as not to embarrass others, that I find, even when I am on my own, I hold the tears in check. I am my own worst critic now, so fearful that people will think me weak that I judge myself too. I have to be strong, or at least be seen to be strong. Then are the feelings of isolation, that I am not good company and people seek to avoid me. It is easier to avoid me than to take the risk that I might mention Will’s name, that I might want to talk about him. After all it is now three years since Will died.

I should be getting on with my life, finding new interests. I feel especially isolated from the church. I haven’t attended church services since Will died, except for the very early days when I did attempt to go with my husband. But I found it so difficult. I inevitably wept when any worship songs that I especially associated with Will were played, found it unbearable and had to leave, conscious of the curious looks from members of the church who did not know about Will. I could not go on like this week after week, what would people think? I felt uncomfortable displaying my grief in front of everyone. And there was the added trauma of the memory of Will’s coffin on the altar steps and the fact that the two seats where Will and I used to sit often seemed to be unoccupied.

I still feel I want to go into the church when a service is in progress. Go to the front of the church and shout at everyone, “Why don’t you understand? How can you possibly think that I can ever get over losing my son? How would you feel if you had your entire family taken away from you? For those of you with more than one child, it would be like losing all your children and grandchildren. It would be like losing your extended family and your future with them. Can you really imagine what that would be like? How would you feel if you had to stand by your child’s bed and watch him suffer and die? The child you had cherished and loved more than life itself? Can you imagine how it feels to wake every morning and know that you are never going to see your child again? Never hold him in your arms, hear his voice, tell him you love him? You can’t imagine because you don’t want to. It doesn’t bear thinking about and it is dangerous to get to close to me in case the same thing happens to you. It might be catching. It is much easier to stand in your pulpits and judge me. Judge me for my lack of faith.

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How you can help Some Dos and Don'ts for helping the bereaved

Extract.

How you can help by Gill Hartley

Some do’s and don’ts.

Don’t be afraid to visit bereaved parents for fear you might make things worse. As a friend said, “You can’t make it any worse. The worst has already happened.”

Don’t be afraid to mention the child’s name, whether in the early days or not. Parents want to hear it – again and again and again.

Don’t say, “I know how you feel.” You don’t.

Don’t try to jolly the grieving person along or try to persuade them to do something they are reluctant to do. The best advice I was given was, “Don’t let anyone tell you how you should be.”

Don’t feel you have to say anything. It is better to be honest and admit you don’t know what to say. A hug and a listening ear are preferable to uttering clichés.

Don’t wait to be asked for help. The last thing a grieving parent can do is pick up the phone and ask for help. Yet they need help with almost everything.

Don’t assume that because we are keeping ourselves to ourselves and appear to be coping, we don’t need your help. And don’t ask how we are unless you really want to know.

Don’t quote the Bible at us or tell us our child is in a better place. All we want is our child here with us.

Don’t expect us to, “get over it” or tell us life goes on. We will never get over it. We will find a way to survive but our lives are changed forever. And don’t tell us how strong we are, we aren’t and it is like telling us to keep our pain to ourselves. Just getting out of bed and dressing in the morning is an effort.

Don’t tell us how well we look – we haven’t been ill.

Don’t be judgemental. You can’t begin to imagine our pain, so please be patient and don’t have false expectations of us. Don’t say, “You don’t know unless you try”. Often we do know and we don’t want to try.

Do take something round to eat. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea. A casserole is always welcome.

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Loss of a child - please don't compare: by Becki Josiah

Becki Josiah’s daughter, Billie, died of leukaemia aged 14. Following an article in the Guardian in which the author compared her children’s metamorphosis from toddlers to teenagers to “bereavement”, she explains the pain that such comparisons cause. Becki has kindly given me permission to share her honest article on this website.

Extract:

Loss of a child – please don’t compare by Becki Josiah

I am not a writer. I am not a journalist. I don’t even have a blog.

I don’t have a platform. I don’t have a fan-base of loyal followers ready to protect me from the trolls, real or imagined.

The only place I have written since I gave up my Open University degree is on various internet forums. All parenting; some more specialist than others.

I am that scary thing, that alien thing: I am a bereaved parent. And often it’s just easier to use the internet to write about the loss of my beloved child than it is to speak out in the Real World. There are rules there. Rules about how I can behave.

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The Path of the Childless Parent: by Abi May

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The Path of the Childless Parent by Abi May

It is terrible to lose a child.
It was terrible to lose my first child, Pax, 30 years ago, to a genetic condition about which little was
known at the time. He was three.
That was May 1982. For reasons I won’t go into here, I suppressed the grief, putting all my love,
hopes and parental nurturing into my second child, Catherine.
All I ever wanted was to have happy, healthy children. It was not to be. Catherine developed mental
illness, later diagnosed as bipolar disorder, in her teenage years. She would have been 31 in June
2011, but in April of that year, Catherine took her life.
Everything stopped. The grief I had suppressed for Pax finally came out; the heartbreak at losing both
of my two children was overwhelming.
Catherine is laid to rest in a peaceful cemetery in the village of Alton, Staffordshire. As Pax remained
in India (where my first husband and I were working at the time), we put a double headstone on
Catherine’s grave, commemorating both of them. This is my place of pilgrimage.

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There is additional support and help through the Bereaved Parents Network.

We cannot judge a biography by its length, by the number of pages in it; we must judge by the richness of its contents….
Sometimes the ‘unfinished’ are among the most beautiful symphonies.

Viktor Frankl

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